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New look for Disney Stores makes debut in Montebello

The revamped retail outlets will feature interactive elements designed to get families to stay in the store longer and possibly spend more money while they're there.

June 29, 2010|By Dawn C. Chmielewski, Los Angeles Times

Walt Disney Co. plans to unveil a new look for its Disney Stores on Tuesday in Montebello, and this time, instead of pixie dust, the company is relying on a heavy sprinkling of interactive technology.

"We felt that we needed to reinvent Disney retail and create an environment that really gave children the best 30 minutes of their day," said Jim Fielding, president of Disney Stores Worldwide.

That half hour, to be rolled out to Disney Stores worldwide, features a castle with a "magic" mirror in which a princess appears to tell a story whenever a child stands in front of it wearing a crown or holding a wand.

Customers can also use a touch screen to play music videos, movie trailers and other film shorts on a 12-foot screen in a gazebo-like theater enclosure.

Disney could use some retail magic. Analysts said the company needed to energize its chain, which it introduced in 1987 and sold to Children's Place Retail Stores Inc. in 2004 in what was viewed as a face-saving move. Like Warner Bros., Disney had opened too many mall stores and failed to change them often enough to preserve novelty, analysts said.

Disney bought back about 220 of its North American stores in March 2008, leaving more than 100 to close.

This year, the company plans to refurbish more than 20 of its stores in the United States and Europe, with the rest following in the next five to seven years. Other redesigned stores opening this year in the U.S. are in San Diego, Chicago, Dallas and Freehold, N.J.

Howard Davidowitz, chairman of Davidowitz & Associates Inc., a retail consulting firm, said the interactive elements are a lure to increase the time families spend in the store — and hopefully, the amount of money they spend too.

"If you speak to any retailer, they'll tell you there is a direct relationship between sales and how long a customer stays in the store," Davidowitz said.

Although he lauded Disney for its "bold new store design," it remains to be seen whether the company can change the merchandise frequently enough to keep families coming back.

Fielding said the stores will introduce new products weekly. The vast majority of the items will be unique to Disney Stores, he said. Exceptions include music CDs and Disney movie and television DVDs.

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