At online retailer Zappos, having a good time is an essential part of the bottom line.In a cavernous meeting room behind the Silverton Casino Lodge a few miles south of the Las Vegas Strip, there’s a party in full bloom. More than 1,000 revelers, many with beers in hand, are dancing, cheering and clapping to a parody video of Katy Perry’s “California Gurls.” On screen, a woman in an electric-blue wig is lip-synching while in the audience, snack-size bags of cotton candy are being batted around like little beach balls. When hundreds of balloons drop from the ceiling, the place erupts with the communal energy of New Year’s Eve.
But this isn’t a concert, or a revival or a product unveiling. This is Zappos, the online footwear and clothing retailer, putting corporate value No. 3 of 10 (“Create fun and a little weirdness”) on full display at its quarterly all-hands meeting. And by “all hands” they mean every one of their 1,000-plus employees at the Las Vegas headquarters. Yes, Zappos operates a 24/7 call center. No, there is no one on the phones taking orders or answering customers’ questions right now. Yes, that’s counterintuitive for a business that lives and dies on customer service. No, Zappos doesn’t follow the corporate herd. (That’s value No. 4: “Be adventurous, creative and open-minded.”)
The business being conducted in this room is strengthening the company’s vibrant corporate culture, because it’s the spring from which employee happiness, and thus profits, flows. As CEO Tony Hsieh, 37, put it in his 2010 book, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose, a company’s culture should be more than words on a wall plaque.
“At Zappos, our belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff — like great customer service, or building a great long-term brand, or passionate employees and customers — will happen naturally on its own,” Hsieh writes.
Hsieh (pronounced “Shay”) learned the value of culture through trial and error. More than a decade ago, he caught himself hitting the snooze button on his alarm clock six times one morning and realized he was dreading going to work at a company he and a roommate started, LinkExchange. The culture had gotten away from him. He sold that company to Microsoft for $265 million, becoming a multimillionaire in his 20s.
Visitors choose their own level of immersion, from a free, hourlong tour of the headquarters (about 80 people take it each day) to a two-day boot camp, happy hour included, for nearly $4,000.
All this from a guy who isn’t that into footwear. “I’ve never been interested in selling shoes,” says the famously humble Hsieh, who drives a Mazda and earns an annual salary of $36,000. “I used to buy one pair of shoes and wear it for two years and then buy the same pair again. I don’t know the first thing about it. I try to avoid all the meetings where they decide what to buy next season.”