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Everyday Magic

Cast a spell over your customers with a little help from Mickey Mouse and friends.
A few weeks ago I braved the brutal Florida heat and …

Cast a spell over your customers with a little help from Mickey Mouse and friends.

A few weeks ago I braved the brutal Florida heat and crowds of squealing youngsters to wait in line for hours and purchase an overabundance of overpriced trinkets. And I loved every minute of it.

I’m not alone. More than 17 million people visited the Magic Kingdom, Disney’s flagship park, in 2012—making it the most visited theme park in the world. Every day, thousands of people pour through its gates, happily prepared to part with far too much money and guzzle far too many bottled beverages. What’s more, Disney doesn’t even have the fastest roller coasters or the wildest rides. In fact, the park’s most iconic rides, like Space Mountain and It’s a Small World, are more than 40 years old. So what’s the secret? What makes the Magic Kingdom live up to its slogan as “the most magical place on earth?”

It’s probably a better question for my 3-year-old nephew, Aden. His eyes lit up the moment we entered—when he got a chance to dance with Woody from Toy Story—and the excitement didn’t stop until the final fireworks over Cinderella Castle. We watched a sword fight with Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean, and a Broadway-style revue where Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck saved the audience from the evil Maleficent by chanting, “dreams come true.” (Adorably, Aden kept repeating the phrase the entire weekend.) But his favorite part, he said, was getting “to see all the characters.” There were plenty of hugs to go around, especially for his favorites, Wreck-It Ralph and Jake the Never Land Pirate.

Leave it to the marketing gurus at Disney to capitalize on one of the key cornerstones of retail success: When you don’t have the best or most affordable products on the market, you better create the most memorable and enjoyable experience.

And what an experience! Despite its massive crowds, you won’t find a speck of bubblegum or graffiti anywhere in Walt’s kingdom. (Trust me, I looked.) I later learned that all of the Disney parks are filled with utility tunnels, so its “cast members” can maneuver from one area to another without being spotted. You won’t find a cowboy from Frontierland in the futuristic Tomorrowland. (Speaking of cowboys, be sure to check out our adorable Western-themed baby shoot, on p. 28.) Not to mention, we all were happy to reminisce about our beloved childhood favorites. My mother loved seeing Mary Poppins. I loved the Little Mermaid. Aden went wild when he saw the princesses from Frozen.

So what lessons can children’s retailers learn from Disney’s example? First, create an unforgettable experience. Don’t skimp on details. Establish an emotional connection between your store and your shoppers that lasts for generations. But mostly, don’t forget your target market. Mom and Dad may make the purchases, but it’s the littlest customers who keep them coming back for more. If kids are eager to visit your store, then parents will be willing to linger longer and perhaps pick up a few more items.

After all, we’re all in the business of making kids’ dreams come true.

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