Marketing Lessons from Build-A-Bear

BOOM: Lessons from Build-A-Bear

Share this:

Stuffed bears have been around since 1903 and became a multi-million dollar business. Despite the popularity of electronic gadgets, VR, AR, and AI, the simple toy lives on! In fact, according to a recent Retail Dive article, Build-A-Bear is on the upswing and has major deals with big brands like Marvel, the NFL, Disney, and others.

What’s especially fascinating is that adults now comprise a growing segment of the company’s market. With about 400 locations worldwide, Build-A-Bear is one of the largest surviving toy-related MULO (multi-location) brands. It was founded in 2017 and currently reports nearly $500M in revenue, up about 8 percent over the prior year.

So, what can we learn from this not-so-fuzzy success story?

  • Experiences are critically important in retail — and are growing in importance, as we learned from Craig Winning of Bat Box at the recent Place 2023 conference. And, although technology-powered experiences are thriving, good old-fashioned fun apparently has a place in the world too.
  • Collectibles are here to stay. The “Pumpkin Kitty” is the most recent addition to the Build-A-Bear line-up. Retailing for $35, its limited edition status is designed to attract people who love to fill their shelves with non-tech “stuff.”
  • Personalization has long been one of the brand’s hallmarks. Being able to create a one-of-a-kind teddy combines mass marketing with an individual experience.
  • Understanding your target market can lead to growth. A whopping 40 percent of the company’s customers are teens and adults.
  • Product line expansion creates new revenue sources if your brand has wide consumer appeal. The Kitty is not the only example of this. Not only does Build-A-Bear offer pajamas, but they have also expanded into digital products, offerings with an adult appeal (known as “The Bear Cave”), and even media properties.
  • Like other retail brands, Build-A-Bear has looked at creative new outlets for distribution. Fans can find branded products at family-centric amusement venues.

This holiday season, the “Bearlieve” interactive teddy was introduced, along with a celebrity-studded family-friendly film.

So, although we’re all excited these days about the latest gadgetry and special effects entertainment, let’s not forget the simple stuffed animal.

It seems to be quite a lucrative little beast!



Nancy A Shenker, senior editor with Street Fight, is a former big brand (Citibank, Mastercard, Reed Exhibitions) marketing strategist and leader. She has been featured in, the New York Times and Forbes.