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by Ken Pellman (archives)
May 28, 2003
Ken looks at the current situation with The Disney Stores.

The Rise and Fall of the Disney Stores

What happened? I remember when business experts considered Disney Stores the best thing since incorporation. They were bringing in so much money per square foot that you could hear the investment advisors sighing with admiration as they walked by. Other mall stores wished they could have the numbers that Disney Stores did. Other studios (Warner Brothers) saw opportunity in the Disney model.

For most people, Disney theme parks were a multi-hour flight (or much longer train, bus, or driving trip) away. Their local Disney Store gave them an opportunity to immerse themselves in a bit of the Disney magic without traveling to a Resort. It was a like a slice of their favorite theme park that they could walk into for free.

And now, the Walt Disney Company will likely sell or shutter the Disney Stores.

Why Did the Disney Store Exist in the First Place?
Younger Placers (LaughingPlace.com readers) may not be able to fathom this, but there was a time before the Disney Stores could be found in every mall in North America. The first one opened in 1987. How did they come about in the first place?

You may remember that there was major shake-up of Disney's executive management in 1984. Team Disney was looking for new ideas to make the most of the company's resources, and a call for ideas from the employees of the corporation resulted in the Disney Store. The store would be a mall store stuffed with Disney merchandise, the kind of stuff you might have only been able to get by going to Disney parks or purchasing it through a catalogue.

It is no coincidence that the first one opened in Glendale. In the early 1980s, Disneyland Park switched from the ticket book system to the unlimited use passport. The ticket book system meant that people from all over southern California could drop in to Disneyland Park for some shopping without paying a high admission price. Since Team Disney took over, the price of the unlimited passport had been rising rapidly. A Disney Store allowed locals to do some easy Disney shopping once again.

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The Disney Store was a hit.

So what did Disney do? It opened more Disney Stores. Many more. Many, many more, and they weren't different enough from each other to warrant visiting any one beyond your nearest one.

Paul Pressler oversaw a huge expansion of the Disney Stores, probably an over saturation of the market, and then jumped to the Disneyland Resort, getting out of the way before the Disney Stores started to show significant problems.

Meanwhile, Elsewhere…
Disney jumped onto the emerging World Wide Web explosion, turning Disney.com into an online powerhouse. With people now able to buy Disney merchandise online as well as over the phone and via catalogue, their local Disney Store lost importance.

The World of Disney opened at the Walt Disney World Resort, and would later open at the Disneyland Resort, offering one-stop Disney Store-style shopping for Central Floridians and southern Californians.

Back at the Mall…
The Disney Stores tried changing the merchandise offered. They tried redecorating. Disney fans grumbled that they didn't like the merchandise, and it is apparent that the general public concurred. There just wasn't enough of a reason to go to the Store and buy something there.

In particular, the merchandise wasn't any different from what consumers could buy from a number of other sources. Lately, it seems that most of it was targeted to girls under the age of eight. The Disney Store needed some exclusive merchandise and some items of a more collectible nature. If Viacom had similar stores, for instance, it would do better selling some limited edition collectibles associated with James Tibullus Kirk than it would by just selling kiddie Captain Kirk costumes. Disney needs some higher-end offerings.

The writing was on the wall when Disney sold some of their stores to the Oriental Land Company, which owns and operates the Tokyo Disney Resort. For the Oriental Land Company, it made sense to control the Disney Stores in Japan to present a unified presence to guests.

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