Toy store offers bear necessities
Zurich is looking to usurp Bern as Switzerland’s “bear” capital, thanks to a concept that allows shoppers to personalise their teddies.
At the Bear Factory, customers can select a bear, pick out a snappy outfit, record a message – and give the toy a heart.
It may be pure kitsch, but it seems to be hitting the spot among the sophisticated shoppers along Zurich’s Bahnhofstrasse.
The voice chip, in particular, appears to have won over adults looking for new ways to express feelings towards partners and loved ones.
Heidi Steiner told swissinfo she had not intended to buy a teddy when she entered the “factory” at the back of Franz Carl Weber’s toy store.
But she was won over by the idea of recording a “get well” teddy message for a sick friend.
After all, there’s nothing like a bear hug when you’re feeling a little grizzly.
“It’s perfect”, she said.
Inside are separate adult and child booths for recording secret messages – even saucy ones.
The concept has been such a hit that a sister store has recently opened in Geneva.
There’s a range of 20 cuddly models to choose from, from the traditional honey bear to chimpanzees, giraffes, sheep, dogs and cats.
You can either record your own message or select one of the pre-recorded sounds of cats mewing, dogs barking and monkeys chattering. The voice box goes inside the toy and is activated with a squeeze.
Each bear also receives a small red heart, which the customer is instructed to kiss and wish upon before insertion into the chest cavity.
After teddy is stitched up, customers are invited to splash out on suitable attire.
There’s a large range of ballerina and sailor outfits, but macho bears might prefer the magician or astronaut suits.
And finally a birth certificate is issued with the toy’s name, date of birth and address.
Bear Factory staff maintain that it’s always good to be aware of one’s origins. Consider what happened to "Paddington Bear" – he ended up in the lost property office of a London railway station.
Marketing manager Renato Meier has observed that even customers with no intention of buying a personalised toy are fascinated by the production process.
“This has become a kind of entertainment centre where people socialise and have fun watching the bears evolve,” he told swissinfo.
Meier is expecting to sell 8,000–10,000 personalised cuddly toys each year, with two-thirds of them packing a new wardrobe and a voice chip.
Meier seems to be right on track: within two days of the factory opening, 60 stuffed animals had left the shop under the arms of their new owners.
After Geneva, Meier hopes to supervise the launch of further factory lines in Germany and Austria.
The franchises for Bear Factories in Switzerland, Germany and Austria were bought from Hamleys toyshop of London.
The build-your-own bear idea originated in the United States, but it was Hamleys that claims to have popularised the concept, as well as starting the practice of letting customers put their own recorded messages inside their toys.
swissinfo, Julie Hunt
The first American teddies were produced after President Teddy Roosevelt spared the life of a bear cub while out hunting in 1902.
At the same time in Germany, Richard Steiff was at a zoo, looking for inspiration for a new toy.
The zoo trip resulted in the production of a Steiff jointed teddy bear, which was shown at the Leipzig Toy Fair for the first time in 1903.
Antique bears by Steiff, Bing, Schuco, Farnell, Deans, Chiltern, Merrythought and Chad Valley can fetch hundreds of francs at auction.
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