As a former Walt Disney World cast member at Disney's Hollywood Studios, Epcot and Wildhorse Saloon at Pleasure Island Jennifer has spent many years in the theme park world. People who know her know her passion for Florida and for the theme parks, and probably think she's a bit crazy because she loves them so much. Florida is her home, as are the theme parks and her closest and dearest friends are all people that she worked with while being a cast member. So she went off to create a business around these theme parks, Universal Disney Nutz.
Q: If you could explain yourself in a couple of sentences, how would you do that?
A: I am very methodical. There has to be a routine for me to succeed; I'm very open hearted. I try to see the good in everything, in every situation. I don't like getting soaked up in the negativity and I just try to put that to the side and think, "Okay, there's better things coming."
Q: Tell me about your business and your role.
A: We are a news aggregator for the Central Florida theme parks. We also have a travel agency, blog, a retail marketplace, and podcast - basically it's a whole package all in one. Our staff members are all old cast members at either Disney or Universal (or both). We try to offer that same hospitality factor in what we do and how we relate with others on social media. We also have an amazing website where people can find previous episodes of our Podcast, theme park recipes, our UDN Marketplace, and more! We have themed days on our social media outlets, such as Trivia Thursday (a virtual day long game of trivia), Fun Fact Friday, Small Business Saturday, etc.
UDN has been up for about a year and a half. We started just as a social media group on Facebook, and then we branched out to the other outfits and now have a following on Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest. Then one of my friends, William, got in touch with me and posed the question "Hey, interested in a podcast for your group?" Of course my answer was YES! We have a bimonthly podcast available on iHeart, iTunes, Spotify. And we're getting ready to release a YouTube channel as well. We discuss what's going on in the theme parks, things coming up within the group (like if we're going to have a group meetup, which right now we can't do with COVID-19) sales in the merchandise outlet on the website, giveaways, contests, and more. We are getting ready to release our first newsletter in August, which anyone can subscribe to by going here. The newsletter will be a recap of everything that happened within the world of Universal Disney Nutz for that month, along with some specialized columns and more!
We also have Castle Vacations by UDN. Two of our people are certified travel advisors with Castle Vacations. So we also have the travel agency aspect as well. Our Travel Advisor staff can help with vacation planning in Central Florida, as well as international travel, cruise travel (with options beyond Disney Cruise Lines), Destination Weddings, and more. Our services are always free, and there are no obligations required to submit an inquiry for anything, even if it’s just to get some questions answered on a trip you already have booked. Inquiries can be submitted here.
Q: So how did you get into this business and what was the moment you decided to do it?
A: Basically, I belong to a lot of social media groups and they become very political, nasty, negative, arguing groups of bitter people. In my mind I was thinking, "Surely there's got to be a way to do this and get into this market and get people that don't want to deal with all of that." So that's why I started the Facebook group with the sole intention of a fun place, no negativity, no political content, nothing that's going to cause an argument, it was just fun. I never imagined at the time we would have grown into this whole “world” of Central Florida offerings. We have a great following and look forward to continuing to climb!
Q: That's great. So what was your first year like?
It was rough, of course, it's the first year of anything. And it wasn't created with the purpose of being a business. It was just a social media platform and it grew in about four months into this whole new comprehensive concept that we have now, but it was hard. Trying to break through the walls of a saturated market is always a challenge; but honestly every time we would come up with something new and run with it - it seemed to work! So we just keep pushing the bar to see what we can do. I had a vision but it was hard to communicate that vision to my friends that are involved.
Q: Was there anyone in particular that inspired you or encouraged you to pursue this path?
A: I don't think there was any one in particular. There was one particular social media group out there that left a very bad taste in my mouth, and a lot of people actually ditched this group because of the greed and self-worth instilled within its walls by its leader.
So I think that's what started it for me. We offer a perk, a benefit to our members. Sure we have ways in which we want to monetize the group but we do it discreetly. We always make sure that we are giving all of our members and customers the guest service they would experience in the theme parks.
Q: So how would you define success for yourself both personally and as a professional?
