Learning the Disney way to make m-o-n-e-y

Many of you have been to Walt Disney World in Orlando. You know who you are. And admit it, many of you loved it. You'd go back again in a minute.

In the business vernacular, that's a kind of magic. Want to know how they do it? Disney is ready to teach you. For a small fee, of course.

For $300 you can sign up to learn all about ''Creativity, Disney Style,'' ''Service, Disney Style'' and ''Loyalty, Disney Style.''

Think they can't teach you a few tricks? These are the people who run a business that straddles 47 square miles, employs 55,000 people and hosts millions of guests every year.

Yet they make it so OK to stand in line for rides under the hot Florida sun that 78 percent of the visitors are repeat customers. If no one is inhaling pixie dust, there must be something pretty potent involved.

''We do these programs to share the magic around the country,'' says Craig Taylor, director of business programs for the Disney Institute.

Taylor seems to be a clear-headed individual who hasn't seen ''Peter Pan'' or ''The Lion King'' one too many times. He makes the case that there's a strong connection between people's emotional responses and their spending choices. ''When we win over both your heart and your head, then we've also created a loyal customer,'' he says.

One of Disney's secrets: Try to create ''magic moments'' by training cast members (employees to the outside world) to look for chances to make you (the guest) happy.

Taylor offers an example. You and the family pull up at a Disney hotel late one afternoon. The nearest cast member may notice your license plates, the time of day, the bags under your eyes and the cranky kids in the back seat.

''He or she might even walk up and say, 'How was the drive from Pennsylvania?' '' says Taylor. He or she would also try not to be too perky or intrusive, instead helping you find a place to relax and perhaps eat dinner.

In the morning, when you're excited and ready to go, the Disney people should act that way, too. They engineer every moment they can.

It's all supposed to seem magical.

Of course, underneath the castles, resorts, golf courses and animal parks, Disney World's just an overgrown company with responsibilities. There's the hiring, the training, the constant pressure to come up with a better idea than the guys at Six Flags.

It's a big job, but it seems few can do it as well as the Walt Disney Co. Its overall theme parks division, which includes all the company's parks and resorts except Disneyland Paris, reported $6.1 billion in revenue for the 12 months ended in September, up 10 percent from the previous year.

Heck, Disney's people do their jobs so well that the company can even charge money to talk about how it's done.

The Disney Institute started teaching the Disney Approach to business in the mid-1980s. For a long time, the only way to get the keys to the kingdom's theories was to go there. Perhaps, you'd spend a few days studying ''Managing for Creativity and Innovation'' for $2,795 or ''Quality Service'' for $3,295.

A few years ago, the Disney crew began traveling to reach out to those with less time and money. Taylor said the Disney Institute limits its road shows to about 50 a year. It's apparently easier to feel the power of the entertainer's new, enchanting point of view, from the center of the Disney universe.

Have the lessons really made a difference? Taylor says, ''Yes.''

He's just received a letter from a hospital that changed its waiting area - a place most people don't really want to be - to be more hospitable.

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.)


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