My first real job was at a business that claims to be the place where “best friends are made”: Build-a-Bear Workshop. For those of you unfamiliar with it, the concept behind Build-A-Bear Workshop is that customers come into the store to create a personalized stuffed animal from start to finish. This process includes choosing the animal, stuffing it, inserting a “heart,” clothing it, naming it and, of course, taking it home.
My dad is the one who suggested that I apply there. It made sense—I needed a job and I loved kids. Considering that young kids are the major demographic Build-a-Bear reaches out to, I figured it would be the perfect – or should I say purrfect – job for me. And at first, it was. The company did, however, have some definite quirks.
It all started with my interview. In a stock room filled with plastic bags bulging with unstuffed animal “skins,” I was asked questions like, “if you could be any animal, which would it be and why?” and “why are stuffed animals an integral factor in world peace?” Nonetheless, I was thrilled when they offered me a job.
I spent a week training to become a Bear Builder. A series of music videos starring dancing animals introduced me to the process. From there, I was given hands-on experience with each part of the building process. Stuffing was my favorite part. Properly stuffing a bear required ramming a metal pipe that spews cotton stuffing at high pressure into each limb of the animal “skin.” Sure, it was a little disturbing, but using the stuffer took a certain skill.
Build-a-Bear was all about the experience. And the experience didn’t just include the building process, but employee demeanor as well. I learned to integrate words like “pawsome,” and “beariffic” into my vocabulary. They also emphasized customer relations. I’m proud to say that, when a grown woman bought $60 worth of rhinestone t-shirts and ruffled miniskirts and told me it was all for her real cat, I barely even smirked.
The high point of my career at Build-a-Bear, though, was the day I got to be Paulette, the mascot. Volunteering to be the mascot was a no brainer. It meant wearing an icepack vest and getting a 40-minute break for every 20 minutes I was out on the floor. Plus, I’m a bit of a ham at heart. The obscurity afforded by a large bunny costume allowed me to shamelessly strut through the mall.
Unfortunately, my height became problematic. As it turns out, mascot costumes are made to fit people who are at least 5’4”. Five inches below that requirement, I couldn’t keep Paulette’s bedazzled jean skirt from drooping. More embarrassing, though, was when Paulette’s massive pair of bear-print panties fell to my ankles while I was doing the Macarena.
Why was a mascot wearing underwear? Build-a-Bear likes to reflect good family values, so it is a requirement that all stuffed animals, mascot included, showcased on the floor are displayed with panties under their clothing. If you don’t believe me, go peek under the skirts of a few bears the next time you pass a Build-a-Bear. I guarantee you’ll find that they’re sporting some “furbulous” mini-boxers and panties.