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Business idea: Build-A-Bear

Maxine Clark talks about what compelled her to leave a well-paid job at 47 and start her own business—and what motivates her today.

The Entrepreneur: Maxine Clark, 57

Background: Clark left a successful corporate career to start her own business, Build-A-Bear Workshop then a relatively new concept in retail entertainment.

The Company: Since launching its first workshop in St. Louis in 1997, the business has expanded to 300 shops across Asia, Canada, Europe, and the U.S., with sales of $437 million. In June, Build-A-Bear Workshop helped launch Ridemakerz(BusinessWeek.com, 7/19/07) a build-your-own model toy car retailer—in which it has a major investment stake.

Her Story: I left Corporate America on a mission to bring the fun back to retailing and to give back to the industry that had been so good to me. I was 47 years old when I left Payless ShoeSource (PSS) in 1996. At that time, my financial rewards in retailing were very high, but my psychic income account was nearly empty.

When I graduated from the University of Georgia in 1971, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. I needed to go to work to earn the money for law school, but I never considered it seriously once I got my feet wet in retailing.

I started out as a retail trainee with May Department Stores in Washington, D.C. Over time, I worked my way up, taking on various roles in management. During my 19 years there I was involved in everything from planning and research to marketing and product development. In 1992, I became president of Payless.

Bored by Shopping

While I didn’t make much money starting out, by the time I rose through the executive ranks I was earning a substantial salary, complete with stock options and a generous bonus and retirement plan. But I later realized that money alone didn’t translate into personal satisfaction if you aren’t doing what you are passionate about. I didn’t necessarily have an “aha!” moment; the pieces just started to fit together for a change. I knew I wanted to get back in touch with the customer and be creating a new business idea, even though I didn’t know what that was at the time.

Quite frankly, I was bored by shopping and decided to put my money where my mouth was. I was looking to re-create the excitement and magic I felt as a child when I visited certain stores. Going shopping was an event. You became part of the store, and it was special. The truth is, what it takes to engage and retain retail customers today is really not much different than it was in the past. Build-A-Bear Workshop is about what I call “good old-fashioned, it’s-about-the-customer retailing.”

When I left Payless ShoeSource, I could have left retailing or even retired. Fortunately I had enough money to do anything I wanted, even if pay or responsibilities were not comparable. I had the luxury to learn something totally new or go off to a tropical island somewhere. Anyone who knows me, though, would laugh at the island idea.

Creative Retailing for Children

I wanted to apply my experience to something that was unique and different. I wanted to take the concept of children’s retailing a step beyond where it was and turn it into experience retailing; something that would allow me to use my creative talents and encourage the same kind of creative thinking in children. I wanted to create a business that could achieve financial success by connecting with guests and putting the fun back into retailing.

I like to say the lightbulb went off for Build-A-Bear Workshop one day in the summer of 1996. I was out shopping with my friend Katie, who was 10 years old at the time. We were on a mission to find Beanie Babies, but the store that had promised a new shipment had none left.

source: http://www.businessweek.com/smallbiz/content/sep2007/sb20070912_785676_page_2.htm

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August 2, 2008 - Posted by | Business, Entrepreneur, invention, Life, Million dollars Idea, Millionaire, Uncategorized |

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