By: Shannon Shull
Going to the Build-A–Bear Workshop is not just a shopping trip for a stuffed animal, it’s an experience! If you’re a parent of young children, you inevitably have visited the Build-A-Bear Workshop. For your children’s sake, I hope you have at least! I like to think that my kids are prime members of the Build-A-Bear empire. Both my daughter and son absolutely LOVE everything about it. My daughter has celebrated many birthdays at the Build-A-Bear Workshop, the first party being in Hollywood at the Build-A-Bear store at Hollywood and Highland on Hollywood Blvd for her 3rd birthday.
Over the years the Build-A-Bear Workshop’s offers of a fun experience have only progressed. They now have this incredible interactive website called Bearville.com – my kids are close to being addicts. And as an adult, I have to admit that it really is pretty darn cool! I would’ve been obsessed with it for sure, had it been around when I was a kid. And the experience is not just for girls, my son loves it too! There’s just something about creating your own special friend, hugging & kissing a special heart to place inside, naming it, dressing it and making it totally your own.
The genius creator, Maxine Clark, the CEO of the St. Louis-based Build-A-Bear Workshop, is not even a parent, but she loves kids, she loves malls, and she just knew there had to be a way to engage kids and make the buying of a special stuffed animal more than just a simple purchase. I read in Bloomberg’s Businessweek that ever since she heard her mentor, former May Chairman Stanley Goodman, say in 1972 that retailing is entertainment and the store a stage, she has focused on making sure customers have fun. “That’s when they spend more money,” she says.
Now, as an entertainer, I have to say, that is certainly pure genius! Thinking of the store as the stage….what a concept! And I tell ya, Maxine has nailed it, because she has set the stage so incredibly well and produced and directed a hit show for sure. Since launching her custom stuffed-animal concept in 1996, the energetic, no-nonsense Clark has defied the odds. While big-brand toy stores such as Toys ‘R’ Us, KB Toys and FAO Schwarz have struggled mightily, Build-A-Bear has thrived. The first Build-A-Bear Workshop store opened in October 1997 at the Saint Louis Galleria in St. Louis, Missouri. By 2007, Build-A-Bear Workshops across the world had sold more than 50 million bears and had more than 400 stores in operation worldwide, with more than 7,200 employees. And that was 5 years ago!
Maxine Clark stated in an interview for Bloomberg’s Businessweek Magazine:
“If we were just a toy business, we would fit more into the gift-giving routine and peak in the fourth quarter. But our business is equally distributed across the year. We let people give someone a teddy bear instead of flowers or candy. We let them have control, and that’s what customers have been looking for. You can make it as you like it, and there’s no bad art in our store. Our concept is based on customization. Most things today are high-tech and hard-touch. We are soft-touch. We don’t think of ourselves as a toy store — we think of ourselves as an experience.”
So whether you have kids or not, if you love stuffed animals and you’ve allowed the kid in you to still enjoy the fun of a special toy, go to the Build-A-Bear Workshop and experience the art of building your very own special friend. I promise you, you will not be disappointed. And if you have children, by all means, let them experience the awesomeness of a Build-A-Bear Workshop! They will be entertained, enthralled and walk away with a very special friend they can hug, love and play with. And let the fun continue by registering your special friends online at Bearville.com.
If you have any Build-A-Bear special stories of your own – do share!