12 Facts About Build-A-Bear

Adam Bettcher, Getty Images for Build-A-Bear
Adam Bettcher, Getty Images for Build-A-Bear

Founded in 1997, Build-A-Bear Workshop may be the only franchise where you’re encouraged to tell employees to stuff it. The company specializes in customized teddy bears, offering options on everything from eyewear to scents. With more than 400 stores worldwide and 160 million bears sold, it’s a good time to be in the business of cuddles. Check out 12 facts about their bears, the infamous stuffing machine, and how Sean Penn dressed his teddy.

1. Build-A-Bear started with Beanie Babies.

Customers are greeted by employees at the Build-A-Bear Workshop in the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota in September 2015
Adam Bettcher, Getty Images for Build-A-Bear

Former Payless Shoe Source president Maxine Clark was shopping with her friend's 10-year-old daughter Katie, when they decided to search for Beanie Babies. Though it was the mid-1990s and Beanie Mania was in full bloom, the tiny collectibles were nowhere in sight. Plucky Katie was undeterred and observed that they would be easy to make. Clark was struck by the idea—a store where customers could make their own stuffed teddy—and opened the first Build-A-Bear storefront just nine months later.

2. The Build-A-Bear concept was often imitated but never successfully duplicated.

Build-A-Bear dominated the retail market (the chain pulled in about $50 million in operating profit in 2003), but the success wasn't all positive. Clark had to contend with both copycats and suggestions that she didn’t get the idea from Katie. According to Forbes, the co-owner of the Basic Brown Bear Factory sued Clark for copyright infringement and trade secret misappropriation in 1999, asserting that she had seen his store next to a Minneapolis-area Payless in 1995 and later made an offer to buy him out. Clark told the Chicago Tribune that she proposed a purchase but never did anything illegal. The two settled out of court (confidentially) in 2001. The Tribune also reported that Build-A-Bear sent threatening letters to another plush-build chain, Friends 2B Made, for trademark infringement and for possibly creating consumer confusion.

3. Build-A-Bear executives are known as "the Bears."


Getty Images

The corporate offices of Build-A-Bear are never in danger of running low on bear puns. Their St. Louis offices are known as “bearquarters,” all executive staff are officially listed with titles like chief executive bear, chief human resource bear, and chief operations bear. Only chief financial officer Voin Todorovic is credited without a furry designation. Guy doesn’t seem like much fun.

4. The Build-A-Bear children's advisory board is made up of actual children.

While many youth-oriented retail businesses conduct market research, Build-A-Bear went a step further by enlisting up to 20 children aged 6 to 14 to populate their Cub Advisory Board. The kids critique bear clothes and advertising strategies and helped inform the store’s 2015 redesign. In 2002, Clark said stores “don’t do anything without getting their input.” The company still keeps in contact with advisors who have grown out of the role and says it values their “pawsome” feedback.

5. The Build-A-Bear boxes were inspired by Happy Meals.


In her 2006 autobiography, inevitably titled The Bear Necessities of Business, Clark described how she stumbled upon the distinctive take-home carton that every Build-A-Bear is transported in. “I’ve always liked how McDonald’s packages its Happy Meal,” she wrote, “complete with hamburger, fries, drink, and fun toy—into one cleverly-designed box.” While the bears do not come with fries, Clark was able to wholesale the cartons (dubbed Cub Condos) more cheaply than paper bags would have cost her. They also help advertise the brand when children are seen toting them around in malls.

6. At Build-A-Bear, you can arm your bears.

Thanks in large part to a licensing deal to carry Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Build-A-Bear offers an array of weaponry that can be bought regardless of your particular animal’s pacifism. Nunchucks, katanas, and sais are all offered. Bears can even be fitted for their own Hulk Hands.

7. The Build-A-Bear "Stuffer" is a 7-foot-tall behemoth.

The Stuffer at the Build-A-Bear Workshop at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota is pictured in September 2015
Adam Bettcher, Getty Images for Build-A-Bear

Previously tucked away in the back of stores, the giant contraption that forces polyester stuffing into newborn bears has been promoted: Build-A-Bear unveiled a store redesign in September 2015 to attract more foot traffic with a one-of-a-kind theatrical experience that features a 7-foot-tall filling machine. When the company originally opened its first stores, it had to modify a pillow-stuffing machine.

8. Build-A-Bear made a surrogate mother for a real monkey.

After hearing that a DeBrazza’s monkey in a Kent, England zoo was too ill to care for her newborn offspring, Build-A-Bear’s UK offices donated a stuffed monkey that had a “beating” electronic heart inside of it. The plush was intended to replicate how a baby monkey can feel its mother’s heartbeat.

