IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Build-A-Bear CEO apologizes for chaotic 'pay your age' promotion: 'It's heartbreaking'

Build-A-Bear CEO Sharon Price John apologized for having to shut down a popular promotion, saying the company did not anticipate the overwhelming crowds.
/ Source: TODAY

The CEO of Build-A-Bear apologized on TODAY Friday after the company shut down its chaotic "pay your age day" promotion on Thursday due to overwhelming crowds, leaving customers angry and children disappointed.

"I am sorry that we were not able to provide the service that we wanted," CEO Sharon Price John told Hoda Kotb and Willie Geist in an exclusive interview.

"We are doing our very best and we are staying very focused on making sure that we do the best we can to make it right for people."

Build-A-Bear Workshop's promotion drew such a massive response, with some reports of people waiting on line for up to nine hours, that the company ended it early due to "crowd safety concerns" at stores across the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom.

"There was no way for us to have estimated the kind of impact, those kind of crowds,'' John said. "It far surpassed anything we ever could've known."

"We did see it wind up in social (media), and we did put a notice out for people that we thought the lines could be long, and we worked with the malls, but it was beyond anything we could've ever imagined."

Customers were eager to take advantage of the discounted customizable bears, which start at $12 but retail for an average of $28. The minimum price under the promotion was $1 for a basic bear and the maximum was $29.

John also noted that the "pay your age" promotion will continue all year long with Build-A-Bear's "Count Your Candles" birthday program, where kids under the age of 14 can "pay their age" for a Birthday Treats bear during their birthday month.

The "Count Your Candles" program was the inspiration for Thursday's promotion, which was supposed to serve as a way to introduce customers to the birthday program.

"If I could do it over, if there was a way to extend the day to just make sure that we service everyone, I would've loved to have seen everyone be able to get a bear, but it was the sheer amount of crowds and how much time we had in the day ... we couldn't possibly move everyone through the process,'' John said.

The company said it distributed vouchers that will be valid through the end of August to the disappointed customers who were turned away after waiting on line. Also, members of Build-A-Bear's "Bonus Club" can log into their account by midnight on July 15 to get a voucher.

"It's heartbreaking,'' John said. "I'm a mom of three, I know that the most disappointing moment is when a kid is super-excited and something doesn't happen."

Build-A-Bear said in a statement Thursday that the event drew "unprecedented" crowds that resulted in "long lines, extensive waits and disappointed guests."

People on social media noted the extensive lines at various locations, including one customer in Belfast, Ireland, tweeting that staffers were being assaulted by irate customers.

A store in New York City featured six-hour lines and miserable children.

"We got in line about 9:30 and probably waited about two hours and then about two hours in store," Andrea Homer-MacDonald told NBC New York.

"It was not worth it!" one of the children with Homer-MacDonald added.

Follow writer Scott Stump on Twitter.