Q&A with Jim Fielding, President of Disney Stores

Fitting in with this month’s feature story “The Jobsian Era is Upon Us: The Art and Science of Retailing Converge” as well as my co-authored book The New Rules of Retail, we have a great example of art converging with science in the newly converted Disney Stores, where a great shopping experience actually could not happen without the new technologies available.

Furthermore, it could be called a “Jobsian” experience because its concept was given inspiration by none other than Steve Jobs, who was serving as a Disney board member at the time.

However, the vision was created by Jim Fielding, President of Disney Stores. Jim is essentially flipping traditional retailing on its head. And, we were fortunate to engage Jim for a Q&A to learn of his vision and how its implementation is progressing.

First, a quick snapshot of The Disney Store history. Launched in 1987, it shot up to over 600 stores in the 90s. Then the result of consumers’ overdosing on animated-character “stuff” found the chain suffering losses of about $100 million a year by 2002. So, Disney decided to sell the U.S. and Canadian stores to a wholly owned subsidiary of The Children’s Place in 2004 (they kept the stores in Europe, and the Japanese stores were owned by The Oriental Land Company).

In 2008, Disney buys the North American chain back, less some under-performing stores, and enter from stage right, Jim Fielding, appointed President of the returning Disney Stores business. In April of 2010, The Oriental Land Company also sold its 40 plus stores back to Disney.
Currently, Disney has 208 stores in North America, 103 in Europe and 46 in Japan.

The Robin Report - Q&A Jim FieldingQ. …but Jim, in your mind, no way was this to be the return of “same-old, same-old” retailing. Yes, your early career prior to Disney, gave you plenty of traditional retailing skills through management stints at Land’s End, J. Peterman, The Gap and Dayton Hudson. However, now as head of the Disney Stores, you are totally re-booting the stores into mini-theme parks of interactive entertainment. You were also quoted: “The world does not need another place to sell Disney merchandise — this only works if it’s an experience.” So Jim, describe this vision of yours, where it came from, what triggered it and describe the newly re-booted stores: the “best 30 minutes of a child’s day.”

A. When we began thinking about a new store design, and what it means to provide “the best 30 minutes of a child’s day” we wanted to filter everything through that lens. We view the store and experiences from a kid’s point of view. Disney Store designers from North America and Europe came together to create a Disney experience in a retail environment that was unique and special.

Q. So far, what’s the most popular part of the experience?

A. Our guests truly enjoy all aspects of our magical in-store experience. Each part of the newly-designed Disney Store experience caters to the many different guests that come through our stores. The interactive Magic Mirror is a favorite for all the little princesses that come to the Disney Princess Castle area of the store. The Disney Store Theater is popular for guests of all ages because they can hand select Disney content to view, from music videos, to movie trailers, to clips from their favorite Disney Channel shows.

Q. I know you’ve won some awards. What are they?

A. The newly-designed Disney Store award list is growing every year but some notable awards include: Edison Best New Product Awards- Bronze Award for New Retail Frontiers, Chain Store Age 2010 Retail Awards- Best Attraction Retailer, Planet Retail’s Most Innovative Awards for 2010; “Most Innovative Format in the World” and Retail Week Award: Best Retail Design. We also won International Retailer of the Year, Global Retail & Leisure International Awards (RLI), Winner for Best Store Design.

The Robin Report - Disney StoresQ. Tell our readers a little more about the involvement of Steve Jobs and Apple. Were there any specific contributions? I understand he urged you guys to “dream big.”

A. Mostly he gave us inspiration for our new store concept. His encouragement and input were taken into consideration when our team put together the building blocks of our newly-designed stores. The big take-away was building a full-scale working model of the new store, which we built in a warehouse near our headquarters. It gave us time to work through every aspect of the store design, try new technology, and really get a feel of how our guests would experience the store.

Q. I understand some were questioning investing in this kind of major transformation, particularly in the middle of a recession? You were quoted as saying: “It’s time to take risks. When consumers are ready to spend again, we will be ready.” Tell us about the push back.

A. Everyone agreed that the new stores had to be innovative and “game-changing,” but of course major change can be risky, but it was a risk Disney Store was willing to take, to create a uniquely Disney retail experience for our guests. We want our guests to come in and spend time in our store, to create memories with their families, to enjoy a truly Disney environment right at their local shopping center.

Q. Also, describe the test store, what it measured,how long you were in test mode and what finally triggered the go-ahead.

A. We used our mock store for nearly a year as a drawing board to create and test our interactive experiences before we brought them to life at Disney Store locations. We worked on everything from perfecting the position of the Pixie Dust path, to testing different versions of the Magic Mirror, to running different types of Disney content on hi-resolution screens for the Disney Store theater. The mock store is where we could animate our vision and watch as the “best 30 minutes of a child’s day” came together.

Q. How many stores have you converted, what’s the cost and timeline for completing all 263 (is that number correct?) And, are you planning the same changes to the European and Japanese stores?

A. So far we have 55 newly-designed stores open around the world. In total we have about 350 stores across North America, Europe and Japan, and over the next 5 years we will convert all stores into the new design.

Q. Have your revenues noticeably risen in the converted stores? Has traffic increased? And, are consumers spending more time interacting with the entertainment?

A. Guests have embraced our newly-design store concept, and we have seen double digit traffic increases since the new store launch in 2010. We have also noticed increased dwell time as guests enjoy the interactive experiences and rituals at our newly-designed locations.

Q. Is the online store integrated or does it operate under a different “silo?” Is there any attempt to create the in-store experiences online?

A. Disney Store is truly an “omni-channel retailer,” meaning our in-store, online and mobile Disney Store experience is streamlined. We offer guests the same deals, values and specials online as we do in our brick and mortar stores. Our e-commerce business is very strong. We are always finding new ways to make our online guest experience at DisneyStore.com, a more magical experience for guests, just as we do in our brick and mortar locations.

Q. So, with your obvious “right brain” creative vision, what’s going to follow the “best 30 minutes of a child’s day?”

A. “The best 30 minutes of a child’s day” is truly the best 30 minutes of a family’s day because families create memories together every day at Disney Stores across the globe. The Disney Store experience is truly magical, and we believe that we can create memorable, innovative, interactive experiences for guests of all ages.

Robin Lewis About Robin Lewis

Robin Lewis has over forty years of strategic operating and consulting experience in the retail and related consumer products industries. He has held executive positions at DuPont, VF Corporation, Women’s Wear Daily (WWD), and Goldman Sachs, among others, and has consulted for dozens of retail, consumer products and other companies. In addition to his role as CEO and Editorial Director of The Robin Report, he is a professor at the Graduate School of Professional Studies at The Fashion Institute of Technology.