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I Am American Business

Maxine Clark

Producer Notes


When you enter Build-A-Bear's World Bearquarters in St. Louis, you get the feeling that it¹s a fun place to work. The environment taps into the little kid in all of us: colorful walls plastered with murals of teddy bears, designers and artists working on the latest outfits and accessories and bearisms inscribed along the walls, like "You aren't born a bear, you become a bear." All that AND you can even bring your dog to work! Don't get me wrong, beneath the colorful atmosphere beats the heart of a hard working company. And when you've had a chance to spend some time with company founder Maxine Clark, it's easy to understand how it all comes together."It's about having fun, sharing, and caring." She gets it. Her employees get it. And the customer benefits from that philosophy as well.

Video Interview

My Teddy Bear Was My Best Friend
Early Challenges
A Great Place to Work
One Plus One Equals Ten
It Takes a Village to Raise a Bear

The "I Am" Q&A

What car do you drive?
I drive an Audi A4.

What’s your favorite place to go?
Disneyland, where I can see Disneyland and Build-A-Bear Workshop at the same time.

What website do you like to visit?
Facebook. And BuildaBear.com.

What was your worst moment in business?
Worst moment in business was about three weeks after we opened. And we got a word from our warehouse, a call that said that the warehouse had caved in. And all the merchandise that we had bought, to take us through Christmas and into the first quarter of the next year was lost. And it was about two weeks before Thanksgiving and I had visions of empty shelves. Just as we just started our business.

How did that resolve itself?
We got on the phone, we call, we evaluated what we had in the store. That was all of the inventory that we had. And we got on the phone, we called our suppliers, we said this is what we need first, second, third, fourth. And it, left it up to them, and it was amazing. We never missed a beat. Everybody came to our rescue. It’s the karma, I call it good teddy bear karma.

What’s your favorite drink?
Iced tea.

What’s your favorite food?
Anything that’s bread.

What’s your idea of fun?
Friends, at home, in my house or at theirs, sitting in the kitchen talking. Or sitting at a table and having a casual dinner.

And at work?
What’s my most fun thing at work?

Yeah, what’s your idea of fun at work.
My most fun thing to do at work is to go to a store and visit with our guests and, and be in the store with children. And see how they think and act and, and then the next favorite would be, being able to do it with them virtually, on buildabearville.com. That has been a huge fun thing for me to do. I, I wish I had more time do it.

What personal weaknesses do you forgive in someone?
Probably shyness. You know, I know people are sometimes innately shy and I make it a point to try to bring that out of them, make them feel comfortable enough to, to share with me and to talk to me and, and maybe not be so shy just for that moment that we’re together.

What about in business? What personal weakness, in business, would you forgive in someone?
Well, I think that what, a weakness that I think a lot of businesses, or business people have is, they’re just not that curious. And so I try to, when I’m in touch with other business people, is to help them see that everywhere there’s an opportunity for you, us to learn. From somebody else’s business, from something that may not even seem like a business. Maybe a service that you could apply to your own business. So, I, I, the thing that sort of bothers me is when people aren’t curious and don’t see the, the connectivity. But I, I try to work at helping them see that.

What movie star do you like?
I don’t know that there’s any one movie star that I like. I really like happy movies, movies that are romantic, have a happy ending, make you laugh, cry. Take you through all the emotions that, that you might feel in a week. But they can do it to you in a, in a couple hour movie.

Who’s a business hero of yours?
Sam Walton.

What personal qualities do you admire in life?
Caring, kindness, charity. Concern for others. Tenacity. Creativity. Perseverance. Happy, positive attitude. I can do anything. Somebody who doesn’t think about how tall or small they are, but it’s what’s in their heart that matters.

What personal qualities do you admire in business?
People who are collaborative leaders, who realize the responsibility to their associates, but also to the community at large, and work together with partners and their associates to, to build a better business. Smarts. Not just intellectual smarts. But, but street smarts and people that are sensitive to the impact that they have on others. The, the positive and the negative. And I think right now we’re seeing the best and the worst of, of how some of those traits are realized.

What was your greatest moment in business?
When our company was named one of the hundred best companies to work for.

And what about your greatest moment in life?
When I married my knight in shining armor. Twenty-five years ago, this year.

Congratulations.
Thank you.

What is your dream?
This is a big one. My dream is that some day no matter what zip code you live in, every child will have a quality education.

