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Disney Consumer Products isn't getting its hopes up for "Up"

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Disney Consumer Products isn't getting its hopes up for "Up"

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Following up on last month's article about how Children's Place is getting ready to sell the Disney Store retail chain back to the Walt Disney Company ... I spoke with the managers of a number of New England-area Disney Stores over the past few days.

And while none of these folks wanted to go on-the-record about this still-pending sale (Though -- off-the-record -- they all expressed the hope that their particular Disney Store would be able to survive the coming downsizing. When Mickey will pare back the number of stores in this North American retail chain from its current high of 337 down to around 200 stores), these management types did want to talk about "WALL * E."

To be specific, the number of people who've been coming into their stores for months now looking for "WALL * E" merchandise. As one manager put it ...

"At least a couple of times a day now, customers will come into my Disney Store and ask for 'WALL * E' toys. And when I explain that we don't have anything in stock yet and that these toys won't actually be available for purchase until just a few weeks before that new Pixar movie is released to theaters, these people seem genuinely disappointed. They want 'WALL * E' toys now.

Copyright 2008 Disney / Pixar / Jakks Pacific. All Rights Reserved

Just off of the ads that have been shown on television and the trailers that they've seen in theaters, these customers have already bonded with that character. I haven't seen anything like this since 'Cars.' "

Ah, yes. That 2006 John Lasseter movie. "Cars" is still considered the gold standard, at least as far as Disney Consumer Products is concerned. Execs who work in that division of the Mouse House still look back fondly on the late spring of 2006. When 90% of the "Cars" -related merchandise that Disney had had licensed was sold out, completely gone from store shelves, three weeks before that Pixar film actually opened in theaters.

And for nearly two years now, sales of "Cars" -related merchandise have remained consistently strong. Unlike what happened with "Pirates of the Caribbean" & "Chronicles of Narnia" merch (Which -- truth be told -- didn't sell all that well to begin with. But once these movies left theaters, "Pirates" & "Narnia" toy sales fell straight through the floor), "Cars" merchandise has sold at a steady pace for over 20 months now. Which is one of the main reasons that Mickey felt comfortable with pouring tens of millions of dollars into the development of ...

Copyright 2008 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved


... that massive multiplayer online game version of the "Cars" universe that Disney hopes to launch in late 2008 / early 2009. Not to mention the hundreds of millions of dollars that the Mouse will be spending on the construction of DCA's 12-acre "Carsland" expansion area. Which WDI insiders have told me will be like " ... GM Test Track meets Indiana Jones Adventure meets Pixar."

Mind you, not everything that Pixar produces automatically translates into a consumer products bonanza. Take -- for example -- "Ratatouille." While that new Brad Bird movie may have done decent box office as well as earned some Oscar gold ... In the retail rat race, Remy & his furry friends were also-rans.

Don't believe me? Then take a gander at these pixs that Flo Lange was nice enough to shoot for me this past Sunday. Which show the shelves of a Massachusetts-area Disney Store loaded with severely discounted "Ratatouille" merchandise. Where -- if you felt the need -- you could have picked up a remote control Remy (Which was originally priced at $49.50 per unit) now going for $14.99. Not to mention a Remy-in-a-bottle. Which was originally priced at $14.50 and was now selling for $2.99.

Photo by Flo Lange

Given that retailers the world over were stuck with all sorts of "Ratatouille" merchandise that they couldn't move ... Well, that explains why Disney Consumer Products is now taking a much more pragmatic approach toward the licensing of "Up," Pixar's May 2009 release.

Given that this new Pete Docter movie stars a 70-year-old superhero ... Well, the belief in-house at Disney Consumer Products is that there isn't going to be all that much demand for "Up" action figures. Which is why the Mouse has decided to take almost a boutique approach to toward the licensing of this Pixar picture. Putting an extremely limited line of "Up" -related merch out there to help support the release of this film.

Of course, the other reason that Disney Consumer Products is planning on doing a limited run of "Up" merchandise is that Mickey wants none of its licensing partners to feel burned going into 2010. After all, the Mouse wants everyone to be on board for the release of Pixar's next picture, "Toy Story 3." Properly handled, that highly anticipated sequel could move mountains of merchandise. Racking up all sorts of record retail sales.

Copyright 2008 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

But that's two years down the line ... As of right now, the folks who work at the North American Disney Stores are focusing on that those soon-to-arrive "WALL * E" toys. Hoping that they'll then turn out to be huge sellers.

