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Vail businesses get advice from Disney

VAIL ” At first blush, Columbine Market in Gypsum doesn’t seem to have much in common with the Disney entertainment empire. Look closer, though, and some similarities start to appear.

“It’s all about customer service, making guests happy ” no matter what business you’re in,” said store employee Jennifer Heffran.

A small group from Columbine helped nearly fill the ballroom at the Lodge at Vail on Monday to hear a presentation from the Disney Institute, in which people from the entertainment giant tell other business people how the company that gave the world Mickey Mouse has become one of the most successful customer-service companies in the world.



During the portion of the daylong seminar that focused on management, trainers Mike Reardon and Alicia Matheson took turns talking about how Disney’s managers get their employees ” called “cast members” ” to buy into the corporate culture. At Disney, managers lead by example.

Reardon told the crowd about the “Disney scoop” and the legends surrounding it.



The scoop started with company founder Walt Disney, who would pick up and put in a garbage can any piece of trash he found at Disneyland.

Corporate legend holds that Disney once picked up a piece of trash while he was touring Disneyland with a group of company executives. One of those executives asked Disney why he’d stoop to stooping himself when there were employees available to do the job. The story ends with that executive cleaning out his desk the next day.

The point, Reardon said, is that employees see managers doing things like greeting customers and picking up trash. At Disney’s parks, employees try to “out-scoop” managers, who are determined they won’t be out-scooped by their people.



The idea of a hard and fast corporate culture starts with hiring. Disney prides itself on hiring for attitude first. After they walk into an argyle-pattern building with cartoon characters on the front door handles, applicants have to walk up to an auditorium, where they’re shown an eight-minute video about the company, what it expects, and things ” like a ban on beards ” that the company won’t budge on.

About 10 percent of all applicants leave before filling out any paperwork.

Applicants also need to have a sense of fun, even those who fill “backstage” jobs and will never see a paying guest.

Matheson told a story about interviewing a candidate for a job in the company’s financial office.

“I tried to get him to smile,” Matheson said. “I couldn’t do it.”

He didn’t get the job. Anyone who works at the self-proclaimed “Happiest place on earth” needs to be able to smile.

But Disney hires most of its people in and around Los Angeles and Orlando, where, presumably, there’s a deeper pool of potential employees. How does hiring to suit a company culture work in this employee-short valley?

“If you have the right culture, you can attract the right people,” Columbine Market owner Howard Tuthill said.

Tuthill’s son, Howard Jr., said Columbine has several employees who have been with the store for between several and many years.

“People stay because they like where the work,” Tuthill Jr. said.

Paul and Lourdes Ferzacca, who own two local restaurants ” LaTour in Vail and ZaccaZa in Avon, said they try to hire for attitude as well.

“Sometimes you’re limited in the resources you have available,” Paul Ferzacca said. “But we try to do that.”

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 748-2930, or smiller@vaildaily.com.


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