Disneyland Paris has revealed it is developing a must-have product to drive interest in a new land themed to Marvel Comics characters which is part of a $2.3 billion expansion at the French resort.
The doors to the shops in the Marvel land aren’t expected to swing open until 2021 but Disney says its designers are already hard at work on the products which will fill their shelves as they take more than the wave of a wand to develop.
Despite having a mouse for a mascot, there is nothing miniature about Disneyland Paris. At the heart of the complex on the outskirts of Paris are two parks – its eponymous flagship and the movie-themed Walt Disney Studios. The former covers half a million square meters whilst the latter is around half that size. It doesn’t stop there. There are also six Disney hotels, two Disney nature resorts, 55 restaurants, two convention centers, a 27-hole golf course and a 44,000-square-meter shopping and dining district.
Until recently the resort wasn’t wholly owned by Disney as it was listed on the Paris Euronext exchange. That all changed in 2017 when Disney took full control of its Paris outpost in a $2.30 (€2) a share offer which we first forecast in Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper in 2012.
Despite being owned by an American media giant, Disneyland Paris has a magic touch on Europe. According to data from Disneyland Paris, in 2016 490 of its 3,000 suppliers came from countries within Europe excluding France.
More come from Britain than any other country as it is home to 135 suppliers followed by 77 from Belgium, 63 from the Netherlands and 58 from Germany. As we reported in The Daily Telegraph, British suppliers received almost 30% of the $88.3 million (€77.5 million) that Disneyland Paris spent on imports in 2016 alone.
Since Disneyland Paris made its début in 1992, 17.7% of its $15.6 billion (€13.7 billion) in purchases have been imports into France giving a total of $2.8 billion. It includes Disney’s ubiquitous mouse ears and a huge range of clothing featuring Mickey’s famous silhouette. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t all come from the United States.
“We have 63 shops on-site and people don’t always realise that they sell things which are made in Europe,” says Hélène Chaupin, senior manager of product development for Disneyland Paris. “We stock more than 10,000 items and 25% of them come from the US. The other 75% is designed here in Europe.
“We have factories all over the world but a lot of them are in Europe. For example, the Disneyland Paris Star Wars tee shirts are designed here and sent to Portugal for production.” Chaupin says that Disneyland Paris has a team of 15 designers who create everything from homeware and books to clothes which are produced all over the world. It takes a lot more than just doodling in a sketchbook.
In January Disneyland Paris sent five staff to ‘Who’s Next’, France’s leading fashion trade show and Chaupin says that “they come back with information about trends. We know what the theme is for the upcoming season so we have the trends and we have our characters. The artistes put them together and create different proposals.
“We look at them and decide which ones are strong and which are not. Then we have a meeting called ‘concept review’ where we have 25 people around the table and we say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. When we say ‘yes’ we have people from sourcing who go to find a producer.” Getting approved by Disney is no mean feat.
According to Disneyland Paris company documents, “to ensure the quality and traceability of merchandise items sold on the Site, the following three controls have been put in place: A preliminary evaluation of the level of quality of new suppliers based on their answers to a questionnaire; An initial quality testing established before any delivery to ensure the compliance with the product’s specifications; A recurrent quality control performed every year or every two years.”
In addition, the documents state that “all third parties involved in the manufacture of Disney products (design, printing, production, finishing and packaging) must comply with the Code of Conduct for Manufacturers or any other work standard previously approved by the Group. The principles of the Code of Conduct for Disney product manufacturers are in line with the conventions of the International Labor Organization.”
Chaupin says that generally “we produce in different countries in Europe and in the rest of the world, which gives the best price and quality. We want a quality product with thickness and value. Then production begins, the products are delivered and we put them into the shops.” It isn’t the work of a moment.
“We start a year before the season begins, sometimes 18 months depending on the product,” says Chaupin. “We finished our Christmas season for 2019 yesterday.” Development of the products which will go on sale in the Marvel land will take even longer due to the scale of the venture.
The expansion will see one wing of the Studios park converted into attractions based on super heroes such as Spider-Man and Iron Man. It is part of a $2.3 billion expansion of the park which we first forecast in Britain’s Daily Express newspaper in November 2017. The development was formally announced by Disney’s chief executive Bob Iger in February last year and will also involve the creation of new lands themed to Star Wars and hit animated movie Frozen.
Development of the products on sale in the theme parks is overseen by the Imagineers, the wizards who create Disney’s cutting edge rides and attractions. There is good reason for this.
Ever the masters of marketing, Disney doesn’t just rely on the media to promote its theme parks, it also has a helping hand from products which can only be bought there and are so innovative that word spreads about them virally. Disney calls them ‘hero products’ due to the spell they cast and one of its latest has been its most successful.
