The Zappos Tour

The May 2009 issue of Inc magazine has a profile of Zappos. Tony Hsieh, the Zappos CEO, is on the cover, chilling, and the cover reads "Why everybody loves Zappos". I actually have two copies of this issue as a result of an address change after we moved out, so, especially after having been on the tour of Zappos' headquarters, I feel like some kind of fanboy, now helping their cause (maybe) by writing this post

Michelle read the profile before I had a chance, and she learned that Zappos offers free tours of their Henderson headquarters, just outside of Las Vegas.

Michelle and I are fans of Vegas day trips, so this seemed like a cool thing to try. We probably would have driven from my dad's apartment, but we only had the Yaris rental, and it was a little too small to fit my dad and grandparents, so we called Zappos to schedule a tour for that day.

Part of me assumed that there wouldn't be a huge demand for these tours, but I also felt a little pushy asking for a tour within a few hours of my call. The lady I talked to said they were almost full but that she'd call back and see if she couldn't squeeze the five of us in.

Most people that go on the tour are with another company, apparently trying to learn something cool from Zappos that they can take back to their own companies. The lady asked what company I was with and I had to mention we were just tourists, and multi-generational at that.

She called back within 45 minutes and said we were on for a 2:00 tour. At first I was going to try and meet the shuttle at The Orleans, but they said they could pick us up from the apartment, which was great (it's a block or two from The Orleans, but I think they might drive almost anywhere to pick up someone that's interested). We were told we'd be picked up about an hour before the tour.

IMG_5358 Shortly after 1:00 the lady driving the tour bus called to say she was a little late and that she had to take "the big bus", which was a little slower. She pulled up and waved effusively, and we all stepped onto the mobile advertising platform, empty except for us.

The driver, as it turned out, was a young employee that worked in one of the customer service departments. Part of their job is to take quick jaunts into town from time to time to pick up tourists.

IMG_5359 Dad chilling in the Zappos bus as we pull into the Henderson corporate building.

The Main Lobby We arrived early, and ended up having to wait for 40 minutes for the other people on the tour to arrive. The lobby was decked out with interesting things to look at for this reason, and people were constantly coming and going, issuing salutations and wearing the stuff you'd see on any college campus.

IMG_5362 The early PowerPoint business plan for Zappos (circa 1999), then called, detailing the frustrations of buying shoes in retail stores.

IMG_5364 A cool place to work.

IMG_5366 The lobby library. If you're on the tour, you can take a copy of any book. And these are pretty good books. An autographed copy of Chris Anderson's The Long Tail is framed above one of the shelves. Other autographs adorn the walls.

There's a collage of people that have Replied to All. They wear a dunce hat equivalent and pose for photos that go on the lobby wall.

There's also free bottled water and trail mix and popcorn for the wait.

After awhile the rest of our tour arrived. A few were from Netflix, another notable company. Our tour guide joined us. He had just graduated from college a couple years prior and had, for this week, the responsibility of giving the tours. It's a rotating job. He worked in the marketing and analytics department, bidding on keywords.

IMG_5370 He held a white "Tour" flag and asked for a volunteer, but he seemed to look at me a lot while asking for this volunteer so I took it. At first I thought holding the flag would make me important to the tour, but, as it turns out, not so much.

IMG_5371 Someone - a Netflix employee I think - asked which keywords had the highest CPM. Our guide wasn't sure, so he popped into this guy's office to ask. That guy wasn't sure either, but then again, it's a weird question. Of greatest note was the Heroes spoof poster.

IMG_5375 We walked a hallway with various awards and records. They create a new one when they have a record-breaking day or month of sales, for example.

The Meeting Rooms There are, of course, many meeting rooms in the building. Zappos gives each of their meeting rooms a name and theme. Here are a few we took pictures of. IMG_5378 IMG_5380 IMG_5383 I call this one The Boardroom. It probably has a sign stating the same, but I didn't notice one. This room is right outside the area where the CEO's cubicle is. IMG_5389 Michelle wants one.

The Places People Sit and Work Everyone is encouraged to decorate their work area to their liking. Some departments have a theme, but mostly it seems pretty random. IMG_5382 The signs above are Tour Stops, with things the tour guide should cover as you walk around. IMG_5388 Michelle liked this: It's Candy Mountain, Charlie!.

The Cafeteria IMG_5393 The cafeteria has a selection of drinks and frozen yogurt. People on the tour can grab what they want, so we all stopped here and had some frozen yogurt.

The Doctor's Office Zappos has an inspirational chiropractor on site. IMG_5399 While some other tour members were chatting about call response times, Michelle and I ducked into this office and put crowns on and took pictures. As it turned out, this is a tour stop, and pretty soon we were waiting for everyone to take their own picture. Afterward, you get a Polaroid taken by your tour guide as well as an inspirational planner created by the Doc.

The Bathrooms IMG_5401 Michelle took a picture of the Hydration Chart. Match your output to the colors on the chart to check your hydration levels. I'm not sure what the sign below used to say, but someone was angry, or out of paper perhaps.

The Developers Of particular interest to me was the Development department, where all the software engineers work. They were all fairly young. Their workstations were adjustable, so a couple people opted to stand while working. Some sat on giant balls. A group of guys was discussing an IE quirk (who isn't!) Michelle and I found their secret bowling alley. IMG_5405 IMG_5404 Somewhere on this floor was a whiteboard detailing their newly deployed platform.

The End After the tour was over, we returned to the main lobby. Our guide handed out nice blue bags and encouraged everyone to take a free book. IMG_5408

On the ride home, our driver (not the girl from the ride to HQ) pointed to Air Force One as it landed. We took a detour around the airport but still hit major traffic on Las Vegas Blvd. We waited for about 20 minutes as police had blocked gates onto the field at McCarran. After awhile, President Obama's motorcade became visible in the distance.

By this time it was rush hour, and we had several other tour members we had to drop at the airport and at Encore, so it was a longer ride than it'd normally be.

Over all it's a fun tour if you have 2-3 hours and want to see something a little different. I really liked the free books, as I was able to put a dent in my to-buy list by claiming books from my dad and grandparents.

If you go, tell them Steven sent you. You'll get awkward looks, but deep down they'll know what you're talking about.