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|Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix, editor|
|Good vs. Bad - 8/5/02|
I had been looking forward to writing this column for quite a while. I wanted to tell you all about the great new theme park toys, the Marie Osmond doll signing and all of the news from the Pin Mania events at Disneyland this past weekend. I wanted to take you on a tour of the new Premier Shop, introduce you to Build-A-Pin, and tell you how Disneyland's new-and-improved pin trading program would make the experience more enjoyable for everyone.
Unfortunately, I can only do about half of this. The toys are great, and you'll see them below. The Bangles concert was the best of the series, and it's great to know that the resort is taking steps to make the rest of the concerts even better. The Marie Osmond doll release was extremely well run, a far cry from the prior two signing events.
But the pin weekend.... I still can't figure out where to begin. As they say, when you don't know where to start, the beginning is as good a place as any. Go ahead and grab some coffee, and slather that bagel in cream cheese - this is going to be a long one.
First, the good stuff, and (thankfully) there is a lot of it. On Thursday morning, the World of Disney store introduced a new line of Disney-theme toys and games. Among the new goodies - Haunted Mansion "Clue", Disney theme-park "Monopoly", a Lincoln Log model of the Wilderness Lodge and a whole slew of Play-Doh toys.
All of these toys were also released at the new Once Upon a Toy store at Walt Disney World, as part of a new "toy initiative". Walt Disney World also has a new line of monorail accessory toys, similar to the Paradise Pier playsets that were created for Disney's California Adventure. The series includes Haunted Mansion, Dumbo, Astro Jets, Cinderella Castle and Mad Tea Party toys, each of which can be connected to your monorail track. When the "monorail" runs near the "attraction", the toys light up, spin and make sounds.
Some of these toys are headed to California, and should be available at the resort this fall. DCA's EnginEars Toys may even be converted back into a real toy store, now that the princess costumes have found another home.
I think these new toys and games are tops. It took all my self control not to tear open the Lincoln Logs and build a miniature Wilderness Lodge on the floor of my office. I already have a Haunted Mansion "Clue" party in the works, and I suspect I'm not the only one. These toys are being made by Hasbro, which was assured Disney that they can keep up with consumer demand. I certainly hope they can, because the demand is sure to be huge.
On Friday, we joined the crowd to catch the second Bangles concert of the day. It was a great performance, definitely the best of the Summer Music Series shows I've caught. The combination of original band members and original music was refreshing after a series of "tribute" and "best of" shows, and the audience loved every minute of the concert. The only thing that could have made the concert better would have been to hold it at night, and it seems that Disney agrees. Starting tonight, August 5th, the remainder of the concerts will be held at 5:45 PM and 7:45 PM.
This new schedule will allow people to catch the show after work, and could drive additional dinnertime traffic into the resort restaurants. Best of all, the 7:45 showtime will definitely be more comfortable - no need for SPF 30!
Before the concert, I spent a few minutes at Disneyland, where the Premier Shop was holding an afternoon "soft opening" prior to the official opening Saturday morning. At first glance, the store looked great, if a little small.
But once I got inside, and tried to maneuver among the displays, trading tables, kids trading area and the "Print on Demand" center, I was feeling downright claustrophobic. There is too much happening in such a small space. To make up for the lack of floor fixtures, the wall displays are very high, so tall that I (of average height) can barely reach the top rows of pins.
The Disneyland Forever kiosks have been replaced with Print on Demand terminals, and four art collections are offered. In addition to the attraction posters and 100 Mickeys prints available in the Disney Gallery, the Premier Shop has a collection of artwork from Disney feature films. These are very similar to the images offered when the system debuted at the 2001 Official Disneyana convention.
The newest offering is "Kids Print on Demand". Children can draw on one of 6 different coloring sheets featuring Mickey, Minnie or Winnie the Pooh. Their finished artwork is then scanned into the system, and doting parents can print out a jumbo-sized poster in a colorful border. The print can even be customized with the date of the visit.
