Target Manager Focuses On Crowd Control

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Melissa Block talks with Sunda Obendorf, the manager of a Target store in Chicago, about how the staff is preparing to navigate and control Black Friday crowds.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

One question for all the stores promoting door-buster sales, regardless of when they start, is how to control the crowds and keep people safe. We've reached Sunda Obendorf. She's the manager of a Target store in Chicago. Welcome to the program.

Ms. SUNDA OBENDORF (Manager, Target): Hey, thank you.

BLOCK: And how much is what happened at the Walmart store on Long Island two years ago on your mind? Remember the worker was trampled to death by stampeding shoppers on Black Friday.

Ms. OBENDORF: Those kind of things are always on our mind. However, here at Target, we spend a lot of time talking about how we're going to manage the crowd, and I think we've put a lot of great best practices in place to ensure that not only our guests but also our team members are safe, and it really is fast, fun and friendly here on Black Friday.

BLOCK: Well, part of the control has to happen outside the store, right, before people even get in. How do you handle that?

Ms. OBENDORF: We start in line. We talk to the guests. We have security, our team, out there speaking to the guests prior to store opening, explaining the rules. And the rules are: No running, no pushing. If you're doing those sort of things, we'll ask you to leave the store.

We also provide a map for our guests that are in line so they know where those door-busters are located on the sales floor, and I think that is huge. It just seems to alleviate a lot of that chaos initially.

BLOCK: Do you bring in extra security? Do you work with the police department or outside security firms?

Ms. OBENDORF: We do a little bit of all three. Obviously, we have a great working relationship here with the Chicago Police Department. So this precinct will do some extra street patrols. We also have our own security team. And then we also employ a universal service for extra parking lot control and those kind of things.

BLOCK: Hmm. What else? What else do you do on Black Friday that would be different from a normal day?

Ms. OBENDORF: Well, I think the biggest thing we do is when we open the doors is we control that. For instance, we won't open every door. We'll only open a set of doors until the initial rush, until all those people that are outside, that have been standing outside, get into the building.

The store I was at last year, I think that took nine minutes from the time we opened at 5 a.m. until we got the last of those guests in the store.

And then once everyone gets into the store, then we start opening up additional doors as we go. And, you know, just over-communication goes a long way in making sure everybody's safe.

BLOCK: Do you have a sense of how many people you expect on Friday and whether shoppers are going to be spending any more money this year, maybe, than last year?

Ms. OBENDORF: Well, you know what? That's the $64,000 question.

BLOCK: Yeah, I bet.

Ms. OBENDORF: With this being a brand new store, we opened in July, we have a fair idea of what to expect, but really, this year everything is a huge learning curve.

And as far as the economy and the sales factor, I think typically no matter what's going on, Black Friday is just a huge day. It's a day that a lot of families come out and shop together. It's kind of strategic. One person's going for this item and someone else is going for another. They'll be on their cell phones: I got it. It's almost like a sport.

BLOCK: There's a full deployment.

Ms. OBENDORF: Absolutely.

BLOCK: Ms. Obendorf, when will you be coming to work on Friday?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. OBENDORF: Probably somewhere between 2 and 3 a.m.

BLOCK: Mm-hmm. And your day ends when?

Ms. OBENDORF: When I feel really comfortable in walking out. It's an adrenaline rush for the people that work here as much as it is for the guests. So really, as long as a store is crazy-busy, we all hang around. It's fun. It really is. I mean, that's this is why most of us are in retail. It seems a little bit demented, but you have to have that high energy level about the crazy days because that's really what makes it a great experience.

BLOCK: It's better than the alternative, right, which is nobody showing up?

Ms. OBENDORF: Yeah, that's not much fun at all.

BLOCK: So fun in an exhausting kind of way.

Ms. OBENDORF: Exactly.

BLOCK: Well, Sunda Obendorf, good luck on Friday. Thanks for talking with us.

Ms. OBENDORF: You're welcome, and thank you for taking time to speak with me.

BLOCK: Sunda Obendorf manages a Target store in Chicago.

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