Last week I spent five days in Florida as one of two Kansas county Extension agents selected to participate in the National Extension Leadership Development program. As a part of our training, we spent three hours on a behind-the-scenes Disney tour with two members of the Disney Leadership Institute. It was a fascinating look at the business behind the Disney magic.

Lessons learned in the laundry

Our program began with a tour of Disney's "textile management" process at the Disney Laundry. This huge facility washes all of the textiles for Disney's Florida properties, including all the bedding and towels from the Disney hotels, the kitchen and table linens from all Disney food service areas and all the uniforms and costumes worn by the employees (or rather the "cast members" as all employees of the Disney entertainment company are known). The facility processes more than a billion pounds of dirty laundry every year! It's hard work, and the laundry had a dismal 70 percent turnover rate just a few years ago. But the Disney company has reduced turnover to 7 percent today by empowering employees to become a team in managing the laundry facility and helping them focus on the guest services provided by their work.

Everyone drifts to the right

A backstage trip to the Magic Kingdom gave us a glimpse of Disney's mastery in knowing and serving their customers. This customer service orientation is what allows the Disney experience to wring every dollar out of visitors and still have them smiling at the end of the day! Their market research shows that Americans tend to drift to the right as they walk, so Disney has strategically located their merchandise accordingly. On the right side of the park entrance, Disney will be happy to sell visitors whatever they forgot to bring along. Need sunscreen, batteries, rain poncho or a stroller? Yep, all conveniently sold on the right. Inside the park, the bridges and sidewalks which head off to the right are larger than those to the left to accommodate more foot traffic. You'll find the park souvenirs conveniently located near the exit on the right as you leave for the last-minute purchases you didn't want to carry around all day.

Mood music

Even the music piped into the Magic Kingdom is strategically selected. Early in the day, the music includes peppy, upbeat melodies such as Sousa marches to stimulate the senses, keep people moving and heighten the sense of fun. The Disney characters and cast members are lively and animated, with big waves, smiles and greetings. Late in the day, when visitors are tired and kids are cranky, the music is calm and soothing and the cast just smiles and waves sedately as you leave.

I've been to Walt Disney World several times before. But from now on I'll see it differently, thanks to my look at the business behind the magic.

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