By  on November 17, 2004

Paul Pressler has a story to tell.

The president and chief executive officer of Gap Inc. is using the lessons he learned during his 15 years at the Walt Disney Co. to return the specialty store chain to solid footing.

“Deep emotional connections are made through consistent, integrated storytelling,” Pressler said in a keynote address. “Gaining insights can help you build a compelling story, one your customers can see themselves in, are passionate about and want to be part of. We need to bring more theatrics, storytelling and consistency [to retail]. If you can’t tell me what a Gap dinner party, Banana Republic car or Old Navy vacation looks like, then we haven’t built our stories.”

Pressler honed his skills at storytelling while running the parks and resorts for Disney, which he said was “maniacal about consistency.” He told a story about how founder Walt Disney once spied a truck making repairs at Frontierland. “Walt said to [the driver]: ‘There were no trucks on the frontier in 1820.’ For Walt, a maintenance truck in Frontierland broke the story.”

It was with this background that Pressler joined Gap in September 2002. Although his experience in apparel was limited — his father had spent 21 years with men’s retailer Robert Hall as head of store operations and Pressler often took weekly sales figures over the phone on Saturday nights — the first thing he did at Gap was to learn “everything I could about the company’s culture and our customers.”

He soon gleaned that Gap employees were “incredibly passionate and creative,” but their decisions “were based almost 100 percent on intuition — from design, to merchandising to marketing. Overall, we were really good at it. And when we had a miss, we quickly recovered.”

This strategy worked extremely well for Gap for the first 30 years, he added, but as the company grew — sales at the corporation’s 3,000-plus stores in fiscal 2003 were $15.9 billion — “the stakes became too high for a miss.”

“A bad day in my last job was disappointing a child who didn’t get to meet Cinderella. A bad day at Gap is the wrong color palette in a seasonal assortment resulting in $7 million in missed margin,” he said.

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