Legacy Content

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by Ken Pellman (archives)
October 26, 2004
Ken looks at the history and demise of the Disney Stores.

Kenversations™ - Dumping the Disney Stores, Developing Diversity?

Once upon a time there was a mighty division of a corporation. It was a young division, yet this division brought in so much money, grew and grew, was admired by investment analysts, and was emulated by other companies. Eventually, however, this division overextended itself, alienated many customers, and started to shrink down. Then, it was cast off by the corporation, to be taken in by another company altogether.

As you've no doubt read through visiting the great headlines section of and by reading Benji’s great analysis of the deal (click here), The Walt Disney Company is dumping The Disney Stores. No matter what kind of flowery language you use to describe this action, that's what it amounts to- dumping.

The Disney Stores debuted into the world in the mid-1980s, just a stone's throw from the Company's Burbank headquarters in a Glendale, California mall. It was based on an idea submitted by an employee after a solicitation for new ideas by the new corporate management team.

It was a great idea, especially for southern California. People had been used to being able to drop by Disneyland for some shopping. With the advent of the Unlimited Passport and its quick domination of the old ticket books, and with the price of that passport rising, casual visits to Disneyland were priced out of the range of most Disney fans.

So, Disney got some space in a mall and filled the shelves with Disney merchandise. The company staffed the place with "cast members" who were just like the people working Disney theme parks. It was a little slice of Disney magic you could immerse yourself in away from the theme parks, for free. It was a natural extension for a company that had a studio, two film labels, theme parks and resorts, a cable channel, television shows, and a stable of characters and films in the vault.

The Disney Stores, at one time, were bringing in the most money per square foot than any other store in the mall.

The idea was copied by other companies, such as Warner. At least I'm thinking that the Warner Brothers stores came after the Disney Stores. Thirty lashes with a wet noodle to me, administered by James Tsunami Kirk, if I got that wrong.

The Disney Stores worked out so well, Disney tried other location-based venues away from the parks and resorts. There were a few Disney Gallery shops, borrowing their name from the collector haven above the Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland. There were a few places called "Mickey's Kitchen" that were basically burger joints. There was Club Disney, which was sort of an indoor playground for children. DisneyQuest was more ambitious as an arcade on steroids, an electronic theme park. Disney was looking to expand the ESPN brand acquired with the purchase of ABC with more ESPNZones, which take the sports bar concept to another level.

Somehow, those other offerings just never took off away from the resorts, with Club Disney and Mickey's Kitchen going away entirely. Hey, Knott’s saw the same thing happen with their Mrs. Knott’s restaurants and there’s no comparison between “Disney burgers? and Knott’s chicken as far as name recognition. After all, who thinks of burgers when they think Disney?

Paul Pressler and his hotshot team lead The Disney Stores through a period of startling growth. It seems that only Starbucks would surpass the proliferation of stores. As the early 1990s drifted toward the mid-90s, however, the stores were overextending themselves, and Pressler was tapped to lead the Disneyland Resort, taking along a seemingly endless parade of other Disney Store execs.

The Disney Stores, which were so commonplace that their luster had worn off, were about to face the further complicating consequences of relying so heavily on the steady stream of new Disney animated features to move merchandise. "The Lion King" had made more money than "Aladdin", "Aladdin" had more money than "Beauty at the Beast". Ariel, the title character in "The Little Mermaid", had appeared on so much merchandise only Mickey Mouse had wider exposure. Since "The Lion King" had been one of the top grossing films of all time, and every Disney animated feature was making more and more money that earlier films, expectations ran high for "Pocahontas".

With unprecedented fanfare, "Pocahontas" premiered in New York's Central Park. It made great money for a film. However, it didn't make as much as "The Lion King", nor was it as inherently merchandisable a property as "The Lion King".

This meant that The Disney Stores were not going to do as well as they had when "The Lion King" was hot.

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