Moms, Children Help Pulaski Design Furniture Line

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Pulaski Furniture Corp. is enlisting mothers and their children to design a new Build-A-Bear Workshop Home brand of furniture through a series of online efforts.

Maria Bailey, CEO of BSM Media, a firm that specializes in marketing to mothers, is interim brand manager for the project. The effort began with a series of brainstorming sessions with mothers and their children, in which groups were asked to draw and discuss a child's ideal bedroom.

"We're very big proponents of using consumer research to help with the design process," said David Corbin, vice president of marketing for Pulaski Furniture, Pulaski, VA. "This project is in keeping with what we're trying to do."

The new Build-A-Bear Workshop Home collection launches in October and hits retail in March 2007.

Ms. Bailey, author of "Marketing to Moms: Getting Your Share of the Trillion Dollar Market," has more than 20 years' experience in business with a concentration in publishing, marketing and business development. She described today's mothers as interested in personalization.

"These women have been raised on being able to customize their own products, and they expect the same level of choice for their children," she said. "When you think about the concept behind the Build-A-Bear name, it's clear we'll be taking that customization to a new level."

Build-A-Bear Workshop Inc., St. Louis, is an interactive make-your-own-stuffed-animal retail business. With 200 stores, Build-A-Bear Workshop launched "2B made" stores in November 2004, letting customers create their own dolls.

Pulaski will use Build-A-Bear's database of 11 million children who own a Build-A-Bear to invite them to explore the furniture. Pulaski, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, serves independent furniture retailers, regional and national chains, department stores and catalog merchants nationwide.

Focus groups met in April at Build-A-Bear Workshop headquarters for two days of brainstorming.

"Our designers actually sat in on the session with the kids there," Mr. Corbin said. "It's helpful to have practical ideas."

More than 400 mothers have been given prototypes of various furniture mock-ups created after the brainstorming sessions to respond and comment via a Web program. The demographics of the group are representative of the target audience and can be projected nationally.

"Our research shows that 87 percent of furniture like ours is purchased by women, and many of those women are mothers," Mr. Corbin said.

Along with the brainstorming sessions, the campaign includes a contest in which children nationwide are asked to submit 500-word descriptions of their dream furniture as well as hand-drawn artwork. Using BSM's MindPool database, Pulaski sent online invitations to 50,000 moms nationwide to have their children participate. The competition is open to any child 12 and younger and runs until July 15. Entries will be judged on creativity, descriptive detail and originality in three age categories: 6 and younger, 7-9 and 10-12.

Contest winners will be selected by a panel of designers from Pulaski and editorial staff from Kids Today magazine, a North Carolina-based business publication for infant and juvenile home furnishings and textiles. Contestants have a chance to win a $1,000 U.S. savings bond and become a member of Pulaski's Build-A-Bear Workshop Home collection Cub Advisory Board.

"I think [online communication] is the most cost-effective, quickest way to get to speak to a wide range of people," Mr. Corbin said. "That's the whole cool thing about this: We can have results that are representative of a national group quickly. Ten years ago you couldn't do that."

Online campaigns make it easier for a high number of working mothers to participate.

"They are so time-crunched, being online allows them to do things on their own schedule," Ms. Bailey said. "Some moms told me that they use their downtime to leaf through e-mails."

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