On My Tour of Zappos

Last Thursday, I had the privilege to tour the headquarters of Zappos in Henderson, NV just outside of Las Vegas with my friend and Sage partner Judy Thornell of Baytek. (Thanks, Judy for arranging the tour!) Without question Zappos is an amazing organization. If you ever have the chance to go on the tour, I highly recommend it to a friend/colleague. (A little NPS humor there.)

imageAs soon as you walk in you notice, the place is loud. The lobby/reception area is like no other in that it bustles like a Las Vegas Strip street corner with friends (more later) walking through, talking and high-fiving. What is more this is clearly not an accident, the location was chosen precisely because it is busy. The Zappos culture is on display. It was further demonstrated by this pillow made from a tee-shirt that was on the couch in the reception area.

IMG_0506Jerry (in the red shirt at left) was the ringmaster. He greeted everyone warmly (and loudly) and peppered us with a series of one-liners throughout our wait. At one point, one of the tourists asked about where the men’s room was. Jerry replied without hesitation, “We just use the bushes out front.”

Our tour guide was the effervescent Rocco (on the megaphone above – I told you it was loud) whose title on his card is, I kid you not, Culture Magician. Throughout the tour he referred to his co-workers as “friends in department name” or “my fellow Zapponians.” The use of friends was genuine and did not sound odd, except the first time he said it.

The first and largest department we visited was the CLT – Customer Loyalty Team. This 24-hour a day team is talking on the phones, replying to email and conversing via chat. Chat is the newest part of the team which has increased from 11 people to 55 in the last year. Their mantra which they shouted to us as we walked by is, “Once you go chat, you’ll never go back.” Too funny!


Every new hire regardless of their position with the company does four weeks of CLT training (that is what they called it). This serves two purposes: 1) it instills the Zappos values and 2) it serves as a backup for their busy Christmas season. Since everyone has done time at CLT they can all pitch in rather than hire temporary workers who do not understand the culture. Brilliant idea!

If the new hire is on the CLT, they then serve an additional three weeks of what is called “incubation: before they are fully on the team.

Every six months the CLT undergoes what is called a “shift bid.” This is where the teams reshuffle and through a bidding process people move from shift to shift or from subteams (like email) to subteam (like chat) in the CLT.

We then met the gal who holds the record for the longest call – 8 hours and 25 minutes. Someone on the tour asked if she took a bathroom break. “One,” she replied. They are currently producing a video about it, but in the meantime you can view this one about the previous record holder, Jennifer S. Her call was a mere four hours!

One of the coolest employee program that Rocco mentioned was the  concierge service for all employees. They can drop off their dry cleaning, get their cars detailed, or even, have a gift purchased for a loved one. Now this is not a free service, the employee pays a fee, plus the price of the purchase, but again, it is a stellar idea.

Next up where the friend on the legal team. For privacy purposes they are the only team that has offices and even they are decorated with big red awnings that are too big for the narrow hallway. CEO Tony Hsieh has a cubical on what is called Monkey Row because it is decorated like a jungle. “Don’t worry, the fire department has approved,” we were told by Rocco.

On the subject of the CEO, we introduced next to the FACE team (they have lots of acronyms, but they are very self effacing about them). FACE stands for Folks that answer CEO email!

Near the end of the tour we were given the opportunity to set in their Royalty Chair. This area is a restaging of a room we saw on the tour previously where friends go to work through and personal goals with a coach. When they achieve their goals they get to sit in the chair. Below is my picture in the chair which they posted on Twitter.



After the tour Judy and I stayed for a brief round of Q&A with Rocco and Renea another tour guide. Perhaps the best answer was in response to a question on following process. “You don’t have to follow our procedures just get the job done,” Rocco responded.

PS – I learned about the Zappos app on iPhone during the tour. Mind you, it is unlikely that I personally will buy anything on it. This is not a reflection of the app, but the fact that my wife Christine is in charge of any and all wardrobe purchases. What is significant is that I showed it to my sister-in-law who initially poo-pooed it saying, “I like to go into shoe stores so I can see and touch and smell the leather.” Well, after five minutes of playing with the app, she said, “I am smelling the leather!”

One thought on “On My Tour of Zappos

  1. Great recap. Sounds like quite an experience.

    Ed, I’m like your sister- in-law, I like to touch my purchases. Plus shoes are one of those things I’m picky about. However, last night after my dog ate my favorite pair of Merrell sandals I decided to give Zappos a try. One might surmise this was an emotionally based decision coming from a distraught woman in the midst of mourning the loss of her favorite shoes and you’d be partially right. The real reason though I decide to try Zappos was the experience they provided when I requested their culture book. The entire process was impressive. When you submit the request you actually get a printed book. Before it arrives they let you know it’s in the mail and invite you to see a video on how it’s made. When it arrives it’s amazing. The entire book is made up of pictures and short unedited articles submitted by employees on what the Zappos culture means to them. It’s authentic, fun and ultimately a genius way for Zappos to show how they are different from the thousands of other online retailers (including their parent company Amazon) without blatantly marketing their difference. The experience left me wanting more and made me feel like I was missing out by not being a customer.

    So yes, while my decision to try Zappos was an emotionally based one it was really about wanting to work with a company that made me feel something.

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