Do you have a motto?
I think the, the motto is, if I have one, is it, around that “bearism,” “it takes a village to raise a bear.” That we’re all in this together. Whether it’s the business, the world, you know, the current ec-, economic situation that we’re in and we need to work together to make it better, not break it down and attack it. It doesn’t mean we don’t challenge, but that we see the opportunities in those challenges, and the positives, to work together to make this, a great country, a great business, a great, a great city to live in. It’s all up to each of us. We can all contribute, at a very high level if we want to.

What is your present state of mind?
I’m optimistic, and I’m very hopeful.

Transcript


CNBC:
Early in your life you lost a teddy bear when you were a young girl. You have said that it was a traumatizing experience.

MAXINE CLARK:
My teddy bear was my best friend and when I lost him I felt a part of me was missing. And so wherever I would go, I mean from that point forward to today still, I look, when I see a child with a teddy bear, and I look and see if that looks like my teddy bear. I know they couldn’t possibly have it, it’s long gone. But I keep thinking that some day he’ll appear. And in a way I think that the creation of Build-A-Bear Workshop, and selling, you know, over seventy-five million stuffed animals, I found him seventy-five million times over. Just in a slightly different way.

CNBC:
There’s an intangible about a teddy bear and a child and the love, the bond that they establish. It that makes your business something that can live forever, right? You’ve established a brand that really taps into that love the kids have for things that they want to cuddle.

MAXINE CLARK:
I think that it’s, it’s obvious in a teddy bear business, if that’s what abo-, what it’s about. But I think in any business it’s inherent upon the people who create the business and the people that work in the business to find that emotional connection and build upon it. Because that’s why people come back. Not because they can spend money with you. But because they connect with you, in a way that’s really special. Whether it’s a teddy bear, it’s clothes, it’s screwdrivers, it doesn’t really matter. It’s that connection that says you as a business care about me, and provide me with goods and services that matter.

CNBC:
What inspired you to get into retail in the first place?

MAXINE CLARK:
I had a college professor who was a retail guru. And he encouraged me to get into retailing. He said “I think women can really do well in retailing. In fact, I think you could probably make at least ten thousand dollars.” And I had never really thought about retailing as a career. I loved to shop and I, I knew what retailing was. But didn’t I understand the ins and outs of it. And I went on college interviews out of college to go, to interview. And I was, it was the perfect job for me. It really was.

CNBC:
You had a very successful career at May Company and then Payless. At some point you discover that you’re losing interest in that part of what you’re doing. What’s that realization process that makes you think, “there’s something else I wanna do in my life?”

MAXINE CLARK:
Well it’s not a magic moment. Many things lead up to a decision to certainly make a big change like changing your career. Especially when you have one as, as successful as I did in such a, a large company. But I had- the fun just seemed to go out of it. And I had an early mentor, Stanley Goodman who, who basically declared that retailing is entertainment. And the store is a stage. And when the customer has fun, they spend more money. And I just felt like he was calling me. And saying, “Maxine, you gotta get back to it.” And I didn’t know exactly what I was gonna do, but I knew it was gonna be something for children, because children require you to be creative. They aren’t really worried about whether you’re making money or not making money.They want you to, to create something that’s fun and lasting and changing and growing. And that’s what I wanted to do.

CNBC:
So tell me about the story of Build-A-Bear and how it came to be.

MAXINE CLARK:
Well I was out, I, I left my job at Payless and I came home to St. Louis to sort of find my, my childhood again. I immersed myself with children. My best friend Katie, who happened to be ten years old, I would take her to school, I would pick her up, we would go out shopping afterwards. And it was during the Beanie Baby craze. And stuffed animals had been reduced from something, you know, large and cuddly, to something small with beans in it, that you might, if it wasn’t a stuffed animal, throw at someone. And we were out looking for one, and when we couldn’t find what she wanted she, she sort of just had this innocent statement. She said, “These are so easy. We could make these.” And I heard what she said. And she meant go home to my house and do a craft project, 'cause that’s often what we did together. But to me I could immediately see the potential. Because I’d been to factories all around the world that made stuffed animals, made furry slippers. I knew exactly that this could be replicated in a retail environment.

CNBC:
And what was it about projects, 'cause clearly you could line up a store with a bunch of teddy bears that are already dressed, but you had something, you went a little deeper. You said. “let me build my pal, let me build my friend. Let me create it.” How did that come?

