Working in the Magic Kingdom

Disney World in Orlando, FL employs more than 51,000 people. According to the computer in Mike O’Neill’s tool truck, about 1,000 of them are potential customers. They might use tools to fix a leaky faucet, or rebuild a bus engine, or change wheel bearings on a roller coaster, or build scenery for a show, but they can all buy tools from Mike O’Neill. That’s because Mike drives the only tool truck in Disney World.

An exclusive route

In 2009, Stanley Black & Decker, owner of Mac Tools, made arrangements with Disney to become Disney World’s only mobile tool distributor. In return, Mac offers special prices and an extended payment schedule for individual “cast members” (employees).

The Mac Tools/Disney arrangement also requires the truck to be company-owned, so Mike O’Neill is a Mac employee, although he does makes a small commission.

Mike noted there are two sides to the business: individual customers and the company, and they are very different.

“The Disney side invites us to planners’ meetings. Planners are the people we want to see.” The planners are responsible for purchasing all the necessary parts, supplies and tools for special projects or a whole department. They buy shop equipment like floor jacks, toolboxes and scan tools, and they also buy quantities of smaller things like impact guns and special hand tools that everyone in their shop will need. The planners buy with a purchase order, so the bill is paid in full within 30 days.

Meeting with planners is important because, although Mike is the only mobile distributor on campus, he still has competition. “When selling to the company (as opposed to individuals), we’re competing with the catalogs, including other tool companies. Stanley and Proto send representatives here too.”

But Mike is quick to point out his obvious advantage. “If there’s a problem with a tool, we’re right here, they don’t have to box it up and ship it back to Grainger and wait for the repair or replacement. We’re a mobile repair store and a tool sales store. That goes over big with planners.”

Of course, the individual cast members are just as important, but compared to techs anywhere else, there are some big differences. First of all, many Disney shops and facilities employ dozens of people over three shifts, and they talk to their planner about their tools. Mike told us about loaning a new impact wrench to a bus mechanic, “and when I came back next time I sold all I had. The (mechanics) don’t buy this tool, the planner does. That one guy went to the shop manager and said ‘we all need these.”

As noted earlier, cast members enjoy an extended payment plan. Mike says his average turn is 11 weeks, but truck credit has a lower limit compared to regular franchise distributors. When asked about skips, Mike says they’re not a problem because the hiring process includes a background check. “In two years I’ve had nine skips. Cast members are all vetted and they make good money. They don’t run out, but some have been fired.”

All about timing

The only real problem Mike faces with this route, and it’s a big one, is timing. The campus covers 47 square miles, and most shops operate three shifts (Mike sells a lot of flashlights). Few people actually work at their shop; that’s just where they keep their stuff.

“On the outside, if you’re a little late, they’re waiting for you. Here, they’re getting ready to go out to a job somewhere else in the park, or they’re leaving for the day. You might see one guy or thirty, depending on your timing. Every shop has a turn-over meeting at the shift change. That’s when you want to be there. At the end of the day it feels like you’ve only been here a few hours. Time flies because you have to be at each stop at a certain time.”

The timing problem gets worse when people transfer, which happens twice a year. They might change shifts or move to a different shop somewhere else on campus, and that time/location might not be on Mike’s route.

“That’s probably the biggest issue, because you don’t want to leave that one guy behind. For some I make a special arrangement to meet them somewhere. Some I have to make an every-other-week visit. It’s a constant juggle, but you just can’t give up on a customer because he may move to a big garage with 40 people, and the last thing we want is for him to bad-mouth his Mac distributor.”

The customer’s side

Compared to the planners, about 60 percent of Mike’s stops are big automotive shops. These shops service trams and other light vehicles, heavy equipment, and of course, buses. Disney World operates the largest private bus fleet in the country. Mike’s other customers work on rides and attractions and in other maintenance shops “that buy small stuff like drills, extensions, hand tools … not a lot of automotive tools.”

More than half of Mike’s business is from the cast members (as opposed to planners), and often they buy tools “for things they do off campus, like crafts.” Mike told us about selling 15 pair of safety wire pliers to someone whose wife uses a lot of braided wire for arts and crafts. He also indicated a Mac Perceptor Plus scan tool and said “I sell a lot of those too, (mostly to) guys who have their own shop outside here. Disney already has diagnostic tools in their automotive shops.”

Mike does a lot of business around Christmas time too, mostly stocking-stuffers, and even gift certificates.

Mike’s truck never leaves the campus, and in a typical 60-hour week he drives about 200 miles to see about 500 people. About 300 buy tools. “Most stops, they’re outside waiting for me. I have to limit how many get on the truck at once. A lot of times I can’t even leave the truck, so I can’t really tote-and-promote. But I don’t really have to.”

When asked what he likes most about the job, without hesitation Mike said it’s the people. “I love the interaction with customers. They’re a fun group of guys and they like seeing me show up. And being at Disney World never gets old.”

Mike has recently been promoted to DM and is in the process of training his replacement, Mike Archer. We’ll keep in touch with him to see how things progress in coming months and years.