Upon hearing the price for the poster, one parent said, "Thanks, but I think I'll just frame his drawing". Some parents may really like this idea, but I think a 27" x 36" poster is a hard to hang on the refrigerator door.
The big pin weekend officially began on Saturday morning, with the rededication of the Premier Shop and a doll signing by Marie Osmond. This event was extremely well organized and efficient. Customers paid for their doll at the Star Trader store in Tomorrowland, and were given a color-coded voucher. This voucher, a sort of "fast pass", assigned each person a time to return to have their doll signed. Rather than waiting in line for hours, you could wander around the park and only join the signing line when it was your appointed hour.
We spent less than 30 minute in line to buy our doll, and did not have to return until noon to have her signed. This was a definite improvement over the event last December, where we waited in line for over 5 hours just to buy the doll and never did make it into the signing line before Marie left for the day.
With vouchers in hand, we went over to the Premier Shop for the 9:30 rededication of the store. In a cute, 10-minute ceremony, Disneyland Resort Ambassador Matt Ebeling, aided by Billy Hill and the Hillbillies, shared the "Tricks of the Trade" for pin trading. Of course, the Hillbilly way of pin trading was less than civilized, and resulted in pins flying everywhere.
Merchandise honcho Mike Griggs then called on Mickey Mouse, and two young helpers, to come show the band how polite people trade pins. With a burst of confetti, the store was opened to the public.
Once inside, I got my first close-up look at Build-a-Pin, a new product offered at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. The premise is pretty simple - choose a "base" pin and customize it with add-ons. The base pins have one, two or three pre-drilled holes in them, depending on the design. The add-ons are smaller pins, with posts that fit into the holes on the base pin.
Once you have chosen your base and add-ons, you give your selection to a cast member who will assemble the pin for you. Using a drill press, the cast member will permanently attach the add-ons to your base pin, leaving you with a truly custom pin.
Customers at WDW have 12 base pins and over 60 add-ons to choose from. Disneyland got 6 base pins and about two dozen add-ons. There is a groom Mickey, but no bride. There is a 1928 Minnie, with no matching Mickey. The villains base is sure to be popular, but only two villain add-ons, Cruella and the Old Hag. I think Build-a-Pin is going to be extremely popular, once Disneyland can offer the full program.
Within moments of the grand opening, the cramped store was overflowing with customers. I extracted myself and joined a group of friends for brunch. When we returned at noon, we learned that the old Rocket Rods queue was being used for the doll signing line. It was quite wonderful - rather than waiting in the hot sun, we were in a nice air-conditioned tunnel under Tomorrowland. And if the signing line was longer than we expected, we were certainly comfortable.
I have been to several signing events for Marie's dolls, both on- and off-Disney property, and this was by far the best organized. We chatted with Marie for a moment, and she told us about the new Disney dolls currently in development - a Haunted Mansion Adora Belle scheduled for this December, and a series of "baby Villains" dolls, starting with Cruella. By 2:00, we were on our way home - not bad for an event day.
New pin purchasing rules went into effect this weekend. The new policy allows a customer to buy no more than two of any limited edition pin, but up to 25 of any open edition pin. This is the same policy that has been in effect at Walt Disney World of over a year. In a departure from WDW procedure, Disneyland cast members also stamp the inside of your arm with an invisible stamp when you buy a pin. In theory, this is to prevent someone from buying the limit at one store, and then doing the same at another store. If you do go to another location to buy more pins, the cashier will ask to scan your arm with a black light to search for a prior stamp. If they find one, you will need to produce the receipt from your first purchase to prove that you are not trying to buy a pin you have already purchased.
Confused yet? It gets better. Let's say you find one pin you like at the Main Street pin cart. You buy it, get your arm stamped, and go about your day. Then you spot another pin you like in Frontierland. You show your receipt to the cashier to prove that you didn't already buy that pin. You buy the second pin and get your arm stamped again.
