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What the Market Will Bear

Where are we on the make-it-yourself curve, and when will this bear bubble burst? How big can Build-A-Bear get, and will Jerry McLean and Stanley Block tear each other apart in their race for the remaining market share of teddy entrepreneurs?

Block and McLean can make some guesses about the biz, but don’t expect any squabbling on their part. Because not only are they rivals in this fledgling industry, they’re new friends.

Operations and equipment vary somewhat, but both men aspire to a high standard of business. Part of what keeps them tight-they talk almost every day--is that they’ve both come to the rescue of stuffing-machine owners who were left high and dry after their original providers disappeared, or couldn’t follow through with supplies.

And then there’s the little issue of closure…the closures on the bear’s backs, that is. Two against the world proved a good formula, after a major bear-building outfit went to court claiming patent infringement on the original bear stitching technique. The suit seriously threatened the livelihood of independent stuffers, and a dozen or so actually went out of business.

McLean went to Asia looking for a solution, and finding none he developed a zipping device that permanently locks upon completion…and promptly shared it with Stanley Block.

Block, who says he’s made some improvements on the zipper himself, (and shared back with McLean), explains that despite being competitors, “We just like each other, we help each other.” Both spent about $100,000 in lawyer’s fees on this and another issue brought by the aforementioned company.

As for what the market will bear (there had to be one ursinous pun), McLean says, “The saturation in the market at the current supply and demand will be about 2 to 3 years.” He adds, “Our ratio (of new business) averages 75% new customers, and about 25% that are adding the concept to an existing store.”

At this year’s Toy Fair, McLean says he picked up 20 or so accounts that added the stuffing concept to their plush-specific stores, in particular. Zoos and amusement areas are also a high growth area, and the Phoenix Zoo has even found success with hand stuffing parties held in an old-timey barn.

Is There Gold in Them Thar Bears?

Stuffing machines and start-up supplies average about $10,000, and it should be noted that not everyone has struck gold with the idea. “There are people who are not doing well,” says Block, “but they just aren’t following instructions.” He stresses that adherence to proven principles is the key, and for this he offers “complete support” and manuals some customers say are excellent.

Meanwhile, McLean has just returned from Myrtle Beach, where he observed the operations of a new client store. The storeowner is capitalizing on an innovation that allows new bear owners to wear their newborn in a backpack type of papoose. Children can enjoy the carnival rides and handheld treats they encounter on the boardwalk, without encum-bear-ance. (Okay, two puns)

Seems like the idea is a winner; the storeowner just ordered 25,000 more. Not bad for his second week.


A Stuff-Your-Own Retailer tells his story:  Click Here...

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