Consumer Products

Build-a-Bear gets all dolled up

Coming off a year of substantial growth, Build-a-Bear Workshop is shoring up its hands-on approach to toy retail in 2005, adding a brand-new offshoot chain and opening a giant flagship store-cum-themepark in Manhattan.
January 1, 2005

Coming off a year of substantial growth, Build-a-Bear Workshop is shoring up its hands-on approach to toy retail in 2005, adding a brand-new offshoot chain and opening a giant flagship store-cum-themepark in Manhattan.

The new chain, called Friends 2B Made, takes the Build-a-Bear concept of creating one’s own stuffed toy and applies it to dolls, adding fashion apps and a decidedly feminine twist.

The process is this: Girls start off choosing from 15 base dolls with different make-up, hair and eye colors, and then pick four personality traits (‘smart,’ ‘silly’ and ‘kind’ are included in the 24-trait menu) that literally make up the doll’s heart when they’re sewn into its chest. A chip featuring five pre-recorded sound bites or a personal message from the owner makes each toy audibly unique.

Next stop is the 2B Pretty station, where the dolls get a full spa treatment including hairstyling and facial masks with little cucumber eye pads. Once they’ve been beautified, it’s off to the in-store wardrobe for an outfit, and then a name and some doll-sized furniture finish things off.

The concept was tested in several BABW locations as store-in-store displays before two dedicated outlets were opened this past November in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Columbus, Ohio. ‘We wanted to start with stores that represented middle America, that had multiple stores in the marketplace, and where we could get locations beside existing Build-a-Bears,’ says founder and CEO Maxine Clark, adding that the company plans to open several new stores in the coming year when the right real estate opportunties crop up.

Friends 2B Made will also be a big part of a 25,000-square-foot flagship store the retailer is gearing up to launch in June. While Clark isn’t ready to talk in detail about any in-store features, there will be a restaurant and party rooms, as well as areas for licensed products such as scrapbooks, clothing and accessories.

BABW is also going mobile following the successful test-run of a fully operational store on the back of a 53-foot truck. The mobile workshop, which helps kids create sports-themed stuffed toys, will make 25 pit stops in 2005, hitting sporting events like the Superbowl, NBA Famfest and the NASCAR circuit, as well as state fairs and city festivals. ‘It’s a great way to attract people that aren’t neccessarily mall shoppers,’ Clark says.

Sporting events are a relatively new focus for the chain, which opened a mini-store for making team mascots at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia last year. BABW plans to add two more stadium stores in Cleveland, Ohio and Cincinnati, Illinois.

At press time in late December, BABW was projecting that its 2004 revenues would be close to US$300 million, up from US$214 million in 2003 thanks largely to a Q4 sales growth of roughly 20%. In 2004, the company rolled out 24 new stores, bringing its total to 184 and marking an expansion into Japan, Australia and the U.K. Clark says 25 to 30 more stores are in the works for next year.

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