Now you're in Fantasyland, and you suddenly spot the pin you have been looking everywhere for. Before you can buy that pin, you will need to pull out both receipts and show them both to the cashier before you can buy another pin. If you don't have your receipt - say you put your earlier bags in a locker - you can't buy anything!
Some collectors are protesting the use of the arm stamps because of health concerns. Disneyland uses an invisible ink, (WI-A800), made by Willard Marking Devices in Irvine. The label on the bottle contains a warning. "Avoid prolonged exposure with skin". I asked for the MSDS, (Material Data Safety Sheet), for the ink, and learned that the substance is classified as a Level 2, or moderate, health hazard, and is "potentially carcinogenic". One person joked, "Disneyland has already tried to kill off pin trading, now they are trying to kill the pin traders".
Before I get into the details of Sunday's pin events, I just need to clarify something. I know that there are dozens of hardworking people in the merchandise division who truly care about the guest experience. I see this when I talk to merchants and planners, and hear their enthusiasm for new events and new merchandise.
I know that these are people who want nothing more than for every customer to go home happy, with arms full of merchandise they really wanted. I see their dedication when I get event notices in my e-mail at 8:00 at night, because someone has been burning the candle at both ends to make everything comes together. I hear about meetings that last until the wee hours of the night, as the merchandise teams works to make sure everything will be perfect.
What I don't know is what happens between the planning meetings and the execution. How can something that begins with the purest of intentions go so wrong? What cosmic event happens to take the best-laid plans of talented people and turn them into disasters?
As I sit at my desk, trying to find some way to turn this all into words, my eyes fall on a press release stacked in the corner. "Day One", it reads, "July 17, 1955". This is the flyer that the Disneyland press and publicity office hands out to the media on the anniversary day each year, a story about the park's opening day. I glance through it again. "Worst traffic jam ever seen", according to the police that day. "Long lines everywhere", "all was not quite ready", "Walt Disney was unaware of this chaotic situation". "Black Sunday", they called it. Somehow, this all sounds familiar.
When Disneyland opened at 8:00 am Sunday morning, hundreds of people ran straight down Main Street and into Tomorrowland to get in line for the Premier Shop. Most were there for two things: over a dozen new pins were available, and there was a cast member "Create a Pin" release and signing. Guest control was ready with ropes and poles, and the line quickly stretched down towards Space Mountain.
Cast members handed out clipboards and order sheets to the crowd, and began to fill their orders. Some of the first people in the store made a lucky discovery. Across the top of one display, just hanging on the pegs, was a very special pin known to collectors as a "Pin Trading Pin". This was also a Limited Edition pin of only 500, which most collectors refer to as a "Mystery Pin". Disneyland, still sensitive about the mystery pin debacle from the summer of 2001, prefers to call these "unannounced releases."
Whatever they call them, I want to know who thought it would be a good idea to release an edition of just 500 pins on a day when there would be thousands of pin collectors in the park? Prior pin trading pins have been editions of between 2,000 and 100,000. Even with the new purchasing limits, 250 people got very lucky, and another few thousand were left out. Definitely not the way to generate good will.
By 10 am, the line for the Premier Shop stretched all the way behind the Radio Disney booth, with several switchbacks along the way. With only 5 registers in the new store, the line was moving very slowly. One couple I know joined the line at 8:20, and waited over four hours just to get inside the store.
The 3:30 "Kids Pin Trading" experience was canceled, because there was no way to handle the additional crowds inside the store. Collectors were also disappointed to learn that the employee who had the winning design in the "Create a Pin" contest would not be there to sign the pin after all. I later learned that the person "no longer works for the company", and was "unable to participate in the event."
