Having young children means toy stores become a tricky place. On our recent trip to the USA, we crashed and burned at a over-populated Disney Land, and found ourselves wandering the forecourt of Disney at the attached mall.
The girls were really let down by their Disney experience and were hunting for something good... After dropping into several stores, we came to Build-A-Bear, a franchise that exists in Australia, and a potential to save the day.
Build-A-Bear is a place where you can make your own teddy bear. You pick a limp body from a huge range of characters, pick a scent and a sound then take it over to the a staff member and control the stuffing of it. The pièce de résistance is the accessories, there is a phenomenal range of clothing roller skates, toys, bags, and oh my god, everything. The key story here is your friend for life should be as individual as you are, so you create their character through the accessories.
Before the staff member clinically sews up the stuffed bear (it does make you squeamish), you are asked to perform a ritual with a tiny heart shaped pillow that becomes the bear's heart. The ritual is the key, it creates meaning out of the experience of buying, consuming.
In every Build-A-Bear here in Australia that I have visited (3 in total) it feels flat. Yes there are children buzzing around excitedly, but the staff aren't sticking to the script, they don't believe the hype. They stuff the bears, they work the heart into the process they tick the boxes, but there is no 'buy in', the staff don't believe the meaning behind the business, the why of the business.
So....some creative entrepreneur has looked carefully what children want, they undoubtedly have spent time and money researching their market. From the research they would have made a story of what happens when a customer engages with Build-A-Bear. The story would have been translated into a plan and policy, then it is time to execute.
If the idea is strong enough, and the management is behind it, the execution is easier... initially. Given time though, it is easy to slip in effort. The management, particularly those involved in day to day operation, must keep everyone 'on script'.
The difference we experienced between the Australian versions of Build-A-Bear and this one in the heart of Disney was fascinating. It was not a yawning gap on the face of it, but it was a totally different experience. The difference was staff 'buy in' to the deeper meaning of the brand, that these bears are your friends for life.
The staff at the Disney store brought the bears alive, they wove magic into the process, they had my girls enchanted when placing the bears heart. They shared the story and entwined my children into it. The bears were characters, friends, the staff loved the bears too, had opinions on the level of firmness of the stuffing depending on the activities or accessories planned. They spoke with conviction about the glory of the rainbow skirt for Pony Twilight Sparkle and how my youngest choice of a Pug was great and had she seen the skateboarding hoody?
The result was, we spent money. More than we had intended. More importantly we are now looking for other stores to visit, we are happily signed up to their email program, and we are part of the Build-A-Bear club, we bought in to the story, the why, of the business.
All because of superior execution, staff buy in and because the staff made it impossible not to jump on board, they weren't cynical, they believed in the company's deeper story and values. The staff were brand champions.
The lesson to us business owners who have such great creative ideas, we need to execute thoroughly, we need to build a script and stick to it for every customer, all the time. But more importantly, the deeper meaning behind our brand, our business, the real WHY of what we do, must be shared by our staff and expressed in all of our activities. If you want people to value what you do, to 'get' your business, you need to show them the heart of who you are and show them how that effects every aspect of their experience with you.
This becomes even more important when our ideas are clever and involved. When we are asking our clients to buy in to our vision, even more so. Most small businesses want for a deep long lasting connection to their clients, and if you can give your clients a strong sense of your brand's value, your business's 'why', you can ask them to join you on the journey and then, you have a winning formula.
Paul Atkins and Kate Burns.