I've been asked for some thinking about Build A Bear Workshop(BABW) and since it is a featured case study in the book Creating Customer Evangelists: How Loyal Customers Become a Volunteer Sales Force I thought I would post my thinking here.
BTW, Creating Customer Evangelists is the subject of the current Business Blog Book Tour which stops at Startup Skills today. I would recommend checking it out. The authors are doing a great job giving us fresh insights into their work.
Build A Bear Workshop is a successful player in the mass customization experience retail market. This category includes everything from custom perfumes to handbags to decorate it yourself pottery places. The format is the same. Here is an activity in an experience place with a souvenir product. Success in these formats hinges upon the quality of the experience. If the store is too cold or too crowded or Buffy doesn't get enough attention at the birthday party the lasting impression is a negative one. People will not evangelize these businesses.
If you aren't familiar with BABW I suggest you follow the link above and explore their site. Additionally, I'd recommend picking up a copy of Creating Customer Evangelists for their excellent case study.
Build A Bear Workshop has fine-tuned their experience. They have even found a clever way to capture the name and address information for their customers. They invite customers to register their bears and include a barcode inside the bear. If the bear is returned to the company as a lost bear BABW will be able to reunite the owner with the bear by scanning the barcode. In the meantime they have customer data for follow up marketing and CRM.
The process and experience are refined but the question of competition and expansion are critical here. BABW can stay out ahead of competitors by remaining a special experience.
Stay Unique- Build A Bear Workshop should not look to over expand. If their customers encounter their stores everywhere it will loose its special experience related appeal. Sometimes people need/want to make an effort to go to a particular store/experience. (i.e. The Apple Store, Ikea, etc.)
Expand the Experience- Follow the conceptual lead of competitors in creating Destination Experience locations. The best example here is The American Girl Place in Chicago. Many people know the successful American Girl dolls that represent different periods in history. The dolls come with accompanying books that tell stories featuring the dolls. The books spark the imagination of the girls and appeal to parents and grandparents for educational value. Similar to the BABW the American Girl line includes a lot of cloths and accessories for the dolls. The American Girl place store on Michigan Avenue in Chicago has a café restaurant for special meals and parties with girls, parents, grandparents and of course the dolls. Also at the store is a small theater for a full-on live action musical featuring the doll characters. This is a classic example of brand becoming an all day destination experience for customers. I have personally seen moms fly in with their daughters just for a visit. The lesson for BABW is to develop expanded destination properties that include restaurants for parties and special meals, (They do have a nice feature of cross promoting mall restaurants for parties saying they aren't licensed for food and drink in their current stores) a photo studio for pictures with your bear, display areas for education about brand related causes, (World Wildlife Fund, etc.) a theater for live action shows related to the bears, a Bear Care emergency room for stuffed animals and other brand experience building features.
Staffing- The experience is so closely tied to the quality of the people hired. Creating regional destination experience venues creates a career track for store employees. Do well in a local location and have the opportunity to be promoted to the destination venue. Giving front line people a clear advancement path will attract high quality people.
There are so many lessons to be learned from Build A Bear Workshop. Even if you aren't providing a product for children study their example to learn how to delight your customers and provide excellent products and services worthy of being evangelized.