tour guide Erika Newman, right, shows off the
company's ball pit in the human resources department
to tourist Michelle Mickan of Australia. The Zappos
headquarters building in downtown Las Vegas has
become a popular tourist site.
VEGAS — Of all the myriad decadent, glitzy, over-the-top
activities a vacationer can experience in Sin City, why
choose instead to kill an hour touring a corporate office
and call center?
you couldn’t get in to see the Blue Man Group or those
clowns at Circus Circus? Sure, Celine Dion has canceled
shows at Caesar’s Palace, but you could catch drag-queen
Celine Dions at, uh, lesser venues ringing the Strip.
though, people have been flocking to downtown Las Vegas,
after making online reservations weeks in advance, just to
get a glimpse inside the corporate headquarters of
Zappos.com, one of the world’s largest e-commerce
businesses, which now is under the hegemonic umbrella of
peppy corporate brainwashing, part peek inside the über-cool
work lives of hipster techies, and part exercise in
management-training dogma from the mind of the company’s
cult-figure CEO, Tony Hsieh, the Zappos tour (excuse me,
it’s officially called the Zappos Tour Experience) will
leave you both thoroughly impressed and a little creeped
out by the aggressively jolly corporate culture.
this, too: You might walk out an hour later feeling really
bad about your job — or, rather, your workplace culture.
That’s because anything short of an amusement park
operating in your building will pale compared to Zappos’
lavish perks, rumpus-room-chic design and all-around chill
vibe that permeates the high rise that once was Las Vegas’
City Hall. You’ll look at those free Friday morning
bagels your boss brings in, a gesture you once cherished,
and go, "Meh, is that the best you can do?" The
waffle-making machine at Zappos is 24/7, dude.
all great P.R. for the company whose core mission (see,
you’ll even start spouting corporate-speak) is to get
you to buy shoes and sundry other items online while
making you feel like you’re getting personalized service
from the kindly mom-and-pop cobbler on Main Street.
as long as you recognize the inherent sell job, you can
appreciate Zappos for its commitment to goosing up what
could be a dreary, boiler-room-type call center. With the
success of his best-selling book, "Delivering
Happiness," Hsieh has become one of the country’s
foremost tech gurus, maybe a level below Zuckerberg, Bezos
and that two-headed Google monster, Page and Brin, but a
Tech Titan nonetheless.
mandate of workplace fun will make Google and Facebook’s
corporate campuses seem downright sweatshop-like. And you
don’t have to be a member of some super-secret cool-kids
club to tour Zappos, either. The company sends a shuttle
bus to pick you up at your local hotel, deposits you right
at the front door and then plies you with free drinks
(water, soda, electrolyte-rich elixirs), "brain"
food (popcorn, tortilla chips) and candy. Thank goodness,
there wasn’t any Kool-Aid meant to be consumed, if you
get my snide allusion.
you wait for your indoctrination, uh, guided tour, perky
"hosts" hand you a "Welcome to Zappos"
pamphlet and encourage you to stroll the hallways and soak
in the vibe: the Warholian portraits of George Clooney and
Marilyn Monroe by Martin Kreloff; the library of business
tomes Hsieh recommends; the leather chair where you can
pose for photos with Zappos’ logo framing your shot; the
handsome couches and table made from reclaimed and
then are herded into a room to watch videos detailing just
how wacky and fun it is to work at Zappos, how almost
every day is a carnival on the quad, how people perform
"Gangnam Style" homages, all of which makes
workers so darned delighted to take your call and answer
your shoe questions. Snippet from another video of a perky
woman: "We joke that it’s happier than
good 15 minutes’ worth of corporate hype ended with a
laundry list of "core values," which included
the cringe-worthy "Do more with less" mantra,
and ended with this: "Be humble."
little late for that, perhaps.
once the tour got underway, you couldn’t help but be
envious. Erika Newman, our guide, had us introduce
ourselves. A group of six executives from a travel agency
in Australia had driven from a conference in Los Angeles
just to feel the Zappos vibe. "Culture is a very
important part of what we do," owner Phil Hoffman
said. "We read the book and wanted to experience
led us through the open-air quad, "where music plays
24/7," she said, and into the inner sanctum where
1,600 happy, sated workers toil.
Hall people love their offices, and at Zappos we don’t
have any (offices) except for our life coach and our two
attorneys, because they deal with confidential
information," Newman said. "You’ll see a very
open workspace. You’ll also notice that everyone sits
amongst everyone else. Our lobby was the old metropolitan
police department. Directly above is the old jail. We
ripped out all the jail cells but saved one for bad
employees and tour guests. Kidding! It’s actually our
on-site gym now. Pretty awesome for our employees."
awesome, but I was still trying to process that Zappos has
an on-site life coach. Newman promised more on that later.
But first she showed us a break room, one of (count ‘em)
17. There were rows upon rows of cereal and energy bars,
water and juices, all gratis. Newman said they used to
give away energy drinks, but "our workers already
have too much energy."
moved on to the white staircase between floors, which
employees decorate with graffiti and murals and, for no
explainable reason, a flotation raft. The stairwell led to
one of several call centers, where someone has painted a
mural of a crazed Jack Nicholson from "The
Shining" on an exposed iron pillar and everyone’s
desk was overflowing with personal toys and tchotchkes.
After employees work there a year, they receive Zappos
"license plates" to hang up, with
"registration stickers" showing the number of
years of service.
we strolled through the "Sky Park," where
workers can kick back in a hammock and do their work,
since the whole building is a Wi-Fi hotspot, quickly
followed by one of the themed "bubbles" –
areas on each floor, near the elevator, where workers can
chill. Example: The ‘80s Crashpad, replete with bean bag
chairs, a screen with MTV music videos blaring and a VHS
never stuck at your desk at Zappos," Newman said.
"You can go mingle."
STORY CAN END HERE)
department had its own vibe. The Creative Services
Department (i.e., the artsy types) was surprisingly
subdued, with only a full-length mural of Notorious B.I.G.
to cheer things up. Contrast that with Human Resources,
which had a ball pit installed. When the tour group passed
by, the HR folks turned on aerobics music and, in synch,
performed arm curls with hand weights. Goofily impressive.
won’t even go into detail about the Z Cafe, because it’ll
just depress you with its plenitude. Or how there’s an
employee concierge service that’ll help you with little
tasks like getting your car’s oil changed while you
work. Or about the epic table tennis and crochet raves
they have there.
I did promise more on that life coach.
"Whether you have a professional or personal goal,
you meet once a week, 30 minutes for a 30-day program. She’s
pretty much your ‘accountabilli-buddy.’ Maybe you want
to work out more or learn to drive a stick shift, or go
back to school. She helps.
30 days, you pose in the throne in the Royalty Room for a
photo and get a free lunch. Of course, it’s voluntary.
We don’t force you to do anything at Zappos. That’s
not the Zappos way."