My daughter’s received vouchers for The Bear Factory for their birthday and were very excited about visiting the shop.

I met up with Emma and the kids straight from work at the shop. Within minutes, they had picked out the bears that they wanted. Jenny went for a Sonic the Hedgehog and Eve picked Branch from Trolls.

While they were selecting  the bears, a member of staff asked the girls if they wanted a beating heart for the bear. They cost extra, so I had to make excuses why this wasn’t going to happen. The girls only had so much in vouchers and a little birthday money, and the whole experiences was already expensive. (£30 for two stuffed bears, and that was a reduced price!)

Eve is painfully shy but Jenny is usually more outgoing. They both went very quiet for the bear stuffing part, though. There’s a ritual that kids go through when they build their bear. They stand with their foot on the stuffing machine pedal while the staff member fills up the bear. She asked the girls if they wanted the bear stuffed tight or soft & cuddly. They both picked the latter. She asked them to kiss a mini heart and put it in the bear, and also asked them what smell they’d like rubbed on the bear.

After this, the girls looked around for bear accessories. Bizarrely, there was nothing for the Sonic bear. Eve picked up two bits of clothing for her Troll. One was £4.50, one £5.50.

Build-a-bear

The Sale

The girls went up to the tills with their vouchers and birthday money. £40 between them – £30 for the bears and £10 for the clothes. Yup. £40 for two teddy bears.

The staff member rang up the till. £45. £45? I asked where the extra fiver came from. It turns out that the smells that she asked the girls about when she was stuffing the bears were an extra £2.50 each. Now, that was a cost that she did not tell us about.

I complained. You can’t go adding extras on without saying there’s a cost. The staff member’s response was “do you want me to cut open the bears and take them out?”!! I asked to speak to a manager.

The manager was young. He said that he had been watching everything and that she had pointed to the smells, and that at the top of the smells, it said £2.50. She pointed this to a five year old and a six year old. I kinda blew my top a bit. If you ask young girls if they’d like extras on their teddy, of course they’re going to say yes. They got the mini heart as a free addition – they should therefore have said if any other things incurred a cost.

Yeah, it was only £5, but it was my daughter’s birthday money. And the principle of the thing.

The manager asked me what I wanted to do to resolve the problem. I said I didn’t want the shop to charge my kids for the smells. He agreed, but he was in quite a petulant mood about it.

So, what should have been a nice birthday experience ended up soured because of a rather sneaky sales technique. Ask the child and not the parent. The Build-a-Bear Hard Sell.

Here, then, is my Public Service Announcement and my request to, not only Build-a-Bear, but any shop that deals with toys:

If you want to know if the child is allowed to buy things which cost extra money, ask the parent and not the five year old.

And then we’ll all be a lot happier.