SM Cover  The Walt Disney Company’s influence has spanned more than nine decades, with offerings ranging from early morning cartoons to full-length animated and live-action films and, of course, the ever-popular Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resort theme parks.

The Disney brand has become so well-recognized, in fact, that it’s easy to lose sight of the company’s humble beginnings. One of Walt Disney’s earliest films, “Alice’s Wonderland, ” which featured a child actress interacting with animated characters, was submitted to a New York cartoon distributor in 1923. At the time, the animator was virtually unknown. When the distributor agreed to a debut a series of “Alice Comedies” at $1, 500 per reel, the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio – now The Walt Disney Company – was born.

Mickey Mouse, who has since become the primary symbol of The Walt Disney Company, was created by Walt Disney in 1928 and first appeared in the animated short “Steamboat Willie”. The first official Disney merchandise agreement emerged in 1929, when Mickey Mouse was licensed for use on a children’s writing tablet. Since then, as we all know, demand for Disney movies and merchandise has skyrocketed throughout the world, prompting the debut of its popular Disney Store retail chain in 1987. The brand’s enormous success has allowed it to build 330 worldwide Disney Store locations, and the company recently established e-commerce operations in nine countries.

COMPANY GROWTH, NEW STORE OPENINGS IN 2014

The first Disney Store opened in Glendale, Calif. in the spring of 1987. The number of stores quickly grew, and within three years, the 50th store had opened in Montclair, Calif. Later that year, the first overseas location opened on Oxford Street in London. Over the next 20 years or so, the company continued to expand and introduced several franchises into the stores, including Disney Junior, which caters to preschool-aged children.

Currently, Disney Store locations can be found in malls and other commercial areas in the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico, the U.K., France, Spain, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Denmark, and Japan.

Disney Store recently celebrated its ninth consecutive quarter of sales growth, in addition to double-digit traffic growth in all of its new store locations around the world. Ahead of the upcoming holiday sales season, Paul Gainer, executive vice president of Disney Retail, says the company believes passionately in the strength of its iconic properties and expects to see the growth trend continue.

“We’re cautiously optimistic about the holiday quarter ahead, ” Gainer says. “We’ve got great strength in our franchises. We’ve seen continued strong demand for our ‘Frozen’ products, and we have a wealth of other franchises that are helping to drive the business. We feel good about our continued growth, both in our stores and our e-commerce business.”

NEW FLAGSHIP STORE LOCATION

In keeping with the theme of new growth, Disney Store has opened more than 100 new and newly-designed locations globally over the past four years, more than 80 of which are in North America. Perhaps most significant, in 2015, Disney Store will open a new flagship store location in Shanghai. The store will be the largest Disney Store in the company’s history — and the largest in the world — situated on a plaza property measuring approximately 53, 000 square feet.

“It’s going to be the world’s largest Disney Store, ” Gainer says. “It will be slightly larger than our Times Square location, which is exciting. And it’s not only a store — there will be an outdoor plaza area to create a larger and broader Disney environment.”

The Shanghai location will also be the very first Disney Store in China, in addition to the only store in the world to include an outdoor plaza complete with Disney-themed landscaping. The store, nestled in Lujiazui, Shanghai’s financial hub, will include the company’s largest collection of Disney products created by both international and local designers.

We’re cautiously optimistic about the holiday quarter ahead. We’ve got great strength in our franchises. We’ve seen continued strong demand for our ‘Frozen’ products, and we have a wealth of other franchises that are helping to drive the business. We feel good about our continued growth, both in our stores and our e-commerce business.”

“The store will be opening in the summer of 2015, in advance of the theme park currently in development, ” Gainer says.

He is referring to the upcoming Shanghai Disney Resort, the first phase of which will include a Magic Kingdom-style theme park, two themed hotels, a retail, dining and entertainment district, a Broadway-style theater, numerous recreational facilities and a lake. At opening, the Shanghai Disney Resort will span 963 acres.

