Mickey Mouse is not your typical New Yorker. Friendly, sunny, helpful, optimistic, always smiling. Imagine Mickey pushing his way onto the subway? Or yelling at a coffee shop waitress? Or crossing against the light? Forgetaboutit!
Well, Mickey and his Disney colleagues have a new home in the Big Apple. And the Disney intention was to make the new store cry out with a New York state of mind. It has hipness, fashion and trendiness built into its very fabric. But it hasn't sacrificed its laser-like focus on its constituent market - young girls who adore Cinderella. And their parents, who grew up with the belief that "a dream is a wish your heart makes."
The store, on Fifth Avenue between 55th and 56th streets, first opened in 1996, at a time when Disney had a retailing empire of some 800 stores around the world. It was officially called The World of Disney Store, but some company insiders referred to it as Mickey's Townhouse. Always, the Manhattan tie-in.
At three floors and 24,000 square feet, it was a large and valuable piece of retail real estate. And so, as Disney began to break up that empire and sell off nearly all its retail - except that located in its theme parks - this store was set aside, regarded as too valuable to the brand to lose. And the renovation project was completed in October under very tight deadlines, headed by Tony Mancini, senior vp, global retail store development. The store is operated by the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts merchandise team, under the leadership of Liz Boice, senior vp, merchandise.
"We wanted to create an experience and environment that was fresh," says Mancini, "one that took Disney to another level." In New York, says Mancini, that meant a hipper, more contemporary statement, "a point of view that supports New York."
"The World of Disney is a retail vehicle used as a mechanism to drive brand awareness," says Boice.
And so the front right side of the store is a permanent celebration of New York, including merchandise - notecards, stemware, etc. - with logos reflecting both Disney and New York. Black and white photos of the city are hung around the area, and there's a "heroes program" dedicated to the New York fire and police departments. There's also an array of Disney logo merchandise - scarves, skirts, accessories, jackets, T-shirts and $300 cashmere sweaters - presented on edgy mannequins. Mancini says that 30 percent of the product in this store - including a new line of products - can't be bought anywhere else, in any Disney store.
It's Disney, of course, so the store is a celebration both of the brand's current projects and its venerated history (Mickey, Donald, Aladdin, Belle). The center space on the first floor is a revolving promotional area, devoted to upcoming events. In October, when the store opened, plasma screens and graphics hyped Disney's about-to-be-released animated movie, "The Incredibles." In December, it changed to a holiday theme. And after the first of the year, it will begin promoting "JoJo's Circus," the new Disney Channel TV show for preschoolers.
The area will be changed out six times a year, and the Fifth Avenue windows will always support Disney's global marketing strategy. "The New York market is important to Disney," says Leslie Ferraro, vp, global marketing. "It will serve all our customers, including people who go to Disneyland and want a piece of it in their own backyard."
This being Disney, there are also the larger-than-life fabricated characters throughout the store. On the first floor alone are photo opps with 3-D sculptures of Goofy, Cinderella and Cruella and one of her 101 Dalmations.
The interactive fixturing program is an advanced version of the customized, create-your-own Mr. Potato Head fixture the company introduced in its Once Upon a Toy Store partnership with Hasbro in Disney World. The Goofy Candy Co., an entirely new venue that occupies the left front of the New York store, has bulk candy in gravity-fed bins in a fill-your-own-bag display centered around an 8-foot Goofy. And there's a new Potato Head display with additional pieces specific to New York.
"We took a whole new look at our fixture program," says Mancini. "Because of the array of merchandise in this store, we wanted layered fixtures with great versatility, so we could hang, fold or peg both hard lines and soft. We also wanted to maximize the iconic touches - like the three-circle Mickey head - and to create some magic, like the pixie dust finishes and airbrushed surfaces."
Disney also upgraded the use of display technology in the store. While the retailer has always used animation and sound as part of its in-store experience, with this store it has added levels of sophistication, as with plasma screens on interior columns that play film trailers; colorful, large-format graphics throughout the three floors; and its newest innovation, "whisper glass" technology that plays sound out onto the street for passersby. However, this is not a blaring, hear-all-about-it sound system; it's managed so that the closer one gets to the window, the clearer the sound. And it promotes the centerpiece of this store, the Princess Experience.
"We turned the entire rear of the third floor into Cinderella's Princess Court," Mancini explains, "so that young girls can be part of the 60-minute Cinderella experience every day."
"Every little girl can now become a special member of Cinderella's Princess Court," says Rich Taylor, vp, entertainment, Walt Disney World Resort. "This interactive experience brings a taste of the Disney theme park magic to the heart of New York City."
Reservations are required for this, and one of the whisper-glass windows on 55th Street is an exact re-creation of the Cinderella stage.
Mancini credits the depth of talent in the Disney organization for making the project a success. "We included every area of the company to bring the story together," he says. "We're proud of everyone involved."
As Manhattan Mickey might say, "Check it out!"
The Goofy Candy Co., a new venue for Disney, occupies one corner of the store's main floor. Designers created gravity-fed bins for the bulk candy in the interactive, fill-your-own-bags displays.
Client: Walt Disney Imagineering/Walt Disney Parks & Resorts, Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Tony Mancini, senior vp, global retail store development
Johnnie Rush, director, creative development, Walt Disney Imagineering
Tim Johnson, director, project management, Walt Disney Imagineering
Mike Montague, senior project manager, Walt Disney Imagineering
Todd Taylor, manager, store planning, Walt Disney Imagineering
Mark Breller, manager, global program portfolio manager
Tom Sheldon, manager, global retail store development production
Design: Elkus/Manfredi, Boston
Dave Manfredi, principal
Outside Design Consultant: Dennis Mitchel, New York (ADS mechanical)
General Contractor: Turner Interiors, New York
Fixtures: Best Wave, Scottsdale, Ariz.
Jasco Industries Inc./MG Concepts, Central Islip, N.Y.
Westco Fixtures, New York
Hardware: Reeve Store Equipment Co., Pico Rivera, Calif.
Mannequins: Patina-V, City of Industry, Calif.
Pucci Intl. Ltd., New York
Greneker Solutions, Los Angeles
Media Area Software Development: Best Wave, Scottsdale, Ariz.
Sculpts: GRSDP, Orlando
Shelving: Vira Mfg., Perth Amboy, N.J.
Specialty bulk candy units: Trade Fixtures/New Leaf Designs, Little Rock, Ark.
Visual Presentation: Ace Designs, Bristol, Pa.
Chippenhook, Lewisville, Texas
Christine Taylor Collection, The, Doylestown, Pa.
Creative Arts Unlimited Inc., Pinellas Park, Fla.
Designer Plastics Inc., Clearwater, Fla.
Holiday Foliage Inc., San Diego, Calif.
Southern Exhibit, Orlando
Sun Works Plastics Inc., Clearwater, Fla.
, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Visual Design and Sources, Valrico, Fla.
Window Displays: ALU, New York
Craetive Arts Unlimited, Pinellas Park, Fla.
Photography: Richard Cadan, Richard Cadan Photography, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Vira Mfg. ALUReeve Store Equipment Co. Chippenhook Creative Arts Unlimited Inc.Trim Display LLC (TRIMCO) Holiday Foliage Inc. Christine Taylor Collection, TheSun Works Plastics Inc.Patina-V Greneker Solutions