Whether you’ve been in a store yourself or just seen lines forming outside of the large Build-A-Bear Workshop sign, you’re certainly familiar with the popularity of this toy store. It calls itself a “one-of-a-kind global brand that kids love and parents trust,” BBC News explains. Established in 1997, they’ve since produced more than 160 million stuffed animals and give customers the option to add sounds, scents, and clothing to their bears, in addition to many other customizable options.
Build-A-Bear never expected their latest blunder
On July 12, the bear-building franchise suffered a major setback with a special money-saving offer. BBC News reports Build-A-Bear stores across the U.S., U.K., and Canada offered a “Pay Your Age” special where customers could buy any bear for the price of their child’s age. For many, this resulted in serious savings — but others were turned away before they could even reach the entrance of the store.
At Leeds’ White Rose Shopping Centre, for example, the lines reportedly became “about a mile long,” resulting in police intervention. Build-A-Bear apparently had no idea their promotion would bring about such success. And they even had to shut down many of their stores early due to the growing lines and demand for cheap stuffed toys. BBC reporter Charles Heslett took a photo of the event, claiming the queue would take about five hours to get through.
For those who waited in line for several hours without receiving a bear, they were given a coupon to return on another day. And while many of those waiting in line clearly have small children they were hoping to entertain, there’s an entirely other demographic that Build-A-Bear has appealed to — and it’s much older than you’d expect.
Who’s really shopping at Build-A-Bear?
Children love building their bears in the fancy toy store, but they’re not the only ones. Forbes notes Build-A-Bear Workshops see plenty of ex-Beanie Baby collectors who are primarily middle-aged women, and they typically go for the limited-edition bears as soon as they come out. Even more surprising, however, is their other demographic: millennial women.
Employees noted they’d regularly see young and fashionable millennial women coming into the stores — and usually, they were alone. They also reportedly mostly purchased clothing and other accessories for the bears rather than the stuffed bear itself. And while many workers at the toy store figured these women were making purchases for younger siblings or for nostalgic reasons to dress an old bear, they realized the truth behind the purchases.
The real reason why this demographic is frequenting the toy store
Are these women really into dressing up stuffed bears? Not at all. In fact, Forbes notes most of these women are frequenting Build-A-Bear for the same reason — and that’s to dress their pets.
It seems strange at first, but in all actuality, it makes sense. The clothing at Build-A-Bear is fairly priced and comes out with new styles of clothing all the time to fit the season. The toy store sells other accessories, too, like hats, shoes, and furniture that would be perfect to indulge a small dog in.
As for why it’s mostly millennial women picking up on this trend, youth marketing analyst Melanie Shreffler gave Forbes some insight. “These women have this ‘make it work’ attitude that they’ll hack a computer program to get it to do what they want, they’ll create or repurpose stuff to meet their needs,” Shreffler said. “This is an example of them finding something that’s meant for another use and turning it on its head to make it work for them.”
Build-A-Bear continues to prove profitable
While Build-A-Bear clearly doesn’t make any effort to advertise its clothing to be used on real animals, the company isn’t exactly advising against it, either — especially given their current profitability. Time’s Money Magazine notes brick and mortar toy brands, like American Girl Doll and Legos, are seeing a steady decline in traffic. But somehow, Build-A-Bear is managing to climb its way to the top. In February 2018, they announced they were profitable for yet another year, which marks four straight years of good income.
Aside from millennial women shopping for their small dogs, kids also want an experience when it comes to toys — and that’s exactly what they’re getting at this unique shop. Not only do you pick your bear, but you stuff it and totally customize it, making it unique to the customer (no matter how young or old they may be).
As CEO Sharon Price John told the publication, “We’ve been around for 20 years now, in a space where people have a reason to go to retail for something other than transacting.” She also claimed the company was “on the forefront of experiential retail,” which has served them well.
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