Why For ? Well, as these Disney Store managers just explained it to me, the folks back in Burbank are going to be paying very close attention to what individual stores earn over the next few months. And those that have particularly strong sales will probably be among the 200 that the Walt Disney Company elects to keep open. Whereas those Disney Stores that don't have strong sales now through June ... Well, they'll most likely be among the 137 that will be shut down later this year.

So what do you folks think? Is this really a smart way for the Walt Disney Company to return into the retail world? Or does this "Survival of the Fittest" approach seem ... Well ... April foolish to you?

Your thoughts?

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  • Makes as much sense as anything in the closed off world of Disney merch.  Nothing like expanding retail once again as the economy heads for a depression.  They're right about Wall*E though.  We get questions about merchandise for him ALL THE TIME at World of Disney.  I look forward to the Wall*E-land attraction in Epcot in three years. (I can just feel the groans.)

    As for UP! I feel like a boutique approach might be smart.  Most of the rat toys were total crap (except the large plushes, which sold as fast as anything we've ever seen) and that should probably weigh in to the discussion but of course it never does.  Of course you gotta wonder if Disney is going to wind up botching the UP! merchandise like they did with Incredibles.  We'd be selling superheroes as fast as the cars if we had marketed and planned correctly.  Makes me wonder what Consumer products is thinking...

  • I think that 200 stores is still too many. The Disney stores should be more exclusive. I thought from the beginning when they first started opening the Disney stores (I live near some of the VERY first Disney stores) that they were opening too many. The Disney stores should be bigger, better and fewer. Maybe follow a modified American Girl store model. Make it more of a destination and less of the current standard strip mall/mall store.

  • My feelings on the Disney Stores is a tough call, since my city was up to two, lost one and is probably going to lose the other. That leaves me Disney Storeless. However, they haven't had anything worth buying in years... The closest were those heroes toys that looked like anime characters. I was within spittin' distance of buying their Prince Phillip and Maleficent the Dragon figures.  

    If they could improve their merchandise variety, maybe offer a catalogue service to compliment DisneyShopping.com and set up a DVD wall to exceed anywhere else in the city - as in, every currently in-print movie - then it would kill me to see them go. But if it's still just plushies, costumes and junk toys, then I suppose I won't really miss it too much.

  • (Gasp) That Wall E toy is soooo cute! Must...have...now...

    Where I live, there was pretty much zip in the way of "Ratatouille" merch. I saw one children's book in Wal Mart, and other than the commericals for the Remy doll (which I never saw here.), there was nothing. Nada. Iie. I was not a happy camper, considering we're still buried up to our necks in "Cars" stuff. I love "Cars" but throw a little of that marketing "Ratatouille's" way!

  • I hope that Wall-E does well at the box office as well as at the stores. I'd like to see a possible Wall-E dark ride at DCA. Regarding "Up!" I agree with Disney about this one. I know nothing about the film. From the one photo in today's article, maybe they could sell some stuff to the model airplane hobbyists, keeping in mind that is a small niche hobby.

  • I think it is good that Disney/Pixar makes movies not soley based on merchandising potential, . . . who knows what characters in Up could be comercialized though, . . . so I don't think that anyone at Disney is taking a "pragmatic" approach yet as I am sure they would like to merchandise something about "Up", the concept certainly looks interesting as a movie though.  Disney will be coming out with Rapunzel and Frog Princess so they don't want to get merchandising fatigue, something tells me that Wall-e will sell more than enough merchandise

  • I agree with Cory, they really need to diversify the disney store merchandise by leaps and bounds if they want the stores to survive.  I hadn't been to a disney store in years - none within a hundred miles or more out here - but the last time I was out at Massachusetts I was so excited to hit one . . . just to find the same Pooh crap they had when I lived there 8 years ago.  Yay.  And when I had asked for any New Groove toys back then?  Nothing.  You would have thought they would have at least made a Kuzco plush.  I'm surprised I didn't find a Tigger dressed up as Kuzco though . . . .

  • The company I work for is a licensee with DCP. We are finalizing our Wall-e line list and proceeding with production on most of our product line. I say most because as of yesterday we got news from DCP that the character art for wall-e had changed a bit...notice his red stripes on his arms have been changed to black stripes. You'll see product out on shelves with both red and black. Interesting ....eh?

  • The merch is Disney Store is very disappointing, it all seems to be High School Musical, Snow Globes and Hannah Montana.  Even though the quality and variety of merchandise in the Disney parks isn't as good as it was, I still prefer it.

  • Its too bad movies can't just be about movies ... and not merc.

