Disney Brings Its ‘World’ To Retail

The New York Times: “Quietly, like a mouse on tiptoe, Disney overhauled its retail store at the Northridge Fashion Center mall in late July. Out went the twisty Pixie Path aisles, the ornate displays, the green walls and the color-changing fiberglass trees. In came a movie-theater-size screen, a simplified floor plan, white walls and more items for fashion-conscious adults … the Disney Store here was a prototype, and the company has been monitoring sales and consumer feedback as it prepares to revamp its 340-store chain.”

“The redesign makes Disney’s stores a bit more like Disney’s theme parks. For instance, daily parades at Disneyland in California and Walt Disney World in Florida will be streamed live to those colossal video screens. During the parades, store personnel will put out mats for shoppers to sit on and roll out souvenir carts stocked with cotton candy and light-up Mickey Mouse ears. The screens could easily be used to stream other events, such as red carpet arrivals for Disney movie premieres. That kind of programming could bolster foot traffic, and thus sales — while also turning the stores into a more potent promotional platform for Disney’s films, television shows and theme parks.”

“As it attempts a new mall strategy, Disney is also remaking its e-commerce operation. ShopDisney.com is replacing DisneyStore.com. The new site will have a less cluttered look and a vastly expanded assortment of designer merchandise aimed at adults (Mickey-themed Ethan Allen furniture and a $350 Siwy denim jacket with Minnie embellishments will be on offer). The site will also stock more items that previously were available only in stores inside Disney theme parks.”

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Public Hotel: Ian Shraeger’s Airbnb Killer?

The Wall Street Journal: “Stroll into Public, a full-service, 367-room hotel that opened this summer on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and it quickly becomes apparent that certain features are nowhere to be found … Guests check in via a series of self-service tablets along a wall, where they can find their reservations, create their own room keys and proceed up an elevator to their rooms. If questions arise, they’re answered by a handful of roving, jack-of-all-trades staffers known as ‘Public advisors’.”

“These cost-cutting efficiencies are all part of an attempt by Ian Schrager, the veteran hotelier and night life impresario who owns Public, to fight back against Airbnb Inc. on behalf of the hotel industry, which he believes hasn’t properly assessed the challenge posed by the tech upstart … he aims to better compete with Airbnb on nightly rates and offer superior amenities such as bars and other places to socialize … Mr. Schrager’s new concept fuses a sprawling bar and restaurant operation onto the property, deriving revenue and profits from amenities that are meant to attract a much larger crowd than just the hotel’s guests.”

“Bjorn Hanson, a clinical professor at New York University’s hospitality program, said Mr. Schrager’s concept flips the traditional role of food and beverage in hotels. Rather than being a less-profitable service that a hotel must provide as an amenity to guests, Public’s food-and-beverage offerings are meant to be a centerpiece that can ultimately drive more room occupancy, he said … The hotel’s rates officially start at $150 and increase during high-demand times, such as fashion week. In early August, rates started at $250, with some last-minute online rates as low as $180—well below the rates of upscale, full-service Manhattan hotels, which typically range higher than $500.”

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As The Bombardier Bombs, So Bombs The Bombardier

The Wall Street Journal: “Four years after its maiden flight, only two small European airlines fly the Bombardier C Series of 100- and 145-passenger planes. Delta will begin flying the plane next year. While there are many reasons for the slow sales, the lack of interest highlights the low priority airlines and passengers place on comfort.”

“The two airlines currently flying the C Series—Swiss and Air Baltic—say most coach passengers won’t pay higher fares for comfy cabins. For a small fare difference, they’ll still pick less-comfortable airplanes. Airlines say cost is the No. 1 factor when evaluating new airplanes.”

Martin Gauss, chief executive of Air Baltic, comments: “Passengers get into anything that flies if the ticket is cheap.”

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Uniqlo Tries Airport Vending Machines

Quartz: “Heattech tops and UltraLight down jackets are two of Uniqlo’s big sellers, items that represent the brand’s style of simple but highly functional clothes. And now they’ll be sold in one of retail’s simplest and most functional of venues: vending machines … The machines will have a variety of colors and styles for women and men, changing with the seasons and local customer needs, and dispensed upon purchase in small boxes or canisters. The airport locations are especially fitting for the brand’s signature thermals and jackets, which are designed to be thin but warm and easily packable.”

“Uniqlo’s vending machines … are more of an experiment, offering a cheap, efficient way to introduce the brand and its down jackets ($69.90 in the vending machines) and Heattech tops ($14.90) to a new audience … They can also give Uniqlo insight on US consumers, which Uniqlo has been trying to reach—not always successfully—for years. In urban centers such as New York, the brand has found a firm foothold, but it has struggled to get traction in suburban malls.”

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Technology Cannot Hug a Customer

The New York Times: “Technology, some hotels are finding, has its limits. ‘Technology cannot hug a repeat guest,’ said George Aquino, the vice president and managing director of AHC+Hospitality … That is the reason his company, which manages several hotels, has been running a training program for some of its managers and other staff members to improve their hospitality skills, connect with local business leaders and learn more about local tourist offerings.”

“Similar programs are sprouting in other cities, involving not just hotels but also restaurants and even cities themselves, which see the personal touch as giving them a competitive edge. For business travelers, in particular, talking to someone knowledgeable about a city can lead to a good restaurant. And it can also help expand business leads.”

