Posts Tagged ‘ Maxine Clark ’

Build-A-Brand Brilliant!

Build-A-Bear WorkshopHere’s an inspiring “Think Differentiated” moment written by Fortune Magazine’s Dinah Eng on (3/19/12) focused on Maxine Clark’s brilliant Build-A-Bear brand. Maxine Clark got the idea for Build-A-Bear from a frustrated little girl. Maxine was shopping for Beanie Babies with Katie Burkhardt, the daughter of a good friend. There wasn’t anything new to buy, and Katie suggested making her own bear. “Her words gave me the idea to create a company that would allow people to create their own customized stuffed animals,” says Maxine, who at the time had left her job as president of Payless ShoeSource because “the retail world had lost its spark.”

Her vision was to create “a theme park factory in a mall,” and the adults didn’t get it. “Every parent said, Why would you want to make your own stuffed animal when you can buy it at Target?” But their kids loved the idea. Maxine didn’t conduct any focus groups, but did create a Cub Advisory Board, in which kids could offer opinions. She took $750,000 out of her retirement fund to open her first store, and secured a bank line of credit, with her home as collateral. A story in the St. Louis Business Journalattracted an investment firm. When Maxine’s first Build-A-Bear store opened in the St. Louis Galleria, “there was a line out the door.”

Originally it was “just bears and clothes,” and then came “shoes, accessories, then more animals.” Licensed products from Disney and Major League Baseball teams followed. “We hit a good nerve,” says Maxine. “At a time when everything was going high tech, high touch and hands-on was a good balance.” That was back in the late ’90s, but today Build-a-Bear “operates 425 stores” in 19 countries (almost 40% outside the US) and in 2011 had revenues of $394.4 million. “We focus on good price, convenience, and location, and we hope that when you leave, you have a smile on your face,” says Maxine. “Successful retailers — whether it’s Macy’s or Apple — do these things.”