Anyone who has their finger on the pulse of what’s happening in Las Vegas has likely heard the buzz about retail giant, Zappos. Having moved to Henderson nearly a decade ago from San Francisco, Zappos prides itself on operating within the unique corporate climate of this city. What other metropolis has the capacity to support close to 40 million annual visitors while maintaining a small-town feel? Combining his savvy for entrepreneurship, a knack for online shoe-selling, and the funds to back up his endeavors, Zappos owner Tony Hsieh has set his sights on his next big project: revitalizing Downtown Las Vegas.
Appreciating Vegas’ ability to constantly evolve and change, Hsieh views the expansion possibilities of this city as a way to bring much needed revenue into the local economy. Providing hundreds of jobs to local residents, Zappos’ vision is to take purpose, add entrepreneurial culture, Downtown integration, a secure infrastructure and sense of self-organization, and add it all up to equal the ability to change the world. This formula for success is what Hsieh plans to plug into the Zappos Downtown expansion endeavor. Keeping in mind that not all jobs are created equal, Hsieh credits Zappos with the ability to cultivate jobs that are likely to advance socially, including creative class jobs and entrepreneurial positions. Long-term success stems from a city’s capability to grow, and keeping jobs is just as important as creating new ones.
So, what makes Zappos such an attractive place to work? There is credible research proving that companies who base their foundation on maintaining a sense of community, have better success in the long run. Jobs that encourage the feeling of family amongst their staff tend to financially surpass those that don’t support the same standards. Hsieh has attributed a great deal of his personal success to creating work environments that cultivate creativity, while working toward a goal of societal gain. Hsieh also likes to support a work-hard, play-hard ethic among his staff, and has always been an advocate of fun! Noted for having brought in a live petting zoo (equipped with exotic llamas, one of Tony’s favorites) into the Zappos workplace, Hsieh has a reputation toward the eccentric and surreal. Weddings in the office, rap videos made about the Zappos golf cart, and a live chicken impersonator are just a few of the unusual occurrences that are commonplace at Zappos headquarters. Streaming live from the Twitterfeed of Tony Hsieh, office events like “Ugly Sweater Day” keep the Zappos team in good spirits and encourage a friendly sense of camaraderie.
In addition to lively social antics in the office, Hsieh has been known to throw a party or two…or three. Often hosting functions in his home, Hsieh caters to Downtown Project and Zappos employees, as well as guests from around the globe. His home (which is the combined space of three apartments) houses a jungle-themed party room, as well as a private pool house. Hsieh owns a few Vegas properties, and often uses other spaces (including a 12,000-sq. ft. house recently purchased for $1.4 million) to host gatherings and house guests. Never far away from cultivating his next big idea, Hsieh uses Post-It notes to mark down concepts for new endeavors. One of the walls in his home is filled entirely with a colorful array of Post-It notes, each marked with ideas for downtown Vegas. This idea-wall includes inspiration from Tony’s team and visitors of his home. A space has been arranged for the students of the local Discovery Charter School and their ideas for the future of Downtown - including a local Gold Mine and a Dinosaur Park.
As always, along with corporate expansion, comes a great deal of personal change- and working for Zappos is no different. Being a part of the big Downtown Las Vegas revitalization movement has meant a ton of change, both for the Zappos family and visitors to the Downtown area. Over the years, Downtown Las Vegas has forever been known for the Fremont Street Experience, classic hotels and casinos, and an overall sense of what is considered to be the older part of the Las Vegas culture. In recent past, Downtown Las Vegas has expanded to include community events such as “First Friday”, which Downtown Project has recently bought the rights to. The monthly event encourages visitors and locals to support the Arts scene. Downtown visitors can take in some of the community flair by sampling cuisine from locally-operated food trucks, visiting antique shops and small businesses, and network with Vegas entrepreneurs. Other additions to Downtown include The Smith Center, a new city hall, and growing work opportunities for Las Vegas residents. The move toward making the Downtown area of Las Vegas a more desirable place to be hasn’t been easy, and those involved have had to focus not only on expansion, but cleaning up the area as well. Hsieh has thought of the city as a startup, and is using that analogy to help create his vision for how his team can contribute to the Downtown revitalization process. He considers that the large amount of people involved in the revitalization project have the ability to make a difference on many levels. It’s this work-as-a-team spirit that propels the Zappos and the Downtown Project empire into a communal type of forward thinking.
Essentially, the Downtown Project is an effort to transform Downtown Las Vegas into the world’s largest community-purposed city. With a budget of $350 million, funds are being used in set increments toward real estate investments, small business and technological startups, as well as improvements in education. Pioneered by Hsieh, the Downtown Project aims to take on such bold ventures as expanding residency by more than 100 people per acre. The idea behind residential expansion is that, the more individuals there are who live closely together, the greater the sense of community. A major part of the Downtown revitalization process is encouraging people who are passionate about something that’s important to them, to move Downtown and become part of this newly expanded and communal mecca. Hsieh is intimately involved with both the efforts of Downtown Project, as well as the continued success and expansion of his brainchild, Zappos. However, Hsieh has credited much of his ability to evolve and succeed to his network of volunteers and employees. Hsieh is the first to say that he couldn’t do everything himself that he aspires to achieve- nor would he want to. It’s this decentralized organization of people from a variety of backgrounds working together as a team, that motivate and inspire Hsieh’s ideals to expand and touch entire cities- like Las Vegas.
One of the current points of focus for Hsieh’s team is activating Inspire Theater, which is a theatre space that’s over 15,000 sq. ft. in size located at the corner of Las Vegas Blvd. and Fremont Street. The structure will feature a rooftop balcony, as well as a 150 seat art theatre space that aims to offer education and recreation to the community. Another one of Hsieh’s projects in progress is Container Park, scheduled to open in October 2013. The concept for Container Park was inspired by the usage of repurposed containers in other cities that have been used effectively to quickly create new spaces for small businesses. Hsieh’s team has put a unique spin on the project by using containers on a scale that hasn’t been done before. In an area like Downtown Las Vegas, the largest obstacle for community development and expansion has been the availability of empty spaces to house new businesses. Abandoned buildings and empty land space have afforded the Downtown Project room to grow. By incorporating buildings created from repurposed shipping containers, Container Project promises to expand on revitalization plans even further. With efforts to make Las Vegas the shipping container capital of the world, some of the Container Project community spaces being created are cafes, outdoor seating areas, and retraceable shade structures.
With all the expansion going on in Downtown Las Vegas, hundreds of small business inquiries have flooded Hsieh’s offices over the past year. Both locals and visitors to Las Vegas who have had a chance to experience the Downtown scene, have innovative ideas about new ways to improve the commercial and social climate. International visitors who have had a chance to take in all of the changes happening Downtown are blown away by the neighborhood, and the energy that surrounds the events taking place.
From a Zappos perspective, Hsieh is excited that by moving his headquarters and employees to the Downtown area (into the former Las Vegas City Hall building), there will be an opportunity for them to socialize more often outside of the office. Moving Downtown also means the potential exists to take the company culture to an expanded level of recreation. In terms of how these changes will affect the community as a whole, Hsieh is inspired by Zappos’ employees ability to play a contributing role in impacting the residents and local Downtown small businesses. As Tony Hsieh has noted throughout this expansion experience, “…how many opportunities do you have in a lifetime to help shape the future of a major city?”