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A “behind–the–ears” look at Disneyland
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David Koenig
Costume Foolery

Cast members are about to take
matters into their own hands

Take this to the bank: the bigger the fuss Disneyland management makes about some operational change benefiting employees, the worse that change will be. And that's what's got cast members so nervous about the serve-yourself costuming system the park will unveil within the next week or so.

Called "Costume Shopping," the program is currently the subject of a heavy marketing campaign for cast members, including flyers, articles in the Disneyland Line, and spots on Cast TV in all the break rooms—a sure tip-off that something not-so-wonderful is on the way.

Instead of being issued their costume by a department staffer, cast members will wander through the Costuming Building, gathering their own wardrobe, piece by piece, then have the items scanned as they exit. The program has been used for the last few months in Fantasyland and Toontown and for several years throughout Disney World.

Some cast members like the idea of taking matters into their own hands. "I've been complaining for as long as I can remember about how moronic the costuming cast members can be," one host said. "They are the regular butt of many an inside joke at the resort and if ever one is late, all they have to do is blame it on costuming and there will be no questions asked!"

Most employees, however, are up in arms. "I think there will be a rude awakening among those cast members who believe this will be a good thing when they find the disheveled mess of other cast members who have rifled through costuming," a ride operator said. "I think this will also lead to a reduction of available costume pieces as will be very hard to track 'shoplifting,' especially since the vast majority of us are already authorized to remove costumes from the resort through the Fast Track system. How will security know which costume pieces we have checked out and which we have not? Aside from that, I already need an additional 30-45 minutes prior to my shift just to get parked, catch a shuttle, get through security, get a costume, and get to my location on time. I can only believe that Costume Shopping will make it worse."

"Management is playing it up as more convenient, faster, and easier. Whatever," agreed a co-worker. "Although I must admit I'd like to murder the rejects they put in costuming sometimes because they are SO slow and SO rude, I think this idea stinks. Can you imagine the disorganization? The squabbles over the last XL Emporium sweater? Not to mention it's all based on the honor system, so we could probably walk out of there with twice what we're actually scanning out. And, we're not trained for costume issue, and it's one more thing to suck up our non-paid time, at least until we get used to it."

Another employee fumed: "The flyer tries to convey that this bogus new policy will be a privilege. Well, I don't think that expecting us to get our own costumes is exactly a privilege and neither will the people in costuming that they are laying off. There are two good reasons why this is NOT going to benefit us. First, Disneyland has not trained us to do the job of someone in costuming. Second, Disneyland is not paying us for the extra time it is going to take searching through all of the pants, shirts, belts, ties, skirts, hats, vests, etc. etc. etc."

(The cast member vowed to file a grievance with the union and is encouraging co-workers to do likewise.)

Certainly, cutting labor costs is of primary concern. That doesn't mean the system won't benefit cast members, too. Apparently, Costume Shopping works well at Disney-MGM Studios, which pioneered the system about three years ago. The basic premise is that you head into a retail store-type environment with racks and racks of costumes sorted by department, Land, and location, and find your own stuff. You grab the costume pieces you need, and then head to a checkout kiosk. A Costuming cast member scans the pieces you are checking out, and you're on your way.

There are still a few Costume cast members roaming the floor to help with questions or sizes, as well as several cast members at the checkout counters. "It worked great at MGM, and it has been expanded to other parks in Walt Disney World," said a Disneyland manager. "Of course, it does cut down on labor, and that's a huge driver behind this. But, the cast members legitimately found it easier and faster when they do it themselves. Instead of a Costume cast member being expected to know 50 or more costumes and all the little accessories that go with each one, the individual cast members will just need to know what their costumes consist of. Everyone who works Big Thunder, for instance, knows exactly what that costume looks like and the accessories that go with it."

Costume Shopping can work, perhaps just not as easily in Anaheim. Disneyland's challenge will be trying to "shoehorn" Costume Shopping into a two-year-old facility (above) that wasn't designed for it. When Disneyland's new Costuming Building opened with much fanfare and a splashy two-day open house in September 1999, Costume Shopping was never part of the plan. In fact, with initial waits of up to 45 minutes and mass chaos at the order windows, I'm not quite sure what the plan was.

In the original wardrobe building, built in 1965, there were about two dozen issue windows, half for hosts, half for hostesses. Each side then had individual windows assigned to specific departments, such as Foods, Guest Relations, and Attractions. Subdividing the issue windows meant each would be responsible for only a fraction of the total possible items of clothing.

