Christina Vanoverbeke, CVanoverbeke@ExplorerNews.com
Dec. 28, 2005 - The Beauregard family of Oro Valley wanted a way to teach their three children, Kaitlin, 8, Austin, 11, and Garrett, 13, about business.
So about a year and a half ago they started a home operation of make-your-own teddy bears.
Called "Bearegards," the company has grown, mostly through word-of-mouth and traffic on their Web site, to serve people all over the world.
The family's target audience is military families separated from one another because of deployment.
Garry Beauregard is in the Air Force, and for several years his job took him away from his wife and children. He said the separation was painful for the whole family, but was particularly hard on his youngest kids. His son became angry and depressed by his absence, and his daughter forgot who he was.
He and his wife, Katherine, discovered that the sound of his voice comforted the children when he was gone, so he began sending tape-recorded messages to them. This served as the inspiration for the "comfort line" of stuffed animals the family now sells.
The animals come with a voice box which can record 10-second messages. The box is then inserted into the animal and when a child hugs it, the message plays.
The Beauregards found inspiration through the stuffed animals and wanted to share that encouragement with others.
That is why this holiday season, the family is donating stuffed animals to help the Bears for the Brave charity. The charity was founded by the Phoenix Police Department's Crimes Against Children unit in 1986. The bears are given to children who have been abused or neglected. They are intended to console children who are frightened.
"We live in Oro Valley, we have a lot. We realized that we needed to give back to our community. So we turned a family project into a way to do that," Garry Beauregard said.
Kaitlin Beauregard attends St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic school, where the principles of service, excellence, academics and spirituality are emphasized on a regular basis.
When Kaitlin found out she would be able to help children in need, she jumped at the opportunity.
"I felt excited about it and happy," she said.
The Beaurgards sent the first shipment of 15 bears to Phoenix and are working on sending more.
The charity has already collected more than 2,000 bears, including a shipment from Gov. Janet Napolitano.
Kaitlin said it takes her between 15 and 30 minutes to stuff one animal. She often uses the time after dinner, while she is watching television, to do the work. She said each animal needs just the right amount of stuffing to be perfect.
"It takes time. It doesn't always turn out the way you expect," she said, pointing to a stuffed dog that ended up with a hard, fat belly after too generous a stuffing.
How can Kaitlin tell when they're just right?
"I hug them twice," she said.
She has a message for all the children who receive her creations: "Take care of them, and I'm sorry all that stuff happened to them."
For the charity, the bears arrive already stuffed, but typically the toys are shipped in parts so that the child can assemble his or her own bear, making it a personalized toy, Garry Beauregard said.
The family ships the shell of a stuff animal along with a bag of stuffing, a birth certificate on which to name your creation and a "wishing star," a fabric star that children can write a wish on and place inside the plush toy.
The concept is popular at children's parties. Customers can order four to 11 animals, for $13.95 per animal, with more than 50 types of animals to choose from.
The business is similar to the build-your-own plush toy businesses found in many malls, but Garry Beaurgard said it is different in that the parents have more control over the costs because they are not lured into add-on purchases such as t-shirts that are displayed in shops.
The family also sells Audubon Birds by Wild Republic, a collection of realistic beanbag birds which make authentic bird sounds.
The birds were chosen to cater to the love of one of the Beauregards' sons, Austin.
The Beauregards are shipping their products all over the world and also frequent craft fairs to peddle their wares.
Kaitlin Beauregard said working at the fairs has taught her a thing or two about customer service, such as being grumpy can drive customers away, and "if they look for a long time, they're probably going to buy a bear."