Speed Review: The Bear Necessities of Business

Speed Review: The Bear Necessities of Business

Speed Review: The Bear Necessities of Business

Building a Company with Heart

by Amy Joyner & Maxine Clark

Clark’s story of how she founded the Build-A-Bear Workshop 200-store retail chain, a process that reinvented the way in which toy bears are bought. It addresses key strategies Clark pursued —tapping into entertainment retailing trends, paying attention to details like packaging, and staying connected with customer needs — and additional, widely applicable tips to help any new business owner deal with the basics.


A Fun Look At The Basics

Following a successful retail career as an executive with the May Department Stores and Payless Shoes, Maxine Clark opened her first Build-A-Bear Workshop concept store in a St. Louis mall in 1997. Today, the publicly traded company has more than 200 locations, and 750 full-time and 5,000 part-time staff around the world. More than 30 million guests (the company's term for customers) have made and outfitted teddy bears or other stuffed animals at a Build-A-Bear Workshop. The company is one of the United States' top 15 toy retailers, with annual sales of more than $350 million in 2005. That is why, despite the fact that The Bear Necessities of Business is a lighthearted and fun read, the advice within it deserves to be taken seriously.

An Irresistible Destination
Clark is the first to admit that her company didn't invent the teddy bear, only reinvented the process of buying one. She says her competition is more likely to be the local movie theater than a Toys "R" Us. By tapping into entertainment retailing trends, paying attention to unique touches such as packaging, and building a youth advisory committee that keeps her connected with her end-users, she has built an irresistible destination store for young families.

Starting Up and Making Connections
Clark cautions new entrepreneurs to beware of conventional wisdom and rely on their instincts. While impressing upon readers the need for sufficient capitalization, she also stresses the importance of thinking big and refusing to let one's ideas be dampened by financial realities or naysayers. She notes that taking risks and making mistakes provide an opportunity to learn some of the most important business lessons.

To rate customer experience, Clark often walks into one of her stores incognito and makes a bear to watch how staff interact with customers, instead of using secret shoppers. She stresses the importance of being available to customers, reading their communications and keeping as much information as possible on past purchases. Any customer can contact her via her e-mail addresses, which she includes in the book.

Using Essential Marketing Strategies
Stressing that a brand is a company's DNA, Clark advises entrepreneurs to begin to define their brand when they begin planning their businesses. She shows how to use the media effectively; discusses what kinds of advertising to choose for specific results; and shows how happy customers who talk about their experience can be the best, most cost-effective form of marketing. Clark also divulges her keys to growth:

  • Not straying too far from the demands of core customers.
  • Growing the business without compromise.
  • Choosing partners and vendors wisely.
  • Being prepared for the unimaginable.
  • Taking part in incessant innovation and hard work.

Giving Back to the Community
Build-A-Bear Workshops also provide a way to connect with local communities through children's hospitals and animal charities, as well as national groups such as the World Wildlife Federation. Believing that "good works are good business," Clark encourages other businesses to partner with charitable organizations and play a leadership role in their local communities. And she walks the talk: 100 percent of the proceeds of The Bear Necessities of Business are earmarked for the Build-A-Bear Hugs Foundation, which supports health and wellness causes as well as educational and literacy programs.

Why We Like This Book
Clark's "pawsitive" thinking - there's a generous sprinkling of the brand's "Bearisms" throughout the book - strikes the right tone of optimism and enthusiasm. Her "I've been there" approach inspires trust, and her information, based on both personal experience and common sense, should be welcome to all business owners, particularly those just starting out.