30 years ago today, Disney opened the first ever Disney Store.
It was the Company’s first dive into the world of retail and had a unique position within the industry because of its concept and products – all Disney. With over 330 stores now open worldwide, as well as a lucrative online retail operation, Disney Store is the place for families to consume Disney’s products where they are; “to create magical moments for guests of all ages” as they like to say.
It wasn’t always that way, though.
Even a few years after opening the first store in Glendale, California in 1987, the retail operation was a difficult one to sustain. While the sales at stores were strong, the costs to maintain the stores was outweighing it all.
In 2004, Disney began to sell off and license the Disney Store brand and operations to other established, third-party companies like The Children’s Place, and its international stores to companies like The Oriental Land Company in Japan. The change in operation yielded a profit for the Company, but the costs continued to mount while the experience and quality of visiting a Disney Store suffered since Disney couldn’t directly intervene due to the licensing agreements.
Eventually, the third-party companies that bought licenses to operate their Disney Stores eventually felt the struggle to operate the stores that many of them either opted to declare bankruptcy or sell their stores back to Disney in 2008. It would be a year later that Disney’s biggest shareholder would help bring Disney Store back to its prime.
The late Apple CEO and Pixar executive Steve Jobs became that shareholder with immense power when Disney bought Pixar back in 2006. Disney CEO Bob Iger recognized Jobs’ knack for creating an effective retail operation when he started the Apple Store in 2001. Jobs wanted the new Disney Store (which he wanted to rename to “Imagination Parks”) to be very similar to what customers at Apple Stores were doing – trying, touching, experiencing, and learning about products with that Disney magic, of course.
The new stores were designed around the Disney experience like you would see at Disney’s theme parks, with a castle in the middle of each one and where each corner of the store was dedicated space for products from a certain movie or character. Additionally, Disney incorporated a handful of interactive elements like mini-theaters that played Disney movies and special store opening “ceremony” that happened right at the opening of each store everyday.
The concepts were put into a few stores at first in 2010 in the U.S. and proved to be a huge success with a large exponential growth in foot traffic into the stores and retail sales. A gradual rollout of the same concepts that made up Jobs’ Disney Stores happened shortly after. Much of what Jobs’ implemented still exists today.
Building on that successful model of “retail-tainment”, more Disney Store concepts and locations were introduced including the flagship New York/Times Square location in 2011 and Disney Baby Stores in 2012. The largest Disney Store in mainland China also opened in conjunction with the opening of Shanghai Disney Resort in 2015. Disney Store did a full overhaul of its online retail operation in 2008 and again in 2010 and now continues to a main source of sales for the segment year after year.
And 30 years later, Disney Stores are continuing to show its success in strides. “For 30 years, Disney Store has helped fans and families around the world make Disney magic a part of their daily lives,” said Paul Gainer, executive vice president, Disney Retail.
“We have continued to evolve and address not only the needs and interests of Guests, but also the growing slate of Walt Disney Company brands and franchises, including Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars. We look forward to the future as we continue to deliver the very best of Disney at retail.”
To commemorate the anniversary, Disney Stores will be launching a new line-up of limited edition 30th anniversary products, featuring highly-anticipated collectibles and a special anniversary Disney Tsum Tsum set.
In-store celebratory events and activities are also planned – including a 30th Anniversary Parade, taking place every day at 3pm through April 2. Guests are invited to hear short, fun stories and facts about Disney Store’s history and younger Guests are encouraged to dance along the store parade route.