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Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix, editor
Pin-Pricked: Disney Store Pins - 9/27/01

When the Disney Store announced a major new series of pins, collectors were a little skeptical. After all, the widely- hyped Millennium Pin series turned out to be a flop, and all but two of the 101 pins released in that collection are still readily available in Disney outlet stores - for 1/2 of their ticket price.


They're here-now step right up and drop some cash!

But now it is two years later, pin collecting and trading is even more popular that it was when the Millennium pins were offered, and the Disney Stores have decided to try it again. The new program started this past Saturday, and will continue through December 15th. A group of 7 or 8 new pins will be released at Disney Stores across the country each week.

The entire collection of 100 pins was created in honor of Walt Disney's 100th birthday, and feature scenes from Disney movies and famous Disney characters. Some incorporate pin bells and whistles like moving pieces and lenticular effects. A new pin binder is available to hold the collection, as well as a new pin bag. Disney Auctions is even offering 10 pre-production proofs of each pin, placing a new collection up for sale each week.

Highlights of the collection include a special silver locket pin which will feature a baby picture of Walt Disney. The baby image transforms into an adult picture. A Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs pin train series, set to coincide with the DVD release of the movie, will begin on October 6th. Snow White will lead the train, while the dwarfs in their connecting rail cars will be released over the following 7 weeks. The Nightmare Before Christmas, Emperor's New Groove and Monsters, Inc. movie pins are sure to be popular.

The final pin in the collection, scheduled for release on December 15, will feature Mickey Mouse. The pin will include "a surprise that's sure to delight collectors across the nation." The Disney Store says that the new series "commemorates the magical moments inspired by Walt Disney over the last 100 years."


The #7 pin, another hot item
Photo courtesy of DizPins.com

Unfortunately, many who tried to purchase the first of these pins this past weekend experienced anything but a magical moment. Long lines, late and conflicting internal memos, greedy customers and arbitrary store policies all added up to one miserable experience for some guests.

Discussions began weeks ago on the various pin- related discussion boards, as some Disney Store Cast Members began to receive instructions for the pin releases. Collectors were concerned about reports that stores were only allocated limited quantities of the pins - some stores receiving as few as 12-18 of each style. Prior Disney Store pin releases were limited to 2 pins per person, but collectors in larger markets were worried that they wouldn't be on the of the first few people in line, and that they would not be able to get the pins they wanted.

While the pins are not said to be limited editions, stores were told that they would not receive additional supplies of the pins they sold out of. They were also warned that the size of their shipments of future pins would depend on how strong their sales were of the first week's release.


SOLD!... for $100 on auction.
Photo courtesy of DizPins.com

Then collectors learned that the Disney Stores had not set an official limit on the number of pins one person could buy. The possibility that the first person in line could purchase every pin was enough to put some people off of the whole concept. Wrote one, "If the Disney Store chooses to create a circus out of this event, I will choose not to participate." Another posted, "I don't want to start a set I won't be able to complete." Many collectors decided just to see how the first week went, and their posts turned to discussions of strategy - what store to visit, what time to get there, which pins to buy duplicates of to use as "traders" later in the program.

The first reports started hitting the DizPin boards within an hour of store openings on the East Coast. A few collectors reported that they experienced no lines at their stores, and that they were able to get all the pins they had wanted. Others had more dramatic stories to share. Several reported that the first few people in line purchased all of the available pins, leaving none for the rest of the customers. One poster reported that the first person at his Disney Store purchased 50 of the #1 pin, leaving just 10 for the other guests in line. Many stores sold out of the first pin within 10 minutes of opening, leaving late-arriving guests empty handed.

Even Cast Members were getting in on the action. Another poster reported, "We were only five people in line, the first being a CM. Well when the store opened, that particular CM rushed and grabbed all the #1 pins and bought them all. Then he started working." Several other posters complained that Disney Store CMs had been allowed to hold pins prior to the day of the release, and that off-duty CMs were seen inside stores, selecting and purchasing pins before the stores opened for the day.

By Tuesday, the auction prices of the #1 pin had reached astronomical levels. While most pins were selling in the $20 - $30 range, some closed as high as $80 and even $100. The flood of pins on eBay has caused some collectors to urge a boycott of the on-line auctions.