MAXINE CLARK:
Well, another important moment- I was on a field trip as one of the board of directors at the Earthgrains Company, which is a bakery company, sells bread. And we went down to a bakery in Atlanta and there were children on a field trip there while we were there. And it sort of dawned on me that, that was one of my most fun memories of being a child. Was going on a field trip. And so that, that kind of thought process. And the idea of making your own stuffed animals, is really what Build-A-Bear Workshop is. You can go to your mall and go on a field trip to a factory where you can make your own stuffed animal. And you can make it anything that you want. No two animals are ever alike. And so it’s, it was that, that, that ability to put, you know, one plus one together and come up with a formula that really was a ten in every way.

CNBC:
What were the early challenges that you had launching your business in terms of skeptics - you mentioned how adults were like, “This isn’t gonna work.” But of course you knew about tapping into a child’s bond with the stuffed animal. How did you get over the skepticism?

MAXINE CLARK:
Well, I was a still kid at heart, fortunately. And so I knew that, you know, every time I walked by a stuffed animal in a store I kind of, had this little, you know, “ah” moment. “Oh, isn’t that cute?” Or touching it. It’s a very tactile experience, but, to the person, every adult I mentioned it to, they’d say “Well, why would anybody want to make their own stuffed animal?” You could buy ’em at Target, you could buy ’em in a department store, why take the time? Every single child, immediately, we didn’t even have a store, we didn’t even really have a name yet. But when I asked ’em about it, they said “Oh that would be so cool. Can we make caterpillars? Can we make pigs? Can we make teddy bears?” They had a million ideas. And they got it right away. Now maybe they didn’t all get it the exact same way that I had it in my head, but through more conversation we were able to, you know, get out a lot of information. And I knew that I could put that in there. And we, actually, our first board of directors was children. We had a “cub advisory board,” we still have it today, although their, their much older than, almost ready to have their own children soon. Many of those children. They really added so much to our business in the early, in the early days. There’s some really funny stories from that.

CNBC:
As adults experience it with their kids they’re saying, “wow, this is amazing.” At least in my own experience was like that -it’s terrific.

MAXINE CLARK:
I think that, you know, a lot of times people can’t see, you know, what, what we all see. Some of us are more gifted in that, that particular situation. We can use words or pictures and, and create a vision. But once you give it to them they can take it to the next level. And so our customers have added immensely, adults and children, to the possibilities of Build-A-Bear Workshop. We would never be as successful as we are today if they hadn’t added value to our concept in their ideas and their, their willingness to talk to us and share with us the fun they were having in our store.

CNBC:
What would you consider yourself first - a business person, a marketer, a creative person or an artist?

MAXINE CLARK:
I think first and foremost I’m a creative person. But I also- the strength of that creativity is I know how to put things together to develop financial success. Or marketable opportunities. And so I think that creativity is something that I’ve got, naturally but it’s hard to learn. It’s a good thing that you can learn. I’ve learned a lot of the business skills. But I’ve, I was born with the creative skills.

CNBC:
How different is it going from being a private company to being a publicly held company? In terms of your responsibility or the way you do business? It is still the same to you?

MAXINE CLARK:
Well, there’s some differences. You have a few more people to answer to. But, but most of all, you know, you’re rooted in your associates. You’re rooted in your customers. And you’re rooted in the business partners that you have, and if you keep that focus, then there really isn’t any different way to operate. We’ve always had shareholders, we’ve always had investors. They may not have been public investors, but they were friends and family, and I wanted them, you know, more than anything to make money. Certainly not to lose money. So, in essence, it’s been the same since the day we started.

CNBC:
Tell me a little about your workplace philosophy and creating a place where people want to work, not a place where people have to work.

MAXINE CLARK:
I was very fortunate to grow up in a company that encouraged me all along the way. And I felt that, that was one thing I wanted to be able to create, even more so… sort of a canvas, where people can come to the table with their full potential. And every day contribute at the highest possible level. People don’t come to work anywhere to sabotage the business. They come to make a difference, and to make a contribution. And in this company we wanted it to be so much more than they might ever do anywhere else.

CNBC:
The Red Pencil Awards. It may seem counterintuitive to reward failure, however, you understand the value in making mistakes. So tell me about the Red Pencil, and the importance that that is to the contribution part.

