Build-A-Bear Workshop Snuggles Into The Galleria

With its first location at the Saint Louis Galleria already "stuffed" and running, Build-A-Bear Workshop(TM) is poised to make smart and steady retail inroads. The new concept in interactive retail for children features stuffed animals that can be "chosen, stuffed, stitched and fluffed" according to the customized whims of young (and likely some adult) shoppers.

Maxine Clark, chief executive officer for the St. Louis-based company, cautions that Build-A-Bear Workshop is not a standard interpretation of the interactive store. "When people talk about interactive, they usually mean computer games and wizardry," she says, adding that interactivity can sometimes make for a confusing, harried retail environment.

"Build-A-Bear is not what most people talk about when they talk about interactive. In an effort for people to make things 'razzle-dazzle,' they have missed the simplicity of it all. It has to be fun for the consumer."

Clark, who had investigated the children's retail market while employed at PayLess ShoeSource, noticed a clear lack of excitement in children's retailing. "I felt there was room out there for someone else to be in the children's entertainment business," she says. "I didn't set out to be a traditional retail store; I set out to create a children's entertainment store experience."

Once Clark had finalized her idea, she sought the expertise of Los Angeles-based Adrienne Weiss Co. (which had a hand in Steven Spielberg's themed restaurant Dive!) to help her with conceptual development and implementation.

Build-A-Bear shoppers are treated to an extensive bear "building" process, which begins with the "choose me" stage, where customers can choose their bear of choice. Next, patrons select what kind of stuffing type they would like. At the "sound studio," the stuffed bear can be fitted with a pre-recorded chip that makes animal sounds. The bear is then stitched, "fluffed," given a name-of-choice and dressed in various clothing selections. The finished animal goes home in a carry case, called a "Cub Condo."

Clark emphasizes that the concept has wide-ranging appeal to other centers across the country. In site selection, Build-A-Bear Workshop will look for upscale centers that reside in family-dense communities.

"Our first priority is to be in shopping centers like The Galleria, with a high family shopping content and similar demographics," she says. "The most attractive venues for us are centers that are true destinations -- not just for people in that zip code, but for people who come from further out just to shop.

"Next-level malls, ones that might not be quite as upscale, also are attractive for us," she continues, citing Build-A-Bear Workshops' low prices ($10 to $35 for a fully-loaded stuffed animal) as a possible match with some other centers.

Clark adds that Build-A-Bear Workshop will open 3 to 5 stores this year. "We want to control the growth so that we are not overwhelming ourselves and that we can provide the same amount of quality and customization with every location," she says.

Build-A-Bear Workshop is in discussion with center owners, but the company's next location has not yet been finalized. Clark expects, however, that the discussions will eventually "bear" fruit, allowing a second Workshop to come on-line by April or May.

Contact: Mark Zorensky, president and chief executive officer, Hycel Properties, 164 Crestwood Plaza, Suite 200, St. Louis, Mo. 63126; (314) 961-2000.

Jos. A. Bank Suits Up For In-fill Jos. A. Bank Clothier Inc., a survivor among menswear chains, is set to grow its brand in existing markets. "There's been a substantial contraction within the men's apparel industry," says Chuck Frazer, vice president of real estate and general counsel for the company. "It's the 'last man standing' theory. We're still here, and we were able to weather the storm."

Sales for the Hampstead, Md.-based company's first six months of 1997 were up nearly 10 percent over the same period in 1996. With those numbers in hand, the company is planning at least 25 new stores during the next 30 months.

During the past two years, Jos. A. Bank has revised its real estate program, according to Frazer. In 1995, the company dropped its women's wear line to concentrate on its men's business. And after streamlining its store footprint (average store size is now 4,000 sq. ft.), the company is looking to beef up existing markets, Frazer says.

"Our real estate program right now is concentrated on fill-ins," he says, adding that the 84-unit chain is located in 31 states and the District of Columbia. "In the previous generation, when we were [growing] through expansions, the philosophy was to get into as many cities as we could. What we've come to realize is that there are tremendous economies of scale involved with filling in markets."

Economies of scale, Frazer says, that would allow advertising and personnel budgets to do more for less money. "The ability to leverage the marketing and operational dollars from the standpoint of personnel -- such as area managers -- all dictate toward creating multiple stores," he notes. "So we're focusing on markets where our business is strong."

In the company's site selection crystal ball, Frazer envisions locations that cater to destination shopping. He says that the typical male consumer, when buying tailored business clothing, knows exactly what he wants and plans his purchases ahead of time. Because of that, Frazer notes that the company has only done 3 or 4 regional mall deals.

"Generally speaking, we don't see the male business shopper as coming to a regional mall to buy a suit," he says. "We're not sure that the average male shopper [while shopping at a nearby store] is going to slap his palm on his forehead and say, 'Let me spend a couple hundred dollars on tailored clothing while I'm here.' Because of that, we try to create a situation where the store is as convenient as possible for the consumer."

Contact: Chuck Frazer, vice president of real estate and general counsel, Jos. A. Bank Clothiers Inc., 500 Hanover Pike, Hampstead, Md. 21074; (410) 239-5730.

Malibu SpeedZone Sets Sights On Regionals Dallas-based Malibu Development Co. (partnered in design with ID8, a division of Baltimore-based RTKL Associates Inc.) is looking to bring its racing theme park to the regional mall. With a 287,000 sq. ft. retail prototype in the works, Malibu SpeedZone is planning eight to 10 new locations -- the newest of which could get the checkered flag as early as this summer.

Malibu SpeedZone's three existing freestanding sites (Puente Hills, Calif., Dallas, and Kennesaw, Ga.) stretch to approximately 310,000 sq. ft. each, with four different types of racing venues: Top Eliminator Dragsters, Silk Trax, Grand Prix and Turbo Track. Each race track features different car types and challenges patrons with varying levels of skill.

Malibu SpeedZone is coupled with other attractions, including racing-inspired miniature golf, a restaurant and sports bar, and a memorabilia shop called the Parts Department.

According to Ken Grissom, president of Malibu Development, a subsidiary of Malibu Entertainment Worldwide, the SpeedZone's retail viability is likely to be measured in the traffic it could generate. "We like to think of Malibu SpeedZone as an anchor," he says.

"We would probably have an indoor track as a component of that; we're going to look at the retail model totally differently as to how it fits and how it will best perform under those circumstances," he explains. "RTKL has done one version of that, and we're going to do more brainstorming."

In fact, ID8, RTKL's entertainment and thematic design division, played a large part in bringing Malibu SpeedZone to fruition. According to Jeff Gunning, ID8's vice president and project principal, Malibu SpeedZone plays directly into the synergy between themed attractions and adjacent retail.

"I think people are looking for a certain level of entertainment in today's shopping environments, but they have less and less time [to enjoy it]," he says. "When they go somewhere to be entertained, they want to use that time for a worthwhile experience."

Gunning notes that, in creating the SpeedZone brand, ID8 and Malibu Development formed a "kit of parts" that can be adapted well to varying real estate opportunities.

"The basic design is there for two reasons: ease of construction and consistency of image," says Gunning. While designing the park for adaptability, he notes, "It's that recognizable imagery which is intended to create identity for the Malibu name; the buildings and the shade structures are all part of that brand."

Grissom emphasizes that he wants to make Malibu SpeedZone viable for retail in the next year, and that his conversations with developers are leading in that direction.

Contact: Ken Grissom, president, Malibu Development Co., 2200 Ross Ave., Suite 4200 West, Dallas, Texas 75201; (214) 220-4900.