Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Lindsey Abram and her daughter Layla, 3, build a profile for Layla's new stuffed animal during the reopening of the Build-A-Bear Workshop in the Mall of Georgia in Buford Friday. This location is now one of seven in the world that is infused with digital and interactive components. The first 100 children on Friday and Saturday were able to build a bear that will be donated to Challenged Child and Friends, Inc.
BUFORD -- Build-A-Bear is a favorite store among kids.
With the ability to build your own bear, it's a top pick among kids and parents.
Now the store has entered the digital age with its new store at the Mall of Georgia, which had its grand opening Friday.
"We have seven new digital interactive stores we've opened," said Brandon Elliot, director of digital ventures. "We've infused the Build-A-Bear concept with the digital age."
In the old stores, kids and parents picked out an animal, got a heart and had stuffing put inside of it. Now, the company has brought technology to the forefront to enhance the customer experience. It's technology that took two years to complete from start to finish.
After picking out the bear they want, kids pick up a heart and place it on a digital screen. From there, they can choose what personality traits will go into their bear. From strong to happy to friendly, there are 10 different traits that can be used. Kids can also include a song or sound into the bear, using the same technology.
"They lay down the piece on the table and it automatically reads it," Elliot said. "Each bear has its own specific bar code where once scanned, everything the kid has put with the bar code is remembered. From the name of the bear, to the owner, to all of its senses, the computer system picks it up. As you go to each station, the experience builds."
After picking a name, putting its personality traits into a heart and picking a sound or music to go with the bear, the next step is getting the bear stuffed.
"Our employees will then put the heart into a reader, which will come up with the kid's name, their birthday and the traits that they chose for their bear," Elliot said. "That way they can interact with the kid on a better level."
Then comes the digital bath, which has the look of a bathtub with water. It's all digital of course, with a rubber ducky that you can move across the water. At the end of the bath, the water digitally drains out, which was something that a focus group suggested to the company.
"When we were going through our testing phases, one parent said we should have the water drain out," Elliot said. "The parent said that way they could say the bath was done and they could move on. Some parents thought kids would stay at the bath forever and this would be a nice add to it."
Anna Beack of Lilburn said the bath was her 4-year-old son's (Jeremy) favorite part of the experience.
"He loves the tub and is interested in it," she said. "It's a great concept they have with it."
From the tub, kids go to the clothing section where they can dress up their bear however they want to finish him or her off.
"They've really done a lot with the store," Beack said. "Kids today know how to work iPads and iPhones when they're 3, so this is something that really engages them."
Elliot said the digital format creates a huge advantage to having the bar code system. When bears are lost, they can be easily returned as long as the owner entered their name and address into the computer when the tag was scanned.
"We have a bear hospital at our world bear headquarters in St. Louis," he said. "There's an address for people to ship lost bears to and we scan the unique tag and get it back to the owner. We've returned thousands of bears this way."
The store also has a game in its storefront that resembles the Xbox 360's Kinect. When in front of the camera, kids can move around and participate in a game. Elliot said there's more coming in the way of technology to continually enhance the experience.
"When it's a kid's birthday, we want their unique bar code to be able to unlock a game specifically for them in the front window," Elliot said. "At each station, we want each one to scream out 'Happy Birthday.' We want to make this experience one they'll never forget."
While all of the new digital items don't bring any direct revenue to Build-A-Bear, Elliot said it's all about the experience of the kid.
"That's ultimately why we did this," he said. "It's about the experience for the kid, not the technology. In the end, if the kids and parents are smiling, then that's all we care about."