MAXINE CLARK:
When I was a small child, in the first grade, our teacher, Mrs. Grace gave us out red pencils. Every Friday, she’d sharpen her red pencil that she graded our paper with, and she’d give it out to the student that week that made the most mistakes. Well, you don’t try to make mistakes. You’re trying to, you know, get the teacher’s favor. You don’t make those decisions. And, really, that’s what goes on in real life. People don’t intend to make mistakes. So how do you really see that mistake for all its worth? Maybe there’s a real business opportunity in that. And so if you encourage it, if you encourage people to take a risk, to raise their hand, to say “I’ve got an idea.” And not feel threatened when that idea might not have a hundred percent, alignment with everyone. But, hey, let’s get get there. What else are you thinking about? Well, then the possibilities are endless. And the responsibility isn’t all on me, to have every idea. Or on a few people. It’s on everyone. And that’s the generation and the century that we live in. It's the power of we, versus the power of me. And I think it’s perfectly suited for the, the 21st century. And technology and collaboration and connectivity. In every sense of the word.

CNBC:
You mentioned the small details. You talked about car wash experience and the things that they gave you there. You said it was extraordinary and it was extraordinarily simple. Every success doesn’t have to be creating a bear that’s going to net you a ton of money - it’s really about the little things. That the kid goes into the store and goes, “wow! Sunglasses for my bear.” How do you try to get that philosophy across to your team?

MAXINE CLARK:
We’ve all had experiences like this in our life, hopefully many. And we know that they were memorable to us. Like as a little child eating in a restaurant and they’d put a little paper umbrella in a drink. And you’d play with that paper umbrella for hours. And, you know, if you lost it you would feel like you lost something that was worth a lot of money. But it was such a simple detail. And I think we’ve forgotten, as businesses have gotten bigger and bigger, that it’s that one little detail that really matters. And my father was a salesman, and he wouldn’t go anywhere without a gift or something for the people that he was meeting with. He got to know them personally, and I think that that really resonated for me as a child, as a person growing, and as a business person. You wanna be special to someone, and so sometimes it’s the simplest little sticker that will stop hours and hours of crying. And parents, you know sometimes they go, “oh, I’ve got some-, a big toy, I’ve got to get him this, I’ve got to get him that.” But it isn’t that, and when they come into our store, we just want ’em to leave with a smile. We know they’ll be back to buy something, if not that day, someday soon. But just leave thinking, “I had a good time there, mommy. Let’s go back.” And, hopefully, they’ll come back many times, just for a sticker. And maybe one time, you know, or two times or three times, they’ll also buy something.

CNBC:
Talk a little bit about the store experience.

MAXINE CLARK:
The best way to build a company is one emotionally attached person at a time. And at Build-A-Bear Workshop we have so many ways of doing that. Picking your best friend. The stuffed animal that you’re gonna love forever. Putting a heart in it, I mean that’s the ultimate experience. And then kissing that heart, and sometimes, for that bear builder in our store, the child who’s standing in line with them, they’ll say “What’s your name?” And the child will name the bear after the person that helped them stuff the bear. That’ s the quintessential connectivity, in my mind. And, that’s the kind of thing that our associates remember, and give back to their customers, you know, over and over again. I want every customer who walks into our store to experience the best day in their life, whether they’re three or a hundred and three.

CNBC:
The headquarters is a fun environment. Obviously there’s work that’s going on. But, it’s a pleasurable environment. This is the same philosophy you want to have in your stores, so that your customers have a great experience. Tell me about creating a fun place to work, and how that directly leads to a customer benefit.

MAXINE CLARK:
It’s important to create an environment, a fun place to work, so that people can actually have a good time. And translate that good time into their experience with the guests in the stores. And so whether it’s our “World Bear Quarters,” or it’s our stores, we wanna make sure that everybody who’s delivering a service, and we all do, in some way shape or form, to somebody in our organization, or a customer, ultimately, have a good time and share that experience. Just genuinely, with someone else. It’s not about being artificial, it’s about being really genuine and felt from the heart.

CNBC:
You’ve gone into your stores in cognito, to experience it and, as you described it, like somebody who’s never been in a store before. Tell me why you do it and, and perhaps an experience that you’ve had, something that you’ve learned from that, to help better the business?

