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While the US downsizes from Disney Stores to Disney Shops, Shanghai is getting the largest Disney Store in the world

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While the US downsizes from Disney Stores to Disney Shops, Shanghai is getting the largest Disney Store in the world

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So what exactly is going on with the Disney Store these days?

The reason I ask is ... Well, it wasn't all that long ago (October of 2009, to be exact) that The Walt Disney Company announced that it would be reinventing all 340 of its stores in the United States and Europe. We're talking floor-to-ceiling redos that supposedly drew their inspiration from what Steve Jobs had done with the Apple Store.

Well, these rebranded "Imagination Park" Disney Stores soon began popping up around North America. 40 of these interactive retail outlets -- which featured a Disney Princess castle with a magic mirror that came to life whenever a child waved a magic wand in front of it -- were supposed to open in North America by the end of 2011. With an additional 20 NextGen Disney Stores supposed to open in eight countries outside of the U.S.

An example of the interactive Disney Princess castle which stands in each "Imagination
Park" Disney Store. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

But then in May of 2012, Jim Fielding -- the President of Disney Stores Worldwide (more importantly, the guy who was the main cheerleader of the "Imagination Park" project) -- left the Company to go become CEO of Claire's Stores Inc. And the two folks who replaced Fielding --  Paul Gainer & Molly Adams -- didn't exactly share Jim's enthusiasm for that "best 30 minutes of a child's day" conceit which drove this Disney Store redesign. More to the point, Gainer & Adams reportedly questioned how long it was going to take the Company to actually recover the estimated $1-million-per-store-cost of outfitting each North American Disney Store with that "Imagination Park" 's interactive technology (Not to mention reorganizing & redecorating each store so that it could then accommodate a Pixie Dust Trail as well as a Disney Store Theatre).

By January 2012, Disney Store management had clearly lost its enthusiasm for the "Imagination Park" project. Given that only 13 stores in North America were slated to receive these million dollar makeovers over that fiscal year.

The Pixie Dust Path which winds through each "Imagination Park" Disney Store ...
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Mind you, overseas, it was an entirely different story. At the National Retail Federation's "Big Show" in New York City that same year, Disney Store executives trumpeted that they'd be opening "Imagination Park" themed stores in 12 countries by the end of 2012. These would include a new showcase Disney Store in Milan, Italy as well as The Walt Disney Company's inaugural retail location in Shanghai, China.

And speaking of China ... At this very same presentation, the Mouse revealed that it was committing to opening 25 to 40 Disney Stores in that country over the next three years. Whereas in the US ... Given all of the problems that North American brick-and-mortar stores were now having thanks to the large number of consumers who were doing a lot of their shopping online these days, Disney Store management made a conscious decision to start letting its leases lapse at many malls across the country.

... which then leads shoppers to the Disney Store Theatre.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Which is why -- as of today -- there are more than 200 Disney Store locations in North America. Which is down considerably from the 340 North American retail locations that the Disney Store operated back in 2009.

Which isn't to say that Disney's rental footprint in North America has actually diminished. Thanks to the deal that Mickey cut with JCPenney back in September of 2012, there will soon be 565 Disney Shops located inside of JCPenneys all over the US.

Photo by Jim Hill

This past weekend, I made a special trip to the Pheasant Lane Mall to go check out our local Disney Shop (which opened at the Nashua, NH branch of JCPenney back in October of 2013).

Photo by Jim Hill

And our local Disney Shop was pretty much what the initial press release promoting this new retail arrangement promised. It's a 800 - 1,100 square-feet section that has been carved out of this JCPenney's children's section which then offers an assortment of Disney-themed plush toys, dolls, figurine sets and sleepwear as well as role-play & fashion apparel for kids sizes 2-10.

Photo by Jim Hill

And as you looked around the Nashua, NH version of the Disney Shop, it was clear that JCPenney had been actively working with Disney Consumer Products to make sure that the merchandise which was on sale here not only featured The Walt Disney Company's most popular brands but also supported the Studio's most recent efforts. So in addition to the "Doc McStuffins" merch ...

Photo by Jim Hill

... "Toy Story" ...

Photo by Jim Hill

... "Cars" ...

Photo by Jim Hill

... and "Planes" related items, there were also shelves loaded with toys that keyed off of the release of the most recent "Disney Fairies" film, "The Pirate Fairy " ...

