New Souvenirs drive sales for Disney and Universal in Orlando

The job of a theme park merchandise team is more difficult than it sounds. They’re usually forecasting 30-36 months out what will be the most popular doo-dad or collectible based on a product for which they’ve only seen some of the earliest concept art. And yet, at Disney in particular, they still manage to bat around .500 with more successes than failures on average.

My wife recently spotted this plush Mickey Mouse in Germany that is both a success and a failure. It’s themed to one of the park’s attractions, in this case a country pavilion, but it suffers from an unfortunate design element. As you’ll see in the close-up shot here, the design element is a Hidden Mickey placed in a location where it has an unfortunate double-entendre.

I just thought that was funny. But two recent stories in the Orlando Sentinel show the seriousness of merchandise sales for the bottom line of the local theme parks. This story states how souvenir sales at Universal Studios Orlando have doubled since the Wizarding World of Harry Potter land opened. That’s not all, Food and Drink and Admission revenue have risen by more than 50% for the resort. Admittedly, Universal was starting from a low baseling, having recently been passed by SeaWorld in terms of Orlando’s most popular park, but that sort of growth is phenomenal. All it took was a new land based on a property with world wide popularity.

Disney World’s latest effort to increase souvenir sales has taken a different tact. They’re counting on importing a collectible fad from overseas. Duffy the Disney Bear is one of the rare Disney characters fully created by theme park merchandising (Figment was created by Imagineering for an attraction, but remains theme park exclusive). I hope that Duffy is able to give Disney an incremental lift in sales, but at most, I think it’s a base hit, not a home run.

If you ask me, I think Disney has been cannibalizing their own merchandise sales during this slow economy by inappropriately raising the price of dining (particularly sit down dining) and basic admission to the point where families of 4 or more have to decide what areas they’re cutting back on. It’s not easy to cut back on eating in the parks (although it can be done). While it is easy to pick up some postcards and a t-shirt at a discount store (like Wal-Mart or the outlet mall).

What do you think Disney World needs to do in terms of merchandise? Is Duffy the Disney Bear a step in the right direction or just more of the same (pins and vinylmation)?

13 thoughts on “New Souvenirs drive sales for Disney and Universal in Orlando”

  1. It seems that Disney is trying to make an obscure character a big deal simply to increase the sales of Duffy dolls in the U.S. Fine, great, more power to them, but I don’t know if it is going to work. I dislike the fact that Disney is trying to force this bear down my throat, why not give me something I want. Lets say Phineas and Ferb.

    Phineas and Ferb are a favorite in my house. My three year old would wait in line for hours to meet them and Perry. He would also beg me to buy and buy and buy Phineas and Ferb toys. Why couldn’t they bring them to Epcot… Would anyone argue that they would not be a great addition to Innoventions. Or what is Disney doing with the old Wonders of Life pavilion… Maybe a few Phineas and Ferb inspired rides.

  2. I understand that theme parks are a business, and it makes sense to have as many revenue streams as you can. But this myopic focus on merchandise reminds me of the superhero movies of the ’90s (especially the Joel Schumacher Batman films), where toy sales drove the creative process. The result was some godawful films that basically killed the genre until it was revived in the ’00s by directors who cared about making good movies first and foremost. The tail is wagging the dog here, and I fear for the quality of the parks.

  3. Wow, we must all be on the same page with Duffy (who?) the Disney Bear (what the heck IS that?) vs. Phineas and Ferb (known from the Disney Channel.) Disney has a plethora of characters already from their various movies, TV shows, etc. – who needs to create a new one with no ties to anything beyond a gift shop?

    I remember searching for Phineas & Ferb stuff two years ago and it was non-existant. Finally I found one trading pin. Now at least there are some t-shirts and a few CDs and at least one DVD. I was thrilled last night at the Osborne light show at Studios when Phineas & Ferb… I’ve said too much. Go see it. :)

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  6. I have worked in the consumer products industry and know how this goes down.

    Sorry to say but what usually happens is an older more “experience” manager travels to china to visit the factories and their wears/goods. He usually determines what’s hot on impulse, well there’s some ROI profit mathematics up in there and how many cents it costs for said item and what Disney can mark it up at….but when that man is 45 years old and so far removed for the guest/consumer the products usually never sell.

    There is no real product development for theme park merchandise simply buy from china and or other vendors (well…I take that back. Wearable items such as t-shirts, jackets, and other soft goods, disney does have designers do that). They then slap some Disney Consumer Products/Disney Theme Park artwork from resource cafe on the product, test the product at bureau veritas and then ship it.

    That’s it! They may cast “trend” analysis but its more profit analysis and that’s what determines what’s hot! Unfortunately Duffy will not be the next vinylmation….

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  8. It seems that WDW merchandise these days is all homogenized. The same stuff I can buy in Adventure, I can buy at my hotel gift shop or MGM Studios. I wish Disney offered more unique merchandise opportunities like they did in the olden days. A popular character’s face doesn’t need to be plastered on an item for me to buy it.

  9. I think they have forgotten their adult fans. I once would open the Disney catalog or webpage and I have a long list of items I wished for. Now, it’s more rare for me to find one that I adore. i appreciate their desire to appeal to teens and it is completely natural to appeal to children, but I miss the oxford blouses for women and the classy household items (like the beautiful potpourri bowl with mickeys that is currently in my living room). Most new items appear cheap.

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