I’ve visited two Build-a-Bear stores a number of times—one in Albuquerque and one in Austin. I notice something on each visit that seems remarkable. I see little boys, who are comfortably familiar the routine involved in building a stuffed animal, buying animals. Not just that, they are accompanied by their dads. Some of these guys are big burly fellows who maybe took a day off from shaving because it’s Saturday, but they manage to look at home in Build-a-Bear.
Boys and their dads stand around, considering potential sounds for an animal, or discussing the firmness of the stuffing. Boys and dads finger little hearts and very seriously rub those hearts between their hands or on their cheeks or near their hearts before putting them in the animals.
It isn’t just boys and dads, of course, there are girls and moms or girls and dads or boys and moms. But the point is that Build-a-Bear has found some special marketing coolness factor that makes their animals appeal to everyone.
A lot of other items have coolness factors, for example, the iPod. Yes, the iPod appeals to both men and women. Many items appeal to both men and women. But I can’t think of another product that transferred its coolness from little girls to little boys with so much success as the hand picked, heart-filled, build a bear stuffed animal phenomenon.
What’s the secret? Can it be transferred to other areas, such as computer sciences or engineering? Can it be used to equalize gender and diversity ratios at tech conferences? Should curriculum, conference keynotes and even politics be changed build-a-bear-like to appeal to cool women first, on the assumption that men will naturally follow?
How does Build-a-Bear do it?