Inspiring female entrepreneur’s testimonial: exclusive interview with founder of Build-a-Bear Maxine Clark

Maxine Clark, 63-year-old founder of Build-a-Bear Workshop, is a very inspirational female entrepreneur who is extremely passionate for her job. Here is an exclusive interview with her. Watch out for really useful tips too!

How did you come up with the idea for Build-A-Bear Workshop?

The ‘light bulb’ went off for me when I was shopping with my friend Katie, who was 10-years-old at the time. One afternoon, Katie and I were shopping for Beanie Babies and could not find a single stuffed animal that Katie didn’t own or hadn’t seen before. She picked up one of the Beanie Babies and examined it with a critical eye. “You know,” she said, “These are so simple. We could make these.” She meant that we could buy some materials and do a craft projects. I heard something very different and it was a big idea with huge potential.

We started out with just one store in October of 1997, but I envisioned Build-A-Bear Workshop as a multi-store retailer. In May 2003, Build-A-Bear Workshop crossed the border into Canada and six months later, we became a true global brand when we opened our first store in the United Kingdom.

Today, there are more than 400 Build-A-Bear Workshop stores worldwide, including company-owned stores in the United States, Puerto Rico, Canada, the United Kingdom and Ireland, and franchise stores in Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa, the Middle East, Mexico and South America.

How do you juggle family life with running the business?

Being Chief Executive Bear isn’t just my job, it’s my passion. I love being in the retail business so it really does not feel like work.

My husband is very supportive of me and Build-A-Bear Workshop. We consider Build-A-Bear Workshop associates to be part of our family. We celebrate birthdays, engagements, births, and other special events together in stores and at our World Bearquarters. It is wonderful to come to work every day and be with people I care for.

In the world of technology games and high tech visual playing, why do you think Build-A-Bear Workshop is so successful?

Since we opened our first store, staying in contact with our Guests has been very important to us. New technologies have allowed us to engage and connect with our Guests in many more ways. As kids have changed how they stay in touch, how they play and have fun, we have provided avenues for them to continue to stay highly engaged with our brand. Both my personal and the company blogs allow us to “speak” directly to customers; and Facebook and Twitter make it possible to easily connect with Guests on questions and topics that they care about.

We continue to add interactive and social media technologies as they apply to our business and become relevant to our Guests. We see smart phones, online technologies, and mobile devices as the way of the world today. The play space of the future for kids will be expanded and re-imagined through new forms of communication and technology. We will continue to incorporate these things into our in store experience and how we connect with our Guests. As part of this evolution, some of the newer technologies have been introduced into our Build-A-Bear Workshop store at Hamley’s of London. These new features enhance the Guest experience with sensory and technological elements and showcase our products while keeping the fun, personalisation, and Guest interaction that our stores are so well known for.

The store at Hamley’s of London is the first Build-A-Bear Workshop location in the world to have the new Fluff Me (bear bath) Station and the first in the United Kingdom to have the new Hear Me (sound) Station.

In which countries does Build-A-Bear Workshop have more appeal and why?

This year, we are celebrating our 15th birthday and 100 million furry friends made which represents hundreds of thousands of Guests and friends who have visited one of our stores around the globe. The appeal of the teddy bear knows no boundaries and we have become a worldwide brand.

Everyone needs the hug of a teddy bear at some point in their lives and we have been fortunate to be able to share the experiences and celebrate important events and memories with millions of our Guests throughout the years.

What were your favourite toys when you were young?

Growing up, I had special bear named Teddy. Much of my passion for teddy bears stems from the fact that I lost Teddy back when I was 10 years old. I have been looking for Teddy ever since, though I now feel like I’ve found him a 100 million times over through the happiness we’ve brought so many others through this company.

What’s the biggest challenge for a woman to be the chief of a big business?

I think men and women face similar challenges when running a business and the qualities that it takes to be successful at business are not based on gender.

I do not attribute my accomplishments to the fact that I am a woman. Instead, some of the things that have contributed to my success include giving back, dreaming big, empowering others, my hard work ethic and my can-do mentality. There are challenges out there for both men and women and you have to believe in yourself and your concept in order to overcome them.

What’s your most important recommendation to women who have a business idea but who don’t dare starting in this tough economic climate?

No matter what the economic climate is, I think it is important to live in a world of possibilities.

My advice to any aspiring entrepreneur would be…..

o Use your imagination and creativity

o Believe in yourself and in what you can achieve no matter how monumental it might seem

o Be willing to do any job and find a mentor

o Develop strong partnerships

o Beware of conventional wisdom Learn from the experiences of others

o Never be afraid to ask questions

What’s your biggest regret in life / anything you would like to change in life if you could?

I don’t have the same perspective on mistakes that a lot of people have. I look at mistakes as being part of the learning process so I really don’t have any regrets.

People sometimes ask me what mistakes we’ve made at Build-A-Bear Workshop. It’s really hard for me to recall any because I don’t think mistakes are bad. In my view, they make you better. I would not change a thing.

In fact, we’ve taken some of our so-called “mistakes” and turned them into the normal course of business. As just one example, we like to give our Guests brightly colored ribbons to tie around the ears of their huggable animals. One day, our ribbon vendor sent us the wrong width-a quarter inch wide instead of an inch wide. Rather than fussing about the mix-up, an associates at our Saint Louis Galleria store tied the ribbon into little hair bows using a rubber band to the ears of our girl bears. Guest loved them, so we ordered more of the narrower ribbon and kept making these bows. The mistake of the wrong ribbon being shipped to use turned out to be a really good thing. It gave us yet another way to add value to the overall Guest experience.

What are your guilty pleasures?

I enjoy reading and I like all types of books- both fiction and non-fiction, history, novels, biographies. I’ve always loved the feeling of getting lost in a book, so engrossed in the plot and the characters that you can’t put it down until you reach the final page.

And, of course, another one of my favorite hobbies is shopping!

Where do you go shopping when you visit London?

When visiting London, I love to stop in to our Build-A-Bear Workshop stores at Covent Gardens and Hamley’s of London on Regent Street. We always have fun, new, topical clothing and accessories for our furry friends based on what is happening in the UK.

I also make time to shop the clothing and shoe stores in London to see the hottest styles and what fashions are being featured.

Is there any Bear being made especially to mark this amazing London 2012 jubilympic year?

We are very excited about the sporting events taking place in London this summer, all of our stores throughout the UK are showing their pride in being British with special “I Heart Great Britain” and “I Heart London” clothing and accessories so our Guests can share the sports festivities with their furry friends throughout the summer.

We also have Great Britain swim trunks and gymnastics leotards as well as fashionable and fun fancy dresses, and tees and hoodies. Guests can complete their furry friends outfits with a gold medal, Union Jack tote, a sequin headband or a UK Pawsport.

To complete the UK theme, we also offer best loved UK signature items such as the Palace Guard kit, the Beefeater outfit and many Princess style dresses that can be completed with a sparkly tiara.

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