An Excerpt from the Book:
“Entrepreneurs want to make the world a better place than how they found it”
Maxine Clark is one of the true innovators in the retail business. In 1997, after working in the corporate retail world for a quarter century, she founded Build-A-Bear Workshop, a themed retail store that integrated entertainment with the customer experience. There are more than 400 stores worldwide, with revenues over $350 million annually. She served as Chief Executive Bear until 2013; she continues to serve on numerous boards and community-based initiatives.
It all started with a 10-year old girl named Katie. I do not have kids of my own, but I had a special relationship with the daughter of a good friend, Katie Burkhardt. One day we were shopping for Beanie Babies, which she was collecting at the time, and were slightly frustrated that we could not find any new animals to add to her collection. At one point, she picked one of them up and casually remarked that it would be easy to make one ourselves.
Her off-the-cuff comment was my inspiration to merge retail and entertainment into a memorable experience that was fun and creative. It grew into a place where Guests could personalize a soft and cuddly bear for someone they loved. And most of all, coming to our stores made people happy. Build-A-Bear Workshop became not only a platform for innovation, but also a powerful way to give back to the community.
Prior to Build-A-Bear Workshop, I had a great deal of success working in the corporate retail world, having risen to the top position at Payless Shoe Source – but the magic that I saw in Katie’s eyes was nowhere to be found. So much of the business was focused on price, which came at the loss of customer experience. I was growing increasingly bored with the familiar solutions that left no room for an emotional connection to the consumer.
If you’ve been to one of our stores, you know that selecting the heart and making wishes is an important part of the experience. The idea of the heart came from an artist friend, Sarah Russell. Another bit of insight came from an employee, Jeff Marx, who was the first one to bring a bit of theater to the “heart ceremony.” Oftentimes, I found the biggest opportunities came from staff and friends – but you have to listen closely or those ideas will be lost. If the individuals do not listen, the companies run by those individuals will miss opportunities.
Several factories produced customized bears, but they were doing so in isolation. I approached one of them about partnering on a new venture so that I did not have to start the manufacturing process from scratch. They did not believe it would be successful on a national basis and declined. They lacked both the observation and imagination to know what they really had. I saw the sparkle in the kids’ eyes as they waited in line to get their bear: I knew there was a much broader market than they realized.
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