9. Sean Penn designed a Build-A-Bear teddy.


Getty Images

In November 2014, Operation Bobbi Bear—a charitable organization focused on child welfare—invited a number of celebrities to customize their own Build-A-Bears for an auction fundraiser. Janet Jackson, President Bill Clinton, and Sir Elton John were among those who accepted the offer. But Sean Penn’s was the most terrifying: The bear has been heavily tattooed and appears unapproachable.

10. The Build-A-Bear video on global warming terrified kids.

Eager to increase activity on social media, Build-A-Bear produced and distributed a series of videos in 2009 that depicted Santa Claus fretting about global warming. One polar bear tells him that at the rate the ice is melting, “the North Pole will be gone by Christmas.” Naturally, some kids were put off by the idea of Christmas being canceled. When the company was criticized for introducing a heavy topic to their young demographic and not remaining objective, they agreed to remove the videos.

11. Build-A-Bear inadvertently sells pet clothing.

A Build-A-Bear Workshop display is seen at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota in September 2015
Adam Bettcher, Getty Images for Build-A-Bear

With an array of fashionable apparel in pet-friendly sizes, it’s little wonder some animal lovers stop into Build-A-Bear to do some non-plush shopping. According to Forbes, the franchise has seen an increase in adults who stop in to buy clothing exclusively for their dogs. The company doesn’t endorse the practice, but says it may consider offering pet threads in the future.

12. The Build-A-Bear Pay Your Age promotion is now tear-proof.

Recent years have seen Build-A-Bear come under fire for running a Pay Your Age promotion that offered discounted bears according to a child's age. If they're 6 years old, their stuffed friend is only $6. Unfortunately, demand was so high that lines were long and many kids were left empty-handed and sobbing. In 2019, the company switched to a lottery system, offering reward program members the opportunity to win a ticket redeemable for the promotion. The company also released a special $6.50 pre-stuffed bear through a partnership with Walmart that was made available in most Walmart locations.

Additional Sources:
The Bear Necessities of Business: Building a Company with Heart.

5 Wild Facts About Mall Madness

Jason Tester Guerrilla Futures, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Jason Tester Guerrilla Futures, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

The mall, home of fashion brands, bookstores, and anchor locations like Sears, was a must-visit location for Americans in the 1980s and 1990s—and especially for teenagers. Teens also played Mall Madness, a board game from Milton Bradley introduced in 1988 that tried to capture the excitement of soft pretzels and high-interest credit card shopping in one convenient tabletop game. Navigating a two-story shopping mall, the player who successfully spends all of their disposable income to acquire six items from the shopping list and return to the parking lot wins.

If you’re nostalgic for this simulated spending spree, you're in luck: Hasbro will be bringing Mall Madness back in fall 2020. Until then, check out some facts about the game’s origins.

1. Mall Madness was the subject of a little controversy.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, Milton Bradley put a focus on the tween demographic. Their Dream Phone tasked young players with finding the boy of their dreams; Mall Madness, which began as an analog game but quickly added an electronic voice component, served to portray tweens as frenzied shoppers. As a result, the game drew some criticism upon release for its objective—to spend as much money as possible—and for ostensibly portraying the tweens playing as “bargain-crazy, credit-happy fashion plates,” according to Adweek. Milton Bradley public relations manager Mark Morris argued that the game taught players “how to judiciously spend their money.”

2. The original Mall Madness may not be the same one you remember.

The electronic version of Mall Madness remains the most well-known version of the game, but Milton Bradley introduced a miniature version in 1988 that was portable and took the form of an audio cassette. With the game board folded in the case, it looks like a music tape. Opened, the tri-fold board resembles the original without the three-dimensional plastic mall pieces. It was one of six games the company promoted in the cassette packaging that year.

3. Mall Madness was not the only shopping game on the market.

At the same time Mall Madness was gaining in popularity, consumers could choose from two other shopping-themed board games: Let’s Go Shopping from the Pressman Toy Corporation and Meet Me At the Mall from Tyco. Let’s Go Shopping tasks girls with completing a fashion outfit, while Meet Me At the Mall rewards the player who amasses the most items before the mall closes.

4. There was a Hannah Montana version of Mall Madness.

In the midst of Hannah Montana madness in 2008, Hasbro—which acquired Milton Bradley—released a Miley Cyrus-themed version of the game. Players control fictional Disney Channel singing sensation Hannah Montana as she shops for items. There was also A Littlest Pet Shop version of the game, with the tokens reimagined as animals.