It seemed to some customers that every store was following it's own set of rules for the pin release. Some stores were confused about which pins were supposed to be sold which week. While most Disney Stores only offered pins #1 - #8, a handful of stores put the first 15 on the racks. An internal memo, which listed the "street dates" for each group of pins, was interpreted by different managers to mean different things. Some allowed their stores to release the first 15 pins on Friday instead of Saturday, and claimed that the memo said all stores could do so if they wished. A couple of stores put their inventory on the floor as soon as they received it two weeks ago, because they had not yet received the instructions telling them to hold it for a certain release date.

Confusion also arose over the current Disney Club 20% discount promotion, which runs through September 29th. A Texas Disney Store manager, posting on DizPins, said that the pins were specifically called out as being included in the promotion. Other Disney Store locations decided that the pins were "collectibles", and were not eligible for the discount. Confused customers say they get different answers depending on which store they go to, and even which CM they talk to within the same store.

Some collectors reported that they had called Disney Stores prior to Saturday, and were allowed to put pins on hold. Others said that they had been allowed to place phone orders for the pins, and Disney Store CMs confirmed that they had taken phone orders. Yet other stores refused to allow customers to hold merchandise or even to place phone orders, which left pin collectors who do not live near a Disney Store scrambling to find one that would accommodate them.

Even those who did get all of the pins they wanted are concerned with the quality of the pins. Several have noted that these new pins seem thinner that the Millennium series pins, and that they are already exhibiting signs of chipping and flaking. Some said that their #1 pin shows Mickey with a white nose, and many debate whether the date shown on the pin, 1981, should have been 1901. (If so, this is an "error" pin, similar to the mis-dated Davy Crocket pin of the Millennium series, and will make the pin all that much more difficult to acquire.) Customers have also complained that the pin bag was designed with the handle on the wrong side, which causes the pages to bunch in the bottom of the bag.


A CM displays the new pin bag. Was it designed upside down?

Then there was the case of the Glendale, California Disney Store. A kind reader alerted us to the situation there, just across from the Disney Store headquarters.

Store 101 (Glendale Galleria) has long been slated for the Project:Go makeover (a la South Coast Plaza and Cherry Hill). A while ago, they closed the store in the east wing of the mall and opened a satellite store (about SCP size) right across from FAO Schwartz in the west corner of the bottom level for the duration of the rehab. As the day to move back approached, they put out the signage for the upcoming Pin Promotion, "100 Years of Magic," advertising the pin release for September 22.

About a week ago, I asked the CMs in the satellite store about the pin release and the move to the larger store location. I was told the pins would be released Saturday and the newly done store would open Sept. 25. Everything was fine until I tried to call the store Friday 9/21 and the phone was disconnected. Mall management confirmed the store was shuttered for the weekend to reopen Tuesday.

Obviously this presented a problem for local pin collectors like myself. The Disney Store HQ receptionist, less than a stone's throw across Broadway Blvd., had no idea what was going on and was a bit surprised they would close their doors for the release of a 3-month long product promotion. The Customer Relations line she connected me to was clueless, thinking the satellite store was still in operation.

Finally, desperate for any informed human contact, I knocked on the store door itself (they were stocking shelves behind closed doors) and a friendly CM told me they were opening Monday 9/24, just like the sign outside the store said, and that the pins would be available then.

At 10 AM (Monday) morning, I walked into the newly refurbished Disney store, full of visiting CMs and managers all admiring their shiny new store. As I reached the pin racks, I found pin #1 "Walt" conspicuously absent. Turns out that they suddenly opened the store Sunday, and consequently sold out of the first pin. (Thank goodness I drove to Santa Anita Saturday, or I would have been really out of luck!)

This decision was so sudden, none of the CM's had advance warning. One CM told me she came to work Sunday in sweats, expecting to move boxes, only to find the store open for business! If you ask me, somebody got cold feet on Saturday and decided to cash in on Sunday's traffic flow, at the expense of a couple of weeks' worth of advertised opening dates and verbal reassurances to the loyal customer base looking for reliable info.

Clearly, this is Disney's prerogative, but if the objective of this makeover and the concurrent closure of extra stores and limitations on merchandise production runs was to add value to the Disney merchandise name, then it's a bad omen to herald the grand reopening of your store by keeping the Cm's on the floor out of the information loop and sticking it to your loyal customers.

The reader followed up the next day, after speaking with a Disney Store CM about the situation.

She says the CMs on the floor were opposed to a Sunday opening, but that they had no choice. "It was arranged way above us" is how she describes it.

Apparently, the CM's were concerned precisely because their loyal customers were told to come back Monday, in addition to the fact that the sign outside the shop said "opens Sept. 24." But they were overruled. The way (she) described it to me was that they were told, "the store is ready and we can't lose a day of sales." So they opened Sunday.

