Will somebody please put Build-A-Bear Workshop
Not this time, though. Build-A-Bear has been living up to its name: It's building a bear market in its stock as investors shy away from the once trendy hub of freshly stuffed playthings. The stock is fetching nearly half of what it did back in November.
Why are investors staying away? Well, because the kids are staying away, too. The retailer posted a 9.4% slide in comps this past quarter, stacked on top of a 4.4% decline in same-store sales during the same period a year earlier.
Despite heady expansion, analysts expect earnings to dip to $1.36 per share this year. That's less than the $1.44 a share in profitability that the company scored last year.
But now there's speculation in the air that a buyout is coming. This morning's Wall Street Journal suggests that a deal may be in the works. The company further fueled the gossip machine by cancelling an appearance at an investment conference earlier this month.
The article goes on to point out how a private-equity firm or a rival retailer may come out on top, and it also suggests that the company may just decide to lick its own wounds, issue a substantial share-buyback plan, and go it alone.
The only two public companies that the article singles out as possible suitors are Mattel
However, I can't fathom either company wanting to dive into a beefy acquisition when they have problems closer to home to tackle. Mattel's still battling an image problem after several toy recalls this year. Just today, Children's Place lost its CEO, who resigned on the heels of an internal investigation over trading improprieties.
Whom does that leave? I think Disney
Hear me out. For Build-A-Bear, pride may get in the way of cashing out here in the teens, but logic should find it turning right around and heading back to the negotiating table.
Kids are fickle. If it's no longer cool to have a birthday party at Build-A-Bear or fill a stocking with bear clothing accessories, they're not coming back. Expansion has helped mask some of the decline, but that spigot is about to run dry, too. The company sees a potential for 350 stateside stores, but it's already up to 252. It acquired a similar United Kingdom concept last year and has dozens of franchised units overseas, but none of this will matter, either, if patrons have tired of paying a premium for the bear-stuffing process.
A private-equity firm is unlikely to right the negative momentum. Disney, on the other hand, can do exactly that.
Oh, Mickey, you're so fine
Disney has a passionate fan base. Last year, 45 million guests crossed through the turnstiles of its four parks in Florida alone. More than 17 million viewers tuned in to watch The Disney Channel's High School Musical 2 last month, a turnout that made it the most-watched cable-programming content of all time.
Park patrons know that they're going to pay up for pricey mouse-eared souvenirs. Heck, even the churro cart should be stocked with home-equity-line applications. Yet folks pay gladly, and Disney has a thriving consumer-products division to prove it. Disney is to kids what Apple is to computing and consumer electronics, and people simply know that the top dog in family entertainment isn't a cheap brand.
Sure, I realize that Disney struggled with its own Disney Store chain. And I know that Build-A-Bear's model has counted on licensed merchandise that cuts against Disney's grain, such as the chain's springtime release of customized ogre dolls to coincide with DreamWorks Animation's
However, Disney is a lot cooler now than when it ditched its poorly run retail concept. The Pixar purchase gives it relevant new franchises to market, while hits such as High School Musical and the Pirates of the Caribbean films have blessed Disney with street cred among young teens.
Disney also acquired Club Penguin in a $700 million deal last month. You know what would go well with a community of premium-paying subscribers who have created their own animated penguins to stroll around in a virtual 3-D community? That's right -- a stuffed version of said penguin.
With the recent struggles at Children's Place, which bought Disney's namesake stores, it may not be long before Disney gets those stores back. Build-A-Bear can hold its own as a standalone location, but it can do even better as smaller kiosks within existing Disney Store locations. A healthier theme-park presence beyond the one Downtown Disney Build-A-Bear unit just outside Disneyland's entrance would be a no-brainer.
Sure, Disney can carve out its own Build-A-Bear clone, but it's easier to take out its largest threat in a cost-effective transaction. It should do so now, before the Build-A-Bear brand name erodes even more. There's still time for Disney to polish the brand, turn it into a Disney Channel programming property, and watch it right its wrongs.
C'mon, Disney. Isn't it time you gave Winnie the Pooh some bear buds?
Other bear necessities:
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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz probably tithes far more than he should to Disney. Like most kids, his dreams of becoming a member of the Mickey Mouse Club proved fruitless. He owns shares in Disney and DreamWorks Animation. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy, and it's got a crisper singing voice than Miley Cyrus.