Photo by Jim Hill

... as well as "Muppets Most Wanted."

Photo by Jim Hill

It was also kind of intriguing to see that -- while a lot of the "Monsters University " merchandise had been remaindered ...

Photo by Jim Hill

... the only "Frozen " -related item that was still available for purchase was an enormous plush version of Olaf. Which retailed for $500.

Photo by Jim Hill

It was also kind of bizarre to note JCPenney's complete lack of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" merch. Especially when you take into consideration that -- just seven miles up the road at the Disney Outlet at the Merrimack Premium Outlets Mall ...

Photo by Jim Hill

... they had all sorts of "Winter Soldier" stuff available in that store's Marvel section.

Photo by Jim Hill

To be fair here, given that the Disney Shop is located in JCPenney's children's section, DCP made a deliberate choice to limit the selection of merchandise in this part of the store. Making sure that the items which were on display here only really appealed to kids 2-10.

Photo by Jim Hill

Mind you, Pheasant Lane's Disney Store used to feature Marvel merchandise as well as a small selection of adult items ...

Photo by Jim Hill

... but that storefront now stands vacant in the mall. Right next door to the still-up-and-running The Children's Place store. Which -- I know -- will appeal to all your irony fans out there.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Yeah, to hear Disney Store executives talk these days, the future of the Company's retail operation really seems to lie overseas. Which is why the Mouse is concentrating most of its efforts these days on projects like its just-announced flagship store in Shanghai. Which -- when it opens in that city's financial hub in 2015 -- will be the largest Disney Store in the world. Boasting 53,000 square feet of retail space as well as a Disney-themed outdoor plaza.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Meanwhile, Jim Fielding -- that longtime Disney Store / DCP employee -- has traded Mickey for Shrek. Just yesterday, Fielding revealed that he would be leaving Claire's Stores, Inc. to go run the merchandise side of  DreamWorks Animation's AwesomenessTV.

Copyright DreamWorks Animation LLC. All rights reserved

Which isn't to be confused with that $2.4 billion "DreamCenter" that DreamWorks Animation plans on opening up in Shanghai in 2017. This massive entertainment complex will not only feature a 500-seat IMAX cinema but also a "Dream Avenue" theater district modeled on London's West End and New York City's Broadway.

Copyright DreamWorks Animation LLC. All rights reserved

Is it just me? Or does it seem like entertainment conglomerates Disney & DreamWorks are concentrating most of their best efforts these days on emerging markets like Shanghai? Meanwhile back here in the States ... Well, it seems like we're seeing a lot more of these less-is-more efforts like JCPenneys' Disney Shops?

Are you like me and wish that the Disney Store would step away from its collector doll efforts ...

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

... and just go back to being an ambassador for the entire Disney brand? A place where you could go between trips to the Parks and then get a quick Pixie Dust fix?

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Your thoughts?

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  • Well, yes.

    Of course, I live in the third-largest city in my state and we haven't had a Disney Store in about 15 years.  The nearest one is a good hour away.  And a little kiddie Disney Shop inside Penney's won't cut it; I don't have any use for kid merchandise.

  • I've been a huge follower of The Disney Store almost since its inception, and you're right it was a great ambassador for the general public between Disney Parks visits. I get very nostaligic every time I see a photo of a pink and green concept store, like the last photo you show. After recently visiting the flagship store in Times Square, and walking out empty handed, cemented in my head the comment of when is this division of the Walt Disney Company finally going to be put out of its misery?? Themed retail shops were huge in the 1990's and, at one time, Disney saw considerable retail competition with the Warner Bros. Studio Stores and then in the late 1990's Viacom tried to open Nickelodeon stores. There were 15 in operation with plans to expand by the year 2000 when right at the start of the holiday season of 1998 Viacom announced that they are an entertainment company, not a retail company, and they can get a bigger turn on the dollar by licensing out their products rather than paying the overhead of the store. Warner Bros. quickly followed suit but Disney held on but, as a lot of Disney fans will lament, came a time when they were owned and operated by The Children's Place. Most Disney Store managers will admit that The Children's Place acquistion was not necessarily a bad move due to it was finally operated by people who had experience in nothing more than running stores. It was the first time in most Disney Store's history when they could operate a whole Christmas season and not worry about running out of complimentary gift boxes, receipt paper, or shopping bags. The operations ran smoothly, and due to, what I believe was a violation of the contract regarding not updating the stores based on an established timeline, the stores ended up back in Disney's arms. Which was when the Imagination Park concept was announced. Now a key factor in which why the Apple Stores were allowed to operate as more of a discovery model than shopping model, which is what Disney was looking for, is the price point of the merchandise. It, obviously, takes a lot more units of plush and key chains to move to equal one customer's purchase of an iMac, or even an iPhone 5s. Hosting Saturday morning activities for kids to learn the new Muppets characters or help Perry fight crime doesn't necessarily earn enough dollars to justify the operations of the store. And, to this day, a lot of the other fans of the Disney Stores in the 1980's to early 1990's will cry for the return of the Adult Apparel, art & collectibles, and housewares still look for it, but, honestly that merchandise never sold enough units to the average customers to warrant its amount of store real estate. I would love to see the Disney Stores return to what I consider its heyday but I have a feeling that more JC Penney shops will be the way of the future in Disney retail. It's just taking them a lot longer to follow suit of Warner Bros and Nickelodeon. Nice article, Jim! Looking forward to seeing this new store when Shanghai Disneyland opens.

