Steve Jobs and Apple help influence Disney’s upcoming retail plans

Tue, Oct 13, 2009


It’s no secret that Apple’s line of retail stores have been integral part of Apple’s resurgence as tech heavyweight.  Despite an abundance of predictions that Apple’s retail initiative would be a complete and utter disaster, Apple succeeded where many other tech companies had failed by creating a retail environment that didn’t just sell merchandise, but offered customers a fun and friendly place to hang out without the pressure of having to buy something.

Before the first Apple Store opened up for business in 2001, Apple CEO Steve Jobs assembled a team of talented and innovative retail executives to help devise a plan of attack.  Now, in 2009, Steve Jobs is passing on some learned lessons onto Disney, where he’s currently a board member (which came about after Disney purchased Pixar).

The New York Times reports that Disney is relying on the retail expertise Apple and Steve Jobs have gleaned from 8 years in the field, all in the hopes that Disney can revitalize its line of retail stores, which while friendly, tend to be somewhat boring and stale.  All told, Disney is planning an “ambitious floor-to-ceiling reboot of its 340 stores in the United States and Europe”, with the intention of transforming its standard brick and mortar shops into “entertainment hubs” that will have kids dragging their parents to go visit.

Seeking to make these new Disney Stores a destination spot where kids will be able to stay and play for a while, Disney is planning to introduce some significant changes that are somewhere between a cross of an arcade and a carnival.  Karaoke contests, magic mirrors, and large trees that will “crackle with video-projected fireworks and sound” are all part of the plan.  And guiding Disney along through this process is Jobs and Apple’s retail team.

“Dream bigger — that was Steve’s message,” said Andy Mooney, chairman of Disney Consumer Products.

Mr. Jobs provided access to proprietary information about the development and operation of Apple’s highly successful stores, and Disney executives visited Apple’s research operation in Cupertino, Calif. Mr. Jobs, who declined to comment, also insisted that Disney build a prototype store to work out kinks, a costly endeavor that most retailers skip.

Those familiar with the history of Apple’s own retail stores will remember that Apple built its own store prototypes in order to make sure that the look and feel of the stores were just what they intended.

The company followed his advice, working for the last year on a full-scale, fully stocked store inside an unmarked warehouse in Glendale, Calif. The prototype was crucial to shaping an overall philosophy, Mr. Fielding said, noting that he discovered the shops needed more “Pixar-esque winks and nods.” To that end, one sales area is now labeled “WWTD: What Would Tinker Bell Do?”

Apple’s success in the retail industry is certainly an anomaly among tech companies.  Similar stores from companies such as Gateway, Sony, and Nokia have either gone the way of the Dodo or have failed to have any sort of impact in regards to sales and brand recognition.  As opposed to the fate that often befalls other successful retailers, Apple increased its number of retail stores slowly but surely, and has avoided the pitfall of over-expanding too quickly.  Impressively, Apple retail stores generate more revenue per square foot of floor space than any other retailer on the planet.  $4,700 per square foot to be exact.

Not too shabby for an idea that nobody believed would ever have a chance.

And now we’ll just have to wait and see if some of that Apple retail magic can be transferred over to Disney.



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