Business Magic - Let's Steal From Disneyland

A few months back, my family and I enjoyed five days at Disneyland.

We had the vacation of our lifetimes. Amid the thrills and excitement and memories, I kept an eye out for the things that make Disneyland and California Adventure so special. Because, I figure, everyone in business can learn something from being immersed in what is arguably the greatest success story the world has ever seen. Not to mention the biggest marketing monster known to man.

Disneyland and the people who work there create an extremely high level of expectation for guests. What is more amazing to me is how they meet or often exceed that expectation 365 days a year. That, to borrow a Disney term, is truly magical.

Now that I exist in a guest service focused world, I started asking myself: Where does the magic really come from? Can you create the same type of magic in your business?

Of course the answer is yes.

But how?

Once I started analyzing what was happening around me, I started picking up on things that pulled the curtain back a bit.

One of the most memorable ones was a simple, short announcement we heard as we boarded the Thunder Mountain Railroad ride.

“Attention cast members. The number this hour is 2309. That’s two gold stars. Congratulations!”

I realized what I had heard was an update on the number of people who rode the ride in the last hour. That’s not rocket science. But the next series of thoughts that went through my head (after screaming like a little kid on the ride) were all the things that announcement said.

First, it gave immediate, objective, accurate, clear feedback to the workers so they knew how they were doing and that they were being rewarded for their good work.

How many businesses can say they accomplish those goals? How much better would your staff be if they had a system like that?

The announcement also revealed one of Disneyland’s KPIs: total number of riders per hour.

It may seem obvious, but let’s consider this for a moment. By monitoring that number, managers can tell an awful lot about their crew. It takes several things to move people through as fast as possible.

· Communication between employees or ‘cast members’ and guests as they get on and off the ride safely. A confused guest will slow down the process and increase the chance of an injury, which would really mess things up in lots of ways.

· Cooperation and communication between employees. Things like which seats are open, when to add or remove posts and chains in the queue, when to rotate workers onto breaks.

· Focused, happy, well rested, enthusiastic employees. If someone spaces out at the wrong moment, it will slow things down.

· Well-running equipment. Not just the mechanical elements of the ride, but the computer technology and communications devices need to be in tip-top shape.

Since Disneyland operates at near capacity on a regular basis, and the biggest complaint is wait times, it’s obvious why staying focused on the number of people churning through a ride would be a priority.


That’s not all I realized while wandering through Disneyland and California Adventure.

Here are a few observations:

The product - It has to start with the product. Your product or service has to be of the best quality. But that’s not all. You must create an experience around your product. Your employees need to be well trained, which takes buy-in from them, which might require more of you. Set goals. Make them clear. Reward the people who reach the goals.

The wow factor - Not everyone can have amazing light and music shows and fireworks every night, but there might be an equivalent in your line of work. How about a spotlight outside your business that runs at night? What if you had a spectacular mural painted inside your business? It might be as simple as having your employees memorize the names of everyone at the table they are serving or including a free car wash with a tank of gas. For some places, just having clean pressed uniforms for every employee every day would put you above the competition.

Address your biggest weakness - What is the number one complaint you hear from people when they mention Disneyland? Okay, the top two. 1) Everything is expensive and 2) Long lines of people everywhere you go.

Disneyland addresses these in ways that few business owners would consider.

They allow you to bring food in the park and cut in front of other people in line.

Guests can smuggle bottled water, snacks and whatever else they can cram into their backpacks, strollers, wagons or pockets. It saves families hundreds of dollars. For some reason, Disney doesn’t mind.

Then, Disneyland created Magic Mornings and the Fast Pass. Magic Mornings give you early entrance to the park on one of the days of your visit. They allow you to walk past everyone else and enjoy the park like you are a VIP. Because for that hour, that’s what you are.

With the Fast Pass, Disney allows a guest get an assigned time of the day for the busiest rides, giving people a choice. Wait in line for two hours or come back later in the day and walk to the front of the line. Fast Passes take the stress out of visiting the park. Brilliant. Like Magic Mornings, the Fast Pass makes you feel like a VIP.

Let’s bring this back to you and your business.  What is the number one complaint people have? You probably know what it is, but if you don’t, run a survey. Ask your most loyal customers. Allow them to be honest. Once you establish the biggest complaint…fix it. What is the equivalent of a Fast Pass in your business? What would make your customer feel like a VIP? Even if only for an hour?

Create and maintain very high standards - The standards set by Disneyland are legendary. Impeccable grooming, unflappable hosts, well trained cashiers, a skilled wait staff. No doubt there are a few things that go into this one that you may not have access to. It costs money to hire the most talented people and train them. It’s hard to find qualified applicants. So, like a coach, you must take the talent you have available to you and make them great. Again, set goals, expect more from your employees and hold them to the standard. Find ways to reward them. Celebrate the wins. Coach them through the losses. Never stop teaching and coaching. Encourage them to never stop learning.

Dream big - Walt Disney’s greatest attribute might have been his vision. He could see the end goal. He knew the goal was big enough when people laughed at it. Then, he went to work to make it happen. You might not have endless resources to launch your dream, but there are things you can do every day to get closer to it. Also, the press mocked the idea of Disneyland. But Walt Disney didn’t cave. He relied on his vision and believed in the dream. He saw it through and proved them all wrong. There must have been moments when loyal people were jumping off his bandwagon. He didn’t give up and let them win. He had his vision and his dream and made it happen.


You may not be trying to build Disneyland from scratch, but your business represents the same thing to you as Disneyland did to Walt. If he could create that much magic, you should be able to do it, too. If you dream big enough and miss, you are still most likely going to be better than your competition.

Make your business better today than it was yesterday. Make some magic.