Debra LeClerc loves Walt Disney World.
The Magic Kingdom provides her and her husband Ron, co-owners of The Pool Doctor of Rhode Island, a refuge of sorts, a place where the cares of the day-to-day seem to just melt away.
“It’s tough to say what exactly Disney does for me — we just love the experience so much,” says LeClerc, who is also vice president of the Coventry, R.I.-based pool and spa business.
But LeClerc doesn’t simply talk the talk of a Disney aficionado. Nor is she merely a casual admirer. In fact, over the years she’s studied the concepts and business strategies espoused by the company, both through observation on her visits and as a pupil of the Disney Institute.
A professional development and training program, the institute was originally established in 1986 as part-resort, part-education center. It has evolved into a de facto idea factory, where attendees can learn about “the business behind the magic” through workshops, seminars, behind-the-scenes tours of Disney facilities, Webcasts and more.
Participants then return to their own companies and apply what they’ve learned, often with positive results.
“In today’s ‘new normal,’ consumers are choosing to spend their hard-earned dollars with organizations that make them feel as though they are VIPs,” says Bruce Jones, programming director at the Disney Institute. “Walt Disney’s philosophy of treating people as though they are guests in our own home has been a hallmark of [the company] and something Disney Institute is uniquely qualified to share with organizations in any industry.”
Today, the institute encompasses five distinct pillars of business practice: Leadership Excellence, People Management, Quality Service, Brand Loyalty and Inspiring Creativity.
When LeClerc attended in the mid- to late ’90s, she zeroed in on customer service. Having come most recently from the healthcare field, there was much to learn, she recalls.
“I loved that stuff,” she says, “because when I started [at the Pool Doctor], I had no retail experience whatsoever. Maybe a few jobs at the mall in college, but I had no expertise, no knowledge of how to run a retail store.”
LeClerc seized on a number of basics presented at the institute, like the importance of phone etiquette. But she also embraced the overall philosophy of a tightly run, highly proficient operation whose primary business was, essentially, delivering fun.
Today, LecLerc uses those ideals in her own company by establishing a culture that pays precise attention to detail — a tidy store, neatly attired service technicians, a polite manner with customers.
The Pool Doctor, she decided, would provide a superior experience focused on creating smiles, laughter and memories.
“It’s about the overall feel,” she says. “How does my store fit into that fun, family-filled atmosphere while at the same time being infused with professionalism? It has to be that right blend. And sometimes that blend changes, especially according to the customer.
“Some are very technical,” she explains of her clientele, “so subliminally they may like the atmosphere, but they’re going to be more interested in your expertise than the fact that you seem to be a family-oriented business. You just have to gauge it.”
In considering her feelings about Disney, LeClerc uses the analogy of a fine restaurant. Some patrons choose to eat and leave, while others linger, acquiring an appreciation for the atmosphere, the service, and the ingredients that go into each course.
“Look, I’m not trying to create a vacation property here at my store,” she says, “but I think a lot of their business practices are very good. And if more of the world paid attention to that, it would be a happier place to live, to work and to shop in.”