New Teddy Bear CEO gears up for what's next - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

New Teddy Bear CEO gears up for what's next

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It's where stuffing runs wild... and teddy bears come to life... behind the scenes at Vermont Teddy Bear Company.

"It was pretty much a match made in heaven since day one," said Bill Shouldice, the new papa bear in town. "These are bears handmade in Vermont and I'm proud to put the Vermont Teddy Bear name on them."

President and CEO Bill Shouldice started at the beginning of January. The company produces 300,000 stuffed bears a year and is owned by a private investment group.
Reporter Gina Bullard: How do you keep this business relevant?

Bill Shouldice: That's the key. It's the relationship with the customer, making sure we're smart about our advertising.

Shouldice served as Vermont's Commerce Secretary under Governor Dean. For the last 7 years, he was CEO at the family-owned Vermont Country Store. He retired in December and turned the reins back over to the Orton family. Shouldice said his experience with mail-order and online sales at Vermont Country Store will be key to his success at Teddy Bear.

"Utility bear, because he's going to have to wear many hats," said Robert Letovsky, a Business Professor at Saint Michael's College. Letovsky said Shouldice is a natural fit for the job -- with his Vermont Country Store background.  But running the bear business will have its hurdles.  
"It's interesting in the sense that both companies are dependent to an extent on the Vermont image," he said.

Letovsky said Vermont Teddy Bear's success is in large part because of the Vermont brand and that the bears are made locally.  But now it's grown into a larger business. The company has branched out from much more than just bears. They also have an online flower shop and Pajamagram which sells the Hoodie-Footie. And they are not made here.  Letovsky said that could be a challenge.  He thinks Vermont Teddy Bear will eventually need more locally made gifts in its product line that don't break the bank. "One of his challenges will be to stay relevant in an era where disposable income will be squeezed," Letovsky said.

"Between the three brands, it's a businesses that's doing less than $40 million in sales," Shouldice said.

Shouldice said the company is looking for new ideas and products.  And some just hit the shelves during the company's busiest time of year -- Valentine's Day.

Reporter Gina Bullard: We were talking about new products and its hard to miss this one.

Bill Shouldice: It's called the Big Hunk.

But it will take more than Big Hunks to increase its bottom line. Shouldice said better leadership, dedicated employees and customer service will be key to the company's continued success. "How do we make sure Vermont Teddy Bear is mapping a course to sustain itself and to grow. Growth is really important," he said.

Here's a sign the company is on the right track. It's hiring 700 seasonal workers leading up to Valentine's Day.

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