Disney Stores undergoing makeover

Newly designed outlets opening in L.A. area, New York

Disney Store inaugurated a newly designed outlet Tuesday at the Shops complex in Montebello, east of Los Angeles. A new store at the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica opens in August as does an outlet in New York's Times Square, replacing the recently shuttered Fifth Avenue venue.

The high-tech makeover aims to solidify the retailer's global leadership in children's retail; the Tuesday shindig essentially kicked off the transformation of the company's 300-plus locations worldwide.

Among the attractions of the redesigned store is the first "Cars"-branded Ridemakerz experience, which allows kids to build 1:18-scale toy custom cars. Disney Store execs, stars from the upcoming Disney Channel movie "Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam" and characters from the "Toy Story" franchise turned out for the festivities in Montebello.

That location is near Disney Store's Pasadena headquarters, allowing execs and the design team to see firsthand how kids and families respond to the shopping destination -- the first of 20 newly designed Disney Store locations that will open in the U.S. and Europe this year.

"Disney is setting a new standard for the specialty retail category by integrating robust technology and creative store planning to make each visit customizable," said Jim Fielding, president of Disney Stores Worldwide.

Asked about the effect of the recession on Disney stores, Fielding said the company had indeed "sharpened its tool kit" but generally had "weathered things well."

He pointed in particular to the robust sales for "Toy Story 3" paraphernalia.

For the most recent fiscal year ended Oct. 3, Disney Consumer Products revenue was flat, and profit was down 22%. The report cited the recession and the "adverse impact" of owning Disney Stores North America in the latest fiscal year. In the prior year, Disney had owned the stores for only five months after buying them back from Children's Place.

All Disney stores will be redesigned or relocated during the next five years, Fielding said.

The Ridemakerz attraction features "Cars" characters Lightning McQueen, Mater and Sally as kids use tools to assemble the vehicle, customizing it with rims, side pipes, hood scoops, blown engines and the like.

Other revamped stores will open soon in San Diego, Chicago and Dallas. There are 200 Disney Stores in North America, 40 in Japan and 100 across Europe.