Business lessons from Disneyland

Welcome to Radiator Springs

We just got back from a three-day trip to Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure Park in Anaheim, California. I haven’t been there in many years, and this was the first visit for my 7-year old son. We had an amazing time! I was exhausted at the end of each day, but my son was still had a lot of energy.

I had a lot of time to look around and see how Disneyland operates – while waiting at park entrances, walking from one “land” to another, and being herded through convoluted “stand-by” lines.  Disneyland showcases a lot of good business practices that we can learn from (or re-learn).

Here are 7 business lessons I learned from Disneyland:

1. Make a good first impression. Even before we started our trip, Disney Parks sent us a free vacation planning DVD. My DVD came with a personalized “Welcome to Radiator Springs” insert and a link to a special web page “created just for you.” The brochure and DVD showed us what we would experience at Disneyland, and made it easy for us to find out more information and order tickets.

2. Pay attention to the details. Disneyland is amazingly clean. Employees wear themed uniforms and ID badges. Each “land” is decorated with logos, props, backdrops, and storefronts that fit the theme. Everywhere you go, there is something to look at or some small detail that ties in with the “land” you’re in. There are ample restrooms, trash bins, and recycling bins – all in excellent condition.

3. Keep customers in the know. Despite long wait-times, Disneyland excels at keeping people moving – and giving them interesting things to see along the way. The wait doesn’t seem as long when you’re learning about something or getting immersed in the journey. On Star Tours, you can watch a travel video and see C3P-O, R2D2, a customs droid, and droids packed for cargo. At the Indiana Jones Adventure, we feel as if we are walking through underground chambers and even watch a newsreel about the Temple of the Forbidden Eye. At Radiator Springs Racers, the line snakes past the original Radiator Springs, a radiator cap shop, and an oil bottle house.

4. Promise what you can deliver; then deliver what you promised. We watched two live musical productions. In Fantasyland, we watched “Mickey and the Magic Map,” which included appearances by Mickey, costumed characters, and princesses. In Hollywood, we watched “Disney’s Aladdin,” a surprisingly full-scale production with set changes, genies, a flying carpet that soared above our heads (or just below us from the balcony seats), and a towering serpent.

5. Go beyond your customers’ expectations. At the Jedi Training Academy, we were happy when our son was chosen for the show and given a brown padawan robe and lightsaber. Then two stormtroopers appeared, the stage rose with smoke and music, and Darth Vader and Darth Maul appeared! The whole experience went completely beyond our expectations. Participants even received a Jedi-in-Training Certificate! We hadn’t read anything about this experience, so everything was a complete surprise.

6. Don’t miss an opportunity to cross-sell. More than just theme park admission, Disney sells us on everything from hotel packages, character dining, photographs, ride photos, themed restaurants, drinks and snacks, and merchandising.

7. Acknowledge your early supporters and champions. The Captain EO movie adventure was under-promoted, sparsely attended, and dated – I mean, nostalgic. I’m sure they could do a lot more with the large theater, but Disneyland keeps it open as a tribute to Michael Jackson and early 3D films.

Have you traveled to Disneyland recently? What are your favorite (and least favorite) memories about Disneyland? What do you think that Disneyland does exceptionally well?

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