St. Louis, Mo.-based Build-A-Bear Workshop, Inc. (NYSE: BBW) said it is exploring a full range of strategic alternatives. The company retained Guggenheim Securities LLC as its financial advisor and Bryan Cave LLP as its legal counsel to assist with the strategic review.

BBW shares closed yesterday at $12.66 per share, giving the company a market value of $196.65 million. The company’s IPO was completed on October 28, 2004 at a price of $20 per share.

“The authorization to explore strategic alternatives by our Board will enable us to evaluate the various opportunities to potentially accelerate our key growth initiatives while enhancing total shareholder value,” said the company’s president and CEO Sharon Price John.

Build-A-Bear, operates as a specialty retailer of plush animals and related products. The company was founded in St. Louis in 1997 by Maxine Clark, with its first store in the Saint Louis Galleria. Today there are more than 400 Build-A-Bear Workshop stores worldwide.

The company operates in three segments: Direct-to-Consumer, International Franchising, and Commercial. Its merchandise comprises approximately 30 styles of stuffed animals; clothing, shoes, and accessories for the stuffed animals; and other toy and novelty items. The company operates its stores under the Build-A-Bear Workshop brand name; and sells its products through its e-commerce Websites.

Customers go through an interactive process in which the stuffed animal of their choice is assembled and customized during their visit to the store. Build-A-Bear Workshop is the largest chain that operates in this style. The company has been acclaimed for the quality of its working environment, especially as a workplace for teenagers

As of January 2, 2016, it operated 329 owned stores in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Denmark; and 77 franchised stores in Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa, the Middle East, and Mexico. The company has strategic relationships with Disney, DreamWorks Animation, and Hasbro.

In 2006, the company acquired The Bear Factory from Hamleys and began operating in its flagship store in London.

According to Zacks Investment Research, “Build-A-Bear Workshop is the leading and only national company providing a make your own stuffed animal interactive retail-entertainment experience.”

“The disciplined execution of our strategy has led to three consecutive years of positive consolidated comparable sales and profit growth fueled by margin expansion and improved operational metrics, such as the highest average transaction value in our history while consistently generating strong cash flow,” Price John commented.

“In the (Q1-2016) quarter, we delivered higher revenue, positive consolidated comparable sales and expansion in gross margin. The 15 stores in our Discovery format achieved an average sales increase of 14% and continue to outpace our heritage stores on all key metrics. These consistently strong results support our planned investments in the ongoing rollout of the Discovery format stores with both remodels and new locations, including our expansion into China with a flagship store at the Shanghai Disney Resort that is scheduled to open in June,” added Price John.

The company ended the fiscal 2016 first quarter with cash and cash equivalents totaling $30.8 million and no borrowings under its revolving credit facility.

Total inventory at quarter-end was $54.0 million compared to $51.2 million in the prior year, an increase of 5.5%. In the fiscal 2016 first quarter, capital expenditures were $6.2 million, and depreciation and amortization was $3.8 million.

During the fiscal 2016 first quarter, the Company repurchased approximately 133,000 shares of its common stock for an aggregate amount of $1.5 million.

The company posted total revenue of $377.7 million in fiscal 2015.

The company plans to expand its owned and operated locations in 2016 by adding 10 to 15 stores, net of closures. Through a combination of remodels and new openings, the company expects to end the year with between 45 and 55 stores in its Discovery format.

The company plans to continue to develop and expand its offering of intellectual property concepts designed to appeal to key consumer segments. To that end, the company recently successfully launched its new Horses & Hearts Riding Club collection targeting its older girl segment which has delivered higher than average dollars per transaction with high attachment rates of accessory items to the plush products.

The company expects to leverage its relationships with key licensors to reach more people, particularly with the teen-plus consumer, through a compelling offering of affinity, collectible, entertainment, sports and fashion properties. Accordingly, the company continued to develop its Sports Central collection by offering limited edition products tied to major championship sporting events such as the exclusive Denver Bronco’s 50th Anniversary Super Bowl bear which quickly sold out.

In 2013 Build-A-Bear Workshop was listed by Fortune as one of the “Best Companies to Work For” for the 5th year in a row. In 2005, the National Association of Small Business Investment Companies made Build-A-Bear Workshop “Portfolio Company of the Year.” It was named one of the International Council of Shopping Centers “Hottest Retailers of 2004” and the “Retail Innovator of the Year” for 2001 by The National Retail Federation.

Photo: Build-A-Bear Workshop Chief Executive Officer, Sharon John and Chief Marketing Officer, Gina Collins, cut the ribbon at the grand opening of a Times Square pop-up store in New York City, on October 28, 2014.

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