Walt Would Be Spinning! Scale Lessons in Disney’s Epic Brand Failure
As a business owner or leader, you’d have read or heard time and time again the business genius of the Disney brand; credited the world’s most powerful brand.
How they manage to induct hundreds of staff into the Disney family in a matter of weeks through their mantra of Safety, Courtesy, Show and Efficiency and how these four little words aid every employee in how to think, act, behave and do their job not only through their meanings but also their order of preference. These quality standards have been taught, implemented and refined a good number of years.
I must admit I am a bit of a Disney fan myself having been to Florida a few times and even having the privilege in the mid 90’s of attending the Magical Kingdom for a private party. Now that beats a fast pass every day of the week!
So, let’s rewind back to July this year where the Norbury family is all packed and ready for our grand destination….
Yes, we were giving our twins their first ever taste of Disney in Paris, NOT Orlando.
Why Paris? Well, after going through a hundred and one things to do before you go to Disney our experience was going to be based on a few things (bear in mind Lily and James are six):
(1) What are the queues going to be like?
(2) What will the travel be like?
(3) What is the weather going to be like?
(4) Are they tall enough for the rides?
Plus, how much is the price difference from Paris to Orlando?
The weather? Well probably hotter in Paris.
Our school finishes on the 6th July so earlier than many others. for less queuing.
It’s a short journey of just a couple of hours; one train all the way there.
They can go on most rides in Paris, not in Orlando though.
And it is several thousand pounds cheaper.
Finally, it IS Disney so does it matter if it is in Paris or Orlando?
Well yes, apparently it does.
Of course, we were all excited about spending 10 days in ‘the most fantastic place on earth’. The kids could have powered the train with their enthusiasm. Picture this – the train arrives at the Marne-La-Vallee (Disney’s very own train station) the level of excitement went up a level; we were all looking out of the window for Mickey or Donald, a Disney princess, even a dwarf would have been good. But no, nothing, just a few train staff milling around. OK, it must be due to a big fanfare planned to surprise and welcome us all as we head outside.
Get outside, OK where are we again?
After several minutes of struggling, poor signs – not even a welcome to Disney sign – and lots of people barging us we manage to find someone who speaks Franglais and who understands my Où est Fxxxxx Disneyland Paris!
After pointing us in a direction we stumble across the park and to be honest it looked amazing; fairy-tale castles, elaborate water fountains, buzzing with noise, rides everywhere, the main street…BUT it didn’t feel like Disney.
There were lots of ‘crew’ around but no smiles, nobody made a fuss of the kids, everything was in French (yes, I know we were in France…) the Disney ‘crew’ just looked miserable.
Were we at a Disney park?
A while ago I read that Disney only had one word that would sum up everything they did, and everybody who was part of Disney needed to live it in their behaviour, ideas, suggestions and thoughts. You may not even know what that word is. But let’s try an experiment.
Stop reading for a second, don’t cheat and think what that word is.
Did you say creative… wrong!
Did you say profit… wrong!
Did you say customer service… wrong!
Did you say MAGICAL… Bingo! Right answer! So, the staff of Disney Land Paris, where are you living the Magical?
You may think there is no pleasing Team Norbury, but this view was made up after 10 days spent there and here are my reasons:
- Getting off the train – we didn’t even know we’d arrived – no signs, music, or greetings of characters.
- No Disney characters walking around. We had to queue for at least 45 minutes to meet them in a designated area. And when the characters were swapping shifts, they were surrounded by ‘security’ who ushered anyone in their path away. Magical for kids – Uh non.
- In one of the shops, we asked ‘how’s your day’ to try to start some kind of dialogue, his response was ‘not great as I’m stuck working here.’
- Our pre-planned (and pre-paid) food collection was so painful that we gave up and paid for breakfasts at various hotels.
- Our Hotel (a Disney hotel) restaurant toilets were broken all week with just one working toilet for two very large restaurants (and that one had the seat resting against the floor with the plumbing hanging out of the flush).
- The staff didn’t really know what their processes were, we had to tell them: ‘Yes we can pay for that using our card’ or ‘press this button on your till for the gluten-free option’!
- We needed a refund due to paying twice for a Disney character breakfast, only to be told come back later as ‘we’re busy’
- The lake by our hotel had pedalos for hire; open from 3pm. Despite a substantial queue of people willing to pay extra, nobody had turned up by 3.20pm so we left. We did ask at the info desk if there was anything wrong and the response we received was ‘sometimes they don’t turn up’ with a Gallic shrug.
I really could go on as these examples really mounted up over the 10 days.
The kids loved it as they went on rides, got spoilt and met Mickey and friends.
For us, Jacki and I felt we could have been anywhere in the world – a Thorpe Park or Alton Towers – because the essence of Disney was missing. Remember, Jacki had never been to Disney before, so this experience really tainted her view.
So, what went wrong?
Well if you look at the numbers it’s hardly made a profit from day one. In fact, until this year Disney was a minority shareholder, most of it owned by the French stock market and Prince Alwaleed of Saudi Arabia. Recently, Disney has now invested over 3 Billion to take over full control.
But I think they could have fixed it for a lot less. How? By focusing on what works – Magical and Safety, Courtesy, Show and Efficiency.
We will NOT go back to Disney Land Paris but not due to the place, the rides, the environment, the buildings – the park was amazing. The main players (Mickey and friends) were amazing. No, we won’t go back due to the attitude and culture that is inherent in their ‘crew’, the 14,500 staff there to make your days and nights Magical.
I found this article recently:
“In 2009, on one of Disneyland Paris’s busiest days of the year, staff protested against a pay freeze by striking and marching through the park, causing the first-ever cancellation of the famous daily parade down its Victorian-themed Main Street.”
Walt would be spinning if he could see this.
Running a business is hard if the team are not with you. If you want to fix one thing, fix your culture, the rest will follow.
PS We still had an amazing holiday just NOT amazing DISNEY holiday.