In 1981, John Sortino was playing with his son Graham and his collection of teddy bears. Surprised to see that every one of his son’s bears wore a tag identifying it as foreign made, Sortino was inspired to bring this American tradition back to its roots by handcrafting bears right here. His first bears, Bearcho, Buffy, Bearazar, and Fuzzy Wuzzy, were made in his wife’s sewing room and sold mostly to friends. By 1983, Sortino began to sell his bears from a peddler’s cart at an open-air market in Burlington, Vermont. It took four days to sell his first bear and a year to sell through 200.
One day, a customer gave him a terrific idea. A tourist visiting Burlington wanted a bear, but she wanted it mailed to her home. That gave Sortino the idea to package a teddy bear and add delivery service and other extras to go along with it. The Bear-Gram® concept was born.
Shortly before Valentine’s Day in 1990, the Company took its Bear-Gram concept and unusual marketing strategy to New York City. Advertisements featuring well-known local radio personalities endorsing Bear-Gram gifts were placed on Z-100. The response was immediate and overwhelming. Calls for Bear-Grams flooded the Company’s three telephone lines and within the first two days, the Company reached its sales goal for the entire year!
Sales and success followed the Company as it grew from its humble beginnings to become a major competitor in the direct response gift delivery business. In 1992 Inc. Magazine recognized The Vermont Teddy Bear Company as the 80th fastest growing private Company in the United States. By 1993 the Company ranked 58th.
That same year, The Vermont Teddy Bear Company issued an IPO to help finance the design and construction of a facility specially suited for both teddy bear manufacturing and for showcasing its process from beginning cutting and sewing stages, to stuffing, and final back stitching procedures. In the summer of 1995, The Company moved into its new, 60,000 square foot, brightly-colored home situated on 57 acres in Vermont’s picturesque Champlain Valley. Soon after the move, the Company’s founder also moved on to start other entrepreneurial ventures.
Today, more than 150,000 people a year visit the Vermont Teddy Bear Company to find out how a teddy bear is made from scratch, and to make their own teddy bear in the Make A Friend for Life® Cubhouse or select one already made and dressed in the Bear Shop.
Today, the radio endorsements that launched the Company years ago can be heard in all 50 states and on more than 500 radio stations, making The Vermont Teddy Bear Company a household name and a Vermont icon. The Company now handcrafts more than 150,000 Bears for its Bear-Gram gift delivery service and employs 162 year round staff.
While the Company has experienced tremendous growth and change, the Bear-Gram gift remains constant. Each includes a customized Vermont Teddy Bear dressed to suit a special life event, occasion or holiday, and optional embroidery service. The bear is placed in a colorful gift box complete with air hole and game printed on the inside, and enclosed with a personalized greeting and candy treat.
The Company believes it makes the best bears in the Universe because every bear is lovingly designed, cut, sewn, stuffed, and stitched in Vermont. The Bears are alive with personality and attitude and they help people connect in a fun, personal and meaningful way.