Here's How the Office Space for Wedding-Registry Company Zola Keeps Its Employees Engaged With the Brand
In this series, The Way We Work, Entrepreneur Associate Editor Lydia Belanger examines how people foster productivity, focus, collaboration, creativity and culture in the workplace.
The entryway to the offices of Zola, a wedding planning and registry company, doubles as the Zola Townhouse. It’s an abridged version of a trendy urban living space for newlyweds, complete with exposed brick and plenty of rose gold and copper accessories and appliances, down to the kitchen drawers, which open to reveal utensils Zola sells. The multi-purpose room is part event space, part meeting space and part showroom for an array of products the ecommerce site sells as part of its wedding-registry business.
The company, founded in 2013, moved its headquarters to Manhattan’s Financial District from an office in SoHo as a team of 45 employees last spring. It took just a few months -- and a Series C financing round -- to realize that one floor in the building wouldn’t be big enough for the growing company. Since then, the company has expanded to two floors and secured a $100 million Series D round, which it naturally celebrated with a champagne toast. Today, the company has about 110 employees, and by the end of the year, it’s aiming for 150.
Zola carries more than 60,000 products from upwards of 600 brands, including KitchenAid, Cuisinart and Vitamix, though it operates with nearly zero inventory, selling those items to wedding guests (for up to half a million couples to date) as a third-party retailer. That’s why having some of those products on display in the office is crucial to keeping employees engaged (pun intended) with the company they work for day in and day out, given that their view of their work is often on a computer screen, says Emily Forrest Skurnik, senior communications manager at Zola.
“You might be building an iPhone app, but it’s so people can register for tangible towels and fine china,” Forrest Skurnik says, gesturing around the Townhouse. “It’s kind of like Zola come to life.”
Before the Townhouse was in-house, Zola rented an actual townhouse storefront space in SoHo. The cozy furniture now accommodates meetings among employees and between Zola’s merchandising team and product vendors. In the busy spring season, between most engagements and most weddings, the company hosts weekly events in the Townhouse. Couples registering with Zola can stop by the Townhouse for everything from wedding dress showcases to paint-your-own china events to bourbon tastings led by glassware experts. Couples can also book Townhouse appointments with Zola’s customer service team to learn more about offerings and register for items.
Zola’s customer service team waxes and wanes in size throughout the wedding season cycle, and seasonal, or “flex” employees come and go. In hiring customer service representatives, a.k.a. registry advisers, Zola looks for actresses, comedians, cabaret performers and other people with “bright, shining personalities,” Forrest Skurnik says.
“They’re not miserable taking calls all day. They like the engagement; they’re friendly,” says Kate Furst, vice president. “It’s this awesome team of people who can turn not a great experience into a funny phone call.”
The not-great experience being: registering. A lot of couples are unsure of what to register for, let alone which brands, sizes and colors of products they want. Advisers help talk them through what Furst calls “fear-based registering,” which involves conundrums like, “My grandmother will be furious if I don’t get a glass pitcher,” and they ask, “What do you actually want?” Same goes for guests doing the buying: The advisers counsel them through the Zola experience, which may be different than any they’ve gone through as a wedding guest in the past.
The advisers also don’t have to duck into the Townhouse to see examples of products available on Zola, as plenty of the furniture and kitchen appliances are scattered throughout the open office floor plan. The conference room chairs are available on Zola, and each conference room is named after a wedding movie -- 27 Dresses, Father of the Bride and Wedding Crashers, to name a few.
“It’s an opportunity for people to connect with the products that we sell,” Furst says. If a bride-to-be on the phone asks a registry advisor about how many cupcakes a cake stand on Zola can hold, that rep might say, “Actually, I think we have that in the kitchen,” put her on hold and go hunt it down to find out.
The cake stand is a prime example because, being a wedding company, the Zola team eats a lot of cake. Every month, the company celebrates all employees’ birthdays that fall within that month with two big wedding cakes. And because Zola takes all its product photos in-house (at a studio location in another New York neighborhood), whenever cake is involved in a photo shoot, it makes its way to headquarters for devouring. The kitchen is a gathering place not only when cake is available; it’s large enough to accommodate all-team meetings as well.
All in all, Zola puts Zola at its employees’ fingertips -- from within a Slack instant messenger channel called “Wedding Gurus,” where been there, done that married employees share recommendations for florists and other services and answer wedding FAQs, to Zola’s open layout, where CEO and co-founder Shan-Lyn Ma herself sits to be accessible to her team.
“Zola is the type of company where anybody can walk up to anybody to ask a question,” Forrest Skurnik says.