The Marketing Brilliance of Build-A-Bear Workshop

Today was father/daughter day.  This a tradition I started earlier this year; every month I take one child for some one-on-one father-child time.  And today was 8 year old Selma’s turn.

She was very excited about the newly opened Build-a-Bear Workshop in the City Centre.  She heard about it from a friend, and had seen the shop when she was in the mall on a previous visit.

On the way there Selma was telling me that her teacher said that Build-A-Bear was a rip-off, and they just wanted to get people’s money.  Granted, the place is not cheap, but neither is Disney and many other places that kids enjoy.  In my opinion, it’s not whether you’re cheap or not, but if you offer value for money.  There’ll always be someone who thinks you’re ripping people off, and you shouldn’t care about the ones who can’t – or choose not to – afford you.

I told her there was nothing wrong with getting money from people as long as you give something in return, and she agreed.  Last thing I want to do is raise my kids with an anti-capitalist or anti-entrepreneurial mind set.  The world is built on a (mostly) fair exchange of value.  And there will always be someone who thinks this is not right.  I’ve noticed over the years that teachers in particular seem to have a wealth-limiting mind set.  Anyway, that’s probably a discussion for completely different type of blog post.

Back to Build-A-Bear…

I’m a strong believer in good customer service, but that’s really an out-dated term.  The real goal for any business should be to provide outstanding customer experiences.  It’s all about the experience your customer has from first contact to last (often called moments of truth or MOT’s by customer service experts).  And let me tell you, Build-A-Bear provided us with a great customer experience.  Selma had a blast, and I had a blast seeing her so happy.

As the name implies, Build-A-Bear is a shop where you can create your own teddy bear (or other stuffed animal).  Selma first chose the animal, in her case a female chipmunk.  The next step is to choose a sound device.  You have several choices ranging from roars to girly giggles.  She chose a giggle.  The stuffed toy was then given a heart, and before being placed in the toy’s body Selma was asked to make a wish.

Then comes the stuffing! My daughter was asked to press on a peddle while the shop assistant placed the toy over a tube which had asma-free stuffing blowing out if it.  He carefully filled up the whole toy, then expertly sowed the back of the toy closed.  Selma then could “bathe” the toy with an air blower.  Then came the choice of clothes!  And her new best friend got a whole new wardrobe!

This was followed by the printing of a birth certificate.  Our new addition to the family was named “Dimza”  Dimza also got a closet for her new clothes.  All this splurging was generously funded by her grandfather (my father) who recently returned from a long medical trip abroad.  (“I want to give the kids some gifts” he told me.  “You already did…” I replied.  “No, those gifts were from your mother.  I want them to have gifts from me.  Here’ some cash, let each of them go and buy themselves a gift.” And so it was)

I have to say the staff there were really well trained (which makes all the difference), and very kid friendly.  Selma really enjoyed it.  It was early on a Friday morning and the place was quite full.  I suspect that they are doing very well for themselves.

As a marketer and entrepreneur, I love the Build-A-Bear concept.  Pure brilliance.  Instead of buying teddy bears, let the kids build them!  And to make more money, let them buy all kinds of add-ons!  There were dozens of choices of clothing as well as hand bags, sun glasses, pets, and other accessories.  What a fantastic niche!  I wish I came up with it.

A customer can just spend BD 11 (around USD 30) for the basic stuffed toy, to literally hundreds of dinars.  Between the toy, the wardrobe and the closet we spent BD 82 (USD 217).  And we did it with a smile 🙂

So what’s the lesson for you Mr./Ms. Business owner?  The lesson for you is to create really outstanding customer experiences for your customers.  And the second lesson is to figure out ways to maximise income during this experience.  How many up-sells, cross-sells and upgrades can you provide during this experience?  Remember, this is not about exploiting your customers, it’s about offering them extra value.  If you have ethical qualms about this, then I suggest getting a difference kind of career.  If not enough people are buying, then you know that something is wrong with the experience you’re providing, and you need to make some adjustments.  You should always try to turn your customers into raving fans, so that they come back over and over, and they tell their friends too.

Well that’s all for today, if you enjoyed this then make sure to sign up to my FREE weekly marketing emails at

Thanks for talking the time to read this, and talk to you soon.

2 Responses to The Marketing Brilliance of Build-A-Bear Workshop

  1. Muna Al Gurg 21 May 2010 at 7:59 am #

    We do need the best customer experiences in the Gulf and I cannot stop stressing on it. However, above all I would like to say that you are an inspiration and role model to every young father out there.The best part?One-on-one time given to each of your children.Love it.

    • Suhail 22 May 2010 at 9:09 am #

      Thanks so much Muna. Really appreciate the feedback 🙂

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