Last month, I had the opportunity to interview entrepreneur icon, Maxine Clark, founder and chief executive bear of Build-A-Bear Workshop, while attending Office Depot’s Sixth Annual Success Strategies for Businesswomen conference, where more than 1,200 female entrepreneurs gathered from across the nation.
| “We recognized early that international expansion was critical to the growth of our business, so we’ve been aggressively expanding in this direction.” — Maxine Clark, Build-A-Bear Workshop
Clark has taken teddy bears to a whole new level. Starting off with one store in St. Louis, Build-A-Bear Workshop now has hundreds of stores in North America and has expanded to Europe, Asia and Australia.
Brindak: What kind of advice would you offer to entrepreneurs, both entrepreneurs with established businesses and young entrepreneurs such as myself?
Clark: The most important thing is to start to develop “your” network. Ask more experienced people for help, because you can learn so much. Don’t be scared to ask for help. I’m a sponge — I’m always soaking things up.
Brindak: Without divulging any “top secrets,” where do you see Build-A-Bear Workshop going? What new things are on the drawing board?
Clark: Well, we have a strong business plan that we have diligently stuck to for the most part. In the past, I have been a part of five or so billion dollar companies. We recognized early that international expansion was critical to the growth of our business, so we’ve been aggressively expanding in this direction. Recognizing that stuffed animals are usually associated with young girls, we are now exploring a product line geared towards boys.
We love and take pride in the interactive nature of Build-A-Bear Workshop and the family participation aspect is great. We also have a new concept called friends 2B made. The new doll product line offers guests the opportunity to create their own fashionable friend and choose hip fashions and accessories for the doll. At both friends 2B made and Build-A-Bear Workshop it’s all about personalization — for example, we can customize special “sports bears” for a wide range of popular sports teams. Boys really love those.
Brindak: What trends do you see in your industry?
Clark: We continue to focus on the personalized experience. We have found the more options we give our guests the happier they seem to be, and happy guests are loyal customers.
Little tweaks and details such as picking the right bear or which purse goes with the bear’s outfit really matters to the customer and makes the Build-A-Bear Workshop experience more memorable and fun.
Brindak: Build-A-Bear Workshop has seen tremendous growth. What do you attribute the growth to? How do you keep reaching a greater market (boutique stores, licensing, etc.)?
Clark: We really listen to our guests. Guests write to us every day giving us feedback and advice. They let us know if they want a Build-A-Bear Workshop near them or other great ideas. Our Web site also has a place for questions to be submitted. In addition, we also have a Build-A-Bear Workshop advisory board, which is comprised of young contributors to help us remain current with the latest trends.
Brindak: What business and personal characteristics do you believe entrepreneurs must possess?
Clark: You have to know that you don’t know everything. Passion is also a very important attribute; if you don’t believe in it, then you won’t be successful. I always say, do what you love and love what you do. You’ll be rich in a nonmonetary way, which is the most important thing in life!
To read about hand-stuffing, the newest trend in the the plush stuffing business, please click here.