MAXINE CLARK:
Well, we’ve had many, many ideas that have come from my, sort of stop in and visit approach. It’s hard here in St. Louis, 'cause everyone knows me. But when I go out of town, I don’t tell anybody where I’m going, and I just sort of show up. And I’ll stand outside the store and watch and see how it’s going. And I can tell that, the mood of the store, and how well that store’s doing, just by the, the smile on the associates’ face. Not so much the traffic in the store, you certainly can tell something. But I get a feeling about that from the way the cust-, 'cause they don’t know I’m coming and they’re not prepared for that. How they’re dressed, how tall they’re standing… And I walk in and have a conversation, say who I am and they’re always kind of surprised. And then they’re flustered for a minute, but then we get into a, just a genuine conversation. If it’s a high school student, where do you go to school? What brought you to Build-A-Bear? And then we can really get to some ideas about the business. And usually, it’s about some products that we should be having, because they live in a place where this college is more popular, or this sport is more popular, but for the most part they just want to be able to give the customer a better experience over and over again. The real magic comes when I’m interacting with them with a customer. Usually a child. And then the child starts to talk to me about their stuffed animals, and tell me what kind of other animals they wish they had, and what their favorite stuffed animal was, and what their favorite subject is, and what movies they’ve been to. And from that we can put lots of things together to come up with new products and new services that really matter to our customers. And our guests in our store. We have just such a great time. That’s the most fun for me. If I could be anywhere in the world, I would be in a store with our associates and our young guests.

CNBC:
So you mentioned movies, it made me think of licensing and all of the wonderful things that you have in your store. So, one plus one equals ten. What does that mean?

MAXINE CLARK:
One plus one equals ten in our world. And it’s really about collaboration. It’s that, you know, taking one brand, Build-A-Bear Workshop, and another brand, like the Walt Disney Company or Warner Brothers or NFL or NBA and put it together and come out with a product like basketball outfits for bears. Or a movie character outfit for bears. And we put those together and then you get the best of that Disney brand or the NBA brand, and you put it together with a stuffed animal. And the child walks out with- either dreaming about their bear becoming a professional basketball player or that little princess - that young lady who’s making it wants to be. And it’s just an amazing opportunity. And we’ve done a lot of business on those partnerships. And I believe that our partners have equally done a lot of business because of those partnerships. They’re much bigger, usually, then we are, but it allows us to seem like a much bigger brand then maybe the customer thought we were.

CNBC:
Right and again the, the math theme, that one plus one naturally equals two, but when you have two powerful brands together it, two, two-

MAXINE CLARK:
One plus one equals ten, and when they’re put together, that means that the one partner and Build-A-Bear Workshop have a great business formula. But the real wow, the ten, comes for the guest. The person who’s buying it and experience Build-A-Bear Workshop in our store. And they walk out with an even bigger smile than they might’ve walked out with, if it was just Build-A-Bear, or just the partner.

CNBC:
As we look around this room there are many great bear expressions. Do you have favorites?

MAXINE CLARK:
My very favorite, the one that I live by every day is, it takes a village to raise a bear. And that applies to so many things in life. None of us would be where we are today if it wasn’t for all the people that we crossed paths with in our life that made us better people. But I think that it’s, for the adults that come into our store, it’s never too late to have a happy childhood. And we hope that people that say “oh, I don’t have any children.” Or “my children are all grown up,” that we can find a reason for them to sort of sit back and enjoy being a child again. And we also think that the business that we created was sort of one small step for bears, one giant leap for bear kind. And a lot of these are not, obviously, original statements. But they’re just sort of, “lifeisms” that we can, we’ve sort of adapted to our business. One of my favorites, and the one that we ask all of our associates to live by, is the golden rule. But we sort of adapted it to the honey rule. The more honey you give, the more honey you get back. And that if you give that experience, that really sweet experience to a guest in your store, you’re gonna get it back a hundred times over. Maybe not just in that sale today, but in all the people they’re going to talk about their experience with. And all the times they’re going to come back to our store.

CNBC:
What kind of adjustments have you had to make with the global downturn, with businesses now global? How have you adjusted to some of the hardships that people are going through, and it clearly must have an impact on your stores.

