When I first added “write a blog post” to my to-do list this week, I didn’t imagine I would write about Build-A-Bear.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m no stranger to its stores. With three young children, I’ve been a customer a time or two. Early this week, I saw news of the company’s “Pay Your Age Day” shared by other parents on social media, and I immediately thought, “That sounds like a horrible idea.” For me. (For the record, I’m not a Black Friday shopper, either. Because “time is money” and all that.)
It was obvious there would be crowds. There would certainly be more demand than supply. How would Build-A-Bear handle it? Naturally, I was curious to see how it would all play out.
Across the country, families lined up before stores even opened. Just after 7:30 a.m. ET, Build-A-Bear posted its first update to social media, warning customers of the overwhelming response and long waits, and mentioned the possibility that lines might be limited due to safety concerns. Note that most stores didn’t even open until 10:00 a.m.!
Still, lines snaked through shopping malls and stretched outside. Just a few hours later, at 11:00 a.m. ET, Build-A-Bear published an urgent update to its social media pages and blasted it out to its email lists. Lines were officially closed. People were turned away, and some of those who were already in line had waited ALL DAY. Cue pandemonium.
“How could they not have anticipated this?” people asked. A firestorm of media coverage ensued, with headlines calling it a “botched promotion,” “hellish chaos,” and of course, “a PR nightmare.”
But was it really, though? In this case, I’d argue that this just might fall under the “There’s no such thing as bad PR” cliché. While it’s true that the situation is a crisis for Build-A-Bear, it’s one that could actually benefit them in the long run, depending on the response.
Sure, there are angry and disappointed customers, but Build-A-Bear was quick to come up with a solution. As people were being turned away from the lines, they were handed $15 off coupons—an amount roughly equivalent to the discount offered by “Pay Your Age”—to come back any time (and NOT have to wait in line for hours!). The coupons were offered to those standing in the lines, too, in case they would rather bail and come back. Then, Build-A-Bear went so far as to offer the coupon to all of its Bonus Club members, even if they had never ventured out for “Pay Your Age Day.” And to ensure this madness never happens again, the company brought an existing promotion—“Count Your Candles”—to the forefront, that offers the same discount (pay your age) during a child’s birthday month.
At the time of this draft, Build-A-Bear’s “failed” promotion is still all over the media. But you know what? So are its make-good solutions. I’m positive yesterday resulted in a harried public relations team and some serious regrets, but Build-A-Bear’s CEO was on The Today Show this morning delivering key messages that reinforce Build-A-Bear’s value proposition. How else would that have happened?
Only time will tell the true impact on Build-A-Bear’s business. While there may be customers so upset that they have sworn off the company forever, the coupons are likely to bring even more new and repeat customers back to the stores over the next few months. Plus, all of the traditional and social media hoopla has undoubtedly raised awareness of Build-A-Bear’s “Count Your Candles” birthday promotion, which could drive additional sales as well.
At the end of all of this, Build-A-Bear stands to gain more than it has lost. Some may argue that the sheer number of coupons out there could cut deeply into Build-A-Bear’s profits, but to that I say: You must not be familiar with the price of the accessories!
By Heather Kowalczyk