Realistically, the pins probably never factored into it. Sunday was just another day of meeting quota or losing sales and they chose quota. In other words, the customer was no factor at all, except in choosing whether to pay in paper or plastic.

MousePlanet made several calls to the Disney Store Guest Services phone number, and has not received a response. After calling local Disney Stores, we learned that the policy on pin releases has not been changed for this coming weekend. According to one store manager, "It's a district decision. Our district manager said that we can limit sales to two per person, but the next district manager will make her own policy for her stores."


The Tigger "slider" pin was a big hit with collectors.
Photo courtesy of DizPins.com

Joette McHugh, owner of the popular DizPins.com site, said that she has spent three days playing phone tag with the director of merchandising for the Disney Store. While she has been unable to talk to the director in person, she has spoken with the Guest Services department. In a post to the DizPins readers, Joette told them, "The Disney Store Management has gone through each and every post on our DizPins boards and read and collected your comments about the Disney Store Pin Release last Saturday. These comments were then passed on to the appropriate people at Disney Store customer service. I have been asked to tell you that the Disney Store is deeply concerned about your satisfaction and that your comments were heard in your own words."

Asked what the Disney Store did wrong, Joette answered, "There was poor communication between the DS (corporate) management and the CMs of the stores. This program has been in the works for months, and most Disney Store CMs did not have any knowledge of it, or how it was to work. On Saturday, when "things got out of hand", no one took control"

Her suggestions for fixing the situation for the customers? "To make it right, the DS needs to make a public statement apologizing to the guest and to the DS CMs. This statement needs to be posted on the Internet and in each and every store. They need to set a limit on the pins for the first day of the release, such as a limit of 2 per pin per person for the first day, and then on Sunday, there will be no limit."

"They also need to have the pins behind the counter for the first day of the release to have better control. The DS also needs to re-release Pin # 1 and do it as a "reserve your pin". i.e., you can pre-order the pin, pay for the pin and it will be delivered at a later date. Also, there should be no phone orders on Saturday, at least until after 2 PM, or even do phone orders beginning on Sunday."


The Westminster, CA location is one of the 10 stores testing in-store pin trading

While the Disney Store continues to promote pin collecting, some locations are trying to see if they can create a case for pin trading at the stores. 10 stores, including 2 in California and 3 in Florida, are part of a two week experiment. Cast Members will be wearing lanyards, and guests will be encouraged to visit the stores on selected nights to trade with CMs and other guests. If the program is successful, it will be expanded to more stores across the country in February.

For customers who don't live close enough to a Disney theme park, the prospect of a local pin trading opportunity is exciting news. Unofficial pin trading events have been formed all over the country, giving traders a chance to take their hobby "off-line" and meet fellow collectors. Bringing these get togethers back onto Disney property can help boost the sagging sales of the Disney Store locations.

With all of the problems the different divisions of Disney have experienced with pin trading, one wonders why they continue to promote the hobby. Tokyo Disneyland has severely curtailed on-property trading, and implemented almost draconian measures to keep customers under control when new pins are released. By now, everyone who follows pin trading has heard about the infamous Disneyland Mystery Pin #15 mis-release. And Internet discussion boards, including MousePlanet's own MousePad, are full of threads debating which park, Disneyland or Walt Disney World, has the worst pin traders. Why on earth would the Disney Store want to bring this headache to their stores?

The answer can be found at the cash register. While specific sales figures are never released, it's not hard to realize that the millions of pins sold by Disney parks are a huge source of revenue for the company. With production costs under a dollar, and selling prices of $4 to $15 for a single pin, annual profits on the pin trading program can easily exceed the paid gate admission of Disney's California Adventure park.

The struggling Disney Stores have the opportunity to realize a share of this profit in their locations, as well as drive more customers into their stores. In order to make the pin program a success, they to learn from the mistakes of the other divisions, and pay attention to the wishes of their customers.

As one trader put it. "Learn, Disney - - please..."


Pin-Pricked

ABOUT THE EDITOR

Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix is the super-shopper behind MouseShoppe, your personal and unofficial shopping service for the Disneyland Resort, and the owner of CharmingShoppe, a Disney collectibles store located in Anaheim.

In addition to scouring the park to find you the latest and greatest merchandise, she keeps you updated on all of the merchandise events happening in the parks.

If you want to talk to her about this column, merchandise, or events, contact her here.

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