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***My confession** I am 30 years old (ok, 31 in 2 weeks) and have over 300 stuffed animals. With children of my own now I try to pretend they belong to them, but the truth is, they are mine and only mine. Even worse, I talk to them all and have to take new ones to bed with me on their first night before introducing them to the others so that they don't get frightened. My step son got severely told off the other weekend when I caught him chucking one of my fluffiest of bears around and kicking it in the head. How can he not understand how unacceptable this is!!!
So, now that you appreciate my level of childhood obsession (I feel better having said it out loud) you will surely understand how important it is for something like the Build a Bear Factory to be spot on as far as service, product and of course stuffed animal cruelty policies go.
I stumbled across the Build a Bear Factory while browsing aimlessly for a present for a work colleague at Buchanan Galleries. Needless to say, a stuffed bear was not exactly what I was looking for however, it is the only thing I left the mall with that day.
***What exactly is the Build a Bear Factory*** Build a Bear factory is quite literally a hop where you can build your own bear. There is a selection of furry friend "shells" in a variety of sizes to choose from. Whether you are looking for the classic snuggly bear with a simple bow or a biker cow, you can find what you are looking for as each bear is designed and created by you.
Once you have picked your furry friend, you decide whether you want to include a voice box. I recorded a message myself to put in my son's bear saying "sweet dreams little one." Let me tell you, this is an adorable
touch for any gift - although hearing my voice repeated back to me every night is slowly driving me insane! Alternatively, you can pick from a choice of pre-recorded sounds or songs.
Ones you have picked your sound, you move on to where the little creature gets stuffed and starts to come to life. This is done by one of the staff however, kids are encouraged to help and of course give their newly stuffed pal a hug to test its' squeeziness.
Your bear is then taken to the stitching station where he is stitched using the build a bear patented pre-laced system.
The next step, and most important in my book is naming your new companion. At this station you are able to create an official birth certificate and even register your bear on the Find a Bear ID tracking system (I wish I could have done this with all my stuffed animals - think of the sleepless nights lost searching for Jenny as she snoozed under my bed or hidden by a pile of dirty clothes).
You ma think you are ready to pay and head home with your friend tucked safely under your arm but not just yet. Every stuffed animal deserves to be suitably attired and the Build a Bear shop has an amazing array of outfits to fit any animal. From wedding gowns to police uniforms, firemen outfits and doctor's scrubs, denim mini skirts and tartan shorts to camouflage and fairy princess outfits. You name it there is an outfit for all occasions. Of course, as any girl knows what makes the outfit are the shoes and accessories. There is a great selection whether you are looking for trendy trainers or feathered heeled slippers, neckties and glasses or handbags and jewellery, for you to choose from. You can even pick up an I-Pod or Mobile phone for that bear on the Go.
Once your little pal is fluffed, dressed and ready to face the world, it is placed in carrying box (don't worry, there are plenty of air and peep holes!) for your to take home. Mission statement - "At Build-A-Bear Workshop; our mission is to bring the Teddy Bear to life. The Teddy Bear brings to mind warm thoughts about our childhood, about friendship, about trust and comfort, and also about love. Build-A-Bear Workshop embodies those thoughts in how we run our business everyday."
***Product Quality*** The stuffed animals are made out of the softest and cuddliest of material and both animals I have from the store are still huggable and soft to the touch as they were when first bought 2 and 4 years ago. They are well put together and although both of mine have endured a bath in the washing machine, I have never had trouble with stitching coming undone or of either of them loosing their shape.
***Cost*** There is no doubt, you could go down and pick out a perfectly decent stuffed animal from Woolworth's or Marks and Spencer's for much less money, however, this is an investment. I love the thought of my little boy unpacking boxes in his first house when he grows up and coming across his bear, giving him a squeeze and hearing him say sweet dreams darling and knowing it will make him smile.
The stuffed animals themselves are reasonable enough, ranging from £8.00 to £18.00 (with great variance in between).
The voice boxes range from between £1.00 and £4.00 with personalised messages topping the end of this scale.
Where the cost tends to start adding up is with the outfits and accessories. On average, the outfits go for between £8.00 and £10.00 with accessories running between £1.00 for a necktie to £5.00 for a hat, scarf and mitts set. There is no doubt you will have the most stylish furry friend, but there is also little doubt that it will be at a cost.
***Service*** Anytime I have visited the Build a Bear store (I can only go on the one in Buchanan Galleries) I have been impressed with the level of fun mixed with helpfulness the staff have. It is clear, they don't hire just anyone - they make sure they hire people that are friendly, approachable, patient (lets face it, the store will be full of rowdy kids so they need to be), child friendly and sincere about the product they are there to sell. There is no pressure to buy extra products as they seem to respect that the process is individual and bespoke to the person designing the animal. It is safe to say the staff certainly contributes to making this a fun experience from beginning to end.
***Extras*** It is also possible to book a Build a Bear party from £8.00 per guest. This doesn't include food, cake or games and really just centres around making the bears so it may not prove to be a viable option for everyone (although I am considering it for my 31st...)
***Accessibility*** These stores are popping up all over the place now with 41 branches open across Britain. Check you local shopping malls and it seems there is a Build a Bear in most of these now.
***Conclusion*** The Build a Bear stores are created for kids (like me!) and for adults alike. It is a great way to add a personal touch to a gift or to simply make sure your stuffed animal is exactly the friend you want.
Don't expect it to be cheap - resign yourself to the whole experience and except that for a one-off you will have to pay. Enjoy yourself and I challenge the most reserved and grown up of grown ups to not feel the kid in them peek through just a little bit while you are in there.