“Pay Your Age” Turns to Rage

Growing up, did you have a special teddy bear or stuffed animal? I remember one of my first stuffed animals was a teddy bear gifted to me from my mom. It was the perfect size, sat up on its own, and was covered with the softest brown fur. Now more than 20 years later, I still have that bear. She survived trips back and forth to college, moving, and even getting a dog who has an affinity for stuffed creatures. Her fur isn’t nearly as soft anymore, her eyes have become dull, there’s a chip in her nose, and while she doesn’t adorn my bed anymore she sits on my dresser as a reminder of my childhood and as a bit of a security blanket as I move through my adult life. While my bear wasn’t a Build-A-Bear, I felt that little bit of magic that Build-A-Bear aims to bring into this world on the day that I got her.

Build-A-Bear Logo

About Build-A-Bear 

Build-A-Bear Workshop was founded in 1997 by Maxine Clark. In case you aren’t familiar with Build-A-Bear, it is a teddy-bear themed retail experience where children (and adults) can pick out their own stuffed animal, watch it be stuffed, put a “heart” in it, and dress it in various outfits. Just the stuffed animal alone can range anywhere from $6 for a 5 inch mini stuffed animal to $75 for a 36 inch jumbo stuffed friend. Now you might be starting to see why the Pay Your Age promotion was so popular.

The Pay Your Age Promotion

Build-A-Bear created their Pay Your Age promotion to draw awareness to their Count Your Candles offer. The Count Your Candles offer allows Build-A-Bear: Birthday Treat Bearchildren 14 and under to pay their age for the special Birthday Treat Bear during their birthday month. The Pay Your Age Promotion was an expansion of this program for one day only. This promotion allowed a child to pay their age for almost any furry friend in the store. Prices ranged from $1, for expectant mothers and children 1 and under, to $29, for the kid at heart. As long as someone 18 and older in the party was a member of the Build-A-Bear Bonus Club, the deal would apply to any member of the party who wanted to partake in the special. Have 2 kids and still have your eye on a special bear for yourself? You’d pay their ages plus $29 for your bear. Pretty exciting for a bear that could easily exceed $50.

This is where things started to go south. Build-A-Bear claims they underestimated the amount of interest the promotion was going to get, but if social media was any prediction of the way things were going to go, Build-A-Bear should have sensed trouble coming and made a backup plan. One of Build-A-Bear’s original Facebook Posts announcing the Pay Your Age promotion received about 111K comments, 191K Shares, and 37K Reactions. One of the original Tweets announcing the promotion was not nearly as impressive but above average for Build-A-Bear, with 486 comments, 1.5K Retweets, and 3.9K Likes. For a company who normally gets under 50 Likes on a Tweet and under 1,000 Reactions on a Facebook posts, this kind of attention should have started setting off alarm bells.

If social media wasn’t enough of a prediction, Build-A-Bear could have turned to Black Friday and Nutella Riots in France to give them an idea of just how excited people get for a good deal. As the Marketing Director at the Chartered Institute of Marketing, Gemma Butler, said, “This was an ill thought-out and unprofessional promotional execution, one that not only risks their own brand reputation, but has the potential to bring the wider marketing sector into disrepute.”

Everyone wants a Build-A-Bear

On the afternoon of July 11th, just a few short hours before the Pay Your Age Madness began, Build-A-Bear may have started to see the error of their ways. They issued statements on both Facebook and Twitter stating:

Thank you for the unprecedented response over the last 24 hours to our Pay Your Age Day event! As a result, we want to let you know that we are anticipating the potential of long lines and wait times. We will make every effort to help as many Guests as possible participate in this first-time event”…”We sincerely appreciate the incredible interest and heartfelt excitement and want to thank everyone in advance for your patience.

Keep in mind, our new Count Your Candles program is available to Bonus Club members all year long and allows children under 14 to pay their age for our special Birthday Treat Bear during the month of their birthday.”

However, this still didn’t seem to warn them that the lines would be chaotic. Build-A-Bear had to close lines for their Pay Your Age Day Event at 8 AM Pacific, before many stores on the West Coast had even opened for the day. This quickly started the wave of disappointment and tears that would continue throughout the day. By mid-morning people were beginning to be turned away. While some were offered $15 off vouchers others were given nothing.

So You Didn’t Get a Build-A-Bear

Yesterday afternoon, Build-A-Bear finally uncovered their eyes, issued a public relations statement regarding their failed promotion, and tried to make things right. They issued the following statement across social media and on their website.

