At Build-A-Bear workshop, everyone has a great experience as they build their own furry companion, adding their own tastes, feelings and personality. The experience is a fantastical journey that is made special by their staff’s guidance, creativity and dedication. The Times spoke with the General Manager of Build-A-Bear Workshop for the Gulf States, Paul Marks, about the wonderfully innovative concept that brings joy and smiles to children all across the Gulf region.
In your own words describe the exciting aspects of the Build-A-Bear Workshop?
As a retailer, it’s all about engaging a customer and creating a relationship. We don’t sell a bear – we sell love and hugs. The child chooses from a variety of soft skins of furry friends. They put a sound in it, then they go to the stuffing machine and stuff the bear. They can give it a hug test to check if it’s the right level of hugability. Then, there’s a special moment, where they make special wishes place a heart in the bear. The children can dress it, personalize it, and accessorize it with sunglasses, shoes etc, anything from the store. They also get to name the bears and make its birth certificate. These are processes that we call – Choose Me, Hear Me, Stuff Me, Fluff Me, Dress Me, Name Me and finally, Take Me Home. Finally, the finished bear is popped into its own distinctive condo. Our bear builders spend over 30 minutes with each customer and build a good rapport.
What has been the Kuwaiti public’s response to the Build-A-Bear concept?
The public’s response has been amazing. One of the happiest stores of all the International stores is the one in Kuwait. Most of the International brands make the mistake of not focusing on the local citizens, but we found the local population to be very receptive. Mom and dad love watching the process as much as the kids. It is fun for the whole family
In what way have you adapted the toys to the Kuwaiti market?
We felt we had to respect the local traditions, and that’s why we changed a line from the Bear promise to keep with the Kuwaiti customs. Our Kids Bear Promise includes the line “I brought my bear to life”. As it is not culturally sensitive, we changed it to say “We became friends today”. Also, we introduced the Camel soft toy in Kuwait; four-legged furry toys are very popular here. On the website, the toys and games are available in Arabic so Arab children can play online with their toy.
How do you make the traditional teddy bear more appealing to the children of today?
The main aspect of our brand is the experience of creating the bear and personalizing it. Friends and family come to buy a bear for someone special. Sometimes adults enter the store to buy a bear for themselves. The build-a-bear experience is for everyone. We have bears of different price ranges, and the Build-A-Bear experience is the same for each child whether she buys a KD 4 or KD 8 bear. We try to make it accessible for everyone.
Do children learn from the experience of creating their own personalized toy?
Children have the instinct to nurture, and they learn the different aspects of nurturing from their parents and toys as well as their friends. This is why we have the tagline, ‘Best friends are made.’ With a special toy, it’s the first time a child understands about nurturing and they learn to use their imagination.
How has the Build-A-Bear Workshop franchise handled the competition from gadgets?
When I attend conferences, I hold a bear up and the audience smiles. The most common expression is “how cute is that”. It’s one of those things all people agree that a teddy bear is cute, going back to the nurturing aspect. You cannot cuddle an iPad. I think there’s always a place for general cuteness and cuddliness, and children can enjoy both gadgets and soft toys.
What have you most enjoyed about the expansion of the franchise across the Middle East?
I have been in retailing for 33 years and have been lucky to have worn many retail hats, my experience has taught me a lot. Being at Build-A-Bear Workshop is the most fun I have ever had because the brand genuinely engages with the customers. I love meeting people, and the only way to be successful in the business of Build-A-Bear is if people are your passion. I believe the future of retail is experiential retail where the company is involved and understands the consumer.
Which is the most popular toy in the workshop?
Children are very excited with the licensed toys; we have My Little Pony, which is hugely popular. Then, the Smurfs was a big hit. We plan on releasing Palace Pets, small animals owned by Princesses like Ariel and Cinderella. And this year when the Ninja Turtle movie releases, we will have a Ninja Turtle product line. The core product that is the most successful is our everyday teddy bear because they are usually affordable and already familiar with children. We also had the licence to make a Hello Kitty friend, and it has attracted a lot of customers.
What is the next venture for Build-A-Bear?
We plan to open 4 new stores in the Gulf, and our third store will be in Kuwait at the Boulevard mall. We are very pleased to have such an amazing location; it is the largest piece of green area in Kuwait. It is a great community mall, and there are many other activities visitors can enjoy. The beauty of the brand is that the local community is the main customer.
- Christina Pinto