  • Limiting the number of stores even further isn't necessarily the answer. 200 seems about right depending on the population centers where they're located--remember, folks, that WDW and DL create their OWN "walk through" traffic, but out in the real world, its about malls. That's why the food court was invented--to keep 'em around to SHOP before and after the movies. As for doing Disney Stores only as high-end places for elite merchandise, the FIRST stores that the Warner Bros stores closed were those in Vegas and West Hollywood that were high-end and selling animation cells and fancy artworks. I know because I was working on the WB lot on a series when it happened, and one day the memo came around that a soundstage would be open the following three days FULL of that stuff sold at a huge discount to studio employees---I got some really wonderful things, including a great "Animaniacs" piece containing a storyboard in a kind of shadowbox frame with the characters litho'd in color on the front box, a limited poster litho of "Elmer Fudd and Daffy Duck in Warner bros Opera Company' s production of "Faust" and a fun take on the old Toulouse Lautrec Follies Bergere art nouveau posters featuring Wile E. Coyote as a can-can dancer and some other things--all DRASTICALLY reduced in price.

    The main issue is to have merch that is both affordable AND unique to the stores and not available at Wal-Mart, et. al. Whether producers of such merchandise will want to make it when they are, in effect, competing with themselves when they also make the Wal-Mart-level stuff is the question. I'd say Disney will offer them pretty good deals to make that happen if they're serious about revisiting the whole Disney Store concept with energy.

  • P.S. The "darwinesque" plan on which stores to keep that managers told Jim about seems highly UNLIKELY to be true. Its the kind of story that mid-level or regional sales managers tell store managers to goose their efforts and make themselves look good, but it is NOT the kind of thing big companies do when making a major committment to repurchase these stores and reformat them regionally. I guarantee you that part of the repurchase process included a DETAILED look at every store's sales profiles for the past year or three and that the folks in Burbank already KNOW and have decided which stores they're keeping. Any fiction they tell to the peeps is just that---utter fiction designed to clear the deadwood out and keep everyone around and happy while their demise is planned. Of course, if a store manager manages to do great in this downturn in retail economy, that person may be offered a chance to relocate to a store being retained even though their employees will be out of luck, and some of them may be "in" on the fiction and keeping it "real" for their own peeps for their promotion's sake.

    This story is too much like the fantasy a World Of Disney employee posted hereabouts a few months ago regarding how they were told that if they had better sales, a leaky roof over their break area could be repaired. Nonsense. If Disney truly doesn't know which stores it is keeping now, and didn't when it made the decision to reaquire the chain, then the management rot in Burbank is worse than any of us have suspected. I don't believe it, Jim, even if the stars-in-their-eyes store folks do.

  • JohnWayne I agree with you completely but you're either misquoting or misunderstood the World of Disney cast member.  There was no "IF they have better sales."  It was "We're applying profits we've already made, partially from the Bibbiti Bobbiti Boutique (which the post was about), toward replacing the roof over the entire building."  Which we've had workers working on at night the last few months and will continue to have for months to come.  There was no motivational factor involved except to say that we did so well that we're able to apply profits toward replacing the roof instead of hurting our budget for the year.  Granted that Disney tries to motivate sales with contests and dangling free food in front of us, most of the time those goals are easy and serve as more of a morale boost.  No fantasy involved, and as I was the cast member you misunderstood, I apologize for not being clearer.  But I do agree with you that they probably already know, but I also think that they're going to discover that they're wrong about a few stores...

  • My point, and I'm sorry if I misread the post, was that the idea that the profits or increases from any ONE venue affect the budgeting/scheduling of that sort of rehab--that there is a direct cause-effect--is, as I said at the time, not based in the way real business works. No one venue within WDW is a stand-alone facillity. Sure, they're monitored and watched re. individual performance, but there is no direct spot-by-spot budgeting re that sort of rehab. Sure, you did great. Sure, they fixed or are fixing the roof. But having one be the carrot for the stick of the other, so to speak, is a penny-ante motivational tool, not a real budgeting process. I'm also suggesting, with all due respect, that at the "front line" level of CM's and their immediate managers, in this case and in yours, the "big picture" strategic operations are rarely disclosed or discussed--not because of some super-secret policy or ulterior motive, but because they just plain don't work that way. That could be, in many ways, a BAD thing, but its the way businesses work by and large. Meanwhile, there is NO WAY that Disney would plan to aquire/recapture the Disney stores w/o having already figured out their individual store plans, as you agree, no matter what they TOLD the troops. Glad we cleared up all that, and thanks.

  • Oh I never meant that increased profits led to the rehab of the roof.  No, the FOUNTAINS of water pouring down from the ceiling during summer and fall rainstorms led to the new roof.  It just helps the company swallow the bill when we make ten million more then we were projected to that's all. Believe me if they wanted to use that money to motivate us I've got some better suggestions. ;)

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