Build-a-Bear to take on Hamleys

Build-a-Bear Workshop, a direct rival to Hamleys' Bear Factory, will make its UK debut in November, backed by the financial muscle of Weston family investment vehicle Wittington.

The first store will open in Sheffield's Meadowhall Centre, and plans for a shop in the Southeast are well advanced.

Build-a-Bear, which has 140 stores in 35 US states, has awarded an exclusive UK franchise to Amsbra, founded by former Storehouse chief operating officer Steve Bedford, entrepreneur Andrew Mackay and Rupert Ashe. They will be Build-a-Bear's chairman, chief operating officer and chief finance officer respectively.

Build-a-Bear aims for 'nationwide' coverage, but Bedford would not disclose target store numbers. Dalgleish & Co has been appointed to advise. He said the main objective would be profitability as the business grows.

Bedford said: 'The Build-a-Bear Workshop concept is superbly executed in the US. It is arguably the best exponent of retail entertainment in the world. We aim to bring the same sense of participation and excitement to the UK and Eire.'

In the US, Build-a-Bear generated sales of US$150 million (£93.6 million) last year. A number of staff from the States have been seconded to the UK.

Hamleys has 30 UK Bear Factory stores and eight international franchised shops. Chief executive John Watkinson was not available for reaction.

Wittington also own Heals and Fortnum & Mason.