Apple Helps Disney Recast Its Retail Stores

May 10, 2010

The mission statement of the renewed Disney retail initiative is to be “the best 30 minutes of a child’s day,” and Apple lent a hand to develop that goal. Disney Store VP Paul Gainer told Chain Store Age magazine that he consulted with Apple executives about locating, remodeling and staffing the chain of about 225 North American stores, which the company intends to relocate, remodel and reinvigorate during a seven-year plan that borrows directly from Apple’s retail playbook.It was easy for Disney to tap Steve Jobs expertise—he’s been on Disney’s board of directors since he sold Pixar to the animation company in 2006. Sr. There’s no doubt that Apple Sr. VP Retail Ron Johnson also contributed significantly to help Disney.

Disney opened its first stores in malls across America in 1987. They had over 500 locations in North America when the company decided to downsize and sell the chain to clothing store company The Children’s Place in 2004. Four years later, Disney bought the 371-store chain back (U.S. Europe and Japan), and now Gainer says they intend to keep about 200 to 225 stores inU.S.

“Apple’s main involvement was to inspire Disney to think big, to think new and to think creatively,” Gainer told the magazine. “Early on, they told us to take our time to do it right, which was very sound advice. So we built a prototype,” Gaines says, originally conceived and designed by Pompei AD (NYC). Further work was performed by Disney’s in-house design team, he says.

Apple did the same pre-work before it introduced its first retail stores in May 2001, including building a full-size mock-up.

Gaines said after the 3,200 square-foot prototype was built in a Glendale (S. Calif.) warehouse (Apple’s #2 store is located in the same city), featuring an all-glass, 40-foot storefront to allow maximum visibility of the interior. Again, the size, width and storefront design mirror Apple’s retail plan.

Disney’s retail philosophy now is quality over quantify, Gainer says, a point that Apple’s Johnson frequently makes. “Our vision is to keep the chain smaller in total number of stores, with a focus on the best malls that suppor the high store productivity.” The plan includes urban street locations, regional malls and outlet centers. Similarly, Apple’s philosophy is to locate only in high-traffic, high-visibility locations, despite their high lease costs.

Inside, Disney’s store design necessarily differs from Apple. The new stores will feature moveable fixtures and point-of-sale counters, so that new content and characters can be accommodated in the future. “A flexible store is crucial to that,” he said. The interior is organized into “storytelling neighborhoods,” rather than by products.

The remodeled stores will have a sophisticated lighting system to alter their atmosphere, and even a scent component is under discussion, Gaines says. Interactivity will be a major theme of the stores, all based on technology.

The stores will require an unusual level of management expertise, Gaines says, so Disney created an “intense” training and development program for the first managers for the new stores.

Gainer says that mall developers have been positive after visiting the the new prototype and seeing its design. “They were more open to giving us the center court locations we’re looking for,” he says.

The first of the newly-designed stores will open in southern California later this year, and by year’s end a second store will open in Time Square (NYC). Over the next six years Disney will re-position many of the existing stores to better attract visitors, and will continue to roll-out the new design. Besides the U.S. stores, Disney has owns 107 stores in Europe, and licenses 48 stores to a third-party in Japan.

Update: After this story was posted, Disney execs said the first stores would be at The Shops at Montebello in Montebello (S. Calif.) and in Madrid (Spain). Other stores will open in Apple-like locations: Roosevelt Field (NY), Santa Monica (CA) pier, Fashion Valley (CA), International Plaza (FL) and Union Square (SF).

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