Imagination is the theme of the new flagship Disney Store. Every day, the store has an opening ceremony, inviting one child to ‘Unlock Imagination’ with a special key. Using an Imagination Station, kids can watch Disney films on the big screen downstairs, where there is also an Imagination fragrance and beauty range.
"Most shops get in on time, open the doors and that's it. Here we celebrate the opening every day," says Jonathan Storey, experience director for the Disney Store Europe.
“Only Disney can get away with this kind of thing. It’s all about total immersion in the Disney brand.”
Jonathan has been at the company for 19 years, starting as an assistant manager in Bristol in 1992. His enthusiasm for the brand shows as he introduces every aspect of the store and explains its commercial function.
With 8,200 square-feet of floor space, this store is twice the size of the original Oxford Street location. As you enter, a 28-ft Princess Castle provides the store’s centrepiece.
To the right and left are areas devoted to Disney’s two big movie releases, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and Cars 2. Throughout, the shop is split into dedicated product areas divided by stands shelving lower price-point items like apparel, textiles and the must-have plush Mickey and friends. In these areas, the different installations encourage kids to play and interact with their favourite brands.
The Cars 2 corner of the store is built around a construction play area supplied by the US firm Ridemakerz. It’s a concept reminiscent of Build-A-Bear; kids choose a Cars 2 character chassis (expect Lightning McQueen to be popular), and can customise it with different engines, tyres, vinyl stickers and more.
Guided by trained store assistants, children assemble the toys and fasten the bolts with electronic screwdrivers. Once completed, the toy is packaged in a presentation tool-box, but parents have no obligation to buy. Push-alongs will sell for £37 and the R/C version for £48.
Downstairs, highlights include an interactive Magic Mirror where girls can bring to life Disney Princesses, and the Disney Store Theatre which houses a giant screen for kids to watch and learn how to draw their own Disney-style animations. Sales assistants are trained and work in each specific area every day.
“This is more than just a place to buy Disney products, it’s about an experience. Our goal is to provide the best 30 minutes of a child's day,” says Storey.
Two to three free events will take place every day, organised and run by a dedicated entertainment manager at the store. The shop will also handle birthday parties and other special events.
“We know that the more a child comes into the store, the more chance we have of building loyalty with them,” says Storey.
Of the 105 stores in Europe, this is the tenth to receive the makeover. Jonathan reveals that the results of the European store conversions provided proof that the Oxford Street store, now the biggest in Europe, was worth investing in.
Technology is one area that has received special attention. Jonathan shows ToyNews his key to the Disney Store: an iPod Touch loaded with a custom-made app that allows real-time control of the in-store entertainment via wi-fi.
“If a girl’s favourite character is Tinkerbell, we can say, ‘Did you know that if you clap your hands three times Tinkerbell appears?’”
Sure enough, with a swipe of the touch-screen she appears on a nearby wall, flying out of a puff of fairy dust.
On both floors, trees use ‘matched projectors’ which beam out an image the exact shape of the branches, creating the illusion that there is a moving image inside the plastic tree. The trees' leaves change with the seasons and at the moment they’re blossoming. Intermittently, Pirates of the Caribbean promotions play to match the swashbuckling soundtrack which fills the room.
All of these animations were specially created by the Walt Disney Company in America.
Everything can be personalised to suit a specific child, or to support a Disney movie release. Store takeover events will be a feature of the new location.
With people feeling the pinch of the recession, physical retail has suffered. Instead of cutting its losses, Disney has done the opposite.
The new concept is big, luxurious and elevates customer service and experience – the things that have always made the High Street magic.