Disney Stores unit for sale; prexy exits

Conglom now selling merchandise 'direct to retail'

Disney Stores prexy Peter Whitford ankled Thursday, the same day Mouse House disclosed an effort to sell the 548-store chain.

Burbank conglom has confirmed it’s studying whether to sell some or all of its stores in the U.S. and Europe, just as it did previously with its Disney Stores in Japan. Disney sold its Japan operations in 2001 to Oriental Land Co., which operates the Tokyo Disney Resort theme park.

Disney Stores have struggled worldwide in recent years, and the retail chain has been downsized following a product-line makeover that’s produced some limited success. North American outlets, which once numbered 522, have been pared to 387.

Conglom was previously reported to be mulling a sale of the rest of the chain. Whitford’s departure the day conglom formally confirmed such a review would seem to indicate a likelihood Mouse will sell its retail operations in both the U.S. and Europe.

Disney plans to hang on to its six stores in Hong Kong, where the Mouse will open a new theme park by early 2006.

Andy Mooney, chairman of the Disney Consumer Products unit that encompasses Disney Stores operations, has lately emphasized a “direct to retail” approach to merchandising. Strategy has seen unit strike merchandising deals with retail chains such as Wal-Mart, Toys R Us and Target.

Disney announced the moves after the close of market trading. Mouse shares rose 24¢ to close at $18.12 on Thursday.

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