MAXINE CLARK:
It absolutely has - the changes in the global economy absolutely have had an impact on on retailing in general. And certainly on a product that’s as discretiony- discretionary as buying stuffed animals. But we believe that we bring something to the marketplace that’s, that customers really need right now. A hug. A, an experience with their children that’s not so far away. We think of ourselves as a theme park in the mall. So we’ve really been able to sort of think about our assortments differently. We’ve always had ten dollar bears in our assortments since the day we started. But now we talk about them more. We make sure that our customers know we have them. We’ve gone back and looked at some of our clothing and made some simpler things that could be more affordable for children. We’ve also had to, you know, think about our capital expenditures and say maybe we, we don’t, we don’t build that store today. We’ll build it in a few years when the economy gets better. But overall, you know, we’re looking at it as, the customer really needs a hug right now. And how do we make sure that we give it to them, as often as possible, and as freely as possible.

CNBC:
What would you tell someone today who might be a young entrepreneur, having difficulty raising capital? Obviously being financed is an important part of your philosophy, being ready to go. That it’s hard to find money, it’s hard to get money, that there may be harder to open doors. How would you encourage them to, to keep at it?

MAXINE CLARK:
Well first of all I’d make sure that they had a really good business plan. That they were convinced, it had convinced them, that it was worth changing their life for. For any young entrepreneur today, I’d still say what I would’ve told somebody ten or fifteen years ago. Make sure that you have a great business plan, because that plan is meant to convince you that you’re gonna change your life and have to give some things, in order to get the big picture, and get to the, the gold at the end of the rainbow. I think once you’ve got that, and you’re really sure, then you can go out, make those connections. And the other is to get experience. Be sure that you’re working in the field that you wanna ultimately be in. Because that’s gonna help you make the connections that you need in order to perhaps make this happen a little bit faster. Or, if not immediately, down the road when the economy does change. People want to know that you’ve got experience, and that you’ve worked hard at what you think your business idea is going to bring to fruition.

CNBC:
But I wanted to ask you again about your, about what is it like if somebody were to randomly stop one of your employees on the street and say, “what’s it like to work at Build-A-Bear?” What would you hope the answer would be?

MAXINE CLARK:
I’d, I’d hope that the answer, when- if somebody asked one of our associates what it was like to work at Build-A-Bear Workshop, I, I’d hope, and I think this is what they would first say, it’s really fun. And beyond my wildest expectations, I make a difference for people that I never thought possible.

CNBC:
Tell me a little bit about your philanthropic efforts and the value of that to you, personally?

MAXINE CLARK:
Well, I’ve always been raised to be a charitable person. But I felt that as a child, I, I witnessed those things. And it was important for us, as a business, to allow children to see that this an important attribute. That you can be a successful company, a commercial business, but you can also give back in the community. And we know that we make an impression on children that come into our stores, and so for me it was that important, it was that, to make it, in their everyday life, not just at home, but in the businesses that they see. Because business is not bad, business is about giving back to the community, giving back to the country, giving back to the, the local environment. And how do, how do you do it? How can you do it? And how can we do it? And it is about educating them, every single day. Making it feel like it’s natural, not like it’s something extra effort. It shouldn’t be extra effort, it should be part of- it’s who we are. We’re a very- the Ameri-, Americans are very generous. And it’s because, I think charity starts at home. And we begin to tell our children about it. But if they get out into the world and they start experiencing businesses, and they see just, “gimme gimme gimme.” Not give back to me, give back to me, give back to me, then it’ll be a one-sided picture. And we don’t want that to be.

CNBC:
What would you say to someone right now who might be thinking “times are rough, I know times are rough. I’m gonna have to start cutting,” and they start looking at that as potentially as a discretionary expenditure. Where, they may go, “let’s not give,” there clearly has to be a thought that it still has to be top of mind, right? Even in tough times?

MAXINE CLARK:
It’s definitely top of mind in tough times. It’s more critical than ever, because so many services are being cut, just by the cutback in sales taxes, and the cutback in income taxes. So those things that naturally come. So it’s more important than ever that we look at the organizations and the things that we give to, and make sure that we’re, we matter. That the contributions that we’re making, and giving back to the community matter. And that the products that we’re delivering to our customers are high-quality and can also be contributing back. So, tough times are really critical right now- the, the tough times make it really critical right now for us to look at charity and contributing back to the community even more than we ever have before because with sales taxes being less, and income taxes being less, normal groups that would benefit from that are getting less and less every day. We here it on the news. So it’s important for us to make sure that we can give importantly to as many organizations as possible. We may not be able to give as many- to as many, but we wanna give as, as much and make sure that it has an impact, and makes a difference for the organizations that we give to that service family, and children and in the communities that we operate in.

CNBC:
And would, and would you say that it’s a responsibility of a company to, to make that part of their mission?

