I knew that Maxine Clark, Chief Executive Bear of Build-a-Bear Workshop fame, would be speaking at the Disney Social Media Mom’s Celebration I attended at Walt Disney World last month, but I wasn’t sure if I’d find it valuable. Now you must know, that I was a part-time Disney Cast Member in 1997 when Build-a-Bear came on the scene. I watched as they built out their store in anticipation. When it opened, I couldn’t help but notice how similar they were to Disney. They looked like us, they talked like us, and of course, I thought they were trying to be us. Their business model, to sell one basic item, stuffed animals, seemed silly to me. Heck, we were the Disney Store and we were providing a destination shopping adventure already, I thought they couldn’t compete.
Boy, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Shortly after they arrived we became what we Cast Members internally called ourselves, D-Mart. We were no longer about “The Show”, but about the sale, a hard sale at that. Gone were the neatly folded stacks of clothing, all with the eyes prominently placed at the fold because it’s said that Walt believed that they eyes were the entry to the soul, and that’s what we wanted to present to the customer. Now we were literally throwing out tables full of discounted merchandise that was no longer unique to our store. The same items could be purchased at other retailers, and for less money. Next came the store redo where they took out all our beloved animation, statues, and moving art that we so lovingly cared for. Instead of offering it to the employees who treasured and cared for it, they sold it on eBay. The stores were failing and they were grasping trying to saving it.
Sadly, nearly all of the stores around me closed. As I already had a full-time job as a webmaster for a local city, plus two small children, it wasn’t a hardship for me. But for many others, losing their jobs was tough. Were did many of them go? You guessed it, Build-a-Bear. You see they value “The Show” and they haven’t diverted from their core concept. Do something well, and keep doing it well. When I heard Maxine speak at the conference, it was evident that much of their success is because of their tiny little CEB. But what she lacks in stature, she makes up for in heart, ambition, and the ability to share her expertise with others. What I loved most is that she gave us the keys to a owning a successful business, and she did it for free, in a warm and caring environment, and to anyone who wanted to hear.
While there were lots of golden tidbits, the one thing that really hit home for me was the simple statement, “There’s nothing one customer can do to harm our business by saying yes.” Sounds so simple, but I find myself struggling often when I know that perhaps I’m being taken advantage of by a customer. I do believe in the Disney way of doing business, not saying what I can’t do for you, but concentrating on what I can, but even in Disney we had rules about returns and such. Maxine has allowed me to take my personal issues out of the process and to say yes more often than I would have in the past. Maxine has been in my head several times over the last few weeks during challenging times when I railed against the exorbitant request by a customer. Now I channel Maxine and wonder, “What would Maxine do?”
Now I have no intentions of ever taking my company to the heights that Maxine has. After 25-years in the technology field, my little business keeps my hand in the web authoring business, while letting me indulge in all things girly. I live a very simple life and my goal is to stay that way, but the part of Maxine’s success I’d that I’d like to replicate is her service to others.
To say that Maxine changed my thoughts on her business with a short talk at the DSMM’s event would be correct. I wish her every success in life and in business, she’s earned it, she’s shared it, and she’s a graceful and caring person.
Connect With Maxine & Build-a-Bear
- Read Maxine’s take on the event here https://maxineclark.wordpress.com/2010/02/16/whats-love-got-to-do-with-it-everything/
- Follow her on Twitter https://mobile.twitter.com/ChiefExecBear (yes, it’s really Maxine and not someone hired to tweet for her)
- Shop Build-a-Bear Online http://www.buildabear.com/
DISCLOSURE: I attended the Disney Social Media Mom’s Celebration – I paid a conference fee and paid for my transportation; however, the cost did not exceed the value of the event. The opinions are my own.
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