5. Mall Madness is a collector’s item.

Because, for the moment, Hasbro no longer produces Mall Madness, a jolt of nostalgia will cost you a few dollars. The game, which originally sold for $30, can fetch $70 or more on eBay and other secondhand sites.

10 'Nuts' That Aren't Actually Nuts

None of these "nuts" are truly nuts.
None of these "nuts" are truly nuts.
margouillatphotos/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Who doesn’t love a pedantic houseguest? Next time you’re at a dinner party and someone breaks out the mixed nuts, seize the moment and let everyone know that a lot of the tasty treats we call nuts don’t actually merit the title. Botanists define a “nut” as a dry, one-seeded fruit encased in a hardened ovary wall (called a pericarp). Genuine nuts are fused to their shells and won’t naturally break open upon reaching maturity. Hazelnuts fit the criteria. So do chestnuts. But these ever-popular snack foods sure don’t.

1. Peanuts

The star ingredient of America's favorite nut butter isn't actually a nut. Instead, peanuts are considered legumes, along with soybeans, lentils, and chickpeas. Unlike nuts, most legumes come in self-opening pods—which may or may not grow underground, depending on the species. 

2. Almonds

A group of almonds in wood bowl atop a rustic table
These almonds formed inside a fleshy fruit.
onairjiw/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Almonds are seeds found within the fleshy, peach-like fruits of the Asian Prunus dulcis tree. They’ve earned a spot on our list because actual nuts don’t come wrapped up in softened fruit matter. So how do botanists classify almonds? As drupe seeds. Briefly stated, a drupe is a soft fruit with a hard inner shell. (Think peach pits.)

3. Cashews

Like almonds, cashews are drupe seeds pulled from soft fruit packages. The trail mix staples poke out of red, yellow, or green “cashew apples” that grow on South American trees. Cashew seeds are naturally protected by a toxin-coated outer shell that's roasted to neutralize the acid. In spite of this defense mechanism, the yummy snacks were soon embraced by Portuguese explorers and distributed across the globe.

4. Walnuts

A squirrel eating walnuts in a park
The walnuts this squirrel is noshing on are drupes, not nuts.
Serhii Ivashchuk/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Hey look, it’s another member of the drupe clan! Walnuts inhabit green fruit on temperate trees in the genus Juglans. Most of the seeds that end up on American dining room tables come from the English walnut tree, Juglans regia [PDF]. Even if you don’t eat the drupes, you can probably find a use for them: Walnut shells have been incorporated into everything from cosmetic products to kitty litter.

5. Pine nuts

About 20 pine tree species—including the Italian stone pine—produce big seeds that get harvested en masse. Those seeds are removed from cones in a meticulous process, which accounts for their high selling prices.

5. Brazil Nuts

You’ll encounter Brazil nuts all over the Amazon rainforest, in such countries as Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, and (of course) Brazil. They come from a hardened 4-to-6-pound pod containing up to two dozen seeds that might become trees someday. The pods are so hefty, getting bonked on the head by a falling one is enough to stun or even kill you.  Surprisingly, Brazil Nuts can also be fairly radioactive thanks to the trees' roots, which grow deep within radium-rich soil.

7. Macadamia Nuts

Rows of trees at an Australian Macadamia orchard
An Australian macadamia orchard filled with the country's native drupe.
oxime/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Gympie, Queensland, has an odd claim to fame: Approximately 70 percent of all the macadamia nuts on Earth are descended from trees grown in the Australian town. Macadamias are an ecological staple in Queensland and New South Wales. But—stop us if this sounds familiar—their so-called “nuts” are drupes.

8. Pistachios

Not only are pistachios drupes, but they’ve got shells that automatically open with a literal popping noise once the contents reach a certain size. When all’s said and done, though, at least pistachios are Frank Drebin-approved.

9. Pecans

The Algonquian term for “nut that requires a stone to crack” gave us the English word pecan. Wild pecans can be gathered in Mexico and the United States—they’re true North American treasures. Name origin aside, they can’t accurately be called nuts. Botanists usually refer to them as drupes, but because of their tough shells, the label “drupaceous nuts” might be more appropriate. Either way, pecans aren’t true nuts. They make for great pies, though.

10. Coconuts

A monkey sticks out its tongue while eating a coconut
This cheeky monkey seems to be enjoying its delicious drupe.
Volga2012/iStock via Getty Images Plus

A drupe of unusual size, the coconut is a fibrous juggernaut that bears a single seed. The whitish fleshy interior can be immersed in hot water and then rung out through a cloth to produce coconut milk. Meanwhile, the outer shells are responsible for some of the most delightfully bizarre Guinness World Records categories, such as “most green coconuts smashed with the head in one minute.” (You can see other unusual Guinness World Record categories here.)

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