A Business Owner’s Perspective on Disney World

IMG_4922Vacation doesn’t often happen for our family. This year, spring break fell right in the middle of the an intense time for our business, but we needed a vacation so, on a whim, we loaded everyone in the car and headed for Florida. I used points to reserve our hotel rooms on the iPad while we drove south. We bought tickets to Disney parks after we pulled into Orlando.

Vacation is rarely convenient for a business owner. This trip was no exception. While we were gone, a new bumGenius print (Audrey) hit the market and shocked absolutely everyone when it sold out in 18 hours. Then the next new bumGenius color (Armadillo) was discovered early by the Cotton Babies Cloth Diaper Flash Mob.   I was on the ferry to the Magic Kingdom when I got the news.  A few minutes later, I ended up on a conference call with the company responsible for the leak while my daughter was waving to princesses in the parade.  Ariel was flipping by.  My daughter was practicing her princess wave. And I felt like a bomb had just gone off.  I was tired and done. The moment I took the photo of her waving was when I flashed a secret peace sign at the world and quietly logged out of the mob… for the rest of vacation… so I could enjoy my kids.

Disney ended up being a perfect place for our family to vacation. Their team has taken care of the details.  It made it easy focus on enjoying the experience instead of being bothered by trash on the ground, a lack of food, looking for a drinking fountain, or getting gum on our shoes.  They’d even managed the long lines by allowing us to schedule the most important things we wanted to do using our phones and My Magic+.

My dream? Someday, I want to go back and stay with Jimmy and the kids in one of the castles. Cinderella’s castle was glamorous, but I had my eye on Rapunzel’s tower.  Surely someone must have thought about creating a special room up at the top of that tower.

I want to tour the buying offices for the Disney stores. I want to find someone who knows the history of the parks and then “learn” my way through Walt Disney’s business journey. It all started with a Mouse, but I want to know which ride was first, second, and third.  Who decided to remove the politics from Disney’s early cartoons?  What happened to all of the classic Disney movies I remember watching on a rented VCR with my brothers when I was a little girl? What was it about Walt Disney that inspired so many people to follow his leadership?  How did he leave a legacy that others could follow?  These are things that business owners wonder about…

IMG_4975I want to see the initial funding strategy and marketing campaign. I want to hear about the mistakes they made and how they’ve revised Disney over the years as they’ve learned about people. How do they train their staff? Who makes sure that the cast members in the Disney store are still smiling and helpful at 12:45am when an excited eight-year-old wants to trade pins? Who dreamed up The Kiss Goodnight at the castle? Who told the Dole Whip guy to keep his window open for the (at least) ten people in line to try pineapple Dole Whip at 11:59pm? And someone called my daughter “Princess”… and she liked it.  I relaxed while I was there, but the business person in me left curious about the details of what makes the magic work.  Is it a team of psychologists?  Or a few people with absolutely amazing ideas?

We will be back for more.  I have some business case studies to review before then.  And next time, I will plan ahead so we can visit a few friends in the area.  We might try to work Cinderella into the calendar too if she’s available.

To the executive team at Disney, you’re doing a great job. I needed to be able to relax and just enjoy time with my husband and my kids… and I did. Thank you for being there to take care of the details.


Jenn is the Founder and CEO of Cotton Babies. She holds an Executive MBA from Washington University. She was awarded Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award in the Emerging Category for the Central Midwest Region in 2011. Among many other awards, she recently received a 2017 YWCA Leader of Distinction Award for Entrepreneurship. Jenn holds many patents on various inventions in a number of different countries and is listed as one of 50 Missourians You Should Know. She is particularly fascinated by languages, chickens, and children (she has four) when she’s not reading economics journals. Jenn offers mentorship to product developers at any stage in the journey from idea to shelf.

8 thoughts on “A Business Owner’s Perspective on Disney World

  1. They offer business/leadership courses and seminars. I believe it is called the Disney Institute. They also have a blog. I work in healthcare and have been interested in some of the same things you mentioned, just how to apply the amazing quality customer service to healthcare.

  2. I’m not a business owner , nor did I ever think I would love Disneyland, but I left feeling the same way you did from our trip in April to Disneyland. I wanted to learn more about Disney and all business side of things. They really do a great job.

    You do too! I love your perspective and how you run your company. Thanks for doing what you do!

  3. Netflix has some great documentaries on Disney but I bet you can find them elsewhere too if you aren’t a Netflix subscriber. I loved our trip as a kid to Disney World and I’m SO glad you were able to unplug, unwind and enjoy your vacation. You and your family definitely deserved it!

  4. Lee Cockrell (former COO) reveals a little of the history in his book Creating Magic: http://www.amazon.com/Creating-Magic-Common-Leadership-Strategies/dp/0385523866/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1409670377&sr=8-1&keywords=disney+business+magic

    In the book Cockrell explains that many of the small innovations and the small magic moments come from the staff serving on front lines. The key, according to Cockrell, was creating an environment where staff could have their ideas heard and implemented quickly. He also mentioned that all service staff are called “cast members” and train service staff as if they were all vital roles in a large drama, which might explain the smile at midnight.

  5. I showed your questions to my sister, who was once a top lawyer @ Disney. I asked her if there was anyone to talk to or a book to read. She had this to say (she left out the part on good customer service…)

    If they knew what made the magic work, then everyone would be making magic all the time. Its not a science and they wing a lot of it using good judgement, people sense and marketing deluges. There was no initial fundraising or strategy. Walt funded everything with his charm and promises until Snow White was a smash, then that paid for everything for a long time. There is no one to talk to or good book to read because it really is ethereal magic that sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. The one thing Disney, as a company, has learned well is that when they stray from their core businesses (Family entertainment and theme parks) they don’t do as well as when they focus mainly on that. Sorry I can’t help more than that.

    • Bob, please tell your sister that I said thank you. Her thoughts ended up being very encouraging to a business owner who spends a lot of time using “good judgement, people sense, and [creative] marketing deluges” in an effort try to change an entire industry.

      All the best…


  6. My husband runs training for his company and their basic leadership courses are Disney courses. He highly recommends them to everyone he meets. Just like they hit all the details in the parks, their training is spot on in every aspect. I do hope you consider attending the Disney Institute.

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