The park will include many brand new features never before seen at a Disneyland park. For example, it will feature Enchanted Storybook Castle, which will be the home for all Disney princesses. The front of the castle will feature an 11-acre forecourt where guests will find attractions like ‘Garden of the Twelve Friends’, which will be themed to the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac, using famous Disney characters.

In June, the company announced that the Shanghai resort will also feature the world’s first production of Disney’s musical event “The Lion King” in Mandarin. The musical will be performed in a world-class 1, 200-seat Broadway- style theater, located in the retail, dining and entertainment area adjacent to the resort’s theme park.

PRIORITIZING CUSTOMER ENGAGEMENT WITH A NEW STORE DESIGN

The Disney Store chain has always been known for creating unique and memorable experiences through its product selection and customer engagement. In 2010, the company debuted a new store design accompanied by a new tagline: “Creating Magical Moments for Guests of All Ages.”

“The new store design is definitely part of the experience, ” says Gainer. “We have a lot of interactive elements that help engage our guests, including a Disney Princess Castle, magical trees and our Disney Store Theater. The store layout is merchandised by character franchise, so we can bring our characters and stories to life through the environments in which are products are presented.”

Customer engagement goes far beyond product design and placement at Disney Store. All of the store’s employees — or “cast members” — go above and beyond to create a memorable experience for every guest who walks through the door. In keeping with the company’s mission to create magical moments, the store’s cast members work to engage and create stories with guests while they are “onstage” in the store.

“Customer experience is what we’re known for, and it’s something we take very seriously, ” says Elissa Margolis, senior vice president of Disney Store North America. “We really do everything through the eyes of our guests, so it’s all about engaging with them from the minute they get into the store. We talk about their favorite characters and stories so we are interacting with them in ways that are meaningful.”

With its recent acquisition of Marvel and Star Wars products, the Disney Store is now proud to offer a product selection catered specifically to fans who grew up with these storied brands, according to Gainer.

“The store experience coupled with our extraordinary cast members and quality product offerings are all ingredients that have led to much of our success over the last several years.”

Additionally, the company works to ensure the majority of its merchandise is exclusive to Disney Store. Approximately 95 percent of products sold at Disney Store are exclusive and are vertically developed. The company also has its own sourcing and product development team that is committed to providing the highest quality products.

INTEGRATING ONLINE DISNEY STORE PLATFORM

The Disney Store first implemented online retail services in 1996. Since then, the company’s online platform has undergone a number of transformations and went through a complete rebranding in 2006. In 2011, a mobile web version of the site was launched in addition to an iPhone and iPad app. The site currently offers virtually every type of Disney merchandise, including DVDs, toys, books, clothing, accessories, collectibles and even home décor.

As the company’s stores and online presence have continued to grow in popularity, Disney Store has worked to integrate its online and brick-and- mortar platforms to deliver a seamless experience for shoppers.

“We’ve introduced a number of different options to make sure there’s a connected experience between in-store and online, ” says Margolis.

“If you’re in a store and we’re out of inventory in that particular location, a cast member can purchase it online within the same transaction and have it shipped, free of charge, directly to the guest’s home. Mobile is a fast-growing piece of our business.”

The company has ensured the quality of this cross-platform mission by partnering with companies like IBM and New Breed Logistics to build a cohesive and synergistic experience for the consumer. Combining the supply-chain management and technological know-how of these partners has helped perfect this strategy.

The company also uses its online presence to increase its product selection and help users stay connected by delivering reviews and ratings using mobile devices.

“We use our online store to extend the assortment, ” Margolis says. “While we carry certain DVDs in our stores, we have the full collection available online. We also have a selection of Disney Parks products available online only from disneystore. com.”

As the company continues to grow, Disney Store representatives and employees remain committed to the company’s overarching mission.

“Our mission, what we stand on, is creating magical moments for guests of all ages, ” Margolis says. “And that’s what we do, day in and day out, whether that’s through events in our stores or through spontaneous experiences. I believe that’s what sets us apart.”

Article Originally Posted on StrategizeMagazine.com (Read Here)