If you’re anything like me, you’re obsessed with memorable customer service and quality products. I’ve been following Zappos for quite a while since learning about their unique culture and customer service obsessed culture. You can imagine my excitement when I received an email from their team offering to send me their book, The Power Of Wow, with an invite to come to visit their Las Vegas, Nevada headquarters.

Receiving invites and all-inclusive trips to conferences, events and to meet with industry leaders isn’t new for me. However, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t starstruck from this particular invite. Part of what I do in my business is to help companies create stronger candidate and employee experiences. I thought it would be helpful to walk you through what my experience was like visiting the online clothing and shoe retailer. Hopefully, you can sense my excitement throughout the post!

Warning, this may be lengthy and non-traditional to my other blogs, but it’s well worth the read. *All of these pictures and videos are my own.

Zappos initially reached out to me at the end of last year through email. They offered to send me their recently published book and were eager for me to read it. Along with sending their book, they extended an invite to fly me out. I received their book in the mail shortly after and immediately dove in soaking up every word and highlighting what seemed to be every page.

I highly encourage reading both Delivering Happiness as well as The Power Of Wow. Delivering Happiness talks about Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, and his journey. He holds nothing back and you get a better idea of who he is and how he operates. The Power Of Wow is written from employees’ perspectives and dives deeper into the culture of the company. Hsieh is present throughout the book as well with humorous commentary.

Each book radiates passion and energy that isn’t typical of the business books you normally read. The way they’re written demonstrates how unique Zappos is from other companies. The Power Of Wow is littered with interesting facts about each employee that speaks about their experience. When I arrived at Zappos, I already felt like I knew each person from what I learned in the book.

What sets Zappos apart from the other opportunities I receive was their attentiveness to making sure I was well taken care of and the flexibility to meet my needs. Whenever I receive offers of “all-inclusive” trips to conferences, events, etc… I always verify that it is in-fact “all-inclusive.” I’ve learned early on “all-inclusive” is freely thrown around. In the beginning, I learned the hard way by spending more out of pocket than what was covered by the event.

Zappos was incredibly understanding about answering my questions and breaking down the details of the trip. We were definitely on the same page in our definition of “all-inclusive.” They had my hotel, arrival and itinerary taken care of and I was scheduled to arrive in Vegas on January 8th and depart on the 10th.

I was picked up at the airport and taken to the Downtown Grand where I stayed. The hotel was only a block away from the Zappos headquarters. During my time in Vegas, I spent my time with Zappos THINK team members, Kelly, Tia and Derrin as well as the PR Lead, Laura.

Kelly came to my hotel and made sure everything was taken care of for me and provided delicious food recommendations. If you’re an avid conference-goer, you’ve probably noticed most conferences are in Vegas. Each time I’ve been to Vegas for a conference, I’ve only ever stayed on the strip. This was my first time experiencing downtown. I utilized this time to explore the Freemont Street Experience and eat at the award-winning gourmet pizza place, Pizza Rock.

I ordered a gluten-free pizza with fig sauce drizzled on it and it was divine. It’s hard to find a gluten-free pizza crust that isn’t crunchy and crispy, but Pizza Rock nailed it.

I headed back to my hotel to hit the gym before getting ready for bed and a full day of fun with the Zappos team. Fun fact: the Zappos headquarters is in the old city hall building. You’ll see they’ve made great use of the space in the pictures throughout this post. Another fun fact: the theme of the hotel floor I stayed on was Tiffany & Co. Here’s a picture of their mirror with the iconic beaded necklace and Tiffany blue elevator doors.

I arrived at the headquarters at 9am the next morning. When I saw the front entrance to their campus I knew it was going to be a fun day. As you walk up the steps, you’re met with signs of the various different brands they partner with lining two stories of the building. The different building entryways holds a Vegas-style sign such as “Lobby” or “Theatre.”

Upon entering the lobby, there’s a convenience store/gift shop on the right, a desk where the people who work the lobby sit positioned in front of you and a table full of boxes filled with different colored “pencil” cups that oddly resemble shot glasses with their core values etched into them. I took a yellow one for their core value: be passionate and determined.

