Business

Zappos needs to face facts: It’s not so special

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A view of Zappos’ headquarters in Henderson. The company plans to relocate in 2012 to the building now occupied by Las Vegas city government.
Photo: Justin M. Bowen

So this is what it has come to. We’re dancing in the streets and toasting our yard-tall margaritas to the fact that a midsize company has decided not to leave Southern Nevada. Vegas officials were practically breathless last week in announcing that online shoe retailer Zappos will move its Henderson headquarters—and 1,000 jobs—to the old city hall building Downtown. The mayor called it a “tipping point” for the region. A city councilman said, “I’m getting giddy. I’m so excited.” The near-delirious enthusiasm was so pervasive that one reporter wrote, “It’s almost impossible to find anyone with anything negative to say about the deal.” It was all ... pretty obnoxious.

But even more annoying was the implication that these aren’t just any jobs: They’re special, new-age jobs that would make anyone want to work in a call center. Zappos, after all, is a company that gives paid tours to show off its “corporate culture.” Employees are encouraged to play with Nerf guns at work and bare their souls on Twitter. CEO Tony Hsieh, 36, has become a darling of the business press for such innovations as asking all job candidates how lucky they feel (Not very? Thanks; we’ll pass) and encouraging sales calls that customers will “remember for the rest of their lives—if you do it well.”

What isn’t so revolutionary is the way Zappos conducts other aspects of its business. In 2009, it sold out to high-volume retailer Amazon.com for $1 billion in cash and stock. The previous year, on the same day that yet another glowing profile of Hsieh appeared in the Times, the company abruptly laid off 8 percent of its staff. And thanks to taxpayers, the much-hyped city hall deal is backed by $22 million in sweetheart city financing. So yes, this may pain Hsieh and his followers, but Zappos is, in the end, just another company. One we’re relieved didn’t make good on its threats to leave.

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John P. McDonnall

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