With 15 years and 110 million stuffed animals already in the books (or, I should say, in bedrooms all over the world), Build-A-Bear is now giving itself a high-tech makeover.
The latest sign of a tech bubble? Or, an already successful chain trying its best to keep up with its customers?
Dave Finnegan, whose business card reads "Chief Interactive and Information Bear," (and you all thought "Chief Yahoo" was funny back in '99...) told NBC Bay Area on Wednesday that it's the latter. "We know they're using touchpads and other mobile devices, because they're comfortable with them," says Finnegan, a father of three. "So we've seen how comfortable they'll be in the stores with the technology."
He has a point, and the research to back it up. He ran tests with kids to make sure B-A-B's young clientele wasn't overwhelmed or bored with the idea of touching your way to a new stuffed friend. Instead, he says, they jumped at it - think of it as blending two things they love to do inside one store.
The re-vamped stores are being gradually rolled out, with one in the company's hometown of St. Louis, another in the Bay Area, at the Stoneridge Shopping Center's Pleasanton store.
With big tablets to interact with, and "Surface" Tables to simulate bathtubs, Build-A-Bear is stuffing itself full of new interactive gadgets. Maybe it will help keep the chain hip as its customers get a little older, although Finnegan says he sees teenagers on dates in stores (so THAT'S what I should have done... ); maybe it can help put a little more stuffing into B-A-B's struggling stock price.
Either way, it's an update to a long-standing tradition. The Teddy Bear. Oh, and if you're worried about a "Teddy Ruxpin"-style talking bear, Finnegan says that's not coming. He wants them to keep "their basic charm," and I'm guessing most parents will be happy with that. And the kids? They'll probably love the bears, and the technology, too.
Scott, when not building bears, can be found on Twitter: @scottbudman