Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Build-A-Bear improvements

IF YOU AGREE WITH THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE CONTACT BUILD-A-BEAR(the red text is a link to Build-A-Bear's e-mail). A short e-mail may be enough to change Build-A-Bear's thinking.

We all know by now about Build-A-Bear's most recent idea: Build-A-Bearville. Yes, it seems that Build-A-Bear is depending on Build-A-Bearville to leverage its sales. But is it really such a good idea? Today, I'm going to look into some ways Build-A-Bear could more effectively use Build-A-Bearville without creating resentment among loyal customers.

Let me explain where I'm coming from. In our household we have six Build-A-Bears from varying Build-A-Bear eras. We've made over 70 purchases - in our household alone there are probably 40-50 outfits. We've bought over $1,000 in Build-A-Bear stuff, even though we live a good 45 minutes to an hour away from the closest Build-A-Bear Workshop. Two of our Build-A-Bears will be married this summer, and we had planned a high budget for wedding supplies. And yet, we are excluded from the Bear Boutique and denied Build-A-Bearville privaleges. Why is that?

That is the question many Build-A-Bear fans are asking while being shut out of Bear Boutiques and sunny beaches. Why us? Why must we, the loyal customers, be excluded from the "fun stuff" of Build-A-Bearville, while others enjoy the luxury of exclusive online furniture and accessories? Why would Build-A-Bear reject its most loyal customer base?

Maybe because someone has to be excluded, or so Build-A-Bear thinks. The basis of Build-A-Bearville is "Buy more and you get more! Pamper yourself - having is better than wanting! You deserve more stuff, after all" and "Other people have it - you're entitled to it! Look at how much fun they're having. Don't you want to be better than them?" That theme doesn't work without exclusion. Instead of fostering a love for teddy bears and family relationships, Build-A-Bearville is fostering a generation of greed and an attitude of "Dogs eat dogs - do you want to be eaten?"

Build-A-Bear's original purpose was much different. Teddy bears are classic, and Build-A-Bear coupled that truth with valuable themes. You picked a bear, gave it a heart and the ability to love, you clothed it, and you brought it home to care for it. You made a friend, you believed in love, you spent time with your family, and you found meaning in caring for someone other than yourself. That's what Build-A-Bear was all about - so why has it changed?

Build-A-Bearville has added a new facet to the Build-A-Bear experience, and I'm sorry to find it a negative one. Build-A-Bearville has added competition and greed. What could Build-A-Bear have done differently to improve Build-A-Bearville and support the classic Build-A-Bear experience?

Here are a few things that might have worked better. It's not too late to impliment them, and I strongly believe they would increase sales and customers as well as love:
  • Crafts with your bear: Build-A-Bear's core purpose was creating a friend, but what should a customer do when they walk out of the store? How do you actually "play" with a teddy bear? Build-A-Bear could easily fill that gap the way American Girl did: create an activity book for you and your bear. Whether provided online (without depending on the customer owning a computer printer) or given to the Guest at time of sale, craft booklets are the perfect thing to keep the Build-A-Bear spark alive. The more "bonding time" a child associates with their Build-A-Bear, the more alive the bear will seem. Soon, the child will be asking to go to Build-A-Bear not because "I need more stuff!" but because "Fluffy is feeling cold and needs a new sweater" and because "Fluffy has grown out of his old swimsuit and needs a new one" and because "Fluffy's my friend, and I need to help him!"

  • Bear clubs: When Bear Bonding fails, socialization will draw a crowd. Build-A-Bear needs clubs - after-school clubs, on-weekend clubs, you name it - but bring your bear! The clubs could take place at Build-A-Bear, and club members wouldn't be pressured to buy anything. They'd be organized by age so that the older members weren't meeting with 8-year-olds, and each age group could do appropriate activities. They'd go through the "Be 100% Pawsome!" program together, they'd read age-appropriate books together, they'd go out for pizza together - they'd do lots of things together. Guests would be given a brochure about the clubs at the time of their purchase, and many mothers are be looking for the right drop-off place for their child. Cost would be minimal or null, and Build-A-Bear would provide a safe environment that encouraged family values. Oh, and the big deal for Build-A-Bear is this: those club members (especially teens) will love to indulge in Build-A-Bear products again and again with the excuse "I was on my way to the club, and I just couldn't resist!"

  • Fewer Build-A-Bearville exclusives: Build-A-Bear did the right thing when they allowed Welcome Passes for those guests with older bears, and they did the right thing when they restricted Cub Condo ownership to Build-A-Bear owners. However, I would make that the only restricted option. Have a non-Build-A-Bear owner visit a friend's Cub Condo enough, and they'll want one just like it. After they have their Cub Condo - the original reason they went to the physical Build-A-Bear - they'll begin to see Build-A-Bear's real purpose. And they'd see the love, the family time, the new friend, and they'd want to come back. All of this would happen simply because of Build-A-Bearville. After all, they're more likely to be playing on a website that's welcoming them ("Anyone can come and play on 99% of this website for free!!!!") as opposed to rejecting them ("What? No purchase? Oh, no, you can't survive here without a purchase! Yes, it says its free, but that's only 45% of the website. You have to pay for the rest.")

With these three Build-A-Bear improvements alone Build-A-Bear can make much more money. Shifting the direction of the website will not be seen as "Oh, we made a mistake" so much as it will be seen as "We love our customers so much, we decided to give you even more!" Adding the Build-A-Bear clubs and activity booklets will boost customer support, customer fun, and customer willingness to spend more money. And why shouldn't Build-A-Bear boost those things? It would make money, establish a customer base, and shore up Build-A-Bear's reputation.

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Build-a-Bear Buzz is an independent effort (not affiliated with the Build-A-Bear Workshop company) to bring the buzz to the bear - that is to say, keep Build-A-Bear fans informed. Build-A-Bear Buzz is updated every Saturday. Written by a bear for bears, this blog is the perfect place to get the scoop!

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Hi! I'm a blogging Build-A-Bear! My name is Lilliana, but you can call me Lilli