Let Them Build It and They Will Come

Last week, I shared an article about why Toys R' Us is closing all it's stores.

They are not alone.  In this new era, where online purchasing rules and brick and mortar stores like Barne's & Nobles, Claires, The Limited and more are closing by the hundreds, there is a different type of store for kids and families that is thriving.

Build-A-Bear Workshop was founded in 1997.  It's first store was in the St. Louis Galleria mall.  By 2010, the company had grown to over 400 stores worldwide. And in February, they announced their 4th straight year of profitability.  In the last five years, Build-A-Bear has expanded its physical footprint by 12%.  BTW - they are debt-free.

So, what does Build-A-Bear have that the other retailers don't?  I believe it's this.
Rather than having a strategy of "Build it and they will come," they have the strategy of "LET THEM BUILD IT and they will come."
There's a big difference between the two.  Let's take a closer look at why Build-A-Bear is thriving, while other kid and family-targeted retailers are sinking. 

Build-A-Bear offers kids and families a hands-on, interactive, learner-based experience.  Today's kids and families don't want to sit passively while you try to "entertain" them or "sell them a product."  They want to be involved.  They want active entertainment rather than passive entertainment.

At Build-A-Bear, there is a large container in the middle of the store, that contains the "stuffing" kids and families can use to build their own stuffed animal.  Kids and families go through an interactive process in which they assemble and customize their stuffed animal.

If you want to attract kids and families to your church, then you need to offer them hands-on, active learning opportunities.  Bring this into your lessons, events, activities, programs, etc. and they will come.

There are lots of ways you can do this.  Here are a couple of examples.  At one of our Christmas events, we set up tables where kids and their parents could decorate and customize their very own Christmas ornaments.  The response was overwhelming.  Another time, we told families they would have the opportunity to assemble food packages together after the service that would be sent to a needy country.  Attendance spiked that weekend.  Why?  Kids and families are looking for hands-on, interactive opportunities.

Build-A-Bear gives kids and families the opportunity to unleash their creativity and customize.  Kids and families resonate with their tagline - The Most Fun You'll Ever Make."  They resonate with the unique opportunity to create their own, personalized stuffed animals.  Kids can choose their favorite bear, elephant, rabbit, pony, etc. from a bin and then continue down row after row of accessories, customizing everything from sunglasses to clothes to lightsaber color to hair texture to backpack design to smell.

If you want kids and families to love your church, give them opportunities to be creative.  Crafts.  Art.  Video.  Building things. 

Build-A-Bear gives kids and families the opportunity to contribute to a cause.  They have been engaged in numerous charities, including giving over $1 million dollars to the World Wildlife Fund. As part of their 10th anniversary celebration, they built 11 playgrounds.  They have donated over $11 million dollars to child and family causes.

Millennial parents and their Gen Z kids are drawn toward organizations that have a clear mission to make a difference in the world.  Giving them the opportunity to be part of your mission will engage them with your ministry.

Build-A-Bear stays current with kid and family culture.  They tie into the culture by offering kids the opportunity to make stuffed animals based on movies and themes that are popular at the time.

A few examples of themes they have done are The Cat in the Hat, Shrek, a Cody Maverick penguin from Surf's Up, a toy Mumble from Happy Feet, a toy E.B from Hop, both Alvin and Brittany from Alvin and the Chipmunks, a Jonas dog, a Wizards of Waverly Place bear, My Little Pony, Hello Kitty and Zhu Zhu pets.

While their staple is the traditional teddy bear, they have also been willing to change and adapt to stay relevant to the culture. 
The stuffing inside stays the same, but the packaging and theming that contains the stuffing changes as needed. 
Churches that want to attract kids and families must be willing to change and adapt how they present God's Word to stay connected to today's kids and families.  The "inside" - God's Word - doesn't change, but how we package it must change to stay relevant and reach today's kids and families.

Build-A-Bear gives kids and families the opportunity to build relationships.  Another one of their taglines has been "Where Best Friends Are Made."  Kids often go with a friend to the store to experience Build-a-Bear together.  And it can be a bonding experience for kids and their parents.

Churches that want to reach kids and families should make fostering relationships a top priority.  This means giving kids and parents the opportunity to be part of a small group where they be known, cared for and find community.

Build-A-Bear celebrates family milestones.  With their "Build-A-Party," they offer a "cele-bear-ation" for special occasions like birthdays, gender reveals, graduations, engagements, anniversaries and more.  Families can pick their own celebration theme and then Build-A-Bear helps them plan their celebration.

This is so valuable for churches to know.  Churches that make celebrating family milestones like baby dedication, baptism, graduations, etc. will make a big impact in the lives of families. 

Build-A-Bear helps families make memories.  If you want to attract today's families, then you've got to give them the opportunity to make a memory together.  What you do has to be something special that they can't get if they stay home or watch online.

When kids and families leave Build-A-Bear, they leave with a memory.  A memory that has an emotional attachment.  The memory is what grabs them and keeps them coming back. 

Build-A-Bear is cross-generational.  They don't just target kids, but their parents as well.  There are accessories for parents like motorcycles clothes and sports teams.  Churches that want to reach entire families must target not just kids, but their parents and grandparents as well.

Always be thinking not just about kids, but parents as well.

Let's recap.  If you want to see your church attract kids and families...
  • offer kids and families a hands-on, interactive, learner-based experience
  • give kids and families the opportunity to create and customize
  • provide kids and families with the opportunity to contribute to a cause
  • stay current with kid and family culture
  • structure your ministry so relationships can be fostered
  • celebrate family milestones
  • help families make memories
  • target all generations
Let them build it...and they will come!