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Adults Can Learn Bigger Lesson From The Build-A-Bear Fiasco

On Wednesday, a notification popped up in my Facebook feed about a “Pay Your Age” promotion for Bonus Club Members at Build-A-Bear Workshops. Customers who belonged to the complimentary Bonus Club could pay their age (up to 29) for any stuffed animal in the Build-A-Bear inventory. 

For those who aren’t familiar, at Build-A-Bear Workshop guests choose what I can only describe as a stuffed animal skin (ranging from simple bears to dogs to My Little Ponies to Pokemon characters.) These skins are priced from $14 to $75. Guests then work with employees through a “stuffing adventure,” where the skin is filled with stuffing, a heart, an optional soundbox (not included), sewn up, and brushed off in a “bath” of sorts. 

Accessories and outfits are next, to really complete the theme. And every stuffed animal leaves the store with a birth certificate and cardboard carrier. It’s a cute concept, and I confess my son has one or two of these critters in his room.

Obviously, this promotion was a killer deal. We could have potentially scored a $50 stuffed animal for the low price of $10. That’s an incredible savings for us, let alone a family with multiple young children. For a hot minute, I thought about setting the alarm and heading to the mall super early, armed with an iced coffee, snacks and a backup charger for my son’s tablet. But then I saw the number of people responding to the event and I started to get the impression that this might be a bit more chaotic than I felt like dealing with on a Thursday. So I took a pass.

What happened at Build-A-Bear Workshops across the country on Thursday morning was nothing short of disastrous. Parents showed up, children in tow, hours before stores were scheduled to open. People took the day off from work. Lines extended through malls, and then went on to wrap around the buildings. Customers drove hours to Build-A-Bear Workshop locations to get in these unending queues. Stores seemed prepared with inventory, but due to the somewhat lengthy and personalized process of bear-stuffing, may have been insufficiently staffed. People who had no interest in Build-A-Bear or their promotion, couldn’t get into malls to do other shopping.


From what I understand, “nightmare” doesn’t begin to cover it.


Before morning on the East Coast was over, security and police had shut it all down. First, there were safety concerns with the throngs of people swarming the areas, but there were also stories of assaults on employees and other waiting customers. Build-A-Bear Workshop Corporate canceled the whole thing and employees were left to deal with the aftermath, frantically handing out stacks of photocopied vouchers, good for $15 off any animal, to furious parents. More vouchers appeared in Bonus Club members’ accounts. Everyone was sent home, where the outrage continued on social media.

Build-A-Bear messed up. They went too big and too loud and completely misjudged the results. I empathize. Quite frankly, I’ve never seen anyone in the Workshop any time I’ve passed it, so I could totally understand not being prepared for the ensuing volume. The company said mea culpa, apologized, made a voluntary peace offering and will hope for the best. It wasn’t the greatest business decision and it’s probably going to cost them down the line. They tried to do something nice, but you know what they say about no good deed going unpunished.

More concerning to me is the customer outrage. There were allegedly mothers who verbally and physically attacked store employees when they realized they weren’t going to get their way. In front of children, some people reportedly spat on other human beings, as if being denied a deeply discounted stuffed bear gave them the right to treat their fellow man as a less than. What message are these parents sending to the children they are raising? 

Sure, it was disappointing. I understand how hard it is to stand in line, with children no less, and then be turned away empty-handed. I’m sure there were tears and hurt feelings and aggravation. But remember when we were horrified if our child bit or spit on or hit another child over a simple misunderstanding over a toy block? When did it become ok for us to use these barbaric behaviors to voice our own displeasure?                        

And then there are the comments on Facebook and Twitter. Name-calling, insults, threats. Maybe the $15 off isn’t the same as scoring a $2 stuffed animal, but life isn’t always fair. Parents reported that they had waited in line for upwards of six hours with young toddlers, who were then heartbroken, inconsolable and destroyed over the news that they would not be going home that day with a new Build-A-Bear. Many people apparently made the best of it, grabbing a treat from the mall food court, and swinging by Walmart or Target for a comparable stuffy. But others are clinging to the view that they and their children were grievously wronged and can never be made whole again from this disastrous experience.

This is why we can’t have nice things, guys.

Sometimes, as parents, we have to be the bigger person. We have to teach the hard life lessons. We need to be able to look at a mile-long queue and realize our three-year-olds may not be equipped for that kind of wait. We have to stop making promises to our kids that we can’t necessarily fulfill or control. We need to teach productive ways to handle disappointment and letdown as these are critical life skills. It’s important to show grace in the face of rejection and to take the high road even when we’re pissed and want to lash out. Leading by example is so crucial, and being mindful of our actions in the wake of adversity is an invaluable gift we can offer our children, more precious than any discount stuffed animal.

Let’s do better.

Friends, if you didn’t get a Build-A-Bear during this awesome promotion, log into your Bonus Club account by July 15 to find your $15 voucher, good through August 31! 


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