MAXINE CLARK:
I personally believe that giving back to the community is a responsibility of every business and, and, and anyone that operates in a, in a community. And takes money in exchange for services to give some of that back. To keep the community thriving and growing, and genuinely engaged in the business. And that’s really how we try to do it. Is make sure our customer’s a part of the community and the sharing and the programs that we offer back to the community.

CNBC:
Great. I wanna come back to, to something, and I wanna thank Bill, for using the word culture. I think culture is, culture’s the key. The culture that you have created in the workplace, it’s here and in your store, and how that circle of, of all the things that are your philosophies of inclusiveness, and have maybe sort of people ask questions so that everybody benefits, and everybody is recognized for benefiting in the process. How that circle begins here in Bear Quarters, and moves outwards into the stores, which in turn, turns into this experience that the customer has that completes that circle of, this is a good business. This is how you do it. The belief that you have in, with the culture you’ve created.

MAXINE CLARK:
The culture at Build-A-Bear Workshop is, probably one of the ideal cultures that exists. Because it’s about having fun. It’s about sharing, it’s about caring. It’s about the hug of a teddy bear. So it helps guide us every single day. I mean, we can’t take ourselves too seriously. And so that allows us to really keep our, our mission in focus. Because it’s a three dimensional object, and you can see them all around our building and in our stores. So sometimes if you get off track all you have to do is look at that little, soft, cuddly teddy bear, and you realize what our purpose is. And so it's a real grounding, but it, it’s a, such a, it’s hard to know where it starts and where it stops. I say it starts with that stuffed animal, but you can walk into a store and see the smile of a, of a child who’s coming in with their grandmother, and sharing a very special experience for their birthday. Or for somebody who’s asking his girlfriend to marry him. And is gonna put that message into a bear, so it, sort of, it’s so holistic that it’s hard for me to know where it starts and where it stops. But it keeps feeding, and it keeps growing. And that circle keeps continuing.

CNBC:
And it’s funny, because you just said, put that message into a bear, you can literally do that with a sound chip, right?

MAXINE CLARK:
Right. That’s what the- that’s exactly what they do. They’ll, they’ll come in, they’ll ask their girlfriend to the prom, because you can’t say no to a teddy bear, right? Or they’ll say will you marry me, in a bear that’s all dressed up in a wedding gown. Or in a sports outfit, or something that’s very personal for them. We have so many wonderful stories. I would’ve never thought about that. That’s the value that our customers have given back- made products out of one or two products, put ’em together, and there we have a three dimensional, you know, product that’s, we say, say it with sound. You know, it’s just an amazing category. And we sell so many sounds. Most of them, that people record themselves. They sing, they dance, they create special messages. And it’s really memorable. We have children who’s, who make a bear with their father or their mother who is going over to the Middle East to serve our country. And they have this bear that, every night they can say, press the button on the bear and it says, daddy loves you. Or daddy, on the other side, can, can do the same thing and say “I love you, daddy.” And it’s, it’s a very special product. It’s not a teddy bear anymore.

CNBC:
You just reminded me of the, of the picture in your book of your truck. Your traveling truck. That’s actually pretty cool. Is that something you’re still, that you still use?

MAXINE CLARK:
Well, right now, because of the economy and when the price of gasoline went kind of through the roof, we put it in storage for a while. But it was a way, it is a way, and we do bring events to people’s schools and all kinds of different places, we’ll bring bears, we’ll bring the stuffing, we’ll, we have a portable stuffing machine. ‘Cause we wanna bring the love and the hug of a teddy bear to as many people as we possibly can. That’s the idea.

