1997: Maxine Clark opened the first Build-a-Bear workshop in a mall in St. Louis.
1999: Raised investor money and opened 10 new stores.
2001: The National Retail Federation names Build-A-Bear the Retail Innovator of the Year.
2002: Build-A-Bear Workshop celebrates the 100th anniversary of the teddy bear along with the opening of its 100th store.
2008: 346 stores and $470M in revenue – a huge success.
Maxine did a lot of things right.
She sold an experience, not a product. (The bears are free. Parents and grandparents (happily) pay for the experience of creating them with their child.)
She built a Purple Cow, a remarkable product that people would passionately tell their friends about.
She made it extremely easy for the idea to spread. The concept is perfect for groups (i.e. birthday parties). In recent years, she has expanded the empire with smart licensing deals.
But Maxine did another thing right. She built an advisory board for feedback and decision input. The board members? High paid MBAs or marketing consultants? Surely they would know the market trends and forecasts better than anyone, right?
Wrong. The Cubs are a group of 20 boys and girls 8-14 years old who review new products and suggest additional ones. It meets with Clark and her team 3-4 times per year. Clark takes the board’s opinions seriously–if the board does not approve a product idea, the company doesn’t use it.
If Maxine Clark is smart enough enough to listen to 5th graders, are you smart enough to listen to your customers?