A Missouri entrepreneur, whose simple shopping trip with a friend’s daughter led to the idea for a global business, will deliver the IBM Lecture at 4 p.m. on Thursday, March 9, in the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury on the campus of Westminster College. The lecture is free and open to the public, but reservations are encouraged.
Maxine Clark was looking at a Beanie Baby stuffed toy in a retail store when the idea to create a company that would allow people to create their own customized stuffed animals was born. The Build-A-Bear Workshop (BBW) soon became a reality.
“In 1997, I withdrew $750,000 from my savings account to get Build-A-Bear Workshop off the ground,” said Clark. “That covered startup costs and the building of the first prototype store. I also secured a bank line of credit for inventory and working capital with my house as the collateral.”
Today, Build-A-Bear Workshop (BBW) operates over 400 stores worldwide and sells bears, clothes, shoes, accessories, other animals, and licensed products from Disney, Dreamworks and Major League Baseball teams.
“We focus on good price, convenience, and location, and we hope when you leave, you have a smile on your face,” said Clark. “Successful retailers – whether it’s Starbucks or Apple – do these things.”
In addition to its retail success, BBW is well-known for giving back – having donated more than $46 million dollars in grants and “furry friends” to organizations around the world, such as Save the Children, the Make A Wish Foundation and the Petfinder Foundation – and highly regarded for its employee development and engagement. BBW has been named to the FORTUNE “Best Companies to Work For” list for eight years.
Clark was Chief Executive Bear for BBW until June 2013. Before starting BBW, she was president of the Payless ShoeSource Company and spent 20 years with the May Department Stores.
Clark serves on the Board of Directors for Build-A-Bear Workshop, Footlocker, Inc., and Gymboree. Her not for profit boards include Teach for America National Board, PBS and the Board of Trustees of Washington University in St. Louis. She is a graduate of the University of Georgia and holds an Honorary Doctor of Law degree from St. Louis University and an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
The IBM Lectureship in Business and Finance was established at Westminster College by the International Business Machines Corporation in 1980. The lecture was designed to bring leaders in the world of business and finance and/or professors of economics and business administration to campus.