CNBC:
You’re reaching out to people on Facebook…

MAXINE CLARK:
Well I’ve always been a person who believes in staying connected. So I have friends from, you know, elementary school, that I’m still in touch with. But when Facebook came about, it, it, I was sort of jealous. That all my, my young friends in college we’re having this way to connect with each other. And so when it became something more available to the rest of us, I was immediately on there. I love it. I love that I can, you know, find people that I haven’t seen in years and we can have this great relationship. But also, some of our guests, our young guests go onto Facebook and find my name, and I’m honored that they’ve looked me up, and they connect with me. And we communicate there, as well. Differently than we might be able to communicate if I saw them in the store, 'cause I won’t see them that often. So I love that it brings the world closer together, and that you get to see some sides of people you would never see otherwise. Some good, and some always not so good. But most of the time it’s really fun and good, and it makes me smile. It’s the last thing I do every night before I got to sleep. I check Facebook. Oh, I also do- I’ve started to do Twitter. It’s just hard to stay up with it, and make sure that I’m communicating to everybody where I am, what I’m doing. But I did last night write on there that I was gonna meet you today. I love Facebook, and when I find that young friends of ours have connected with me I’m honored. I mean, I feel really- that’s like the ultimate. That a, that a thirteen year old child, or will, you know, want me to be their friend on Facebook. And communicate with me. And I take it seriously. Facebook’s the last thing I do at night. I wanna see what everybody’s up to, and make sure that I’ve answered all their questions. Who would’ve thought that, ten years ago when we started Build-A-Bear Workshop, we would’ve been actually being able to, in some way, recreate the experience in a virtual world, online, with millions of children all across the world? But now, with buildabearville.com we’re able to do that, and as often as I can, which isn’t en-, isn’t as much as I’d really like, I get on and I have my own character, and I’ll work around Build-A-Bearville and I’ll meet our young guests, and I’ll talk to them and they’ll see me, and they’ll recognize me. And they’ll send out to their friends, “Maxine’s on. Maxine’s on.” And we’ll have a conversation right there in real time about our products, about services what else is new? When’s it coming? And what else can I do? What else can I do in Build-A-Bearville to be a better citizen? And that, to me is the quintessential purpose of what we’re doing. Is to not only sell things to children- we, of course we wanna do that, that’s part of our, our business, but we really wanna make sure that we make this connection. And that impart good things to them. Things that they’ll remember when they grow up, just like the things that I remember from people that I learned from. And I, know that, how many times I’ve written letters, as an adult, to businesses, and never gotten a response, and the fact that these young people will talk to me, and get a response from me, I think it probably adds a little bit, I hope, to their self-esteem. And the fact that they knew they’re an important person, and what they have to say matters. And so no, no inquiry goes unanswered. If, if I have anything to say about it. And I think everybody in our company knows that I’m willing to do that. And so they’re also willing to do it, and they’re a, it’s a big support. We all stay pretty good, in good touch with our, our young guests. Through Build-A-Bearville it’s even easier than it’s ever been before.

CNBC:
Is there anything that is not right, what’s not right for Build-A-Bear? When you think about your brand and the kind of things, like what, what ideas have people brought to you that you’ve said, “No, that’s not really for us.”

MAXINE CLARK:
Well, I think that the- sometimes people, you know, that, we’re in this world of technology, and people want to wire up everything. They think that that’s the way it’s gonna sell more. And I really sort of resist that. Because I want our stuffed animals to always be soft and cuddly. And not necessarily be a robot, that can repeat everything that you say to it. In fact, that’s the kind of part about your teddy bear that you like. That you can tell it everything, and it’ll never say it again. It’ll just keep it inside its heart. But, that’s one of those things, because I think that this is, the teddy bear is over a hundred years old. It’s lived through so many generations, and it’ll be here for a hundred years from now. To not make it, you know, too stiff, too wired, keep it high touch, but not so high-tech. I think that the little sound we put in it, and some other things that we might be able to do through some modern technology that may be embedded in the fur, and you’ll never know it, and if you want it to do those things it can may come about. But I don’t, I don’t want any hard electric stuff in there.

CNBC:
Great, and actually, mentioning the hundred years was what I was thinking about, in terms of, a hundred years from now, what is Build-A-Bear? Because there is something about a blanket. There is something about a teddy bear that technology can’t give you. Like, I love my Apple computer, but I’m not gonna cuddle up with it in bed…

MAXINE CLARK:
I think the teddy bear, and thank goodness for my little teddy bear so long ago, that, that relationship that you have and that softness, that cuddliness, that security and trust that you impart as a, as a baby to something soft. It could be a blanket, it could be a teddy bear, will never go away. No matter what we do. In fact, it’ll probably become more necessary and needed. And I think that’s why Build-A-Bear was so successful. We were born at the end of the 20th century, and just when the computer and hard stuff was out there, and that’s exactly what I say. You have to have a balance. When there’s so much high-tech, and hard stuff, you’ve got to have soft-touch, and, and high touch. And I think that’s really what was the key to our success. It, it brought people back into that balanc-, balancing act. Soft and cuddly and, you know, cool and fun. But also a modern business.

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