What The Disney Store Taught Me About Retail
Posted on July 24 2015
Few people know this, but I worked at The Disney Store for three years when I was in my early 20s. (I was even awarded Employee of the Month a couple times!)
My primary job (as with almost every Disney Store employee) was to greet and entertain customers of all types, from infant to elderly, and of nearly every culture (or at least every culture visiting the Westlake Center Mall).
We were called "cast members" and our job was to put on a show... a retail show! Every customer was our friend who we were just trying to help, always respecting boundaries, never pressuring, and always happy -- eager, even -- to look for a size or specific item.
My secondary job was to arrange and maintain the meticulous displays in accordance with every Disney principle outlined in their Cast Member binder. The t-shirts must all be folded with the folding board in a way that showed the eyes of the character and the size tape, the figurines must be in perfect rows and all looking in exactly the same direction, and the "plush mountain" (the huge pile of stuffed animals at the back of the store) must be regionally arranged with all heads at the same level within the stack and all eyes pointing forward out of the stack.
I loved my work. I was proud of my work.
Some people would loathe the job, because it was a lot of work. And our uniforms were really ridiculous: khaki shorts with tan nylons? Are you fucking kidding me? Who wears khaki shorts and nylons? (side note: I tried to find a picture of the uniform online and for the life of me can't find one)
But yeah, I really loved it.
And when we started our business, I knew I wanted to have the same level of relationship with our customers as The Disney Store has with their guests. I wanted to be helpful, but never pushy. I wanted to engage in conversations and not just be focused on closing a sale. I wanted to go above and beyond the regular requirements of "customer service," into some bizarre other-world level of attention and care.
It's why I write a personal note on literally every single order. It's why I remember customer names and (try to) remember preferences. It's why I do my best to respond to every email or social media inquiry within 24 hours, no matter if it's a big issue or a small one. I even periodically send "thank you" cards for people who have sent our products as a gift.
This is also part of my personality, but I really focus on it in our business.
And miraculously, our customers are fucking amazing. So doing all this is genuinely a joy, because I'd be friends with most of these people anyways. (more on that in another post)
But what The Disney Store really taught me is how to create and maintain meticulous displays.
Here are some qualities of Disney Store displays that you might not have considered:
- The store displays are created to evoke a feeling of magic, and the whole store is designed to be visually cohesive.
- Every shelf is fully stocked at all times. If an item sells, another identical item miraculously appears in its place.
- The items are arranged identically for their kind. If a row of Sorcerer's Apprentice statues is next to a row of Mickey's 50th Birthday statues, every eye from both rows are pointing in the same direction. In fact, no matter how many types of statue are on a single shelf, they are all looking the same exact direction without even a fraction of a centimeter of deviation.
- The shelves are of variable height and distance apart to create visual interest.
- The prices and sizes are easy to identify.
- (Not so applicable to handmade soap, but...) On a stack of folded shirts, the fold point must fall so the character on the front is looking out from the stack.
- Every hanger is facing the same way and every item of clothing is identical on each hanger.
We have limited resources when we're setting up our displays, both in terms of table space and display objects -- usually, we just arrive with a pile of suitcases and boxes and try to do the best we can. But when we're setting up our displays, we try to adhere to these principles as much as we can.
Here are some photos from our most recent Renegade Craft Fair in SF (photo credit: Sara Wilf, Kiva Zip Program):
Can you see the Disney display principles at work?