While all of this was going on, there was another pin event in the park, the "Pin Soundsation" map hunt. This event was originally scheduled for Disneyland's birthday on July 17th, but was later added to the "Pin Mania" weekend event instead. Visitors started by picking up a map at the Main Street fire station, and then went to three other locations in the park to have the map stamped. When all of the stamps were collected, the guest went to the Premier Shop to collect their free "completer" pin. It was a very nice idea, and something I have enjoyed doing during previous anniversary events.
However, there were also six "Soundsation" pins released for the event. If you bought all six pins and completed the map, you could collect an additional "completer" pin, this one with the event logo. The six pins were sold at four locations around the park, with the Space Mountain pin and the completer pin available only at the Premier Shop.
This all sounds simple, but here is how the event really worked if you wanted to buy all six pins and complete the map:
The first stop was Main Street, to pick up the map. Three of the pins were available for sale in the Emporium, so you would stand in line to buy your pins, and get your arm stamped.
The next location was near the Jungle Cruise, and another pin was available for sale in Adventureland. You would fish out your first receipt, buy your pin, and get your arm stamped again.
The next stop was Fantasyland, where the fifth pin was available. This time you have to present two receipts, and get your arm stamped for a third time.
Finally, you could go to Tomorrowland to buy your last pin and receive your completer pins.
When you get there, you discover that the Premier Shop has a four hour long line, made worse by the fact that cashiers now need to examine three receipts per person before they can sell them the sixth pin. And the Premier Shop is the only place that the sixth pin and the completer pin are available. Your choice - wait in line, come back later and hope that the pins are still available, or give up.
Around noon, the event managers brought the sixth pin and the completer pin out to the Tomorrowland pin cart, in order to allow people who were just trying to complete their sets to avoid the four hour line. One manager said that they hadn't expected this type of turnout, but I think the reality is that they didn't think about how long it would take to ring up thousands of people on just five registers.
I spent most of Sunday just talking with people in line, people who refused to stand in the line, and people who couldn't believe there was such a line. No one could believe that the event planners had not expected such a crowd, and that there had not been contingency plans. "Why didn't they use the CircleVision building for this line", asked one, "at least we'd be out of the sun". Cast members began to bring out umbrellas to shade the waiting crowds, but at least one person was treated for heat stroke.
The opening of the new store also marked the end of the "pin trading patio" outside the Showcase on Main Street. The Premier Shop has new cocktail-style tables, with no chairs. A few more tables are located outside the store, again with no chairs. Said one manager, "We don't want people camping out inside the store all day". One trader said, "How can they call this pin trading when there's no place to sit and trade?"
Many pin collectors and traders say that this event marks the end for them. Once longtime collector announced that she was selling her collection. Another said, "I started this because it was fun and social. It isn't fun anymore, and we have nowhere to be social". Collectors are chaffing at the new purchasing rules, saying that what works in Florida doesn't work in California. Personally, I have never seen a company go to such lengths to keep people from spending money.
Not surprisingly, it is the pin traders themselves who are being blamed for these new hassles. I heard three different employees say that the handstamp policy was "at the request of our customers", or that it was a "response to complaints". This is partially true. Collectors were sick of watching the same few people snap up all of the limited edition pins, and most agreed that a limit of two per person was reasonable. But there is a difference between a per-purchase limit and this policy, where the burden of proof has suddenly shifted onto the customer. It is clear that some managers intend to lay the blame at the feet of the collectors if these new policies fail.
Pin trading is a giant cash cow for Disneyland, a revenue source that the park, and the company, can't afford to lose. But when thousands of people turn out for an event, only to face 4-hour lines, missing or delayed product, the loss of a trading area and unfriendly policies, they are less likely to return. The park doesn't have many more chances to get this right before pins go the way of the Beanie Baby.
The anniversary day press release says, "It wasn't until the following day, via press accounts, that Walt Disney became aware of the negative reaction to Disneyland." "Walt immediately summoned his staff, and together they dealt with the problems..." I know these are good, talented people who want events to go well. I truly hope that whatever happens to mess things between planning and execution to create these headaches can be found and fixed.
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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