Small Business Success Stories: What Businesses Can Learn from Zappos

Zappos, a 13-year-old online shoe and apparel store, was first imagined when Founder Nick Swinmurn had a tough time finding the right shoes.

“One store had the right style, but not the right color,” says Nick. “Another store had the right color, but not the right size.”

Swinmurn’s idea brought in a $500,000 investment, and the company made $1.6 million in gross sales its second year. By Zappos’s third year, they made $8.6 million in gross sales. In its tenth year, Zappos pulled in more than $1 billion in gross sales and was listed No. 23 on FORTUNE Magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list.

These kinds of small business success stories don’t come around often. In fact, some may credit luck for Zappos’s many successes. However, regardless of how Zappos found its successes, it can serve as a model for other aspiring small businesses. Susan Waldman, Co-founder and Vice President of a Washington-based marketing firm, recently wrote about the small business success story in the Washington Post Small Business section.

Above all else, Waldman says, Zappos values culture. Their company culture is everything.

“Culture is programmed by values, values drives behavior, behaviors drive actions, and actions produce results,” she says. According to Zappos cultural strategists, a business that’s too focused on results is “like playing a whole sports game while looking at the score board.”

Zappos also plainly states their company values, something that could potentially affect the success of the entire business. Once a small business realizes what they value and aspire to eventually become, it can prepare for it by taking necessary precautions and steps from the start.

One major roadblock on the path of creating a successful business, Waldman writes, is stress in the workplace. Not only can it discourage the business owner or employees, but it can seep through to the customers and not provide them with the happiest possible experience working with the company.

“The trick is to connect happy people with performance indicators,” she says. “If people are enjoying what they’re doing and making a contribution, everything goes spectacularly.”

In a Social Media Today article, Zappos is credited in being totally open and forthcoming with customers at all times, encouraging feedback via social media networks and addressing company problems. When more than 24 million records were hacked in January 2012, the company immediately responded via social media and a letter to customers.

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