Build-A-Bear is a popular company that enables children to select a stuffed animal, dress it any way that they chose, and then name it. Essentially, it is a company that brings customization to the forefront of their business. Since its implementation in 1997, the company has achieved extraordinary success; it has won multiple awards, has stores in several countries and even has a float in New York’s famed Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
In July 2015 Build-A-Bear opened their new flagship store in New York City—located literally in the Empire State Building. The store, which can be accessed from the street, is in an ideal location near tour buses and it smartly displays its expanse of “Statue of Liberty” and “Big Apple” apparel in the windows to entice youngsters. This Examiner recently had the opportunity to visit the store and was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the experience.
For starters, the Build-A-Bear store is well-lit and very cheerfully decorated. The staff was incredibly polite and helpful and the shelves were well-stocked. The amount of options was very impressive—especially since many of the costumes had a suitably “New York” feel to them, such as bears dressed up in Yankee attire. Adorably, two bears even have “alternate noses” with one being a baseball and the other an apple.
Although the plush models range in prices (some were as low as $12 while others were marked close to $30), every outfit can fit every plush since the basic dimensions of all the toys are the same. Thus, if a child gets a toy that he or she really likes, it is possible to collect a wardrobe for that individual plush. When fully clothes and accessorized, the prices of the dolls can total substantially more than the base price.
The quality of the material is exceptional. The plush it very soft but strong and the costumes—which are made out of various kinds of fabrics—are well assembled and surprisingly detailed. Everything in Build-A-Bear is designed in-house although they have licensing agreements with huge companies including Disney, Star Wars, Hasbro and Harley Davidson. There are many options for furry friends: bears, rabbits, cats, dogs—even dragons! Two of the plush models (one a dragon and the other a bear with fairy wings) even light up.
Once a child chooses a furry friend, they then select the clothes and accessories that they want it to wear—and all of these items are sold separately. The clothes usually consist of an outfit (shirts and pants or skirts are generally sold as one piece), shoes and—for girl models—headbands or bows. Additional items like purses, musical instruments, tiaras and even cars and motorcycles (made out of vinyl) can also be purchased.
Once a child has selected these pieces, they can then choose to add sound to the doll via a very cool “sound machine” that downloads the sound into a chip right before the consumer’s eyes. Children can also choose a scent (like honey, cotton candy or bubblegum) for their plush to smell like and add a “heartbeat” button that will make it sound like the doll’s heart is beating whenever a child hugs it. There is also a “heart ceremony” where the child puts a little cloth heart inside their doll (after going through a cute ritual where they hug the heart to their chest to make it extra warm and rub it on their foreheads to make it extra bright, etc.) and then they can watch as the Build-A-Bear staff stuff the toys via a stuffing machine. In fact, kids can even take part in this portion of the building by stepping on a floor pedal.
Once the doll is stuffed, it is dressed (by either the child or the staff) and taken to the “naming center,” a computer that allows the child to name their toy (or select a name from a list if they are having trouble deciding one of their own). Once a name is selected, a “birth certificate” is printed out with the dolls name and the date of its creation becomes its “birthday.” The birth certificate is carefully rolled up, tied with a bow, and then placed in a cheerful Build-A-Bear box along with the stuffed toy (although children can chose to carry the toy out of the store if they wish to).
Probably the most impressive feature of Build-A-Bear is the fact that their dolls can be fitted with an “identification chip.” Thus, if a furry friend gets lost whoever finds it can return it to any Build-A-Bear location where it will be scanned and tracked back—and ultimately returned to—its owner.
Overall, the Build-A-Bear experience is about much more than buying a stuffed animal, it’s about making memories with a child and giving them an occasion to remember. For this reason, the store has become a hotspot for birthday parties where every child gets to build a plush to keep as a party favor (Build-A-Bear staff members will work out price ranges with parents ahead of time).
Build-A-Bear items are high quality but they are not cheap. Although some models are very fairly priced, it is reasonable to assume that you will spend about $50 per furry friend—and perhaps considerably more than that depending on the model, clothes and accessories chosen. For a parent with more than one child, frequent trips to this location are probably not in order.
On my visit to the store, I created Teegan—one of the “Honey Girls” which are Build-A-Bear’s first multimedia line—and loaded the doll with all the extras. As a result, the final price (with New York City tax) totaled $68.69. Considering that there are three Honey Girls—all priced the same even with different accessories—the total for a set would be slightly over $206. This is a considerable investment but if your child is sure to play with the toys for a long time is it one that is worth it.
To learn more about Build-A-Bear visit their official website. See here for directions and information about the Empire State Building flagship store.