In May 2011, Disney Store let landlords know it had big plans: The 200-plus store retailer of Disney merchandise announced at the International Council of Shopping Centers’ annual retail real estate convention that it would open 40 stores globally this year, a jump from its originally announced 25. That’s big news from a chain that, like most of its retail counterparts, has had more than its share of struggles as the economy tanked and it was forced to embark on a stringent right-sizing plan.
But during the last 18 months, Disney Store has transformed itself. Today, the chain is not only opening stores but is actively remodeling existing units under a new store design that is highly experiential, even by Disney standards.
Chain Store Age talked with Paul Gainer, senior VP of Disney Store North America, about the newly unfurled expansion track and the new look that will go along with it.
Tell me more about the announcement Disney Store made back in May.
The crux of the announcement was that we would be accelerating the new store design, while maintaining the overall store count at 215. As we see opportunity in market voids, we will add stores and remodel some of our highperforming stores this year. The goal is to accomplish that prior to the 2011 holiday shopping season.
What are Disney’s specific plans going forward, in terms of new locations and remodels?
The goal is over the next five years to be able to roll out the new store design across the entire portfolio. There is a three-pronged program that includes new builds, remodels of existing stores, and relocations where we will move stores within an existing mall to a better location and reopen with the new design.
What are some of the key features of the new design?
Our vision statement is: “The best 30 minutes of a child’s day.” That is our filter for everything that we do, including our products, guest service and, of course, the store design. We are focused on creating that magical experience for a child in the store, and the entire family. There is a pixie path that navigates shoppers through the store and into different neighborhoods, such as the Princess neighborhood, a Cars neighborhood or the Toy Story neighborhood.
In the Princess neighborhood, for example, a child can wave a Cinderella wand at the magic mirror, and Cinderella appears in the mirror. Boys can enter the Cars neighborhood and can customize and build their own car in the store. One of the key store experiences is the Disney Theater, a designated space with a 12-ft. curved screen, and a kind of a jumbo iPod device that allows children to select what they see on the screen. There are many different touchpoints and experiences that allow children to connect with their favorite characters.
How are the redesigned stores performing from both a financial and operational standpoint?
We don’t disclose financial results, but we have seen across the board — from the 20 redesigned stores that we have open to date — double-digit traffic increases in each. We’re seeing that guests are coming to us more frequently and are spending more time in each visit. We’re very excited about those metrics, and the results have given us the confidence to accelerate the new store design rollout.
Talk about what has worked, and what hasn’t.
We see an opportunity to improve the guest service experience. An example would be the mobile POS in the store, as there is an opportunity to rely less on the large cash wrap structure and to service the guest more quickly through mobile POS, from which we can perform full credit card transactions from any point in the store. We are in a much bigger way embracing mobile POS as we move into the holiday season. We had mobile POS in the new stores last holiday as a pilot, and in many cases we are doubling the amount of hardware to increase the service.
What has been your biggest surprise, as well as your biggest challenge, with the redesign and the rollout?
The biggest surprise has been seeing the amount of time people are spending in our stores. It creates more of a focus on how we deal with traffic flow in the store. That is something we expected to a degree, but the amount of time people are spending in the store has been a little surprising. That’s a good problem to have!
The biggest challenge has been through-put. And that’s where mobile POS comes in. Being able to deliver our vision statement, even when it’s a Saturday in December, is a focus for us. The crowds in the store during the holiday have made us rethink how we can operationally make their shopping experience a positive one.
As you open additional stores, what kinds of sites are you eyeing, and how is RCS Real Estate Advisors (New York City) working with you to find and evaluate those sites?
At the highest level, we want to be where the people are. Our shopping demographic is typically moms and families, but we also do very well in high-tourist locations. Our real estate strategy is to start by looking at the “A” and high-grade “B” malls, and you’ll find that the majority of our locations are indeed mall-based. And, yet, our immensely successful Times Square store in Manhattan and High Street store in San Francisco have shown us that high-tourist locations can be big performers, and so we have those kinds of sites in the major markets. We do a lot of “part-art and part-science” traffic flow, analyzing how the mom will shop, how the mom with the stroller will shop, who the co-tenants are in the center.
We look at other retailers where we think mom is shopping, and those are our desirable co-tenants. We are very specific about store size — 4,500 sq. ft. on average and with about 40 ft. of frontage. That very detailed criteria allow us to be very specific with our landlord partners, as well as allow us to be very selective. I have an internal real estate group and leasing group, and RCS is our representative and our frontline partner with the landlords to ensure we get deals done.
What are the best 30 minutes of your day?
Typically it’s when we get to spend time talking about the guest-facing experience. There’s nothing like seeing an idea spark and then delivering that within our visionary framework to the stores. That is probably the best 30 minutes of our day.