About Be My Bear
Be My Bear, our award-winning teddy bear company got its paws on the beary creative "make-a-bear" concept 16 years ago and has since evolved into a UK market leader offering affordable, quality products with an emphasis on innovative design. We opened the door to an enchanting world where children (and the young at heart!) could experience the magic of bringing their very own personalised bear to life - a fun and creative process – with no sewing involved! Sold as individual "make anywhere" kits or for teddy bear making parties, fundraising and events our cuddly teds and animals have broad appeal and can either be stuffed by hand for a more interactive experience or with a stuffing machine.
The "bear essential kit" includes everything needed to bring an animal to life, from the skin, and stuffing, to the birth certificate and carry bag with a wide range of pre-recorded and recordable voice chips, clothing and accessories which allow the child to personalise the bear. We wholesale to more than 250 businesses, large and small from holiday resorts and events companies to independent retailers and party planners. We also supply teddy bear stuffing machines to the trade which are made to order in Canada and can be custom-designed. We have supplied bears for X-Factor, the Apprentice and Hollyoaks and have helped to organise exclusive bear-making events for several A-listers.
The company was registered by Jane and I in the UK in 2001 after discovering a unique niche market - the concept had taken off in the US but had yet to reach the UK market. Hamleys actually opened the very first Bear Factory bear-making shop in the UK just months after Be My Bear started trading in North Wales.
An award in 2003 opened up exciting windows of opportunity, but it took more than 18 months of ups and downs, changes and challenges to reach this point. With no experience or knowledge of the toy industry, Jane (a teacher) and I (a journalist) spent 12 months sourcing the component parts and researching the market before we felt confident enough to launch our business. Although the company was registered in 2001 the best part of the year was spent sourcing the products.
Ready stuffed bears were ten a penny, but finding unstuffed skins was a different story. Finally we found a company with whom we worked closely to develop a prototype - a traditional teddy bear skin with a hole in the back for the stuffing, which would then require stitching. We consulted closely with independent safety testing laboratories to ensure that the component parts met European safety standards and could be CE labelled. The initial range was limited – a large honey bear, a large white bear and a small caramel bear; the birth certificates were designed by Jane's husband and the fabric hearts were made up by local outworkers. We also used outworkers to make up outfits for the bears and adapted dolls' clothing for the smaller bears. Each kit contained a bear skin, stuffing, a heart and birth certificate. We ran our first bear-making party in the summer of 2002 with a very basic bear with a hole in the back which had to be stitched. All orders were dispatched from home where we used garage and attic space for storage. We put a mail order brochure together and launched the business locally with a series of workshops and children's parties in the North Wales area, and nationally with a series of adverts in a number of glossy magazines. By February 2002 we had pestered the head of promotions at the Daily Mail so much that he finally gave in and agreed to run a Valentine promotion featuring Be My Bear's love bear. The only slight problem was that the Daily Mail wanted ready stuffed bears and not bearskins for stuffing. So a production line developed in Jane's garage and kitchen with family and friends stuffing, stitching, gift wrapping and packing Valentine chocs for the love bear promotion. The promotion was a success with bears dispatched in time for the deadline and this would prove to be a turning point in the evolution of the business.
In May 2002, we bought a portable stuffing machine which we began using as a promotional tool in conjunction with sales of our bear kit range. A second machine with a compressed air unit was built and operated on a trial basis in Center Parcs, Oasis, Penrith. As the end of our first year loomed, we decided a website was vital for marketing the business and worked hard to develop a welcoming, child friendly site which has continually evolved over the years. We were runners up in the Sage/Daily Telegraph awards for Best Small Business Website in September 2003.
A new opportunity also opened up for us in the charity market - we began selling small ready stuffed bears with personalised t-shirts to the local hospice, a contract which was to keep us going during lean times. In recognition of this Be My Bear adopted the hospice as our local charity and supplied them with a bespoke teddy bear range for over 10 years.
During 2002 we sourced our own label animal skins with special closures (no more sewing or pricked fingers !) and designed new packaging. In September 2002 we approached department store buyers, and realised we were on to a winner. We had orders from Harrods and Selfridges as well as a number of smaller retailers straight away. Encouraged by the Christmas sales, we exhibited at the London Toy Fair in January, and had orders and interest from department stores, shopping channels, and mail order companies.
We then felt confident enough to purchase our first container load of bears direct from the Far East and moved into our first warehouse which we used for storage and dispatch. In 2003 our product, then known as Design-a-Bear in red packaging was highly commended by the National Association of Toy and Leisure Libraries Good Toy Awards. We then went back to the drawing board with an experienced designer to develop the new packaging and change the brand name to Kuddly Kits. The first container of Kuddly Kits arrived in May 2004 and in July the product was runner up in the Giftware Association's Gift of the Year awards (the industry's Oscars) in the category Best Gift for Kids.
The switch of focus from gift to party market brought new opportunities and helped raise our profile resulting in an approach by the American Bear Factory who asked us to distribute their products in the UK and Europe. We were then able to offer a much more extensive range of teddy bears and animals as well as clothing and accessories and we now offer almost 500 products.
The quality of our products is monitored with an independent company at manufacturing and pre-shipment stages as well as in-house production checks and we have visited our factories in China to ensure both quality of products and employees' working and welfare conditions.
Product development has also been key with emphasis on innovative materials and fabrics. Our latest range of infant friendly heartbeat bears is aimed specifically at the baby scanning market. The baby's heartbeat is captured on our 20 second recordable voice chip during the ultrasound scan and placed inside a bear or animal to be kept as a treasured memento before and after baby's arrival.