Remaining Relevant: Lessons Learned from a Recent Vacation

This summer my wife Patty and I took our three daughters to Disney World in Orlando. As parents, it was a seminal moment for us because we were able to treat our daughters to one of the truly great American experiences: a ride on the tea cups.

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While trying to take my mind off the bead of sweat slowly traveling the length of my back as I stood in line, one thing that struck me was the tremendous brand equity that Disney World continues to enjoy. From the legendary "It's a Small World" attraction to dining with princesses to the many Main Street parades, Disney World continues to deliver on its brand promise of creating memories at every turn.

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How has the company remained so relevant? Much ink has been spilled about the so-called Disney way and the company's commitment to quality but one easily overlooked factor is the way the park remains true to the vision of its founding father, Walt.

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One of the famous Walt Disney quotes scattered throughout the park reads: "Times and conditions change so rapidly that we must keep our aim constantly focused on the future." Disney World does a good job of embracing new technologies, such as RFID or providing a smartphone app that lists wait times as well as a schedule of the day's events, in order to enhance the guest experience.

Disney World opened in 1971 and despite attracting millions of people each year it remains a work in progress, as Walt once proclaimed: "Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world." That rings true today as you walk through the park watching the workers diligently construct new rides, foodservice operations and more.

When the California location first opened, another Disney quote points out that many people predicted his venture into the theme park business would be a financial disaster within a year. Instead, the Walt Disney Company has since opened theme parks worldwide. Why has Disney flourished while other theme parks have struggled? It's simple. The company continues to embrace competition, just as its founder did. "I have been up against tough competition all my life. I wouldn't know how to get along without it," Disney said.

What does this have to do with the foodservice community? Well, lots. First, it should serve as a reminder that while how you conduct your business may change, a strong and well-defined mission can serve as a roadmap for success for generations, as Jim Bedard points out in this month's Parting Shot (page 96).

For many it is convenient to bemoan the disruptive nature of change in the foodservice industry. But keep in mind change is a direct reflection of the way the clients and consumers continue to evolve, as Costel Coca and Mark Freeman point out in this month's Consultant's Viewpoint (page 18) and Operator's Opinion (page 22) articles.

Before you can look to the future, it's necessary to develop a firm grasp on the issues of the day and hopefully our 2014 Forecast article (page 24), will help with that.

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