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June 4, 2009

Zappos (Zappos.com) is the highest grossing retailer of shoes in the world – located solely online, to boot. Brian Boero from 1000WattConsulting writes about his tour of Zappos headquarters and gives a comparison of the Zappos culture with that of realestate.

He writes the following:

“Zappos is an amazing company. You probably know that by now. Everything you’ve read and heard is true. Millions of words – and dollars – are flowing into the marketplace these days trying to capture, explain or transplant this company’s mojo. Most of this stuff misses the point. There is no replicating this company. You can’t replicate a culture: Something special and delicate cultivated over many years by extraordinary people in unique circumstances.

Getting your CEO to blog and employees to sprinkle the web with tweets does not a Zappos create. Nor does spraying a patina of Zappos-like shine on a timeworn organization. So I am hesitant to offer any detailed “takeaways” or “lessons.” But there was one thing our tour guide – Jerry Tidmore, the “mayor” of Zappos – said at the beginning of our tour that was really powerful:

“There is no secret to our success, there are no secrets at Zappos.”

It seemed like a throwaway comment at the time, but by the end of the tour I got it: This company has nothing to hide. Not from employees, not from customers. Executives work out in the open. Phone reps direct customers to other shoe sites if Zappos does not have what they want. Performance metrics are on whiteboards for all to see. There are a hundred other examples.

The details may not be applicable to real estate, but the idea is: Not harboring secrets – which is really just a simpler, easier-to-execute conception of “transparency” – can be really powerful.”

The author then goes on to speak about the culture (and secrets) of real estate…
“What are real estate’s secrets?
Real estate, for the most part, is the anti-Zappos.
Consider the secrets the sometimes lay on the other side of these questions:
How much does my agent actually net for selling my house?
How can my local real estate company claim “billions” in sales when it neither owns inventory or books the revenue associated with these sales?
Does my agent get paid more when another agent from their office represents the other side of the transaction?
Why does my agent pick one home inspector over another?
Why am I not assigned to the agent I see do the most business in my neighborhood when I email my local broker?
I know. Many can answer these questions confidently and openly, because they do the right thing. But my sense is just as many cannot.

And what if they did?
Well, what I saw in Henderson is one way that can turn out.”

As new technologies, primarily the internet, open up and connect the world it seems that even real estate may have a future more in line with Zappos than one may think. As a growing number of powerful internet tools, sites and applications become accessible, the advantage of open and honest communication becomes greater. As more and more developers embrace social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook to broadcast their message, it sets a reverberating tone of easy access to information. When all mortgage rates and offers are posted and obtainable online it encourages accuracy and truth. And, when prices, statistics, maps, graphs, and comparibles of each and every real estate project within a city are no more than a finger click away – this too encourage more openess, more honesty and, potentially, a culture more in line with how Brian Boerro describes Zappos.

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