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Disney Names Ex-Structure CEO as Head of Struggling Retail Chain

April 18, 2001|MEG JAMES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Walt Disney Co. announced Tuesday that a veteran retail executive and Australian native will take the reins at the listless Disney Store chain, midway through the company's campaign to revamp and shut down more than 100 stores.

Peter D. Whitford, until January, served as president and chief executive of another struggling retail chain, Structure, the once hip men's sportswear division of Limited Inc. He will report to work in Burbank on Monday.

After Structure posted $65 million in losses last year, Limited officials moved to fold the 500-store chain into its successful Express division.

Whitford, 45, with 20 years experience, joins Disney during a similar reshuffling amid a slowing economy that has crimped retail sales.

Whitford's marching orders at Disney will be to quickly roll out a new store design and a new merchandising strategy. Last year, revenue in Disney's consumer-products division, which includes Disney Stores, decreased 6%. The year before, revenue fell 7%.

In an effort to boost its bottom line, Disney last fall announced a four-year plan to close more than 150 stores, mostly in the United States and Canada. The company, which currently has 717 stores, also promised a redesign of 25 of its surviving stores by this summer.

The company introduced a sleek, crisp techno-look at two Disney Stores, in Costa Mesa and Cherry Hill, N.J. But company officials said those designs also might change.

"It's too soon to tell," Sondra Haley, spokeswoman for Disney Stores, said. "We're certainly excited that he's bringing years of retail experience and I'm sure that he will put his fingerprint on the entire operation, from the store design to the merchandising strategy."

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