Barbara Isenberg Is Bullish in a Bear Market—and Don't Sell Her Short
The forebear of North American, introduced in New York stores by Isenberg in 1979, is the pot-bellied, sweat-suited Running Bear, retailing for $30. After the first shipment sold out, she decided to expand the concept. Now her V.I.B.'s—Very Important Bears—line is turning out 10,000 animals annually and grossing $150,000. Among the best-sellers: Scarlett O'Beara and Chef Bearnaise ($37 each) and the stripped-down Bare Bear ($25). Even the toy's eponyms are ecstatic: Douglas Fairbanks Jr. ordered five of the pinstriped Douglas Bearbanks model ($37) last Christmas.
Initially Isenberg lost money, but then her businessman brother Paul Levy took over marketing (Isenberg's husband, Steven, is a lawyer). Also, some V.I.B's models that Barbara dreamed up weren't ready for Teddy: Cyrano de Beargerac, Shakesbear and Charles Lindbeargh have not yet made it past the drawing board because they may be too esoteric.
Levy and Isenberg are now confident, however, that their V.I.B.'s will take the business by storm when nationwide distribution begins this spring. New models include Mikhail Bearyshnikov, Anna Bearvlova and a Hollywood bear whose name remains under wraps until copyright problems are cleared up. North American's next candidate will be Sen. Teddy Bear, with the first copy already earmarked for the Smithsonian Institution's Political History Division. Even in a Republican era, the North American Bear Co. is convinced he will top the polls. Proclaims Isenberg: "I'll have him running by 1983."