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Build-A-Bear Isn’t Just for Kids Anymore

Many people think of Build-A-Bear as a brick-and-mortar store inside a mall where parents and grandparents take small children for a unique hands-on experience.  And for good reason. Build-A-Bear—now in its 25th year—has nearly 500 box stores across America.

But Build-A-Bear isn’t just for kids anymore. In fact, the company now markets its products as multi-generational, with over 40% of sales now coming from teenagers and adults. Yearly sales were $467.9 million in 2022, the most profitable year in Build-A-Bear’s history.

What is driving this growth?

Many Build-A-Bear stuffed animals have reached pop culture status. The company has licensing agreements with Star Wars, professionals sports leagues (NBA, NFL), and superheroes (Marvel, DC Comics). Build-A-Bear also has holiday-themed products for box-office hits such as The Polar Express and The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Collectors have been in pursuit of one stuffed animal in particular—Pumpkin Kitty—which originally debuted in 2008, and was re-released in Fall 2023 as part of Build-A-Bear’s Vault Collection. Pumpkin Kitty now sells for upwards of $300 in online secondary markets like eBay.

To market its products to teens and adults, Build-A-Bear has invested heavily in redesigning its website with improved payment, checkout, and enhanced product visualization. The website now includes an age-gated link for more adult-themed stuffed animals appropriate for occasions like weddings and Valentine’s Day.

The company recently released a holiday movie, “Glisten and the Merry Mission”, in collaboration with Cinemark. It includes multiple new characters which leads to opportunities for more sales.

No longer confined to shopping malls, Build-A-Bear now has stores in tourist areas, a cruise ship model, seasonal and temporary locations, and a new Build-A-Bear Adventure concept which includes an arcade and party rooms.

“You really have to put yourself where your consumer is. You have to meet them wherever they’re going to be. And they’ve [Build-A-Bear] been doing a good job at that,” said James Zahn, editor-in-chief of The Toy Book, the leading trade publication for the toy industry.


Video Spotlight:  


This post is based on the Retail Dive article, The right stuff: How Build-A-Bear is creating a cuddly (and lucrative) empire, by Kaarin Vembar, November 7, 2023; the Build-A-Bear website’s Investor page; and the YouTube video in the spotlight.  Image source: Chanwoot Boonsuya/Shutterstock

Discussion Questions:

1. What are some operational (supply) factors that could positively affect Build-A-Bear’s ongoing sales growth?

Guidance: Build-A-Bear may focus on adding additional suppliers to ensure a supply of raw materials given demand is growing. The company may also focus on developing partnerships with multiple transportation providers (such as UPS, FedEx, and USPS) to ensure timely delivery, given online sales are increasing.

Other efforts may be focused on enhancing or improving quality, internally and with suppliers, such that their products are continually viewed as ‘differentiated’.

2. Other than the licensing agreements mentioned in the post, what other marketing opportunities (demand) could further bolster sales across different generations?

Guidance: Now that college athletes have NIL (Name-Image-Likeness) contracts, the company might consider developing licensing agreements with top athletes, such as LSU gymnast Olivia Dunn. Or a licensing agreement with Taylor Swift, whose pop culture following spans hundreds of millions of global fans across multiple generations.

Another idea is to continue expanding product offers across generations. Build-A-Bear has a strong customer base in families with children, but also appeals to teenagers and young adults. The company may consider developing licensing agreements around themes or entertainers popular with older customers, such as Rosie the Riveter, Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and John F. Kennedy.

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Dillon Brown
Dillon Brown
1 month ago

I think this is a great article. I remember getting my first build-a-bear and wanting that bear to last a lifetime. Now, as I grow older, I feel as if the company did a great job marketing. I say this because they gave consumers, even at a young age, a great product that could last throughout their childhood and become a significant piece in that consumer’s life. In my case, that is what happened, and because of this, now, at an older age, I feel more inclined to shop with build-a-bear. Even if not for myself, because of the excellent… Read more »

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