In 2017 Disney World in Orlando, Florida, launched a new land themed to the sci-fi film Avatar. Thanks to some technical wizardry, it features replicas of the huge floating mountains from the movie and is filled with flowers and pathways which glow in the dark. Then come the products.
The land’s main shop was initially the only location worldwide where guests could buy remote-controlled models of the dragon-like banshees from Avatar. The colorful puppets perch on your shoulder and move when buttons are pressed on a controller. They soon sold out and became social media stars due to their rarity, cuteness and clever design. Something with similar punching power could be heading to Paris.
When asked whether product development is under-way for the Marvel land Chaupin reveals that “at the moment we are working with the Imagineers on the new set-up of the shops and what are going to be the ‘hero-products’. You know what a ‘hero product’ is? A ‘hero-product’ is the one that is going to be iconic. For example, if you go to the US in Avatar land you have the banshee. It’s a hero-product. So what is going to be the hero-product here in the next few years?”
Ingenious merchandise doesn’t just promote the land, it drives guests back to it too. As the items are largely unique to the park, they bring back memories of being there. “They are souvenirs which bring back the emotion you had in the park,” says Chaupin. “They are unique products which you won’t find elsewhere and our shops are completely immersed in the story.”
Cleverly, some of the shops are located at the exit of the attractions so that Guests are funneled through to continue the story told on the ride. Disneyland Paris takes this a step further as its shops are some of the most detailed of any theme park worldwide.
La Girafe Curieuse looks like a safari hut and is even home to a life-size giraffe head which slowly nods through a hole in the ceiling. Merlin l’Enchanteur has vaulted stone ceilings and shelves adorned with fake chemistry sets so that it looks like Merlin’s laboratory. There’s even a candy shop called La Confiserie des Trois Fées which is set in a cottage and uses a high-tech projection system to make it seem like the fairy godmothers from Sleeping Beauty are floating above the fireplace.
Star Wars is so popular that it has its own shop which is set in a mock fight terminal complete with a space ship sticking out the ceiling as if it is about to launch upwards. No detail has been overlooked as its thrusters are even glowing to suggest that launch is imminent.
“For Star Wars I think we have at least 400 products,” says Chaupin. “You have toys, you have plush, you have mugs, you have tee shirts. We have a range for families of course. We also have a range for fans because Star Wars is a franchise where people are very much dedicated to it. So we also have some specific ranges like figurines and imported limited edition art.” Perhaps surprisingly, products which are in vogue aren’t always the most popular.
“Sometimes when we design things we think they are a little bit too much like souvenirs but they are the ones that work well,” says Chaupin. “When we want to be too trendy and too fashionable sometimes it might not reach our public but when we do something engaging with a souvenir we hit the spot.”
Outside France, Disney has parks in the US, China, Hong Kong and Japan and every year their retail directors meet for a global summit which reveals surprising differences in buying habits. “We address ourselves here to Europe. So we also have to address ourselves to the UK, Germany, Italy, Spain. We have different behaviour in terms of consumption than the US or the Asian market,” says Chaupin.
“People from Europe maybe don’t always want to wear marketing messages so we have a different way of approaching them. We also believe there are new categories like women who want to wear Star Wars so we have made a glitter tee shirt in a Star Wars range for women and, believe me, that works.”
If you think that all Disney characters are universally popular then think again. Chaupin also reveals that certain characters are more popular in different parts of the world. In Paris guest favorites include soft toys of animated alien Stitch and his female counterpart Angel. Likewise, in Asia, one of the favorites is Duffy, a teddy bear with Mickey Mouse’s famous silhouette stamped on its face. Chaupin says they don’t mean as much in other parts of the world.
“A top-seller here in plush is Stitch and Angel. In the US Stitch is doing well but not Angel. Here, Angel is really working for us. I don’t know why because she is pink and soft. In Asia Duffy is everywhere. If you put Duffy out in Asia they go crazy. For us, Duffy doesn’t tell any story to our European guests.”
Nevertheless, the popularity of some items transcends borders including, of course, the seemingly never-ending range of mouse ears. “Vintage Mickey is always a good hit for us because it is a good mix of the storyline and Mickey means something different to different age groups.” Chaupin adds that Disneyland Paris alone sells around 750,000 pairs of mouse ears annually as well as more than two million key chains and other more unexpected items.
“We have two shops dedicated to Christmas in this park and when do you think we sell the most ornaments? In July. You know why? It’s because it’s a souvenir. When I put that on my Christmas tree I will remember the time I spent with my family here.”
Even the staff at Disneyland Paris share in the glow as company documents reveal that “each month employees can purchase merchandise that no longer conforms to the Group’s quality standards (furniture, linen, decorations, soft toys and other Disney goods).” That really is happy ending.