Building a bigger brand
Build-A-Bear Australia will open two new stores in 2015, taking its total store count to 20, maximising the local market.
Chief executive bear, Gavin Port, told Inside Retail PREMIUM that Australia is the largest franchise of Build-A-Bear globally, so the company is turning its attention to other markets in Asia Pacific, naming New Zealand as the next logical step.
“It’s all subject to master franchise approval, partnering with them to ensure we can gain that market and others, but given the success we’re achieving [in Australia] there’s no reason why there would be any push back on our growing,” said Port.
“In fact they’re pushing us to try and establish in more markets themselves, so jointly, I think there will be progression outside of Australia,” he said.
The two new store locations, to be opened in the second quarter of this year, are yet to be disclosed, but will be in NSW and Victoria, and are the chain’s first regional stores.
Build-A-Bear stores in Australia are company-owned and can’t be sub- franchised, according to the global franchise agreement.
“The brand is such that the experience is so important, to go that next step with an additional sub-franchise you may lose the experience, so we keep training and behaviours close,” said Port.
Founded by former president of Payless Shoes, Maxine Clark, in 1997 in the US, Build-A-Bear has sold more than 140 million customised stuffed bears through its global store network.
The concept allows customers to create their own customised stuffed animal, choosing its outfit, how much stuffing, and even the bear’s scent.
Build-A-Bear parties account for around 10 to 15 per cent of the business, with children the main target market.
Build-A-Bear entered Australia in 1997 under a master franchisee, with Gavin and Tania Port taking control in October 2011.
On taking over, Port was faced with substantial stock and staff issues, but has turned the business around, boasting double digit growth within the first nine months.
The turnaround included changes to both front and back end operations, as well as employing former McDonald’s and Bunnings executive, Lui Borean, as GM.
The Ports also invested a considerable amount on revamping the online store, which now returns profits of around the same as half a physical store.
E-commerce is not a major focus for the business, which relies heavily on the instore experience.
“We’re different in terms of a normal online store, because you can’t buy the experience online. You can buy the personalisation, but you don’t get the creativity of making your best friend with the heart ceremony and so forth, so while it’s unique to the marketplace, you won’t have the full experience that Build-A-Bear would like to offer.”
This story first appeared in Inside Retail PREMIUM issue 2039. To subscribe, click here.