New business is bullish on bears

You can stuff your own teddy bear at the Rocky Mountain Bear Factory on Lincoln

— Susan Mock could easily be mistaken for someone who came to Steamboat with warm and fuzzy notions of owning her own business.

After all, she's selling stuff-em-yourself teddy bears and knitting yarn. What could be fuzzier?

But the truth is inside Mock beats the heart of a savvy businesswoman. She is the owner of Rocky Mountain Bear Factory and The Stitchin' Den at 511 Lincoln Ave.

Mock is a former registered nurse and health-care administrator. She has a degree in business management and is pursuing a master's degree in business. She does the books for her new business in Steamboat, an existing business in Estes Park and the payroll and taxes for her husband's pediatric clinic in Greeley.

"I hardly get to knit anymore," Mock lamented last week. "Running a small business is not for the faint of heart. I spend most of my time in that office. I have fun when I can come out front and be with the customers."

Mock is really operating two businesses in one within the space previously occupied by ArtQuest. Rocky Mountain Bear Factory, which dominates the front of the store, could be described as a teddy bear experience. Instead of just choosing a bear off the shelf and departing with it, customers get involved as Mock's "teddy technicians" stuff the bear of their choice on the spot. Customers are invited to browse through barrels of unstuffed bears, each type recognizable by its name. As an optional upgrade, bear adopters are also invited to choose a stuffed fabric heart to be placed inside their bear plaid hearts are in vogue right now.

The most popular bear in the shop is a plain brown, retro looking bruin named "Adobe Bear."

The price of bear adoption ranges from $24 to $50. New parents will receive a birthday card from the Bear Factory on their critter's first anniversary.

Once the bear is selected, customers step over to a machine that looks like it came straight off a factory floor. The "blower" sits next to a pair of 600-pound bales of poly-fiber. Once the hole in the back of each unstuffed bear is fitted over a pipe extending from the blower, handfuls of poly-fiber are fed into a hopper and the machine stuffs the bear with the help of an air compressor.

As Mock likes to say, "No air, no bear."

It takes the teddy technicians 10 to 15 minutes to stitch up the incision and a new stuffed teddy bear is born.

The customer then finishes off the process by selecting several strands of yarn to tie around their bear's neck, in order to personalize it.

Mock has visited other stuff-your-own-bear stores in larger cities where the emphasis is on selecting and purchasing a wardrobe for the new bear. But she says because this is the Rocky Mountains, she's going to continue to send bears out of her store in the buff. She may consider Steamboat caps, or small teddy-bear-sized backpacks in the future.

The rear of the store is devoted to the Stitchin' Den, offering a selection of yarn and needlework supplies, including patterns for specific knitting projects.

Mock believes the two different businesses give her good balance.

"In a resort town, with a high turnover of visitors, it's a good combination," Mock said. She has chosen her needlework patterns to give vacationers projects they can finish before they return home.

That isn't to say Mock isn't pursuing local trade. Her shops host knitting classes, and Rocky Mountain Bear Factory is willing to accommodate field trips and birthday parties.

"There are a lot of stores where you can buy a skein of yarn or buy a stuffed bear," Mock said. "I'm trying to sell an experience here. You want people to go back to South Carolina and say, 'Oh, if you're ever going to Steamboat, you've got to go to this store.'"

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