"It was a nifty system, and it worked well for over three decades," a cast member remembered. "With the new Costuming Building, they did away with that tried-and-true system and just had large roll-up garage doors at long counters. Any cast member could go to any attendant at the long counters, and the Costuming cast member would then wander through the huge new building looking for a costume. It was an instant disaster, and it got very bad, very quickly. The lines were constantly long and confusion and short tempers were the order of the day at Costuming for months."

During the new building's first Christmas season, when the park was open daily until midnight and hordes of seasonal cast members returned to work, he recalled, "there were some very scary times at the Costuming Building. Pushing and yelling became normal, and finally one afternoon a few days before Christmas an actual fist fight broke out between two hosts trying to push their way to an open window. It was ugly. The very next day after the fight, they set up Guest Control in front of the windows and drafted salaried managers to stand around to direct traffic and try to keep a lid on things."

Later that winter, Disneyland reinstituted the assigned windows for hosts and hostesses. The move returned some sense of organization and, if nothing else, if the hosts started brawling again, the hostess would be safely segregated in their own line.

The department groupings never returned, however. Through the winter and spring of 2000, management reduced wait times (and prevented fist fights) by hiring dozens of new cast members to work at the Costuming Building. Labor costs soared.

To make matters worse, the Costuming Building serves only part of the resort. Originally, the facility was supposed to service both Disneyland and DCA. But it was quickly discovered that not even all of Disneyland's costumes could fit in the new building, let alone the dozens of new costumes that would need to be issued for DCA locations. With the opening of DCA approaching in early 2001, management scrapped the idea of a central costuming area. Fantasyland and Toontown costumes are now distributed from a converted locker room in the Parade and Entertainment building behind Toontown. Paradise Pier costumes handed out from a converted storage area in the Parade Building behind California Screamin'. And Hollywood Pictures Backlot costumes are issued from converted locker areas upstairs in the new Costuming Building.

With Costume Shopping, management hopes to gain not only lower labor costs, but also the "warm vibes" the system generates among many Disney World cast members.

The problem is that the new Costuming Building was never designed or built to be like a "store," with "customers" pulling garments off the shelves. It's a warehouse stacked to the ceiling with clothes. The costumes are stored on mechanical racks, much like a dry cleaners, and they are stacked three hangers tall. The average cast member would only be able to reach items hanging from the first rack of costumes. To reach anything from the second rack will take a very tall cast member, and nothing on the third rack can be touched without a 10-foot ladder.

The locations that use Costume Shopping at WDW were heavily retrofitted to look like stores, with lots of floor racks of clothing, and even displays of the proper accessories. At MGM's Costume Shopping location, there is bright lighting, bouncy Disney music playing, large checkout kiosks and everything is accessible, just like a big discount clothing store at the mall.

Disneyland's Costuming Building won't have any of that, and there's currently no budget for such a massive redesign. It will be interesting to see how Costuming handles things when a cast member's pants may be at ground level, but the shirt is 7 feet off the ground, the vest and coat are 12 feet off the ground, and the hat is in a box 10 feet up a metal industrial shelving system. Costuming cast members are trained to operate the mechanical racks and the tall rolling ladders, but no other cast member is.

The new Costuming Building was seriously flawed from the beginning, and an example of amazingly bad design and planning. The nightmarish system took over a year to correct, at considerable unplanned costs. Trying to shoehorn Costume Shopping into an incompatible facility might enliven backstage with all-new nightmares before Christmas.

You can write to David atthis link..


David Koenig is the senior editor of the 80-year-old business journal, The Merchant Magazine.

After receiving his degree in journalism from California State University, Fullerton (aka Cal State Disneyland), he began years of research for his first book, Mouse Tales: A Behind-the-Ears Look at Disneyland (1994), which he followed with Mouse Under Glass: Secrets of Disney Animation & Theme Parks (1997, revised 2001) and More Mouse Tales: A Closer Peek Backstage at Disneyland (1999); all titles published by Bonaventure Press.

He lives in Aliso Viejo, California, with his lovely wife, Laura, their wonderful son, Zachary, and their adorable daughter, Rebecca.

You can contact David here.


Click here to go to David's main page for a list of archived articles.

Visit MouseShoppe to purchase copies of David's books. (Clicking on the link opens a new window.)


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