Jennifer Kretchmar, Chief Digital and Merchandising Officer, Build-A-Bear Workshop

Jennifer Kretchmar is chief digital and merchandising officer at Build-A-Bear Workshop. In this edition of The Friday Five, Jennifer reveal what consumers can look forward to seeing as the company celebrates its 25th anniversary, and describes how the company has evolved over the years.

What is the mission of Build-A-Bear Workshop?

At Build-A-Bear Workshop, our mission is to “add a little more heart to life.” We know that many people, from kids to teens to adults and families of all kinds, choose to engage with our brand for a wide variety of reasons. With our commitment to add a little more heart to life, we strive to make a special day like a birthday just a bit more special, or an everyday event like spending time with a favourite friend become a memory with great longevity. Over the past nearly 25 years and over 200 million furry friends made around the world, we have been honoured to be a part of making life a little brighter for so many.

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In what ways has the company evolved over its 25-year history?

Build-A-Bear Workshop started in 1997 as a mall-based, experiential specialty retailer where children and families could create their own stuffed animals. Now almost 25 years later, Build-A-Bear has become a multi-generational global brand with high consumer awareness and positive affinity.

We have been able to leverage the brand strength and diversify our business model. That includes strategically evolving our brick-and-mortar retail footprint beyond traditional malls with a wide range of formats and locations, including tourist destinations, extending into international markets primarily via a franchise model, and broadening our consumer base beyond children by adding teens and adults with entertainment/sports licensing, collectibles, and gifting offerings.

We have also significantly advanced our digital transformation, which is enabling meaningful growth in our e-commerce and omnichannel business primarily via opportunities related to Build-A-Bear’s pop culture and multi-generational appeal. In addition, extending our brand power beyond retail, we have added Build-A-Bear Entertainment, which is dedicated to creating engaging content for kids and adults that fulfills our company’s mission. Finally, we also offer products at wholesale and in non-plush consumer categories via licensing agreements with leading manufacturers.

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The company has embarked on a documentary project with filmmaker Taylor Morden, director and producer of The Last Blockbuster. What topics or themes will the film explore?

Taylor Morden has indicated that he plans to make a feature-length documentary that traces Build-A-Bear’s history from start-up fad to loyal fandom through a fascinating quarter-century journey resulting in the improbable creation of an iconic brand and beloved experiential omnichannel retailer.

The documentary will also track the story of how the company has navigated a tumultuous era for retail while exploring what dynamics led to 2021 becoming the most profitable year in the company’s history. In addition to looking at the past, the documentary will highlight some of Build-A-Bear Workshop’s unique culture and other differentiators that have influenced the company and continue to allow it to stand apart from others in the retail and toy industries. The Build-A-Bear Workshop documentary will be produced in a mixed-media format, including animation and storyboarded sequences of important corporate events and major moments in the company’s history and popular culture, at large.

It will also depict a macro-view of Build-A-Bear’s experiential retail-tainment and its influence on the retail industry, it will contemplate the future of retail, and, it will showcase how the brand has elevated to multi-generational, pop-culture status.

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Tell us about the work of Build-A-Bear Foundation.

The mission of Build-A-Bear Foundation is to add a little more heart to life by sharing hugs, inspiring creativity, and supporting those in need, which we bring to life in a number of ways.

2022 is our 25th anniversary year, so our goal this year is to donate at least 125,000 teddy bears to children and families, which we are on track to achieve! We also have a renewed focus on children’s literacy. Research shows that childhood literacy has a significant impact on a child’s future, so we have partnered with First Book to support their efforts and plan to donate at least 125,000 books to First Book this year.

Our Foundation also has relationships with long-time partners Make-A-Wish, Toys for Tots, the American Red Cross, and Shriners Children’s, among others, to provide teddy bears, in-store visits, and funding to support their important work. Since the Foundation was formed in 2004, we have donated more than $22 million and 1.5 million furry friends to organizations around the world.

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What can we look forward to seeing as the company celebrates its 25th anniversary?

Build-A-Bear is opening up the vault and launching limited-edition collectibles inspired by some of its most popular furry friends from the last 25 years.

Available for specific times and in limited quantities, each furry friend has a special hangtag and label detailing which past furry friend it honours, making them the perfect addition to any collection! We also will be releasing silver anniversary editions in collaboration with some of our most popular licensed entertainment partners. We have added a silver touch throughout our in-store elements, including signage, birth certificates, and a special silver heart that can be added to furry friends during our signature heart ceremony. Throughout the year on the 25th of every month, we are holding special events, promotions, and activities, as well.

We are also inviting guests to share their favourite and furriest memories — or make new ones — then join the celebration and “Show Your Stuff” by uploading pictures to the gallery at or post to social media using #buildabear.

Build-A-Bear is a trusted and giving brand so, as mentioned, the Build-A-Bear Foundation will be donating 125,000 furry friends to those in need as well as partnering with First Book to improve children’s literacy with a goal of donating at least 125,000 books in 2022. Our celebration will culminate on Saturday, October 22, 2022 at a Build-A-Bear Foundation gala event at St. Louis Union Station, to honour founder, Maxine Clark, and raise funds for the foundation’s future work.

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