To play into its sweet spot as a destination for souvenirs, the company is opening up shops in more tourist-friendly locations—for example, moving its New York City store from Fifth Avenue to the Empire State Building—and beefing up themed accessories in these spots. When its updated Mall of America store opens later this summer, for example, it will feature a moose with the "Mall of America" stamp on his hoof.
"Tourists have a different mindset about how much they're going to spend, how much time they're going to spend, what they're looking for," she said.
There will also be changes inside the stores. In addition to a refreshed, more colorful logo, the shop's iconic toy stuffer will be transformed from an understated rectangular machine to a seven-foot-tall contraption that churns filling "like cotton candy." It will also be placed more prominently near the store's entrance, where it can be seen by passersby—a form of "front-of-store theater," Price John said. The first location to receive this makeover will open in Utah next month, followed by the Mall of America flagship in August.
"We're really romancing the parts that the consumer considers to be really integral," she said.
Part of revamping the brand's store fleet also includes closing down unprofitable locations—something the previous management team had been hesitant to do. Although the dynamics of real estate have dramatically changed after the financial crisis, in the pre-2008 environment, "It was looked upon more as a failure to close doors," Price John said.
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Since taking the helm, she's trimmed the company's fleet from 442 owned and franchised stores to 395. But she's also reworked their format. Whereas Build-A-Bear once only operated stores at traditional suburban malls, its shops are now also found at outlet centers, within department stores and at theme parks.
Another notable change within the stores has been a sharper focus on licensed properties, which tend to drive repeat business and carry a higher price tag. This includes dedicated storefronts for "Despicable Me'"s minions, and bear versions of "Frozen'"s Elsa and Anna characters. Although licenses still represent only about 30 percent of the company's revenue, sales in these products rose an impressive 170 percent year over year in the first quarter.