The Vermont Teddy Bear Company just laid off 35 employees today. Apparently they are still making things work: Vermont Teddy Bear is a profitable company but a “reorganization” is needed “to gear up for some new initiatives to help capture some new markets in the future,“ reported the Burlington Free Press. I don’t want to sound like I don’t have empathy for those 35 people, but this is really as bad as it could be. This company is and has been a great local employer. I appreciate that. They do, however, make stuffed animals, not critical medicines or somthing.
I worked for Vermont Teddy Bear Company for a few months when I moved to Burlington, fifteen years ago this month. It was one of the most fun jobs I have ever had. I was hired as a temp for the Valentine’s Day rush. It seems they advertise more at certain times of the year and Valentine’s Day is one of them. It was back in 1994 as well. Vermont Teddy Bear Company was in a different location in those days and they were rapidly growing. They were growing so fast, in fact, that I had to work in a different building altogether.
The company was located next to the Yankee Doodle Motel on Route Seven in Shelburne. There wasn’t enough room in the main building so they stretched computer and phone cables across the lawn, through the snow,and through the window, and set up workstations at make shift desks. I reported to work in the morning, and we milled around until someone let us into our hotel room to get to work. Kinda like a prostitute.
I worked there during a cold snap. Temperatures got down as low as 39 below at night. I commuted with my housemate, Melissa, who also worked there, and neither of us had a heater in our car that worked especially well. We laughed over that even while we froze our little buns on our non-heated seats. We laughed a lot in that job, in fact, especially when we dropped the phone because they gave us these old fashioned phones due to a lack of headsets. It wasn’t easy to type with that thing stuck into my shoulder.
There were all these specialty bears for the holiday: The Cupid Bear, the Lover Bear, what have you. They were prepared for this. They stocked up on the cute little outfits. But things were busy. Every day we would get a list of what was out so when someone called we could tell them things were out of stock. I guess the lines under the snow made for poor computer systems so we couldn’t check stock live. There were two sizes of bear, the fifteen inch and the twenty inch, and sometimes they would be out of one but not the other.
Every night Melissa and I would laugh over the conversations we had with customers. Since we were temps, we did not work on commission, so it didn’t matter how many bears we sold or how long the conversations were. We would chat for a long time with people, trying to help them decide on just the right bear. We were called Bear Counselors, after all. I kid you not. That was the job title. This one night we agreed that the best bear on the menu was the clown bear. It was perfect for any situation. Got a sick mother? The clown bear will cheer her up! Just broke up with your girlfriend. Make her laugh with the clown bear! Boss riding your ass? Send him the clown bear to lighten things up! Then we decided to push the clown bear.
The next day we sold scores of clown bears. Forget Cupid. Too tacky. Too predictable. Show her you love with the clown bear and you’ll be getting some tonight! That, at least, was the idea. It worked, too. The next day, the 15-inch clown bear was on the unavailable list. The day after that the 20-inch clown bear was out of stock. We had freed him! The clown bear was flying to every corner of the USA. As soon as it was available again, we pushed it again. The clown bear had a good season.
Frankly, however, even though we got to have some fun and make some cake during the coldest time of the year, it felt a little hollow. I mean, who needs teddy bears? It was one of those things that pretty much no one needs, at all, ever. It is nice to have one, yes. And they were, at least to some people, nice teddy bears. But no one needs one. Need some furriness? That’s what beards are for. And stray cats.
So 35 people fewer to get teddy bears made? Well, things could be worse. It could be a school closing down. It could be some company that makes solar panels on (as I heard Chrysler described on NPR today) “the brink of collapse.” It could be 35 fewer people to sell McMansions. Well, maybe that last one isn’t such a great comparison. Anyway, I hear animal shelters are getting more former pets than they can handle. Maybe those 35 people can give away cats.