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Monday, July 16, 2018

The Un-Bear-Able Build-A-Goof

True confession. I have a “love-hate” relationship with Build-A-Bear. Any enterprise that can figure out how to market overpriced stuffed creatures with even more overpriced outfits and become hugely successful is worthy of admiration in the marketplace. So I love their skills at pulling that off.

My “hate” side of that relationship is when it costs us—Nana and Papa—to buy into this marketing scheme for our grandkids. You see, one Build-A-Creature will never do. You have to keep going back to buy new ones. With new names. New outfits. New backpacks. And new debit card charges. I just shake my head.

Well, Build-A-Bear outdid themselves with a promotion recently. I’m sure it started out well. To help develop brand loyalty, thought the creative marketing team, let’s create a “Pay Your Age Day” promotion in all of our workshops! It worked like magic! You could create a bear for your little tyke for as little as $1!!!

Guess what. Customers poured into their stores last week. So many, in fact, the the company had to shut down the promotion after creating hours-long waiting lines. As the Chicago Tribune reported, “The crowds across the country were so overwhelming that the chain said it either closed stores or cut off lines at its stores in the U.S. and Canada “per local authorities…due to crowd and safety concerns.”

Now you have unhappy kids crying. Now you have unhappy parents and grandparents who’ve stood in line and can’t get the goods. Now you have harried employees and managers trying to calm the situation. And somewhere in the marketing stratosphere of Build-A-Bear, there was probably a boss yelling, “What were you thinking???”

This sent Build-A-Bear employees scrambling to try and figure out how to salvage relationships. And then comes their big question: how do we recover from this? And will it hurt the company long term?

Timothy Calkins is a clinical professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. He told the Tribune, “Instead of Build-A-Bear being a place of happiness or joy, it became a place of frustration and disappointment. It really is a disaster for Build-A-Bear. You desperately want your brand associated with happy parents and happy kids.”

There is no perfect solution. But here’s what Build-A-Bear did. The company decided to issue vouchers for a future purchase to customers who remained in these long lines. The $15 off vouchers could be used through August 31st. Well, good try. But it doesn’t quite make up the difference for the kid who could have created a bear for as little as $1. Or cover the time spent unprofitably in long lines.

Sometimes the real world of your popularity can create unexpected consequences. Jesus of Nazareth become unbelievably popular for several reasons. The big one: He healed people. But massive crowds also followed Him because they had never heard anyone teach like Him. He was nothing short of amazing.

But on two occasions, throngs gathered where there was no food. His disciples panicked. Jesus didn’t. He commanded the people to sit down. He took a few loaves and fish and fed thousands. Don’t try this at home. It was truly miraculous. Know this…Jesus did what was necessary to take care of His followers. (You can read one of these accounts in Matthew 14:13-21.)

There’s an important lesson for business here. You may not be able to do miracles, but you can go the extra mile to take care of your customers. Build-A-Bear made the effort, but it fell a bit short. They should have gone that extra mile. I’m sure this will become a teachable experience in future marketing courses.

It’s always important in teaching public relations to plan for the downside. A way to bring the customer back when things go awry. And as we learned last week, it’s best to do that before life becomes…un-bear-able.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

P.S. Next week, some personal stories of radio promotions gone awry.

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.

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