Employee nameplates resemble license plates. New hires start with an orange plate and as they hit certain years within the company their plate color changes. The registration style stickers on the right indicate how many years Bre has been with the company. The “1999” is when Zappos was founded.

I was greeted with a delicious breakfast that the Zappos team made sure were things I could eat. I’m riddled with food intolerances and allergies (I refer to them as Heidi Friendly instead of listing them all out) so it was nice to have a company genuinely care about accommodating me. This happens almost never so I’m usually carrying a purse full of snacks and suitable protein bars.

After breakfast, Letha came to pick me up and give me a campus tour. I learned each tour is different as each employee adds their own unique touch and story to it. We started with Letha’s work area so she could understand what I wanted to get from the tour.

Employees are encouraged to decorate their desks in a way that resembles who they are. Zappos stresses the importance of their employees “bringing their whole self to work.” Within a few seconds, you can learn the interests of another person and use those to find common ground and spark up a conversation.

I was visiting as their lobby was swapping out winter decorations for Chinese New Year. Their lobby has a pool table, ball pit, small arcade, think tank and couches to sit on.

Here’s a sneak peek of the lobby. To the right is a glimpse of the 1999 bar.

The room behind the bar, which you can’t see, sits a large auditorium. I was only able to get a sneak peek because it was being used. We stepped outside back into the center of the campus.

They make great use of this space by hosting events, community service initiatives or having a 60-70 foot Christmas tree. What I love about Zappos is their strong charity arm. This post doesn’t even cover half the things they do but it is worth mentioning a few.

Each year they host Prom Closet for underprivileged girls who are unable to afford to attend their prom. At absolutely zero cost to the student or family, Prom Closet comes to the Zappos campus on prom day and fills the campus center with racks of prom dresses, shoes, makeup and hair artists and photographers. They even have on-the-spot free dress alterations so their dress fits perfectly so they’re picture perfect for their prom.

Each area of Zappos has a different theme. Can you guess what the theme of the one below is?

Each year, Zappos throws a party for their vendors as a token of appreciation for everything they do. People that aren’t even their vendors try to sneak into these parties. To cherish the memories, Zappos dedicated a wall to remembering each party they’ve thrown.
Having just moved back to America from Germany, I immediately noticed the massive mug of beer. Letha told me an employee made this along with a lifesize pretzel (not pictured) for Zappos Oktoberfest celebration. Don’t mind the Cousin Itt photobomb.
I stopped in the bathroom and couldn’t resist taking a picture of the post-it’s filled with love and positivity that sprawl across the bathroom mirror.

After all, Zappos refers to themselves as a family and truly lives out their values. You can see that in everything they do as well as their culture. Most companies create their core values as a marketing tactic but never truly live them out. Transforming a team or culture doesn’t happen overnight. It’s impossible. However, with consistent action and the right help (and the open-mindedness that you might have to part ways with talented people who don’t align with the culture), you, too, can create a rewarding culture.

We worked our way up to the second floor where the IT team sat. The IT office was an open concept. The IT team sits at a bar and with only a counter separating them and the employees who need help. On the other side of the bar are stools for employees to come with their laptops and get their issue resolved.

They also have a Starbucks-like cafe but without the Starbucks prices. I ordered my go-to, almond milk hot chocolate. It was delicious and half the price for the same size. Attached to the cafe is a huge patio that overlooks the city where employees can go and hang out.

When you come outside of the cafe, you can enter into another office where employees sit. It was fun to learn the CEO and executives sit with the rest of the employees. Fun fact: Letha has a bigger desk than the CEO.

Zappos fully embraces the culture of ideas even if they flop. Here’s an example. Since employees are allowed to bring dogs (who pass a one-day training and receive their own ID card similar to their owners) on campus. They tried out an idea by investing in a small enclosed dog house that sits outside the cafe with air conditioning and a bed. This acts as a “dog sitter.” However, Letha said it’s rarely used because other employees always volunteer to dogsit for them. This just proves how human Zappos is. They give it a try and if it doesn’t work then it’s a mistake learned. Similar to the $75,000 lesson.