  • When I walked in the huge Disney Store at Downtown Disney Orlando I had very high expectations. The building was huge and looked nice and it was at this location close to the Lego store where building and playing went hand in hand with detailed models and shopping, the whole store and it's surroundings were a mini Lego land.

    But the store was just that, a store. I was very disappointed in Disney. Take the whole kitchen appliances and tableware section. That could have been themed like Minie's kitchen with cartoony stoves with fake pies in them that kids could open. Or the height of that building could house a monorail like ride trough the store. I was expecting the next generation of FAO Swartz but it's a nice store, no play no fun nothing mind blowing. So I walked to the Lego store and bought a huge box of fun.

  • You did say Online purchasing, which makes these Disney store locations obsolete along with Disney merchandise offerings at some JCPenny locations. I just don't see the necessity of the Disney Store. Besides, mentioning the flagship store in Shanghai ignores the flagship Disney stores at Downtown Disney in Anaheim and Orlando. Disney Stores cannot be justified with cut rate pricing at the local malls. The numerous local stores are not selling enough merchandise. Customers appear to be staying away. Funny that you mention Marvel's Winter Soldier. Marvel is Disney, but this lack of congruity in branding is off-putting. Perhaps it is time to re-positon the stores as Disney / Marvel Stores.

    I do see a demand in princess merchandising . I bought my daughter at least 3 princess dresses. They are high quality dresses, which can last many years of use. They are not cheap Halloween costumes. If they can offer princess makeovers like Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, then more such customers will visit the stores and perhaps pay the full retail price.

  • TomG, The Disney Store on 5th Avenue tried to bring a similar concept to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique when Walt Disney World took over its operation and ran it as a World of Disney. This was mostly to compete with the American Girl Doll Store, which is very popular in NYC. They had a Princess Court Experience where a performer would train young girls to be a princess and then finally they would be ready to meet Cinderella. It was promoted as an experience for girls to do as a birthday party. It was pricey though, $75-80 per princess. The price plus the fact that it did not have much repeatablility in the respect where Girl A held her birthday party here, making Girl B not want to have her party there because she feels Girls A, C, and D might not want to come because they already did the same thing at Girl A's party, and the fact that it totally discluded boys (brothers and boy friends of princesses were encouraged to check out the multi media and toys for sale in the store) did not make it a success on a regional level. This kind of discouraged Disney from doing a regional BBB as they feel that, outside of Halloween, there's not much a draw to have your child dress like a Disney princess outside of the theme parks.

  • @SkipperClaude :  I'm surprised that it did not work out at NYC, which is a major destination for tourists from around the world. I did not know that just because some kids had their princess party there, the other girls would not want to do it again later, which is their right to pick their preferences, but this misses out on princesses who just want the makeover and has nothing to do with their friends. NYC has millions of girls. Did they all do it and they ran out of customers? Hard to believe.

    At Orlando, Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique is scheduled months in advance. It is impossible to get a reservation on short notice. Certainly, not being at the Magic Kingdom dampens enthusiam. It will be like "Enchanted" where a Princess Giselle actually does end up in New York City. This means Disney should have done some cross promotion with a restaurant or hotel to have a bigger princess event. Or perhaps include the many Disney musicals or include a Disney movie as part of the package offering so the princesses can have a Disney day.

