Oct. 05--The success of the Build-A-Bear Workshop in the Middle East has resulted in an impressive expansion plan that will, in two weeks, see the opening of another store in Oman's Muscat Grand Mall.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with , Paul Marks, general manager at Build-A-Bear Workshop for Gulf States, also revealed that four additional stores are scheduled to open next year in the Mall of the Emirates, Yas Island, and two in Qatar. In addition, he also revealed that the franchise is launching a concession in partnership with The Toy Store in the Mall of the Emirates.
"We don't just sell teddy bears -- we sell an experience. Love, hugs and above all, smiles," said Marks. "The more memorable and fun the experience is, the greater the likelihood that our guests will come back, and our sales and customer data already confirm that we are giving our guests a real 'wow' experience."
Over 54,000 teddy bears were sold last year across the six branches currently operating in the GCC. "Our sales target for this year is to hit 74,000 bears," said Marks.
Business at the stores is booming since the first branch in the UAE opened in Dubai Festival City in 2007. Marks revealed that business had "tripled" since 2010, with the stores recording a year-on-year growth of around 40 per cent on average. "When the first store opened, it was a Dh6 million business," he noted.
"This year, we'll touch Dh20 million, Dh30 million by next year and around Dh58 million in the next five years."
The success of the franchise, Marks explains, can be attributed to the store's unique concept of providing a "special family experience". In eight easy steps, that range from choosing a teddy bear skin to stuffing and then dressing the bear, customers can wind up with a "best friend for life".
With all the attention that goes into making the teddy bear, it is not surprising that Marks and the rest of the staff at the workshops opt for calling them "furry friends" instead of teddy bears.
All the furry friends created at the shop, Marks reveals, come imbedded with a special code that contain secure and protected details of the owner and a birth certificate. They also come with a lifetime guarantee that allows the owners to return to the shop and fix or upgrade their furry friends. It is this attention to detail that, Marks believes, helps the franchise compete with other international toy stores.
However, Marks also agrees that there are certain challenges that come with operating a store with such a specialised product offering.
"We're lucky that we offer something unique and special for our guests. With the challenges faced with online sales and constant discounting to attract customers, the retailers that will survive in the future will be those with an element of 'experiential retail' that engages and connects with the consumer," explains Marks.
"In the big scheme of things it's not rocket science; as long as your top-line sales can support all your other P&L lines with some left over at the end, you'll do fine. Choose locations well, and above all go that extra mile to retain customers. I think we do both really well," he added.
When asked about how the stores kept a fresh outlook on their product offering, Marks said that the franchise kept a close watch on the latest trends in the market and adapted the most popular ones in their teddy bears. In keeping up with the popularity of the latest blockbuster movies, it is not uncommon for visitors at the workshops to see a furry friend dressed as a Smurf or as Superman.