In a little over three years, 51-year-old Maxine Clark has turned Build-A-Bear Workshop into one of the nations largest retailers of teddy bears through mall stores, direct mail and the Internet — a part of the business that will double this year. Shes also created a great place for people to work.
The keys to Build-A-Bears success have been its employees, Clark says. "Our most appealing attribute is that we are a family business," Clark says. "We have a playful environment where creativity and ideas are encouraged."
Build-A-Bear has 65 employees at its headquarters and more than 1,000 full- and part-time employees nationwide. It offers flexible work schedules and telecommuting. In addition, each employee receives 15 "honey days" per year to use for vacations, sick days or whatever the person wishes. The company also offers discounts on stuffed bears and other animals, and everybody decorates their offices with teddy bears. And for each employee, Build-A-Bear contributes $100 annually toward a wellness program, such as a health-club membership or a weight-loss program.
"Its a corporate culture like no other, says Ronnie Gaubatz, master Web bear, who has worked at Build-A-Bear for two years. "It really inspires creativity. Its all about showing up and making a difference. Anyone at any level of the company can have an idea and make it happen," he says.
The company also allows employees to bring their children to work and recognizes that they have obligations outside the workplace, Gaubatz says.
Clark started the company with $750,000 of her savings in October 1997, and later received more than $11 million in venture capital financing. Last year, the privately held company more than doubled sales and raked in $50 million in revenue, up from $20 million in 1999.
In the brick-and-mortar stores, customers have the opportunity to become interactive "bear builders" by selecting everything that makes up a bear — including sounds, stuffing, p stitches, names and clothes. The same process can be completed online.
"Weve got a big-company mentality," Clark says. "And a small-company heart."