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December 19, 2014

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Business executives hope to find shoe that fits at Zappos seminars

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Mona Shield Payne

Zappos Insights account executive Donavon Roberson speaks to seminar attendees during an afternoon session Tuesday of the Zappos Insights Seminar at the corporate offices of Zappos.com in Henderson.

Zappos

Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh speaks with business owners, from left, Bill Flagg and Eric James, of PosterBrain.com, and Jon Dale, of JonDale.com, on Tuesday during an afternoon session of the Zappos Insights Seminar at the corporate offices of Zappos.com in Henderson. Launch slideshow »

Zappos.com anniversary

Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh poses with some of his company's merchandise. Launch slideshow »

Shoe retailer Zappos is hosting 22 executives from the United States, Canada and England at its Henderson headquarters this week for a peek into one of the corporate world’s most sought-after secrets: that of the billion-dollar online retailer’s success.

The tickets weren’t golden, but at $5,000 each in this tough economic climate, they might well have been.

Just think of it as the Wonka Factory for grown-ups.

Since December, the company has operated Zappos Insights, a subscription-based Web site that shows business leaders how the company has parlayed its reputation for a quirky corporate culture into bottom-line success.

On Tuesday, Zappos began the first official two-day Zappos Insights Seminar at its Green Valley campus to give interested parties a hands-on experience.

“The whole idea behind Zappos Insights is we just want to make business better,” said Donavon Roberson, account manager for Zappos Insights. “We share our successes and, while I don’t want to call them failures because we’ve learned from them, the things that we have learned to do better over time.

“It’s really kind of a gateway into how we do what we do.”

When CEO Tony Hsieh set out to define the company’s culture three years ago, he turned heads with incentives like free employee lunches, nap rooms, game rooms, costume parties and parades. But as the company’s sales have ballooned in that time to more than $1 billion annually, Roberson said, other companies have begun to look beyond the so-called frills to the underlying culture and how it has shaped Zappos’ success.

“I think people are realizing the value of setting the stage for company culture and they’re realizing that they’re not doing it,” Roberson said.

Getting a grasp on that culture is what brought Stephen Sacks, who owns a clothing and house wares retail company in London, to Henderson.

“I would like to have enormous amounts of fun while making enormous amounts of money,” Sacks quipped.

Sacks and the other participants attended seminars put on by Zappos officials and delved into the company’s culture on an extensive guided tour through headquarters, where each department is decorated with its own employee-selected theme.

After seeing the way employees are treated, Sacks said he began to understand why Zappos has succeeded.

“They treat their employees better and their employees, in turn, give more,” he said. “The customers appreciate what the employees are giving, so they give their business to the company. It’s an upward spiral.”

Luke Beatty, founder of online publishing portal Associated Content, said he does work with Zappos and has always been curious about the way the company does business. When the opportunity for a glimpse arose, it was something he couldn’t pass up.

“The buy-in for the culture here is just epic,” he said.

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