business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kate McMahon

After his first seven-hour shift as a cashier at Target, 20-year-old Tom Grennell decided to share highlights of a “pretty funny day” with his social media followers.

His “diary” for the first week told of selling lingerie to an 80-year-old woman, 15 gallons of kitty litter to a soccer mom who refused to break eye contact, and a bucket to an “intimidating farmer man in overalls and pigtails.” He marveled at coupon professionals, snagged some free frapuccinos from Starbucks and discovered that giving stickers to little kids was the best part of his job.

That was late August. Today, Tom is a veritable, albeit unlikely, internet sensation. His newly named "Target Retales – Daily Logs of Retail Work" is on Tumblr, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. His personal Tumblr account has more than doubled to 25,000 followers. He has even launched an online retail store, including merchandise based on his experiences.

And most importantly - and perhaps improbably - he still has his job at a Target in suburban Virginia.

The affable, millennial storyteller wrote his first post for friends under the screen name kimpossibooty, and was stunned when the tales went viral and prompted positive reaction from readers across the country.

“I had no idea it would ever come to this!” he told me the other day.

He was very worried at first about how his supervisors would react, but he has their approval. The subtitle of "Target Retales" includes the words "Not a Representative of Target." And he has never named the specific location of the store, to prevent people from coming to his register just to land a mention in one of his stories.

When I first read Tom’s posts, I also wondered how a major retailer such as Target would react to an employee “telling all” online. I can’t imagine the PR department was thrilled with the story of an embarrassed customer reporting a pile of poop in the baby supplies aisle, which was definitely not from a baby.

The same could be said for the character Tom named “Mountain Drunk” and the subject of the first Target Retales t-shirts and mugs now being sold online. The description of his “personal hero” was:

"An elderly man in a fedora pushed two full carts into my lane. They were both filled to the brim. He bought 52 12-packs of Mountain Dew. 12 were diet. He repeatedly told me he was 80 years old. As I handed him his receipt, he leaned in and whispered, “I’m going to get DRUNK.”

I found his stories funny and engaging, though I’m sure there are those who would argue that some of the anecdotes push the envelope of good taste. Tom said he is determined to keep his stories 100% genuine and positive.

The broader question for retailers, and other companies, is control over what employees post Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, especially since millennials are inclined to share details of their daily lives on multiple social media platforms. What constitutes private versus public comments?

It seems to me that while this could be problematic in certain cases, Tom and Target are right on, well, target. Tom's comments humanize the chain, and show a slice of life that while it may not necessarily be complimentary, never is mean-spirited. And Target, which has its own problems, could do a lot worse than have such a person representing it - even if unofficially - in the public square.

As we say a lot here on MNB, it is critical for retailers to tell their story in a way that differentiates them. That's what is happening here. I'm looking forward to the next chapter, and am looking at Target differently because of the stories.

Comments? As always, send them to me at .
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