A: For me, success personally is if at the end of the day I can feel like, "Okay, I'm at peace with my core, with myself," and I don't feel like the world is on my shoulders. That's a good day for me. I am a single mom with two kids, so those moments can be very few and far between, but even with them, just to be able to go to bed at night, everyone's happy, that's GREAT!. Professionally, a successful day is getting to interact with people and getting to maybe introduce our group to new people and get them to see that it's not just a social media group. It's about a lot more and for me that is what's fulfilling. That's where I think we make leaps and bounds with our group and what we have to offer. We can set the platform once this COVID-19 thing is over to go full blazes into booking travel again, and being out in the parks and doing the live broadcasts, interacting with people and making our presence known.
Q: What has been the most important skill that you've developed to be a good business owner?
A: I've learned how to do mass social media marketing on my own, website design on my own, anything I am now doing on a technological level I have taught myself and gained from it. I'm learning the legalities of copyright infringement. Working with theme parks you have to know that. So this taught me a lot of things, but the good thing is I can take that and roll it into my other business, JLW Business Services. JLW Business Services is a business management consulting firm, handling anything from social media management to accounting/inventory management services.. I can take all of these newly acquired skills into that business now, too, and help other people in different aspects. It’s always good to learn new things!
Q: It kind of sounds like it comes full circle for both of the operations that you're running. Have you ever thought about quitting? If so, can you tell us a story?
A: I don't know if I would say quit. There are days where I just want to throw my hands up in the air and walk away and start over fresh another day. You can’t help not to, especially with the central Florida theme parks; there's so much competition and the market is so saturated for what we do that there are days where there's no activity in our group at all. That's where I get frustrated because we open the door constantly for the conversations, for any interaction, whether it's a like or a smiley face or a thumbs up, and we don't get it. I start thinking, "Well, what are we doing wrong that we're not getting them to spend more than two seconds scrolling through our page?"
Q: So on days like that, when it feels hard, what do you do?
A: Usually I just let it lie. You can't judge a book by its cover, and especially when you're in the social media marketing industry. Some days people just are not into it. And yes, we're still a baby group since we're at a thousand members almost. We're not like some of the other groups that are 8,000 - 10,000 members.
I honestly don't know that I ever want to get that big. If we do, then we risk it getting out of control. Some days it's just, for me personally, I just don't want to deal with social media. So I take that into account and just let it lie. We'll see what the next day is. If the next day is still as dormant, then I start reevaluating what we're doing and what's on our social media calendar and, okay, what do we need to change? What's not getting the reaction that we want?
Q: So I know we've kind of mentioned COVID throughout this conversation, but how has COVID impacted your business?
A: It has completely impacted our business. Being focused on Central Florida theme parks, there's not much we can talk about except the fact that we're so frustrated that they're open in such a limited capacity. A lot of our material right now is going into what the COVID procedures are in the theme parks, what to expect, what to not try and get away with. The biggest impact is the travel. We can't book anything. Even through Disney and Universal, there's a lot of limitations of what travel agents can do right now. And our travel agency covers all kinds of travel, not just the central Florida theme parks. So our cruise lines are being impacted. International travel is completely shut down. So that's our biggest financial impact is the travel right now.
Q: So segueing off of that, what does the future look like for you guys?
A: The future is unknown. I tend to be a more glass half full, optimistic person. I think eventually we'll get back to a normalcy-altered as it may be. I think it's going to be a couple of years. It's easier to book people at Universal than it is a Disney right now. So we are getting inquiries. We are booking a few packages there. I think once we get into 2021 and the sting of all of this is kind of subdued we will start to see a slow but steady increase in activity across the board. Everybody thinks this is some kind of big political controversy. Whatever it is, we've got to let that die down before we can really move forward on anything. I'm just grateful that the theme parks are still open, even though a lot of other places are shutting back down.
Q: I have my last question here for you. What would you want to learn from a community of other women business owners?
A: There's a lot of things. It's hard to be a female business owner, especially right now with everything that's going on. I would love to learn how people that have something in common with what we do, how they are still being able to open doors, make money, grow, and expand, or if there's someone that does something similar to what we do, what are we doing wrong that will blow the door right open for us? I think there is just so much we could all learn from each other in these times. When small businesses work together and learn, it can truly be a positive upswing for everyone!