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A Stuffable-Bear Retailer…Bears All
By Timothy Dickey

Brian Levine

“I 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, Massachusetts.

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 Operation

At 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.

Stuff-it-yourself 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.

Cash Wrap with Accessories

Would 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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