    As for the boys, I am in favor of branding the stores as Disney / Marvel Stores. The boys should have their own areas. They should be able to have their own makeup areas. Save for Jack Sparrow, I don't think an extensive hair and makeup combination is necessary. This will boost costume sales and accessories at minimum.

  • The local Disney store near me in Calgary, Alberta was retrofitted with the special makeover in the past year or so. It is nice, with lots of Disney things to attract your attention and merchandise from Marvel, Pixar, princesses etc. It is also very congested and easy to run into people. But watching kids in this store you can really see they enjoy being there.

  • Jim - that last photo of the very first Disney Store in Glendale brings back a lot of memories.  Sure do miss it.

  • I had the chance to experience a couple of the rethemed Disney Stores in the last year or so. They're nice looking and contain little nods to their locations, but they have one thing in common with all the other Disney Stores I've seen: a lack of interesting merchandise.

    Look, I understand that the hard-core fan base isn't going to support Disney Stores with a whole bunch of pricey limited edition merchandise, but at least the stuff they sold wasn't variations of the same stuff you could buy at every other retailer selling Disney-licensed products. The "outlets" are mainly stocked with the same dull merchandise and the same excessive prices, except for a small corner where there's a limited selection of stuff remaindered from the mall stores and the theme parks. Even the stores in the theme parks and Disneystore.com are pretty underwhelming - I could count the number of times I really got excited about Disney Store merchandise in the past couple of years on my fingers and still have some fingers left over.

    If I had the ear of an executive from Consumer Products, the one thing I'd keep repeating is, "It's the merchandise, stupid!"  I'd tell 'em to let their creative people and buyers loose and see if they can come up with some product that's interesting and unusual instead of producing 100,000 SKUs of of safe, generic stuff  that looks just like the stuff on the shelves at Wal-Mart, JCPenney, or Toys R Us. Aa a fan, I should be able to walk in the store with my family a couple of times a year, and each of us should be able to find one item that makes each of us say, "I've gotta have that!", and know that the Disney Store is the only place I can get it.  That's going to generate more profit than my stepdaughter playing mini-videos on the big screen while Mom and Dad scan the shelves quickly and give up.

  • That nauseates me to hear that the adult higher end collectibles and furnishings weren't worth the retail space because not enough units were sold.  A $2500 painting takes up a spec of space on a wall as compared to...how many ugly plush filling a mountain of animals (that's never neat) to yield the same profit?  Give me a break.

    I'm one of those who "cry" for the old Disney Store/Disney Gallery and, try as I may, rarely walk out today with a purchase.  There's just nothing there for those of us with money in our pockets.  Pins are huge these days and don't take much retail space - are they that clueless about how much they're losing in having a small wall of limited edition pins available?  This isn't brain surgery.

    So sad what's becoming of retail in America.  It won't be long before malls cease to exist completely and we have just a few Macys and WalMarts around while the rest turns into loft condos.

  • I'm very nostalgic for the Disney stores too.  I miss them, but have been underwhelmed with many of them, in the park and in large cities.  I agree they should be grand... at least at Downtown Disney.  I also want to buy the snowglobes, the art and the other collectibles, but it needs to have a " wow" factor.  Also, ordering a designer doll online was a mess.  It probably wasn't better in the stores though.

  • I was at my St Louis Disney store just last weekend after almost a two year hiatus.  The last time I was there it had nothing for an adult.  Lots of kids clothes and toys but nothing that I felt was Disney Store merchandise.  I saw nothing unique, interesting, different or said, "Buy me, I'm a Disney Store item"  Two years later I walked out with the same feelings and no purchase.

    I remember fondly going to my Disney Store, buying collectibles, art, pins, adult clothing and housewares.  It was always a mini vacation in between trips to the parks.  While I have been to all the parks with the exception of Hong Kong, the stores were my "fix" in between.  The stores allowed me to touch, and experience the park's magic without the plane trip.  I miss the old days.  

    Today, I walk into a Disney Store and see the same tired merchandise I find at any other retail establishment.  As for the online purchasing:  I can't experience the pixie dust on Amazon.  I can't touch and remember what made me want Disney stuff in the first place.  I want the movie in the background, the music in the air and the pleasant, Disney-like castmember telling me hello, remembering I have been in before and enjoying his/her job.  I can get a clerk anywhere.  I expect excellence from Disney because they have made a habit of providing it.  

