BIG Tours Seattle

                We arrived on the brisk Sunday afternoon of May 14th, and after a good night’s rest we set about seeing the sights of Seattle. We went to the top of the space needle and saw the city from 520’ up, visited the open-air market on Pike St., and even watched sea otters play around in their aquarium lagoon. Though the sights and attractions of Seattle were fun, the real reason we came to Seattle was still left ahead of us.

                The key part of being in the Barton International Group is that members get to learn about, work with, and explore companies all over the world. We do this regularly in Wichita and its suburbs, and that is what brought us to Seattle in the first place. We had the unique opportunity to tour the headquarters of Costco, Avvo, Avalara, and Taphandles. We also got to visit with the PR director of a local Neiman Marcus outlet, and visit many smaller Seattle businesses as we went about our daily activities.

                Costco was not the typical corporate structure that one would expect from a multi-billion-dollar company, but it was the most similar to that structure between all of the companies that we visited. Costco headquarters was spread out over several wide buildings in Issaquah. The set up was simple, the Costco executives we met with made it very clear that there were no frills. Costco was founded on the idea of providing the best possible products at the best possible price, and their headquarters reflected that idea by keeping things simple. Everyone, even the CEO, sat at a cubicle. The tables and chairs were comfortable, yet simple, and the people very accommodating. We were able to learn more about the origins of Costco, how it has expanded from the Seattle area to become a wholesale chain with stores the world over. We saw the many different cogs of a corporate machine, yet felt like each one was cared for. The loyalty of Costco employees and the length of their tenure speaks for itself.

                Avvo was the next company we visited. While still considered a relatively small start-up, we still got to see the inner workings of a company with several hundred employees. What made the Avvo visit stand out the most was that we were given the opportunity to meet and converse with the senior leadership team. The office was much different than Costco in the sense that it was not only more open, but more relaxed and casual. The floors were peppered with cardboard cutouts, several dogs lay in beds by their owners’ desks, and a ping pong table graced the cafeteria lounge. While the atmosphere was laid back, the employees certainly were not. The thing that stuck out the most about Avvo was the strong sense of “go-getter” attitudes from each of the employees. The executives were excited about each and every member of their team, they had a grand vision for their service, and the company was the better for it.

                Taphandles was perhaps the most unique operations out of the four headquarters that we visited. The walls were lined with hundreds of custom designed taphandles that caught your eye as soon as you darkened the doorway. The atmosphere had the same laid back vibe that was found inside Avvo, but the passion that each individual held for the work stuck out even more. We toured both the sales and design teams’ work areas, and sat in on a presentation from a Wichita State alum who works there. The presentation was engaging, the artwork pristine, and the conversation rich with detail.

                The last visit on our tour of Seattle was a company called Avalara, located on Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound. The company was about the same age as Avvo and held the same laidback atmosphere for its employees. There was even a Tiki bar for the employees, a feature which Avalara places in each of its offices. For a company as small as Avalara, it was impressive to hear about how many different locations their company was in, covering almost as many continents as Costco. Avalara also stood out due to the background of its employees, with many people coming to the company from larger corporations such as Amazon and Microsoft. Avalara also stood out for the passion that its members held and the grand scope of their vision. It is easily a company that one can get behind.

                Overall, the trip was a very unique and very eye opening look at corporations and companies that work in different industries. The trip was an exciting way to look at potential future careers and to bond with fellow BIG members. Whether you are in BIG or not, I would highly recommend you take advantage of once in a lifetime experiences like these.