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John Sortino is looking for someone to replace him as CEO. The requirement?

"A good, decent businessperson who loves teddy bears," he says.

Mr. Sortino is the 44-year-old founder of Vermont Teddy Bear Co., started in 1980 with its first bear to celebrate the arrival of Mr. Sortino's first child, and now an enterprise with $20.6 million in annual sales.

"I was interested in manufacturing something that I could really fall in love with," recalls Mr. Sortino of the company's beginnings. The executive notes that at the time there were no other teddy bears manufactured in the U.S.

Sales were up 20.7% in 1994 but ad spending has remained a modest but effective figure of less than $5 million, and Mr. Sortino continues to pour at least 50% of that total into a format that's become the hallmark for Vermont Teddy Bear: Radio.

"The people on the radio make it work well," says Mr. Sortino.

He's used some of the best, from Don Imus to Howard Stern to Rush Limbaugh, odd but successful matches for endorsing his cuddly creatures.

He started radio advertising on Burlington's WXXX-FM, a top 40 format station, and people at the Vermont station helped him develop the advertising in which radio personalities banter about the bears, such as the President Clinton Bear or the St. Patrick's Day Bear.

The company has made 300 to 600 different types of bears, he estimates, with costs varying depending on the amount of special detail needed.

The remainder of Vermont Teddy Bear's spending goes into limited TV, magazine, outdoor and catalogs and promotional tie-ins with the likes of cable TV's American Movie Classics.

All advertising is handled in-house.

There's also a marketing boost from the 100,000 or so devotees who tour the Shelburne, Vt., headquarters each year and visit the adjoining store. About 10% of annual sales come from that store, with the remainder from the company's toll-free phone line and toy retailers.

Even after Mr. Sortino steps down from the CEO post to concentrate on marketing, radio will remain a mainstay at Vermont Teddy Bear.

"I'm dying to be on Paul Harvey," he says. "I dream of him doing an ad."

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