After returning home from three months in Israel I had to fund the rest of my gap year. I got a job working in The Disney Store. I had never worked in retail before, so this was out of my comfort zone, but my self-confidence had been buoyed by my experiences in Israel so I felt ready for anything.
I was not a shop assistant, but rather a Cast Member. The shop floor was referred to as on-stage and the staff-only areas and stock room were backstage. Disney had strict policies on everything; men were not allowed to have facial hair, women had to wear American-tan tights, our shoes had to be plain white trainers (they even supplied a kind of special white paint with which to cover up any branding on our shoes).
Guests vs Customers
Part of the staff training consisted of having to memorise the names of the seven dwarves (there is an easy way to remember it, revealed at the end of this post*) and learning the Disney goodbye song that had to be sung at the end of the day, when we were closing the store. To confuse matters, customers were called guests and shoplifters were customers. Regardless of what you call it, Disney had high expectations of customer service; we were forever being told we should aim to exceed expectations, and that we were the ones who created the particular brand of Disney magic.
Staff were given a special badge if any customers (sorry, guests) contacted the management to complement our work. The closest I came to this was when I was tidying up Plush Mountain (the big pile of soft toys that used to be the centrepiece in every Disney Store) and a little girl kept knocking it down. Instead of getting angry with her, I invited her to help me build it, while her mum shopped. Her mum praised me for this, which, I have to admit, felt pretty good.
The cost of magic
I worked in the store for eight long months, before embarking on the final leg of my gap year; a month traveling in Japan. What I learned from my time with Disney: retail is a tough industry to work in; my face ached from smiling, my feet ached from standing, and my head ached from remaining polite all day; creating the illusion of magic comes at a price.
*Here’s the easy way to remember the names of the seven dwarves: two S’s, two D’s, and GBH (Sleepy, Sneezy, Dopey, Doc, Grumpy, Bashful and Happy).