Teddy bear madness

Following entry is a record in the “Catalogue of Catastrophe” – a list of failed and troubled projects from around the world.

Build-a-Bear Workshop – USA & Canada
Project type : Sales promotion
Date : Jul 2018
Cost : Undeclared repetitional damage

Synopsis :

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of an idea and in doing so miss important issues that lie just below the surface. In a marketing campaign gone awry, US based ‘Build-a-Bear Workshop’ gained world-wide attention by attracting too many customers to their stores.  So many, that customers were left to wait in line ups that snaked around the mall.  The ‘pay-your-age’ promotion allowed customers to build a teddy bear for the cost of their age.  If you’re 5 years old you’ll pay $5 rather than the usual $20 and up.  An instant hit, word spread rapidly through social media and families with children at home for the school holidays made a beeline for the mall.

With limited in store capacity, locations quickly filled up and management had to quickly deploy staff to marshal line ups outside. To control the crowds, doors were closed and in some locations mall security were called to maintain order.  Within hours it was clear that the one-day promotion could not accommodate all of the children wanting to participate and many families were left in tears as they found their wait was in vain.

The story is obviously an illustration of what can happen when risks aren’t managed and you could consider attracting more customers than anticipated to be an upside risk (opportunity risk). It is however also an illustration of how upside risks can tip over to become a negative risk one capacities have been exceeded. Yes, takings for the day were likely higher than ever seen before (the entire chain operated at maximum capacity for the full day), but the damage to reputation may have offset those gains. Although having said that, they do say that all publicity is good publicity, so who knows.  The TV and media coverage may result in more brand awareness paid for with the tears of many disappointed children.

Contributing factors as reported in the press:
Lack of risk management – failure to develop contingency plans.  Failure to anticipate demand.  Poor assumptions.

Reference links :

  1. ‘Pay your age’ promo causes chaos for Build-A-Bear