Disney World is widely known as the “most magical place on earth.” And for good reason. The globe’s most famous theme park has been sparking the imaginations of children and adults alike for 50 years.
Since its inception, Disney has also spurred the growth of the Greater Orlando area, creating a mecca for not only tourists seeking adventure, relaxation, and fun. But this region of central Florida also serves as a hub for business networking, conventions, events, and meetings. And no one knows this better than Deanna “Dee” McKenzie.
Dee began her career with Disney roughly 17 years ago and worked as a meeting planner in the conventions and banquets segment of the organization, finally moving into the cruise lines business vertical. It was a terrific job, and Dee excelled at her position because of her meticulous attention to detail, focused organizational skills, and the ability to seamlessly communicate with clients and vendors.
Then the pandemic hit in 2020, and meetings and conventions were put on hold, and cruise ships were ordered to stay in port.
“I was working for Disney Cruise Line, and we weren’t sailing,” Dee said. “Of course there weren’t any conventions either. I didn’t get laid off, but I was furloughed.”
So Dee, like many of her colleagues at Disney, had to look elsewhere for work, at least until the pandemic slowed.
“It was then that I started looking at doing Instacart,” she said.
But Dee told us that there was something missing. As a meeting planner, she was accustomed to personalizing the client experience, going above and beyond to ensure all moving parts come together to realize a goal.
“I don’t know if it’s the Disney in me, but Instacart just didn’t have that personal feel,” Dee said. “That’s why I think Dumpling is such a good fit.”
Developing a Unique and Effective Business Model
Dee knew she could make waves in the personal shopping space, especially by leveraging the skills she had acquired through her background in meeting planning and experience living amid the tourism industry in the Orlando area. While shopping for groceries for people’s homes can be lucrative and rewarding, Dee stumbled upon another idea after joining the Facebook group Ear for Each Other. The group is made up of furloughed cast members from Disney, and the aim is to help promote each other’s side hustles while Disney was operating at a limited capacity.
“There’re over 100,000 people on there,” Dee said. “Anyone can join and support cast members.”
Some of the group’s members encouraged Dee to post about her business, but she was reluctant at first. Then, the night her team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, appeared in the Super Bowl, Dee decided to create her first post in the group.
“And that night, Super Bowl night, I got 120 people that reached out to me,” she said. “Then I checked back two days later, and that number was up to 683.”
Many of the requests came from people wanting deliveries made to hotels or properties like Disney’s Contemporary Resort. So Dee thought, “Why not focus on delivering to people on vacation?” After all, travelers coming in from points all over the world don’t necessarily have the time to stock their hotel fridges. And many parents can attest that the kids are going to work up an appetite after a long day at the theme parks.
The idea was an instant success. Dee began taking orders from hungry tourists. And she caught the attention of some travel agents on the Ear for Each Other page, who started recommending her services to people traveling to Orlando. It worked out as a great value add for the travel agents, as their clients can have a full grocery order waiting for them at the hotel if they so desire.
“Most hotels have a grocery holding area with a fridge and freezer,” Dee said. “It’s great. People can go to the parks or arrive late and not have to worry about food or shopping.”
But it’s not just tourists Dee serves. True to her meeting planner roots, she also does personal shopping for events, including a cheerleading competition held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex.
“They have these cheerleading competitions every year,” Dee said. “A mom from one of the squads reached out to me asking if I could put together a few bags with water and Gatorade for the girls. That order turned into me doing 110 snack bags to serve the entire group.”
The Special Sauce That Makes Deliveries by Dee a Success
It’s one thing to have a unique idea for a personal shopping business; it’s another thing to make that business blossom and flourish. Dee says it’s no accident that she’s so busy these days. It’s the result of a ton of hard work and following a simple philosophy.
“At Disney, there’s a thing called the ‘Disney Difference,’” Dee said. “It’s what separates you from the others. When we’re planning a convention, for example, we ask ourselves why would someone want to come to us instead of, say, the Hilton, or Universal, or SeaWorld? It’s the Disney Difference. And that’s how I approach my own personal shopping business.”
Dee told us she looks for the little things that set her apart from Instacart or Amazon. And she noted that personalization, attention to detail, and communication are all integral components of her approach — and to getting repeat customers.
In addition to adding thank you cards to every order, Dee also tries to include small gifts or fun little tokens of appreciation. Sometimes they’re Disney-branded playing cards or, if she knows the client has young children, a toy from the Dollar Store or something similar.
“I might spend, you know, $20 on dollar gifts,” Dee said. “So, I might be spending a dollar or so on a given order, but the clients who get them might tell five or 10 of their friends when they get back home.”
Dee said that one of her clients sent a message after returning from vacation saying her kids were still playing with the Lion King cards Dee included with her grocery order.
“The cards kept them busy at night when they weren’t in the park,” she said. “And they weren’t fighting when they got bored. These little things can really make a big difference.”
Even if personal shoppers aren’t serving a tourist or vacation hot spot, Dee noted that including similar personalized gifts or thank you cards can have a pretty big return on investment. This helps keep a shopper top-of-mind and really helps foster relationships with clients.
Another best practice Dee recommends other shoppers heed is attention to image and branding.
“You probably shouldn’t show up in a tank top and flip flops when delivering groceries,” she said. “I wear a Polo shirt with my logo on it and black shorts.”
Dee said this helps her maintain a sense of professionalism with her clients. And, because she’s regularly delivering to hotels and other places of business, Dee looks like she’s there to perform a job and serve their clientele.
Reaping the Rewards of Hard Work & Sowing an Even Brighter Future
Since beginning her journey as a personal shopper, Dee has grown her business exponentially, and that upward trajectory shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, she has wrangled the services of a partner, Kevin, who helps her when orders start booming.
“My friend Kevin partnered with me. He worked for Disney Entertainment for 24 years before the pandemic,” Dee said. “I was having to turn people away and getting overbooked. So Kevin really helps out a lot.”
In addition to sourcing Kevin to help out, Dee also uses a scheduling and calendar application to help her track and plan orders.
“My market is a bit different than the average personal shopper’s,” Dee said. “People are planning vacations months in advance, so I have to get them on my calendar so everything’s in order for their trip. I currently have people booked out as far as 2022.”
As a graduate of Dumpling’s coaching program and a participant in brainstorming sessions with the company’s team, Dee was able to develop ideas like implementing the calendar app and leverage other best practices taken from her days as a meeting planner. And the hard work and full calendar are really paying off for Dee. She noted that her personal shopping business has become quite lucrative.
“I’m making almost as much as I was at Disney after 17 years there,” Dee said. “Sometimes I’m shocked at how much money I am making.”
Once her furlough period is over, Dee does plan to go back to work at Disney. She only has a few years left until she’s eligible for retirement with her full pension and 401K benefits. However, the experience working with Dumpling has sparked her entrepreneurial spirit.
“This will be a great way to set myself up for when I do actually retire,” she said.
In the meantime, Dee will continue to serve and shop for clients in the Orlando area. She told us the demand in Central Florida for these tailored personal shopping services is huge and that there’s room there and elsewhere for aspiring business owners to grab a piece of the market share.
“I think there’s a real opportunity for people to partner with hotels or, like I do, with travel agents,” Dee said. “This experience has really been great for me.”