Through the Eyes of a Las Vegas Tribune Reporter
By Marianne Donnelly
“Delivering Happiness” is not just the title of Zappo’s CEO Tony Heish’s best-selling book: it is his company’s adhered-to mandate! Happiness was delivered abundantly at every event I have been to, orchestrated by his company, whether at weekly Zappos Downtown Project Learning Village lectures, or at the September 9, 2013, HQ Ribbon-Cutting and Celebration.
Even the thunderstorm held off until blue fluttering ribbon-bits settled onto the playground otherwise known as “old city hall” at 400 Stewart Street in Las Vegas, NV. (Word has it, an hour later, those ribbons swirled in their own folk dance, caught in a micro-burst of wind trapped in the circular courtyard.) Most civic events are as exciting as watching wallpaper dry, but not here!
Miles of blue ribbon were placed on hundreds of stanchions as well as on railings of the wrap-around balconies. Thousands of participants received gift-scissors – quality sharp steel blades, blunt-tip, with a sheath, emblazoned “Part of the Zappos Family!” Now that’s creative: taking power-symbol scissors and placing them in the hands of everyone, not just some figurehead. Then Tony had everyone do the countdown. When Zappos says, “Participate: create, innovate, discover,” they make these unquantifiables happen by finding novel, enjoyable ways to design events, products and services. “Powered by Service” isn’t just a clever trademark, it’s what drives their whole enterprise.
Whimsical surprises were everywhere, including touch-screen games in elevators (one was a funny “flatulence” soundboard that allowed you to choose from whoopi-cushion to aggressive Bronx-cheer tones). Come on, some of you must remember the joy of making “fart” noises as a kid — giggling as grown-ups glowered. I remember one little redheaded girl who could make an armpit into a “gatling-gun-sputter”! It’s the surprise-element that makes it work, like these screens, breaking “elevator-silent-script.”
I missed the Elvis statue but overheard two hipsters laughing about it – rumored to be on the fourth floor near a mimosa machine!
Then there’s an intricate Legos Logo gracing the lobby wall, a play-dough model of the building, comfortable flexible chairs, wooden stools that could be used as drums, a beautiful petting-friendly live llama and the piece de resistance: a comic touch-screen-bellied big blue rolling robot who flirted with Mayor Goodman and chased a few unsuspecting ladies!Press conference quips included Carolyn Goodman’s retort, “Oscar and I have opened our downtown home,” in response to the question, “Where will all two thousand employees live?” and the landlord (of the building) saying, “My wish is you will pay the rent on time!” Wow!
Parking is plentiful nearby — just not adjacent to the building — but walking is good for co-mingling (meeting a myriad of people one would otherwise not meet). That planned dynamic works again in limited building accesses so people must be funneled through high-traffic areas where that meet-and-greet concept is encouraged.
Work spaces are tightly packed in open floor design offset by self-expression in decorating: soon there will be more stuffed animals, tinker toys, balloons, masks, crayons, pictures, sculptures, plants, chimes, and what-all to distinguish each individual ala the former Henderson offices – or, Tony’s playful, airy penthouse-home-workspace-
Biking to work is encouraged and there are new funky-functional-sculpture-
racks to accommodate them.
Security? Not a problem. Enter the Downtown Rangers–a community-watch force–easing policing duties, “helping create the most enjoyable downtown experience worldwide” (according to their business card) with a Downtown Assistance Solutions and Hospitality Hotline: 702-900-DASH! They are easy to identify (in uniform with walkie-talkies) and seemed pleasant and willing to consider any reasonable request to make your visit fun.
GOLD SPIKE (newly purchased and renovated by Zappos) is now a modern non-smoking, non-gambling playhouse and workspace with free games and toys: including bean-bag-in-hole-throws, shuffleboard, chess, monopoly, yahtzee, and much, much more. Huge picture books, tons of outlets for devices, plenty of choices for sitting, from chaise-lounges to barstools. It was all very inviting.
After Tuesday’s celebration, it was packed to the rafters but still easy to negotiate to the doors or to several little mini-bars where visitors discovered unique qualities that put a smile on their faces. The Grill Restaurant in the Spike lobby still has its diner design and food is fresh and affordable. A bar is well stocked and service is swift. The outdoor pool is clean and was graced by women in speedo racing suits – not bikinis!
Don’t be fooled by all the playful expressions. This is a serious endeavor to transform East Fremont Downtown into “the most desirable urban community” appealing to families and young professional people, as well as attracting long-term investment and development – while still retaining much of what is here that works – by adding new taxable industries, such as “technologies” that can compete with Silicon Valley, San Francisco, Boston, and even Tokyo.
Recent real-estate, population and development analytics show it is already starting to work. The positive reputation is growing, the bucks are flowing, and risks are anticipated to be rewarded in “return-on-community” as well as return in profit.
Yes, some old-timers, used to East Fremont Vegas as it was, are disgruntled. No revitalization effort is without trade-offs and change. As far as I can tell, Zappos has been unusually careful and generous in fairly compensating land and building purchases, as well as working with various agencies and community groups concerned with harsher entrenched realities of this once somewhat-blighted area. It’s still in transition. I suspect you won’t find any other urban renewal efforts as truly open to suggestions and committed to compassionate solutions as Zappos is offering Las Vegas.
I, for one, am very inspired by the scale of these projects and the innovative approaches that include elements of green-living, re-purposing, and collaboration. The rat-pack meets the backpack – and everyone willing to work can join in. Hoorah! For more information: zappos.com.