July 4, 2005

Build-A-Bear Workshop roars into New York

By Angela Moore

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Warning: Bears are leaving the woodsto prowl the more exotic habitat of The Big Apple.

Stuffed bears, that is -- with enough wardrobe choices tomake even fashion divas pause.

Build-A-Bear Workshop Inc. , which sells theexperience of making and dressing your own stuffed animal, isopening a flagship store in New York City, adding to midtownManhattan's high-end kid 'retailtainment' shops like AmericanGirl Place and FAO Schwarz.

The new store, at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 46thStreet, had a steady flow of children and adults wanderingthrough on Friday, looking over the bins of animal hides,checking out the outfits and accessories, and making "birthcertificates" for their bears.

And it's more than just bears.

Customers also can stuff and personalize rabbits, cats,several breeds of dogs, monkeys, unicorns, or the "SesameStreet" character Elmo.

Anna, 11, was stuffing a flamingo at the store's unofficialopening on Friday. The New York City resident has more than 10stuffed creatures she made at Build-A-Bear over the years.

"I'm going to name her Dutchess and pick out a summeryoutfit," Anna said, holding her pink plush flamingo. "I likestuffed animals more than dolls because they're furry and youcan sleep with them."

The 22,500-square-foot flagship store, with a giant bearstatue in the window and decorated with bears on nearly allexposed surfaces, opens officially on Friday, July 8.

"New York has new customers on Fifth Avenue every day,"Chief Executive Officer Maxine Clark told Reuters. "We canattract tourists and promote to local customers in ourdatabase. We've been waiting five years to open this store."


The investment community will be waiting to see how the newstore performs. St. Louis-based Build-A-Bear, founded in 1997,went public last October and has had a volatile ride on WallStreet since.

The stock was priced at $20 in Build-A-Bear Workshop's IPOon Oct. 27, 2004, and climbed as high as $36.93 on Jan. 26,2005 -- only to plunge to an all-time low of $19.81 on June 6after the company cut its sales and earnings forecast, and helda conference call to address market rumors about executivedefection and stock selling.

The new store will "be an image-builder both for WallStreet and the brand, and spread the word about who they are,"said Jaison Blair, an analyst with Rochdale Research. "It willbe interesting to see how they do in a prime location with thewhole product line. It's a lab for the investment community."

The store is opening just before the busy back-to-schooland holiday seasons. Clark said her company is not as focusedon the holiday period for sales as other toy companies.

"The holidays are important, but we get so much year-roundtraffic because we celebrate birthdays and every day," Clarksaid. "We keep merchandise current. We launch a new line ofaccessories the day after Christmas. This is like a regularfashion business."


Shoppers pick an animal skin starting at about $10,stuffing and stitching, and choose outfits with accessoriessuch as shoes, handbags, roller skates and sunglasses -- soldseparately. Guests also have a "heart ceremony" where they picka satin heart for their animal, make a wish and have it sewninside.

Although the flagship store uses the same concept as themore than 190 Build-A-Bear stores in the United States andCanada, some features are specific to New York.

The two-floor New York store has a station where kids candesign a T-shirt for their bear, and embroidery is alsoavailable.

The store will have a section called "Fureign Friends,"which the company calls a "United Nations" of bear outfitsrepresenting cultures from all over the world with a kimono,palace guard suit, flamenco dancer dress, and traditionalNative American garb.

A wide selection of "I love New York" bear wear is ondisplay.

There's also a Friends 2 Be Made create-your-own-doll storeadjacent to the Build-A-Bear store, plus party rooms and a100-seat "Eat With Your Bear Hands Cafe" to open in the fall.

"New York is New York," Clark said. "Everyone expectseverything to be giant size and this store will notdisappoint."