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Zappos' Secrets to Building an Empowering Company Culture

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Many business owners talk about their company culture, but often can't define it. Zappos, the Henderson, Nev.-based online shoe and apparel retailer, is often held as an example of customer- and employee-centric company culture -- with just 5 percent employee turnover and 75 percent of customers ordering more than once.


Emphasizing, determination, innovation, and fun, among other qualities, the company even devotes a section of its website to its values and culture. The company has received widespread attention for its culture, including features on 60 Minutes and Dateline.

David "Doc" Vik, who was a successful chiropractor before he started working with Zappos, calls himself the "Culture King." He now works with companies to help them build effective and motivational company environments. He says there are five key components to building an empowering company culture.

Related: How to Create a Company Culture That People Will Be Excited to Join

1. Define your vision.
This is what the company is doing now and wants it to accomplish in the future. In his book, The Culture Secret: How to Empower People and Companies No Matter What You Sell (Greenleaf Book Group, 2013), Vik explains that it's important not to limit yourself with how you define what you do.

A pharmacy owner doesn't just dispense pills -- there are many ways he or she helps people back to health. Don't be afraid to leave your definition a bit broad to allow flexibility in the business and allow the company to create its own brand of delivering products and services, he says.

2. Find your purpose.
Understanding why you are in business is critical to creating culture. It takes the definition of what you're doing a bit deeper to define what the reason behind the business is.

"If you're a bakery, your purpose could be providing the finest quality baked goods, and the purpose would be nourishing the world," he says.

3. Redefine your business model.
How your company does business is part of its culture. In most sectors (but not all), the hard-sell, suit-and-tie days are over. Be introspective and open to looking at the best ways to bring products and services to your customers. How can you be innovative and fresh?

"Think about that bakery. They can have a platform baking company, where they can affiliate with other really cool people that are using the finest quality ingredients, [forming a network]," he says.

4. What's your wow factor?
Everyone wants to feel special. Your employees and customers are no exception. Know what makes your business special and always work on making that better, Vik says. That will keep your customers coming back and your employees sticking around. If you can't make people see what makes you unique, your offering is a commodity, and you'll be competing primarily on price.

5. Stick by your values.
Vision, purpose and a great offering without a values system are empty promises. No culture can thrive if it doesn't have a set of priorities. And this doesn't have to be do-good stuff -- you just have to be clear about what's important to you and your employees and build the way you do business around that.

"Culture is squishy," Vik admits. But when you focus on these five factors and start looking at all of the details in each to differentiate your business, it starts to come into focus.

Related: Can Radical Transparency Work for Your Business?

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