“A consulting program based in Tucson, Certified Tourism Ambassadors, trains hospitality workers. Mickey Schaefer, the chief executive and founder, said she had developed the idea in 2006 while working for the American Academy of Family Physicians to plan its conventions. Hospitality workers sometimes did not know their own cities, leading to bad experiences, she said … The program, she said, ‘is more than just helping the customer. It is helping them find the richness of whatever they are interested in.’ She added that the program also instills civic pride.”

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Uniform Identity: Airline Apparel & Brand Experience

The New York Times: “Long ago, airline uniforms reflected the glamour of flight. Now, they have to serve more utilitarian needs. Do they reflect the airline’s image? Will they look good on most everyone? And, perhaps most important, are they comfortable? … For American Airlines, which introduced new uniforms in September, the different look was an important step in conveying a unified brand image since its merger with US Airways in 2013.” Brady Barnes of American comments: “There was a visual difference in what people were wearing, and I think, inherently, that kind of creates a barrier.”

“Most of the uniform overhauls include clothes not only for flight attendants and gate agents — ‘above the wing’ jobs — but for the luggage handlers, mechanics and other workers who make up an airline’s ‘below the wing’ work force … Shashank Nigam, chief executive of the consulting firm SimpliFlying, said uniforms were a crucial part of an airline’s brand, especially with the decline in the number of in-person encounters a traveler experiences.” He comments: “Today more than ever, the uniform is the most important symbol of an airline that a passenger interacts with and sees.”

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Schrager’s Public: Affordable Hotel Luxury

Quartz: “Forty years after redefining nightlife with the legendary New York City nightclub Studio 54, the hotelier and real estate developer Ian Schrager’s newest vision is for a new kind of affordable luxury—a hotel and arts center in downtown Manhattan that offers a blueprint for disrupting the mid-market hotel sector.” Schrager says “people don’t care about the gold buttons or if coffee is served in bone china. We offer luxury without it being obsequious.”

“With rooms starting at $200 a night, PUBLIC New York is geared to the tech-savvy Airbnb set—who are taking a growing bite out of hotel bookings. At that price, the new brand is playing the same field as some of the highest valued hotel brands, and particularly their fewer-frills ‘select service’ hotels, which have thus far weathered the exodus to Airbnb relatively well.”

“At the heart of all of Schrager’s brand propositions—from Studio 54 to the PUBLIC—is community, a growing trend in hotel design. PUBLIC is designed for a generation of savvy entrepreneurs; the hotel blurs lines between social, professional and cultural spaces with serene, light-filled, public venues with amenities to support optimal productivity and social interaction … Fast wifi and sleek design may lack the debauchery of his Studio 54 heyday, but Schrager’s new model for hospitality seeks to still offer today’s guests the opportunity to be a part of a scene.”

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Brand Sagamore: Baltimore Walks The Plank

The Wall Street Journal: “Rising high above the new Sagamore Spirit distillery in South Baltimore is a white water tower with three maroon diamonds on each side, a nod to the jockey silks of the thoroughbred farm that provides the spring water for the company’s rye whiskey. The distillery, which opened a few weeks ago, is the latest endeavor of the growing business empire of Kevin A. Plank, founder and chief executive of the sportswear company Under Armour. His new enterprises — collectively they are called Plank Industries but nearly all have Sagamore in their names — are reshaping Baltimore’s waterfront and restoring luster to Maryland traditions and landmarks.”

“In March, Mr. Plank’s Sagamore Pendry hotel opened not far away in the Recreation Pier building in the Fells Point neighborhood after a roughly $60 million renovation. Outside the hotel, a fleet of new water taxis owned by Mr. Plank and modeled after Chesapeake Bay deadrise boats will soon ferry riders to Port Covington, the industrial South Baltimore waterfront area that is undergoing a $5.5 billion overhaul led by his real estate firm, Sagamore Development.”

“Inside the production center of Sagamore Spirit’s three-building complex in Port Covington, another three-diamond-stamped beacon greets passers-by: a 40-foot copper column still with a mirror finish that is believed to be the first of its kind. Asked why the finish was essential, Brian Treacy, president of Sagamore Spirit, channeled Mr. Plank, a childhood friend. ‘Because it’s all about brand,’ he replied.”

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Customer Contempt: It’s Not Just United Airlines

Helaine Olen: “In 2017, it often seems that the customer is the least important part of the transaction — unless he or she is paying top, top dollar. Take medical care. While the wealthy can turn to the growing practice of concierge medicine, where for a fee of over a thousand dollars annually, their personal doctor will always return their calls promptly, the rest of us are ever more likely to be relegated to a narrow insurance network.”

“This great economic sort is on blatant display when we fly. The airlines are seemingly forever coming up with new and innovative ways to coddle an increasingly small group, while treating the majority of fliers with greater and greater contempt. United Airlines is all too typical. The airline recently debuted fold out beds for business travelers, complete with mood lighting, adjustable lumbar supports and bedding from Saks Fifth Avenue.”

“But United’s coach class travelers are subjected to constant nickel and diming. Extra legroom is now an extra charge. So too, for travelers in the airline’s new ‘Basic Economy’ fare class, is the ability to choose one’s seat when booking a flight or the ability to bring more than one small, personal tote or bag on the plane.”

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Side-Slip: A Middle-Seat Solution

Quartz: “Molon Labe Designs has unveiled a middle seat that is set back slightly from the window and aisle seats. The seat also has a curved armrest, making it nearly impossible for the passengers sandwiching you to steal your whole armrest … This seat, which is called the “Side-Slip Seat,” could also speed up boarding because it allows for wider aisles as passengers get settled on board.”

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