In The Power Of Wow, Zappos employee, Joe Grusman, spoke about the $75,000 lesson. In essence, an employee who made a mistake costing a company $75,000 has learned to never make that mistake again. However, most companies are quick to fire that employee. Zappos’ view is, why would we fire them? Yes, they made a mistake, but they’ve also just learned from it. And, if we fire them, the lesson they learned they’ll implement with another company. Their competitor.

This is such a different way of thinking than the corporate environment. Employees are more often than not fired for any mistakes, big or small. The fired employee learns their lesson and then contributes their newly gained knowledge to the next company.

I didn’t tour the customer service floors (there are eight of them) but I did tour the HR department which made my jaw drop. Everything you thought you knew about HR just goes out the window once you see the Zappos HR setup. It’s similar to walking into a Dave and Busters or Chuck E Cheese where after winning tickets you can cash them in for a fun little prize. Their HR department has the same layout.

Let me explain further because I don’t want to take away from the actual work their HR department does to make sure everything runs smoothly and their employees are taken care of. I’m referring more to the environment of the HR department. Typically, HR is hidden or blends in with the other departments.

At Zappos, it’s different. They’re out in the open and inviting. The HR team sits behind a glass counter resembling the Chuck E Cheese prize counter. In fact, Zappos operates in a similar fashion. Employees receive points that they can cash in and choose from an array of prizes.

Aside from the Chuck E Cheese prize counter, they have a wall dedicated to describing their employee benefits. Not only do they offer top-notch health benefits, but they also offer nutritional and additional.

For example, Zappos employees get free weight watchers memberships and there’s a full-sized gym equipped with everything they need that’s located on campus. Should they need a shower or locker room, they can easily shower after and head to work or off to wherever.

Glassdoor found corporate social responsibility is directly linked with employee productivity, retention and overall engagement. In the Glassdoor poll, 75% of employees “expect their employer to support groups and individuals in need in the communities in which they do business through donations and/or volunteer efforts.”

I love the creativity even with the bathroom sign

I was treated to lunch and while we were at lunch at Eureka! our waitress delivered exceptional customer service. When she was handed the Zappos company card for the bill, she made a joke about wanting a pair of Converse and dropped her shoe size and the color of the shoe she wanted. Next thing you know, the team began talking about making her wish come true and surprising her with them!

Scattered throughout campus and lining the walkway to the parking garage, there are paintings painted by employees. I can’t imagine how rewarding it must be to have your artwork on display for all to admire at your workplace.

The CEO, Tony Hsieh, invested $350 million dollars into revitalizing downtown Las Vegas. Part of his project was creating the Container Park where repurposed shipping containers are now the homes to 30 small businesses and boutique stores.

Another part of the downtown revitalization was refurbishing Ferguson’s Motel into an upscale trailer park, little home and motel turned into condo community.

Unlike any other motel you’ve probably ever been to, Ferguson’s has a pool, a shared community kitchen, campfire site with movie screen projector and set up to watch movies, a coworking space and a llama named, Marley who’s eager to make friends and play with the local dogs.

While the living arrangement is secluded, it’s connected with a small shopping center housing only local small businesses. At the entrance of the small shopping center sits Big Rig Jig, a custom sculpture made from two big-rig trucks that interlock and stand four stories high.

Some of the shops you can find when visiting are a beauty salon, food and coffee shop options, a body-positive jewelry store, a tintype photography studio and a mix of handmade goods.

Additionally, they surprised me with VIP tickets to see Atomic Saloon at the Venetian with a tour backstage and free drinks at their speakeasy.

This was our backstage view before entering the speakeasy.

I mentioned I had plans to meet up with an old friend and they said “no problem” and got him a VIP ticket, too.

I learned something interesting about Hsieh. He is a big proponent of 1-month trial periods with everything, no matter how big or small. No idea is too crazy. He’s a natural at building communities. In fact, Hsieh lives in Ferguson’s.

If there’s anything you take away from this post, I hope it’s how Hsieh has completely rebelled against conventional workplace hierarchies, titles and rules and found greater success with a human-to-human approach. Still unsure if you’re ready to try something new? Try it out for a month and see what happens 🙂

Talk soon!

Heidi