Disney regains control of The Disney Stores today

The Disney Store - Forum ShopsThe failed experiment that was The Children’s Place attempt to run The Disney Stores is now officially over. Disney takes back operations today after The Children’s Place had to file for bankruptcy in the subsidiaries that ran The Disney Stores.

In 2000, there were 741 Disney Stores worldwide with 515 of those being in North America. When The Children’s Place took over the North America stores in 2004 there were 315 in the US and Canada. Now Disney will still be closing 98 of the remaining 220 US and Canada stores as part of the re-organization. So that’s leaving a very slim 115 or so US and Canada stores upon which to rebuild the brand.

When Disney first decided to “sell” (they actually licensed the store concept and brand) The Disney Stores, there was a general feeling among fans and analysts that Disney had forgotten how to run a retail store chain. That was certainly true, but in hind-sight weakening economic trends may have played a larger role than initially thought. I have faith that Disney Consumer Products has it in them to build back the brand into a something like what it was like a the peak of its performance, if not better.

James D. Fielding, who was executive vice president for global retail sales and marketing at Disney Consumer Products, now takes over the role of President for The Disney Stores Worldwide. He will oversee the North American and Europe stores and work with the Japan based stores that are owned by OLC.

It’s my hope that Fielding will bring back some direction and some “Disney Magic” to The Disney Stores. Return to what worked. Highly themed stores are a must since that sets the stores apart from others in the mall. A decent collectibles area (with store exclusives), some nice watches, plenty of children’s clothes and toys for kids of all ages, and good promotions tied in with movies and theme parks. Some people would add Disney Pins to that, but I think that trend is on the way out.

You may also remember that The Disney Catalog was a casualty of this failed experiment. They definitely need to bring that back (perhaps combined with some new form for The Disney Magazine).

I would also like to see the return of The Disney Gallery concept (perhaps mixed with the new high end clothing and furniture lines). Las Vegas, Anaheim, Orlando, New York City and Chicago are the obvious places to bring those to immediately. The Disney Gallery is an important destination store for The Disney Fan. Even if they don’t have a Disney Store in their community, they’ll go out of their way to find and visit the nearest Disney Gallery.

Keep in mind that while profitability is important, The Disney Stores serve as a ‘brand outpost’ for Disney’s other business ventures. Therefore it’s important that ‘show’ trumps the bottom line. It may cost you a percentage point this year, but it will pay off in the long run with a stronger brand and a stronger Walt Disney Company in total.

But most of all, Fielding needs to bring back the high level of training The Disney Store cast members used to receive. Hire CMs who are already knowledgeable about Disney, have the Disney attitude, are ready to make the magic happen, and willing to go the extra mile to do so. Bring back the perks (Free park passes, trivia contests, etc.) of being a Disney Store CM too. Then train and retrain until The Disney Stores feel like you’ve just walked onto Main Street at Disneyland.

When it comes down to it, The Disney Stores are an extension of Disneyland’s Main Street. Which itself is an extension of America’s unique urban history and Walt Disney’s own childhood. Every The Disney Store Cast Member and Manager needs to remember there is an invisible line connecting them back to Walt Disney’s first job selling Newspapers on the train, which led to a passion for trains, which led to Disneyland, which led to The Disney Stores and their chance to make the magic for the next guest who crosses that threshold. Keep that in mind and the store sells itself.

(image of now closed Caesar’s Palace Forum Shops The Disney Store courtesy of palmsrick via Flickr Creative Commons license)