Vermont Teddy Bear Company
Westport, NY - Events of Thursday, July 25 to Friday, July 26, 2013
In addition to seeing the Shelburne Museum that we wrote about in our last two posts, we also wanted to tour the Vermont Teddy Bear Company located in Shelburne. Since it was so far to drive to the Vermont side of Lake Champlain, we stopped after visiting the Shelburne Museum even though we were tired and it was late.
We had a few minutes to wait before the start of the next factory tour, so we looked around the gift shop. Here, they have available just about every type of standard teddy bear they make. There are plain bears and bears with costumes for different holidays, interests and occupations.
Vermont Teddy Bears aren't cheap. A couple of reasons for that is they are all made by hand, and they are guaranteed for life. Plain, 15-inch bears are $50. Add decoration like a bow, and the price goes to $60. Bears with outfits start at $70. There is almost no limit to the customization they can do with a couple of days notice, and that will add even more to the price. The 4½-foot Big Hunka Love Bear in the next photo goes for $100. They also make a 6-foot version.
Soon, it was time for our tour to start. Our tour guide was Mark, who was very personable and very funny. A sign at the beginning of the tour says the guides use an average of 10 bear puns an hour. We think Mark was guilty of more like 60 an hour. We were bearly done groaning from one pun before he hit us with another!
The tour starts off with a brief history of the company. Vermont Teddy Bear is one of the largest manufacturers of teddy bears in the world. It was started in 1983 by John Sortino who noticed all his son's teddy bears were foreign made. He decided to handcraft his bears here in the States and sold them at an open-air market in Burlington.
An example of what one of the early bears looked like is shown below. It is made up to look like Groucho Marx. We're not sure whether the original bears looked like Groucho Marx or not because there is so much tongue-in-cheek that goes on during the tour, but the original bears could 'bearly' sit up, so their design improvements included movable arms, legs and heads. The swivel joints, as well as the eyes, are designed to get tighter and not come apart the harder you pull on them.
The idea of selling teddy bears through mail came about when a tourist at the market in Burlington wanted a bear mailed to her home. Today, the company sells over 500,000 bears a year. Much of their sales are done over the phone or by internet, and they ship bears around the world.
The first step in the manufacturing process is to cut the fur into the shapes for the bears. Twenty individual parts are required for each bear. Fourteen layers of fur are stacked on the table to the left in the photo below. The operator then feeds the stack of fur under the press to the right where it is cut into 7 pairs of parts by a die. Scrap material between the parts is cut into smaller, two-dimensional bears which they hand out as free souvenirs on the tours.
Next, operators sew the pairs of parts together wrong side out so the seams will be hidden when they are turned right side out.
Once the parts are sewn and turned right side out, they and assembled. The assembled bears are then filled with polyester fiber. The fill material is blown into the bears at 100 mph.
The fill material comes in 650-pound bales, and it takes about ¾ pound of fill for a 15-inch bear. They have a plastic jar of the polyester fibers to pass around so everyone can feel it. They refer to it as a bucket of teddy bear guts.
There was a display used to demonstrate the fluffiness of polyester fill material. It is a plastic case half filled with polyester with an air jet at the top that can be activated by pressing a red button. You can't see it because of the reflections on the plastic case, but there is a teddy bear in there with the fill material wearing goggles.
The next department on the tour was the one that makes the clothes. As we said, there are outfits to suit different holidays, occasions and interests.The ones shown include a U.S. Marine uniform, a bride's dress and a graduation cap and gown. Names, dates and other information can be embroidered onto the outfits to further customize the bear. The paw pads can also be embroidered, and bears can be made with eye colors different from the standard brown (blue, green and hazel).
Bears are then boxed for sale in the store or for shipping. The boxes have an air hole so the teddy bears can breathe. They are also shipped with a small box of bear food, which consists of a couple of pieces of chocolate (caramels are substituted in hot weather). They say the bear almost never eats the food, so the recipient is free to indulge instead.
The last stop on the tour was the bear hospital. As we said, the bears are guaranteed for life. If anything ever happens to the bear, even if it's your fault, Vermont Teddy Bear will repair or replace the bear at no charge.
Initially, Paul wasn't that interested in taking the tour because he was so tired and it was late. Not only that, but we don't have grand kids to buy teddy bears for. However, the tour is really a hoot and a lot of fun. We're both glad we took the time.
We finally made our way back to the motor home. We took the next day off to rest up after our long day of walking on Thursday. About the only things we did were our weekly cleaning chores and downloading and organizing the many photos we took. But we were back out the sightseeing trail again on Saturday. We'll tell you all about what we did in our next post.