Stuffable-Bear Retailer…Bears All
By Timothy Dickey
started out with Beanie Babies® in’ 97, and that’s how I got in
business with the carts,” Brian Levine explains. He owns cart operations
in two malls, one in Providence, Rhode Island and the other in Braintree,
Of course, the Beanies have slowed down, and now he sells Happy
Feet Slippers, Octomasse head massagers and Italian charm bracelets.
Oh yes, he also has a “stuff-your-own” teddy bear cart.
And how is the stuffable-bear business going?
“The bear business is definitely number one,” says Levine. “It’s
a real draw. People hear the machine and see it, the fluff moving
around inside, and come over. We’ve had great success. Both malls
do very well.”
Levine has been offering stuffable-bears for a year as of June 30th,
but he wants to make one thing very clear.
“We don’t sell bears, we sell an experience,” he says, adding that
he takes great care in hiring and training employees who have positive
dispositions, and like children. “That’s what I teach my employees,
because (a customer) can buy a bear anywhere.”
Levine’s cart, the customer first chooses which animal they want.
A variety abounds, ranging many species. Then the customer decides
whether it should be soft and squishy, or chubby; it all depends
on how much stuffing is applied.
“It’s interactive, also,” he explains. “The customer steps on a
pedal and that’s what makes the stuffing come out. And when they’re
all done, they get to pick out a special heart (for the animal).
They get to kiss the heart, make a wish, spin it around or warm
it in their hands. And then they stick it inside, because every
living thing has a heart.”
Another very popular accessory is a sound chip that plays back pre-recorded
sounds or words. Levine also offers recordable sound chips, and
recalls a customer creating a bear for his fiancé that said, “Will
you marry me?” Another customer stuffed his bear with $100 dollar
bills as gift for his girlfriend who was going on a gambling trip.
“Every bear comes in a cradle with a handle, with a birth certificate,
and the heart that goes inside, and a bow. Because no bear leaves
our store naked.” If the customer isn’t interested in the accessory
clothing and costumes-wizards and superheroes are among the most
popular now-employees happily affix a complimentary bow.
is a great concept, according to Levine, but “you have to have traffic,
because it’s an impulse item. You have to sell, too, because people
are curious and will come up to you…we put a bear in their hands.”
He adds that the birthday party aspect of his business adds 10%
to 20% onto his totals each month, but requires a good pitch, too.
Levine’s carts feature party pamphlets, assuring moms that “we give
her everything for the party, except for the cake.” For such events,
bears are partially prestuffed. Parents are easily trained to guide
partygoers in hand stuffing and sealing bears with supplies provided.
Wrap with Accessories
Levine recommend going into bear stuffing as a business?
“I absolutely recommend it. People call me for references,” he says.
“I’m honest. I don’t lie to these people, because it is a risk.”
Again, he stresses high traffic is a must for success, and you have
to love children.
Also, “You can’t just hire some kid to work the cart.” Levine employs
10 to 12 people at a time, and typically has two employees manning
a cart. “It’s labor intensive. At Christmas time we have six to
seven people on.” Then he adds with some pride, “That’s for the
almost 300 bears a day we do.”
“I’ve sold well over 15,000 bears this year, and that’s with one
cart only being open the last six months.”
But he makes it clear that no matter how well the bears are doing,
“We make it special for every kid. We might do a hundred bears in
a day, and be tired. But for that 100th kid, it might be his first
teddy bear, so we want it to be just like the first kid who got
his bear that day.”
“We’re selling an experience,” he adds, again. Sounds like good
advice from a great salesman, and a very nice fellow at that.
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