Build-A-Bear Workshop Goes High-Tech

At the “Love Me Station,” shoppers can customize their stuffed animals with personality attributes, which are displayed as emoticons on an interactive table.
Interactive touch screens allow for the loading of music or other sounds onto a chip for further personalization.
The digital bathtub recognizes items as they are placed in it and reacts with sensory effects.

Build-A-Bear Workshop has gone high-tech. The company has unveiled a new store environment that combines its signature hands-on bear-making experience with innovative digital technology designed to appeal to today’s tech-savvy kids.

“The new design provides a fresh experience for a new generation of kids, while keeping the aspects of our experience that has been loved by kids and resulted in over 100 million stuffed animals being made in our stores,” said Maxine Clark, founder and CEO, Build-A-Bear Workshop, St. Louis. “It allows guests of all ages to personalize the bear-making process and offers them a different experience each time they visit a Build-A-Bear Workshop store.”

The new format, which premiered in the renovated Build-A-Bear Workshop at West County Center, St. Louis, also provides more interactive options to keep shoppers coming back. The retailer is on track to have six of the newly imagined stores open by the end of 2012. The initial results are encouraging.

“Sales at all locations (with the new design) are up 30% or more, exceeding our expectations,” Clark said. “The sales increase is a result of higher traffic and transactions. The stores are driving repeat and new guest visits and keeping strong average transaction value. We know that it is early, but by all metrics, these stores are off to a great start.”

Two years in the making, the design is the first significant overhaul of Build-A-Bear Workshop’s store environment since the chain was launched 15 years ago. The changes start on the facade, which now features a large digital sign that features Microsoft’s Kinect technology and interactive touch elements. Shoppers can play games on the screen with a wave of their hands.

The stuffed animal-making experience remains the core of the store experience. But the overall environment has been updated with several high-tech stations that increase hands-on engagement. The space also now has audio “zones” that use acoustic technology beams sound to target a specific listening area without the ambient noise of traditional speakers, so that sounds can be targeted to specific parts of the store.

The new elements also allow for increased personalization. At the “Hear Me” station, shoppers, using an interactive touch screen, can select and load current music or other sounds onto a chip to customize their stuffed animals. They can also record their own voice.

At the “Fluff Me” station, shoppers can play with their new pets at a “water rippling and splashing” digital bath tub that is enabled by Samsung’s SUR40 with Microsoft PixelSense technology. The tub recognizes items as they are placed on it and reacts with sensory effects, such as virtual bubbles that appear when play soap is placed on the “water surface.”

In another new element, scents, ranging from chocolate chip to bubble gum to cotton candy, can be embedded in the stuffed animal.

What is Clark’s favorite part of the design?

“Many of the young guests who have visited the store have told me that the whole store is their favorite rather than preferring one station over another,” she said. “I would have to say that I agree.”

The new environment is designed with modular components that can be added to stores as a whole or in part.

“We are currently evaluating the stores to identify the features that have the highest engagement with our guests,” Clark said. “As we renew leases and maintain our stores, we will add components so that all stores will eventually have some or all of the new experiential components.”