Disney to Rebuild Retail Stores with Guidance from Steve Jobs

The Walt Disney Company is reimagineering its fleet of retail stores with help, in part, from Apple CEO and Disney board member Steve Jobs. The New York Times reported that it took a lot of debate between Disney board members, but that in the end they accepted Mr. Jobs' challenge to "Dream bigger."

The stores will not, however, be clones of Apple's retail stores, which were built in part in the image of The Gap's fleet of retail locations. Instead, Disney has developed a concept that turns its retail stores into interactive destinations with such features as "magic mirrors" that show images based on the RFID tag of a product a child might be holding (for example, an image of Cinderella might appear if a child was holding a "Princess" tiara.

Disney will also be adding theater space to its stores where children can which film clips they want to see, or participate in karaoke contests. Employees will also use a mobile checkout system similar to the way Apple Stores currently handle checkout. iPhones will be used to control screens where parents can book Disney cruises while their kids are busy in other parts of the store.

The company even went so far as to build a prototype store a year ago for testing out new concepts and ideas. This is exactly what Steve Jobs had Apple do when it began developing its own retail concepts. The company still uses its test store for trying out window dressing, new layouts, etc.

Some non-Apple concepts include using scent to set the mood in the store. For instance, if A Christmas Carol was playing in the theater, Disney could choose to make the whole store smell like a Christmas tree.

Steve Jobs joined Disney's board after the Mouse bought his animation company, Pixar. This retail initiative marks the most profound influence he has had on Disney, of whom he one of the largest shareholders.

For instance, Jim Fielding, president of Disney Stores Worldwide, told the Times, "It's time to take risks. When consumers are ready to spend again, we will be ready."

This mirrors comments from Steve Jobs and Tim Cook about how Apple was well positioned to make changes that would allow it to be ready when consumers were ready to buy its products.

Mr. Fielding also said, "The world does not need another place to sell Disney merchandise -- this only works if it's an experience," which long-term Apple observers could be excused for thinking was a quote from Steve Jobs, not a Disney executive.

Be that as it may, the article said that Mr. Jobs provided proprietary information of Apple's regarding the development and management of its retail stores, which boast the highest sales-per-square-foot of any retail chain in the business (US$4,700 per square foot, almost five times Best Buy's $1,000 per square foot).

Which could be why Disney is planning on spending $1 million per store in its refurbishment efforts.