Mer­chan­dis­ing ma­nia

Die-hard Dis­ney fans push $1-bil­lion de­mand for sou­venirs

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS BEAT - By Hugo Martin hugo.martin@la­times.com Twit­ter: @hugo­martin

Rox­ann Grzetich and her hus­band, Dave, have ac­cepted a ti­tle be­stowed upon them by their son: “Dis­ney freaks.”

How can they deny it? The cou­ple from Chicago spent their hon­ey­moon at Walt Dis­ney World in Or­lando, Fla. They have sailed on all four Dis­ney cruise ships. And last month they trav­eled to Ana­heim to drop $5,000 on sou­venirs of Dis­ney­land’s 60th an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tion, in­clud­ing $175 on an il­lu­mi­nated Mickey Mouse fig­urine.

“It goes back to child­hood,” Rox­ann Grzetich, 62, a travel agent, said of her love of ev­ery­thing Dis­ney. “Sit­ting in front of the tele­vi­sion, watch­ing ‘The Mickey Mouse Club.’ ”

Walt Dis­ney Co. can thank fans like Grzetich for gen­er­at­ing an es­ti­mated $1 bil­lion or more in an­nual mer­chan­dise sales at the com­pany’s theme parks. Dis­ney pock­ets an ad­di­tional $40 bil­lion-plus from li­censed mer­chan­dise ped­dled each year in re­tail out­lets.

Now, with Dis­ney­land’s 60th shindig in full swing, the mer­chan­dis­ing ma­chine has hit over­drive with glow­ing mouse ears, crys­tal cas­tles and other me­mora­bilia.

An­a­lysts say about 10% of Dis­ney’s theme park rev­enue comes from mer­chan­dise sales — twice the rate of other theme parks — partly be­cause the com­pany can cre­ate a bounty of prod­ucts out of its ti­tles from Lu­cas­Film, Marvel En­ter­tain­ment, the Mup­pets, Pixar Films and Dis­ney.

“Dis­ney cre­ates so much con­tent that if you wanted to col­lect just Mickey Mouse, you could fill ware­houses,” said Martin Lewi­son, a theme park ex­pert and busi­ness man­age­ment pro­fes­sor at Farm­ing­dale State Col­lege in New York.

Dis­ney’s movie stu­dios work closely with its mer­chan­dis­ing di­vi­sion to come up new hats, toys and other items tied to movie re­leases.

“They don’t make movies that can’t sell con­sumer prod­ucts,” said Laura Martin, an an­a­lyst at Need­ham & Co.

Mer­chan­dise sales at Dis­ney parks surge dur­ing spe­cial events be­cause fans know that new sou­venirs will be of­fered only on a limited ba­sis, she said.

Dis­ney Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Bob Iger said mer­chan­dise sales are im­por­tant but not the driv­ing force be­hind events such as Dis­ney­land’s 60th an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tion.

Iger at­trib­uted ro­bust sales to the love that peo­ple have for Dis­ney char­ac­ters and sto­ries. He said he bought a Davy Crock­ett lunch box on E-Bay a few years ago be­cause it re­minded him of the TV show he watched as a boy.

“Davy Crock­ett was an idol of mine,” Iger said in an in­ter­view. “I re­mem­ber as a kid hav­ing a Davy Crock­ett lunch box, and I had to have one.”

For the 60th Dis­ney­land an­niver­sary, the com­pany has pro­duced more than 500 items; there are T-shirts for $20 as well as a crys­tal minia­ture of Sleep­ing Beauty Cas­tle for $37,500. The big­gest seller: glow­ing Min­nie Mouse ears, which sell for $25 each, park of­fi­cials said.

Dis­ney has so many hard-core fans that the park reg­u­larly or­ga­nizes sales of limited-edi­tion mer­chan­dise.

Be­fore the start of the 60th an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tion in May, Dis­ney­land of­fered col­lec­tors the chance to buy about 150 such prod­ucts be­fore they were put on sale in the park.

Each guest paid $100 to at­tend the event in the Dis­ney­land Ho­tel’s con­ven­tion hall, where the sou­venirs were dis­played on long ta­bles. In a side room, Dis­ney staff rang up pur­chases and filled bags with shirts, hats, knick­knacks, pins, plush toys and jew­elry.

Dis­ney­land de­clined to say how many at­tended.

Among them was Daniel Bowen, 48, a gro­cery store worker who has been an ar­dent Dis­ney fan since he at­tended a high school grad­u­a­tion event at the Ana­heim park in 1985. He spent $3,000 on items in­clud­ing spe­cial edi­tion Mickey Mouse ears and col­lectible pins.

Bowen, a Syl­mar res­i­dent and Dis­ney­land an­nual pass holder for 23 years, said col­lect­ing Dis­ney­land sou­venirs brings back fond mem­o­ries.

“I would rather spend my money on Dis­ney stuff than on a ther­a­pist,” he joked.

The event was like a fam­ily re­u­nion for many Dis­ney-philes, who hugged and showed off their sou­venirs. Die-hard col­lec­tors traded limited-edi­tion Dis­ney pins, which many wear on lan­yards.

Ros­alie Cap­par­elli, 72, ar­rived at the sale push­ing her sis­ter Joan Mose­ley, 75, in a wheel­chair. By the end of the day, the wheel­chair was car­ry­ing bags of mer­chan­dise, worth about $3,000. Mose­ley, re­cov­er­ing from a heel in­jury, switched to a cane dec­o­rated with Dis­ney char­ac­ters.

“It brings us hap­pi­ness be­cause we share our things with oth­ers,” said Mose­ley, who gives Dis­ney items as gifts to her grand­chil­dren and great-grand­chil­dren.

Mose­ley, who donned Mickey Mouse ear­rings, said her fa­vorite find of the day was a crys­tal replica of Mickey Mouse ears for $65.

When her loved ones tease her about her Dis­ney pur­chases, Mose­ley said she fires back with: “I’m spend­ing your in­her­i­tance.”

Pho­tog raphs by Wally Skalij

DANIEL BOWEN spent $3,000 on items in­clud­ing spe­cial edi­tion Mickey Mouse ears dur­ing an event at the Dis­ney­land Ho­tel in May.

A CRYS­TAL minia­ture of Sleep­ing Beauty Cas­tle that costs $37,500 is one of the sou­venirs of Dis­ney­land’s 60th an­niver­sary.

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