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Thoroughly Modern Minnie: Disney Store Follows the Retail Market Research

The House of Mouse is getting a face lift. Seven years after its most recent reboot, the Disney Store—first established in 1987 and now operating 387 locations—recently debuted a concept location they are now slowly phasing into stores worldwide.

The redesign comes as Disney Stores’ two main industries—toys and fashion—have both taken serious brick-and-mortar hits as retailers struggle to draw consumers in-store and away from big-box discounters. And it’s not just the poor unfortunate souls feeling the pain--Disney has felt some of its own: same store sales at Disney Stores were down 6% in 2016 and are already down 10% in 2017.

Thus the redesign, which, like many recent retail shifts, centers around in-store entertainment and unique experiences. An omnichannel integration that hopes to appeal to the pre- and post-pubescent alike. According to Paul Gainer, EVP for Disney Stores Worldwide, “We knew we needed to elevate and improve the experiences that we have both in store and online as retail is changing.”

I’ve Crossed the River”...Or Following the Retail Market Research

The Disney Store is the centerpiece of the company’s consumer products and interactive division, which generates about 11% of the company’s total revenue (yes, even that number is in the billions). With sales declining amidst the retail carnage befalling most legacy brick and mortar retailers, the company has known for a while that it was time for a change. And so they ran their retail market research, honed in on a concept, and quietly began testing a pilot location in Northridge, a TMZ suburb near Disney’s headquarters in Burbank.

Since then, the mouse has taken its sweet time, not wanting to get caught in a retail trap. According to Garnier, “We really want to learn as we go, especially through the holidays.”

With the expansion of the concept location, the store is rolling out its first reboot since its 2010 IP pivot. It was then that it declared its locations “Imagination Parks,” trying to blur the lines between retail and its flagship theme parks, complete with a giant pink castle, winding aisles, and a whole lot of sparkles. Today’s redesign is mostly subtractive, removing much of the clutter and reducing SKUs. Gone are the bright colors and contrasting lighting reminiscent of a theme park, replaced by a simplified floor plan and white walls. So, much of the change is about taking stuff away—reducing the clutter, making the space more flexible, inviting, and interactive.

But they have added some things too, like a full-size movie screen, an expanded adult collection, and the promise of even more in-store events.

New Horizons to Pursue” Or Intellectual Property and Retail

That movie screen, in particular, tells us a lot about where Disney believes retail is headed—if the IP of the 2010 reboot was “Imagination Park”, today’s is a different IP: "intellectual property". Indeed, it seems that Disney is ushering in a retail future that resembles a perpetual Comic-Con replete with cosplay, character interactions and all degrees of fandom. Daily live streams of parades from Disney’s two theme parks will be accompanied by cotton-candy and Mickey-ear peddling employees.

The screens can also simulcast red carpet premiere events, show a rotating slate of in-store exclusive features, and announce birthdays and other milestone achievements (complete with character-led sing-alongs). Disney hopes all this in-store excitement will lead to more in-store purchases, drive even more purchases online, and be a steady promotional stream for other Disney properties.

And these are just the things they have announced or that we have imagineered. There is no telling what creative ways Disney will find to integrate its entertainment and retail arms, but in their timely reboot, they are not alone. Nordstrom is getting way smaller and more local, Nike is blurring the lines between a gym and a superstore, and, if you didn’t get the memo, Apple would like you to please start calling their stores “Town Squares.”

So needless to say, stores everywhere are looking to provide consumers unique in-store experiences, and when you are the single biggest entertainment company on the planet, well, there are a lot of experiences you can provide. Think what they could do with just their Big 4 - their four seemingly bulletproof revenue streams, and the envy of every other entertainment company: Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, and the legacy Princess line (not to mention ABC, Hulu, ESPN, A&E and others).

It is also interesting to note that this reboot coincides with the company’s entertainment arm recently announcing it would be pulling its content from Netflix’s streaming platform. Of course, this doesn’t mean that Disney Stores will become 24-7 content streaming theaters and that you will have to buy a Ewok doll just to watch the new Star Wars film, just that Disney is gathering up all of its assets and seeing what kind of cross-pollination and synergy is possible.

I’ll Never Grow Up” Or Keeping Customers from Aging Out

All this work isn’t just for the young, however, or even for the young at heart.

Disney is also hoping to keep its customers from aging out of its ecosystem, now catering to adults seeking more sophisticated (read: less frumpy) fashion than traditionally offered by the retailer. Indeed, according to Gainer, “We have been very focused on families and kids. We really want to expand that audience.” That means finding a way to make Disney a viable brand for adults—not something they wear ironically or to the vast derision of their coworkers, but a serious piece of playfully chic, adult fashion.

The company has already partnered with established, mainstream fashion houses like Coach and David Lerner, as well as Americana furniture heavyweight Ethan Allen. They’re not going for hyper luxury—although just imagine what Alexander McQueen could do with Mini Mouse—or discount, just staying squarely in the middle of the upper-middle class road. Look for simplified modern fashions to match the stripped down decorum, as Disney makes the trek into non-ironic and ageless fashions.

And Fortunately I Know a Little Magic” Or Dominating the Future of Retail

In a moment where the name of the game is creating exciting, unique in-store experiences to draw customers further into your ecosystem, Disney is arming itself with a thoroughly modern and flexible store, a hopefully broader customer base, and its entire library of exclusive content.

When you think of it that way, it’s no wonder that, at the pilot store, it’s all been Hakuna-Matata so far: “It’s not unusual to have 50 people or so come on a Tuesday or Wednesday” Gainer gushed. “There’s the opportunity to do many other things.” These days, those “many other things” are the name of the game and, as the owner of the most bankable brands in entertainment, well, it’d be tough even for Olaf to bungle that one.

But for everybody else out there: you could probably use our help.

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