    Finally, Disney seems to be forgetting that America is the reason they are what they are....successful.  It all started with a mouse, but it also all started with Americans thrill and excitement.  Also with their money.  We deserve the best.  Recently, foreign parks are getting the good stuff while US parks are getting redos.  Disney in Paris is getting original rides, Shaghai is getting the largest and interactive castle, Japan gets a totally unique (and beautiful) park in Disney Seas and we get a photogenic Fantasyland  and the most expensive themed bathroom.  Come on Disney! Wow us.  We will reward you.  We always have. Return to the old ways.  Retail may be down because there is nothing out there that is worthy of buying.  Wal-mart and the like have lowered the bar so far.  Isn't it time for someone to raise it back up?

  • Just read this article know.   Glad to see I wasn't the only one noticing this.

    First, the Pheasant Lane Mall used to be my area mall.  I have since moved down 495 and now call the Solomon Pond Mall home.  Both malls lost their Disney Stores around the same time, which caused chaos in my house.   I have two young daughters.  Let me tell you, having your kids see their local Disney Store close up shop smack dab in the middle of Frozen mania is not a good thing.  The few weeks before our local store closed, the store was packed every day.  Packed with kids clutching their newly acquired Frozen doll, plush, or ...whatever.   Then suddenly one day, gone.  

    The JC Penney Shops are of course a poor substitute for the real thing for the reasons you mentioned.   Sometimes a dad just wants to buy himself a Mickey Mouse mug every now and then (is that so wrong?)   But since the JC Penney shop is in the children's section, it is definitely children's based and therefore, no mugs.   So that adult Avengers retro shirt I said I would buy next time I went to the Disney Store?   That opportunity is gone.   Also of note, isn't JC Penney consistency hovering near the edge of disappearing?   I feel like that store and Sears consistently make business lists with titles like "Stores that will probably not be around next year...."    JC Penney usually is found hovering near Radioshack on such lists (not good company to be in).   So it is sad to see these department stores handle a fraction of the merchandise and also be on the verge of disappearing themselves.  

    In Massachusetts, there used to be plenty of Disney stores, then a few, and now 3 (1 being an outlet).   A Disney Store can't even be found in Boston!   Sure it is in nearby Braintree, but when has anyone ever said, "Hey, lets have a day trip to Braintree!"   Where I used to be able to drive 5 miles to a Disney store, I now have the option of driving 30+ miles south to Wrentham or 30+ miles north to Merrimack (you have to chose Merrimack, because duh, no taxes).   So no more quick trips with the kids.  Now if we are to go, we have to be committed to a big trip.   Of course that is why we have the option of going on the website.....which brings me to my last point

    Obviously more and more people are hopping on websites and just hitting submit over their phones and tablets.   I get that.   But I have an issue with doing this with the Disney Store.  Because, and lets be honest here, some of their stuff was crap.  Oh sure, there were plenty of high quality items on the Disney Store shelves.  But mixed in between them were cheap plastic things put together in most likely the most horrific factory in China.   I liked being able to see things in person at the Disney Store to assess the quality of the item before I laid down my cash on an Ariel playlet that wouldn't look out of place at a knockoff table inside a flea market.

  • I worked at that store in Pheasant Lane up until it's closing. As cast members, we were not even told the reasoning behind the closure, but we have some pretty good ideas.

    1. Disney has been trying to get back into the Burlington Mall for years. They closed all the stores around Burlington so they could put in an IP store and make it a "destination" for guests.

    2. The Merrimack outlet was not making their numbers (we blew them away), therefore we closed and business was to be sent up there. What a disappointment because the outlet product quality is terrible.

    3. That store was 24 years old when it closed and everything was illegally wired from the moving animations to the lighting. It would cost more to fix the whole store than to forego the revenue it would generate.

    4. JCPenney opened their "Disney Store" in the Pheasant Lane Mall. Also, any mall with a JCPenney and a Disney Store will soon see their Disney Store closing. It's ridiculously cheaper to lease a small space with similar merchandise that people will buy as last resort. It's sad that upper management sees it that way instead of "through the eyes of the guest," but unfortunately it's a corporate world.

  • Welp, January 2016 is here, and we just found out our local store in Virginia Beach is closing...I am crushed.

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