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Being the big kid that I am, I love teddies. Infact, I still have all of the stuffed animals I had when I was born! So you can imagine my delight at walking into the Hamley's store during the festive season a few years back and finding a factory full of bears! Yes, it is the unmistakable Bear Factory, which puts the fun back into buying stuffed toys! "It's just for kids" I can hear you scream, but you would be pleasantly surprised…
*** The Store ***
The first Bear Factory opened inside Hamley's in London, and they are now nationwide available on most large high streets. It's not like Clintons, or other retailers where you buy a bear 'off the rack', The Bear Factory offers a truly unique experience in that you select the bear you want, fill it with stuffing, give it a heart and voice, and then dress it in pretty clothes!
The shop itself is easy to find with a huge blue logo on the outside. Inside a huge gold noisy machine dominates the store, this being the stuffing machine. In this area you will also find members of staff stitching the bears, and helping customers. The rest of the store has a modern feel with wood paneling, several shelves and racks filled with clothes and accessories for the bears.
~ Choosing a bear The bears are located around the front area of the store in baskets. There's a large selection, including the traditional kind, and other animals such as monkey's and sheep. They measure roughly one foot from head to toe, and prices range from £9.99 onwards. You can even get baby bears for £4.99! Once you have chosen your new friend, you head to the stuffing machine (if you have just the skin) to bring him or her to life. Before stuffing, you can add a voice box to your bear! They come in a bark, moo, meow, 'I Love you', etc or you can record your own voice with a message. I chose a moo just because I thought it was funny :) These are located next to the stuffing machine and cost £3.99.
~ Stuffing This is the best bit! The machine is operated by a member of staff who stuffs the bear for your personal needs; firm, cuddly, or soft. I chose cuddly, and the stuffing proceeded! White bits of fibre starts pumping around a large pipe, which runs around the shop, and into the bear. The sales assistant then asks you to pick a silky heart, give it a kiss, make a wish, and then sows the bear up, ready for you to take home. It's then time to give your bear a name! The friendly sales assistants direct you to a book of girls and boys names and make some suggestions if you're completely stuck, but more often than not you will most probably have a name already chosen. You then have to fill out a birth certificate which had mine and the bears name, and where your bear was born! My bear is called Carlos. He says hello to everyone!
~ Dressing It's about now that you'll realise your new bear is naked! So it's time to go shopping! As I mentioned earlier, it is just like a real clothes store with shorts, T-shirts, dresses, shoes, hats and even glasses! They are like babies clothes, maybe just a little smaller and each outfit will fit any bear. I have bought Carlos a dressing gown, a smart shirt, trousers, tie, bunny slippers, and a denim jacket. He's a funky bear! You can also buy the bears wedding/part outfits, even seasonal fancy dress such as a Santa Claus suit! The clothing varies in price but a full outfit can cost anything between £15 - £20 with accessories. I prefer to visit during the sale as you can purchase a t-shit for as little as £1.50. The clothes are of excellent quality, and can be machine-washed on a gentle cycle.
*** Payment process ***
So you have selected an entire new wardrobe for your bear, so now's the time to give the bank a shock and pay for it all. The sales assistant will offer you a pet carrier (it's not exactly Louis Vuitton, it's a cardboard box with a hole in the back and front to pop your bears' head through so they can breathe!) Cash, cheques and all major credit cards are accepted. You can also get a loyalty card, which is stamped with bear prints for every £10 you spend. When you fill the card you get a freebie!
*** A word of warning ***
They may look like the perfect gift for young children, however, Bear Factory do not recommend the bears for under threes. And if the bear itself becomes a little grubby, it is not recommendable to wash it at all. I've had my bear for 3 years and it is still as good as new!
*** Customer Service ***
I am a strong believer in good customer service, and I can honestly say that Bear Factory staff have some of the best customer service staff on the highstreet. Everytime I have been in the store there has always been a member of staff on hand to greet me, and ask if I need assistance in due course.
*** Bear Factory online ***
Although I strongly recommend buying a bear from the shop, you can avoid the Christmas rush by purchasing online. Although I have never done this myself, it looks very straightforward, with charges being £3.50 per bear if sent into Europe or £6.50 if sent abroad. There are many outfits to chose from, some of which may not be available in your local store.
*** Summary ***
Buying a bear from the Bear Factory is more than just buying a cuddly toy…it is a complete interactive experience, made wonderful by the extremely helpful staff, where you select and create your own unique friend, by giving them a name, a voice, and some clothes. It is the perfect place to take a child and buy them a gift, or just to take yourself! While it can be expensive if you buy numerous outfits, I guarantee you will leave with a smile every time!
*** Contacts ***
Head Office Address: 2 Fouberts Place, Off Regent Street London W1F 7PA Telephone: 020 7479 7393 Fax: 020 7479 7319 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
For your nearest store, please visit: www.bearfactory.co.uk
my daughter loves the bear factory and owns one bunny called Rosie and a bear called Olivia. It can get pricy but I think its absolutely great if you want to buy something different. She also loves playing on their website. danix
Joscyn 14.08.2006 13:12
Went in there for the first time in June, couldn't believe all the outfits they had! Who needs kids when you can have a cuddly bear?! Good review, Rachel x
MissTopaz 01.08.2006 23:59
I think it is overpriced due to the novelty, loving the scuba outfit though!