Saratoga County

Magazine pays tribute to local businesswoman

Teddy Bears plus Bus equals a national award-winning business for Lisa Ellis of Clifton Park.
Lisa Ellis of Halfmoon, co-owner of the Bear Bus, brushes a bear inside her traveling bear workshop on Monday.
Lisa Ellis of Halfmoon, co-owner of the Bear Bus, brushes a bear inside her traveling bear workshop on Monday.

Teddy Bears + Bus = a national award-winning business for Lisa Ellis of Clifton Park.

Ellis was among hundreds of entrants to the Redbook magazine “Design your Dream Job” contest celebrating women who have successfully blended a flourishing business and a fulfilling family life. Her Bear Bus company, founded in 1999, was chosen as one of just 10 award recipients from across the country.

Award winners were announced in the March 2008 issue of Redbook, now on newsstands.

“I read about the contest a few months ago, and it just sounded like my life story,” said Ellis. “I created my own job that worked for me and left me time with my daughters.”

Her win brought her not only countrywide publicity, but also a trip to New York City, overnight deluxe accommodations and a flashy photo shoot.

“I was treated like a princess,” said Ellis. “I brought my girls and we had the time of our lives.”

The beary tale began a few years ago, when Ellis was a single parent of Hollie Tuezynski, now 19, and Karen Tuezynski, now 17. Juggling three jobs to pay the bills, Ellis was a master multi-tasker. She worked as a school aide, a salesperson in the former Loretta Lane Bridal Shop in Latham, and ran her own invitation business.

“It was a physically and emotionally draining time,” said Ellis.

Ellis also worked at a local soup kitchen, where she met her current husband, Andy Ellis.

As fate would have it, Andy was a teddy bear collector.

“I married Andy in 1999 and opened a store in Crossgates Mall where kids could make their own teddy bears,” said Lisa Ellis. “They picked out a bear, a T-shirt, and then stuffed it with polyfill and zipped them up. There’s no sewing required; that’s the beauty of it. Any kid can do it.”

Kids can also outfit their animals in getups, ranging from firefighters’ turnout gear to pink pajamas and slippers.

Ellis then moved the business closer to home in a storefront at Shopper’s World Plaza in Clifton Park, but soon discovered she couldn’t accommodate a large enough group of kids. The business entered a new phase when Andy Ellis drove home with an 18-foot school bus he bought from a Scotia dealer for $1,500. The Bear Bus was born and officially took to the streets. This year, the family sold its first official franchise in Westchester County.

The family now drives the bus to a party site, parks on the driveway, and cranks open the doors for up to 15 kids to enter the workshop to create their masterpieces. The stuffed animals average $17 per child for a T-shirt-clad creature.

“To me, it’s a little magic workshop on wheels,” said Lisa Ellis. “Watching how happy it makes the kids, and their parents, means the world to me.”

The bus now speeds along to sites in and around the area, from private parties to school events to fairs and festivals.

To date, the bus has visited more than 5,000 driveways or parking lots.

The Bear Bus menagerie has grown to include farm, zoo and safari animals, ranging from crocodiles to cows to flamingos.

While she tends to modestly downplay her success, Lisa Ellis admits there’s great potential for the Bear Bus company to grow.

“With this economy, it’s tough to keep a business going, but we’ve added sales of Bear Bus products on the Internet, and things are taking off,” said Lisa Ellis. “I guess we could become financially wealthy, but I feel rich already working with my family and bringing joy to people.”

Bear Bus merchandise includes everything from doggie T-shirts to mugs to tote bags bearing the company logo.

The Redbook article and photo have brought a steady stream of e-mails to Lisa Ellis from people in almost all 50 U.S. states hoping to glean tips from her success.

“A lot of people say they want to copy my business, and I have to tell them it’s trademarked,” said Ellis. “But I do tell them this: Dig deep and find out what they love because most likely there are other people out there that love the same thing, and it will sell itself. This business is a culmination of everything I’ve done in my life; it all led to this place.”

Categories: News

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