Behind the magic: Inside Disney's Distribution Services

News 6 anchor Ginger Gadsden gets behind-the-scenes tour

By Tara Evans - Executive Producer, Ginger Gadsden - Anchor
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - When you go to Walt Disney World, it's not just the rides and attractions to look forward to-- there's all kinds of merchandise up for grabs.Anything and everything you can possibly imagine, all set to a Disney theme. 
But how does it get to the store shelves, ready for you to take home?
News 6 anchor Ginger Gadsden went behind the magic to see just how it all works, starting in Disney's Distribution Services warehouse. She got a personal tour, led by director Alison Armor.
"No trip to Disney World is complete without being able to consume your favorite Mickey ice cream bar or wear your favorite Mickey ears hat," said Armor. "That's what we do, we deliver all of that.
"So everything, all the merchandise we see in the stores, starts here?" asked Gadsden.
"For Walt Disney World and the cruise lines, yes," said Armor. "At Distribution Services, we have over 500 cast members working 365 days a year and we deliver all the merchandise, we do food and beverage, we do mail services and all the general supplies. So all the cups, all the napkins, the food and wine. We operate out of a million square feet of warehousing space. Our largest single building has over 400,000 square feet, the size of eight football fields. We have almost 2 miles of conveyor, which is like a highway in the sky for our totes, essentially. In this building alone, we have 20,000 unique items on hand at any time, and throughout the year, because we're constantly turning out new product, we probably have closer to 40,000."
It's basically like Christmas shopping right from the source--everything you can imagine, all in one spot. You can find everything from a 42-inch Star Wars Storm Trooper, to anything Frozen themed you could want, to plush toys to even about 40 different pairs of Mickey ears guests can choose from. 
To get all that merchandise into the stores, first comes the filling of the orders.
"This cast member here has a radio frequency device that is telling her what she needs to pick for reorders for replenishing each of our 300 stores," said Armor, as a cast member demonstrated what they call 'picking'. "So this is automated in the sense that we aren't managing paper or people aren't submitting orders, it's all done electronically based on what was purchased by our guests yesterday."
The cast member scanned a bar code that corresponds to a particular product, and it told her how many of that product need to go to each store. She then placed the products in totes that are bound for each location, and scanned bar codes on those totes to make sure she is sending the right number of products to the right store.
"Once the totes are filled, they put them on the conveyor system," said Armor. "They go to the quality assurance area, where we check the products from the vendor and also where we check our own pick accuracy to hold ourselves to a high standard."
Everything is recounted and double-checked-- and then it's back up on the conveyor belts.
"They're sorted by a scanning device that actually scans them and sorts them to go down on automatic rollers to one of ten downlanes," said Armor. "There's like 20 different pallet locations, and the system knows it's supposed to go to which pallet and it sends it down there to that cast member." 
Those boxes are then sorted to be placed on the correct pallet before being taken to a giant plastic wrap machine that gets the pallets all wrapped up tight for delivery. 
Then, the last stop-- one of Disney's 120 tractor trailers to be taken out to the stores.
"We deliver it all ourselves," said Armor. "We have roughly 20 to 25 of these that go out full of merchandise every night to all of Walt Disney World and the cruise lines. Our team does that overnight. We drive 800,000 miles a year delivering all across the property."
Armor said the biggest components to making sure this all runs smoothly are safety and cleanliness. They even have what's called "wayfinders" painted on the warehouse floor-- different colored solid lines that will lead you along the path to wherever you need to get in the building, safely.
"If you're a new cast member and you're working at inventory management or you're trying to find the office for receiving, you can look here and say, 'Oh, I follow the orange line,'" said Armor. "It keeps people safe and lets them maneuver on their own. We have found that focusing on safety has also helped us with efficiency because they know the walkways, they know where to go, they know where things belong, they know where to find things, they have automation to help move boxes for our cast members so all of those things work together in harmony to create both an efficient and safe environment as well as improve our accuracy to our service to our guests."

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