ST. LOUIS – July 12, 2018 – Build-A-Bear Workshop’s Pay Your Age Day event generated an overwhelming response, resulting in long lines, extensive waits and disappointed Guests. We feel it is important to share that, based on the information available to us before the day began, we could not have predicted this reaction to our Pay Your Age Day event. We understand that many Guests were turned away as, due to safety concerns created by the crowds, authorities in certain locations closed Build-A-Bear stores and, in other locations, we were forced to limit the line. Unfortunately, given these circumstances, we were unable to serve all of our Guests for the Pay Your Age Day event.

In response, we distributed vouchers to Guests, who were present in lines, to be redeemed for a future purchase. We are now making vouchers available to our Build-A-Bear Bonus Club members in the U.S. and Canada who log into their account by midnight on July 15, 2018. Vouchers related to this event will be honored through August 31, 2018.

It is our sincere desire for all of our Guests to enjoy the best Build-A-Bear experience possible. As such, our goal with the voucher extension is to enable us to better flow traffic to the stores over the next several weeks to avoid long lines and wait times as much as possible. Therefore, we strongly encourage Guests to consider delaying their trip to Build-A-Bear, and we appreciate everyone’s understanding and patience in this matter.

Build-A-Bear Workshop takes seriously the privilege of providing our valued Guests with an opportunity to make a furry friend. It is with that spirit that we created our Pay Your Age Day event and the new, year-long Count Your Candles birthday program, where kids 14 and under can “pay their age” for our new Birthday Treat Bear during their birthday month.

Thank you for your passion and continued support.

While their statement was well written it was greatly lacking. Everyone was able to predict that the reaction to the Pay Your Age promotion was going to be overwhelming. One did not need to have marketing or retail experience to know that a discount of this magnitude would encourage insane crowds, fighting, and general chaos. If the average human could predict this kind of chaos, why couldn’t Build-A-Bear?

So What About that Coupon?

Build-A-Bear did issue a coupon just like they said they would. The coupon is only valid for Bonus Club members, does offer $15 off certain furry friends, and is good July 13th through August 31st. However, there is a major problem. The disclaimer says, “Limit one coupon per Bonus Club membership account. Limit one coupon per transaction.” That’s a major change from the Pay Your Age Event. Remember our family, the one with 2 kids and the adult wanting a bear of their own. Well, bad news for them- only one of their little angels will be getting the $15 OFF their Furry-Friend. While the parent, could simply use 3 different email address so all members of their family could use the coupon, that’s 3 different Build-A-Bear Bonus Club accounts and a lot of juggling. The discount also doesn’t come close to the discount that could have been obtained during the Pay Your Age Day event.

The Teddy Bear Walk of Shame

The day after the failed Pay Your Age Event, the CEO of Build-A-Bear, Sharon Price John, apologized on the Today show. While John does apologize for the failed event and admits they wanted to “increase accessibility for kids to make their own Furry Friend and take it home.” Numerous times during the interview, John claims “There was no way for us to have estimated the kind of impact, those kind of crowds. It far surpassed anything we ever could’ve known.”

That’s a problem. This situation was easy to predict. It was easy to predict that chaos was going to come from discounts this steep. It was easy to see that Build-A-Bear was not going to be able to meet the demands of this event. While everyone else was able to see this coming, Build-A-Bear was seemingly unable to put two and two together and make the connection. Whatever the reason, their ignorance to audience response to their Pay You Age Event is inexcusable.

While John’s apology does seem heartfelt, it’s not enough to make up for their naïve lack of knowledge and the way they handled this chaos. They took what they claim is “the most fun you’ll ever make” and turned it into a disastrous event that as one little boy in New York said “was not worth it!”

What Could Build-A-Bear Have Done Differently?

While the Pay Your Age Day event did have the possibility to make Build-A-Bear more accessible to children and families of all walks of life, the attention that a discount of this magnitude receives is always intense. Build-A-Bear could have done a number of things differently. Some ways they could have changed their event to make it a success are:

  • Host a Pay Your Age Week
  • Set up an RSVP system that required interested parties to pre-register for the event. This would have allowed them to limit it to the number of people they could handle per hour and the number of hours the store was open that particular day.
  • They could have held a lottery (or multiple lotteries) to randomly select members from their Bonus Club to receive an invitation to this special event.

Build-A-Bear could have also done their research to see that this event was going to be chaotic. Almost anyone who has ever been out in public would have been able to predict the chaos from an event like this.

Moving Forward

Build-A-Bear has made their den and now they need to sleep in it. They need to understand that what they did was wrong and ignorance is not a good enough excuse. Internally, they need to reexamine their teams and processes to make sure any event the attempt to host in the future is properly thought out and the crowd size is correctly estimated. Externally, Build-A-Bear needs to but the magic back in the Teddy Bear experience. They disappointed a lot of families and a single $15 off coupon will not suffice in restoring that level of trust.

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