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Build-a-Bear CEO Sharon Price John Apologizes for ‘Pay Your Age' Sale, Says Closing Lines Was ‘Heartbreaking'

"It was beyond anything we could have ever imagined," Build-a-Bear CEO Sharon Price John said on the "Today" show

What to Know

  • Build-a-Bear Workshop hosted a "Pay Your Age Day" sale on Thursday, and customers could buy discounted toys
  • The promotion drew "extreme crowds," and the company closed lines early and stopped accepting new customers
  • Build-a-Bear CEO Sharon Price John apologized for the chaos, saying she "would have loved to have seen everyone get a bear"

The head of Build-a-Bear Workshop is apologizing after a special "pay your age" sale drew "extreme crowds" to malls and shopping centers, forcing the company to close lines during the promotion and turn away customers across the U.S, Canada and the U.K.

"There was really no way for us to have estimated those crowds," CEO Sharon Price John said Friday on the "Today" show. "We were fully stocked, fully staffed. If I could do it over though — if there was a way to extend the day to just make sure we service everyone, I would have loved to have seen everyone get a bear."

The popular kids' toy store on Thursday offered customers the chance to pay their age for any stuffable animal. But after kids and adults flocked to their local workshops in hopes of getting a customizable animal for cheap, Build-a-Bear said local authorities asked it to shut down lines and stop accepting new customers over safety concerns. Some lines were capped off after stores had only been open a few hours, and there were people who reported waiting some six hours before even entering stores, where they continued to stand by before purchasing a toy.

"It was beyond anything we could have ever imagined," John told Hoda Kotb and Willie Geist.

Build-a-Bear has hosted promotions before, such as its National Teddy Bear Day celebration, which offers customers a discounted price on a special-edition bear. John said the company is "used to crowds." 

But the CEO said buzz around "Pay Your Age Day," the first of its kind for Build-a-Bear, "really started to wind up about 24, 48 hours prior to the day." The company even advised customers on social media that lines could be long and worked with local malls to prepare for increased sales. Still, the turnout "far surpassed anything we ever could have known."

John, who has three children herself, said the chaos of the promotion is "heartbreaking" and does not represent what Build-a-Bear is about.

"I know that the most disappointing moment is when a kid is super excited and something doesn’t happen," John said. "There was no ill intent. Our objective at Build-a-Bear is to make kids happy. For 21 years we’ve been creating experiential retail and making sure kids have their favorite friend that they’ve made themselves. It's a very empowering process, and we take that very seriously."

Build-a-Bear gave vouchers for future purchases to guests who were present in lines but were not served. The $15 coupons were also made available online to Build-a-Bear Bonus Club members in the U.S. and Canada. Those members must log on to their accounts by midnight July 15. All discounts related to the "Pay Your Age Day" event are valid through August 31.

After news spread of the Workshop's failed sale, another company for kids attempted to cash in on Build-a-Bear's mishap. Chuck E. Cheese's advertised a special treat for visitors on its Facebook page Thursday night: "Didn’t get to Build A Bear? Come in on 7/13, pay your child’s age, and they will get 30 minutes of All You Can Play. Offer available Friday, 7/13 only in participating U.S. locations where Chuck E.’s Play Pass is available (Maximum $9 for 30 minutes)."

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