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Peter Pan and Wendy are flying high at this Once Upon a Toy Disney Resort store, adding drama to the displays below.
he name “Disney” inspires smiles and wonder throughout the world. Both children and adults feel a connection to the Disney characters, and they seek out authentic merchandise at the Disney theme parks, on Disney cruise ships and at the approximately 220 retail stores in malls and prominent locations.

As Manager of Merchandise, Synergy and Special events for Walt Disney World Resort, Dara Trujillo oversees the development of merchandise and facilitates communication between the 300-plus retail stores at all Disney resorts on both the east and west coast of the United States and aboard the Disney cruise ships.

“I see Disney magic happen each day, and it is a wonderful feeling to see how Disney affects everyone who comes to our resorts,” Trujillo said. “When we see a child in the park hugging a Disney toy or wearing a princess outfit, it just reaffirms how much Disney means to people.“

A Disney veteran of 12 years, Trujillo has witnessed how toys and plush in the gift shops have maintained their popularity with resort and cruise guests. Considered “must haves” for children, many of the plush and toys are exclusive merchandise sold at Disney Resorts only.

“Our philosophy is that we want to connect with our guests, and we are able to do that through toys, plush and collectibles. We want our guests to take home with them something that they can only find at Disneyland or Disney World or any of our other parks,” Trujillo said. “Mickey Mouse is still the most popular plush toy sold at Disney resorts. The 15-inch Mickey is a staple that every child wants to have as well as Minnie, Donald Duck, Goofy and Pluto. Pretty much the characters that walk around in the parks are the most popular merchandise in the stores.”

In October of 2010, Disney introduced “Duffy” who is Mickey Mouse’s teddy bear. The 17-inch Duffy, which targets the 2 to 12-year-old age group, is now one of the top five plush items sold in the resort stores. Shown here is a Duffy walk-around character at a Disney resort holding Duffy plush.

In October of 2010, Disney introduced “Duffy” who is Mickey Mouse’s teddy bear. The 17-inch Duffy, which targets the 2 to 12-year-old age group, is now one of the top five plush items sold in the resort stores.

“He is Mickey’s friend who travels everywhere with him. For children, he is a comforting toy who happens to have an amazing wardrobe too, and he comes in different sizes.” Trujillo noted. “His clothes represent different countries of origin. We also carry a 12-inch Duffy. He comes clothed in limited engagement apparel for occasions such as Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day and Easter. There is also a 48-inches Duffy.”

Another popular merchandise line at the Disney resorts is the Princess Baby collection. Developed by Trujillo’s team, the Disney Princess line recognizes that parents think of their daughters as Disney princesses even before they are born. Targeted for infants and toddlers, the line includes layettes, bibs and a soft line of plush toys depicting the movie princesses Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Ariel, Belle, Jasmine and Tiana.

“The plush toys are made with babies in mind. They can be cuddled and held by little fingers and they come swaddled in a blanket,” Trujillo explained. “It’s amazing how much parents want their children to have them. I see them in baby strollers and being held by the tiniest guests when I go around the parks.”

Other exclusive toys that remain popular in the resorts and theme parks are play sets. The Disney resorts carry a castle play set, which includes the Walt Disney Castle and the Disneyland Resort Castle. Miniatures of Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) and her prince plus plants, flowers and a horse-drawn carriage can also be added to the collection. A monorail play set that can be built around the resort’s famous hotels, the Contemporary, Floridian and Grand Polynesian, is also a popular item as is the play set of the signature train that runs through the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland.

Although the Disney Resorts remain exclusive in most merchandise, they do partner with Disney Consumer Products, the division which operates Disney retail stores, for some product lines. One of the most successful collaborative efforts has been with Vinylmation™. A combination of the words Vinyl and animation, Vinylmation™ is a collectible designer toy created by Disney Theme Park Merchandise.

A Vinylmation™ display at a Disney Resort store. A combination of the words Vinyl and animation, Vinylmation™ is a collectible designer toy created by Disney Theme Park Merchandise.

Vinylmation includes 3-inch or 9-inch characters that are made of vinyl in the shape Mickey Mouse. However, each figure, series or collection has a specific story to tell. Disney artists bring to life classic Disney stories, attractions or icons in the Park series, or showcase their own edgy art on the vinyl Mickey Mouse shape. There are series such as Holiday, Cutesters or The Muppets. Each series tells a story revolving around a particular theme.

Most figures in a series are known, but some are unknown and called the “Mystery Chaser.” Some figures are packaged in a “blind box” or “mystery box,” which means customers do not know which figure they have purchased until they open the package. Collectors can buy mystery boxes individually or they can purchase an entire tray.

“Vinylmation is fun, creative and growing in popularity. Other stores that carry licensed Disney products would like to carry these collectibles. That might be down the road but for now, they are exclusive to the Walt Disney World Resort retail locations, Disney Store and”

Molly Adams, vice president and general manager of Disney Stores North America, appreciates the collaboration between the two divisions of Disney.

“We are sharing design work and leveraging each other’s creative ideas,” she said. “This will help us bring more unique merchandise to our customers, which will keep them coming back.”

Most of the approximately 220 Disney Stores in North America range in size between 4,000 and 5,000 square feet. The largest store, which is 20,000 square feet, is in Times Square in New York City.

“The Times Square store is our premiere location,” Adams observed. “We are excited that we have brought Disney back to New York. The response to that store has been unbelievable.”

Disney Store, the retail arm of Disney Consumer Products, is in the process of converting all stores in the chain to a new immersive design. The new displays and merchandising by story make it easier for customers to identify with the Disney brand and to locate the merchandise they want quickly.

A dramatic display at a Once Upon a Toy Disney resort store. Both children and adults feel a connection to Disney merchandise.

As in the Disney Resort stores, toys and plush are the most popular items at the Disney Store.

“This year, the most popular plush and toys have been “Toy Story” characters and merchandise from the new movie, “Tangled,” which is about Rapunzel,” Adams said. “Talking dolls and plush always do well. Of course, Mickey and Minnie and Winnie the Pooh remain in demand too.”

Disney Store begins to stock merchandise for new movies about eight weeks before a new film opens. Six weeks before the premiere, the stores begin to display merchandise to bring focus to the movie. Each newly designed store also contains a theater with a 12-foot-wide curved screen that can play trailers for new movies, Disney movie classics as well as music videos and Disney Channel television shows.

“The best thing about the Disney Store Theater is that customers can choose what they want to watch. There is a kiosk with a touch screen that allows our guests to make the selection of their choice.”

An essential part of each Disney Store is its displays, which Adams and her team design to appeal to both adults and children.

“We look through the eyes of a child when we create displays for the stores,” she said. “But the displays and the tone of the stores still have to appeal to adults because they are the ones making the purchases. Our displays tend to be very visual and accessible. The stores are set up so that children can not only see the merchandise, but touch it, and play with it and enjoy the atmosphere. That is what Disney is all about. We want to bring the magic of Disney into our stores. We want to make each of our stores a place where kids and adults can go and just have fun.”

Resort store photos courtesy of Walt Disney World Resort. Disney Store photo courtesy of Disney Store North America.

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