Hall of Fame: Murray Huppin: Embracing Change
“Embrace change and ensure the outcome benefits the company.”
We hear that phrase constantly. We read some form of it in just about every business-related book written. Yet the number of people and businesses that have failed to follow that advice litter the CE landscape.
Murray Huppin, owner of Huppin’s and OneCall.com, is not one of them. The quote could be etched above the entrance of the retail store in Spokane, Wash., and on each page of OneCall. It would not be taken as an empty mantra.
Part of that willingness to change is embedded in the company DNA and another comes from the instincts and education of a smart businessman who recognizes that success is based on more than survival; it’s rooted in making tough decisions that will eventually lead to the right type of company growth.
Huppin is the type of person who’s uncomfortable taking the credit. He attributes the company’s evolution to three prior generations of family members who constantly transformed the business to suit consumer tastes and demands.
His great-grandfather Sam opened Huppin’s in 1908 as a tailor shop in downtown Spokane. Murray’s grandfather Abe took over when Sam died in 1922. Abe and his brother Sam added luggage, pawnbroking and men’s clothing to the mix during the ‘40s. In the 1950s, around the time Murray’s father, Sam (“Little Sam”), joined the company, the family began selling cameras. By the 1970s, Huppin’s had dropped clothing and pawn to focus on photography and hi-fi.
“It has been about openness, willingness and ability to change,” Huppin said, when asked about the key to the company’s longevity. “We were always willing to make the changes that allowed us to grow and move with the times.”
Murray started working at the store when he was 13. He loved being involved with the variety of products and working closely with his father and uncles. After college he worked as a sales representative for Procter & Gamble, selling to the grocery trade in Los Angeles. He picked up invaluable sales and marketing skills, and an especially important lesson that remains with him today.
“We called on grocery store managers who were always bombarded (by other sales reps),” he said. “I had to make my pitch, understand what the objections were and how to overcome those in 60 seconds.”
Although he faced no pressure from his relatives, Huppin began working fulltime at the family business in 1984. He started a “mini CES” event, where the company sold more product in three days than it did in three months, and a mail order business in 1994.
The big change came in May of 1995 when Huppin launched OneCall.com, one of the first CE e-tail sites in the industry. He remembers pitching the idea to his dad, uncle and great-uncle and explained how he needed about $100,000, mainly to invest in a new computer and phone system. The family didn’t think the idea would add up to much, but his father eventually gave the go-ahead. “We haven’t looked back since,” Huppin said, adding that OneCall consistently accounts for 75 percent of the company’s overall revenue.
The growth fueled by OneCall has done more than benefit the company. It has allowed the business to hire more local people, mentor them and nurture their careers.
“We’ve been able to grow and expand the employee base many times over and create many opportunities for those who have stayed and those who have moved on,” said Huppin, who also serves as chairman of the PRO Group buying group. That’s what gets me up in the morning. That’s what I’m most proud of.”
Huppin’s willingness to share his experience, advice and business strategies extends beyond Spokane to the entire industry. “He’s extremely hands on and very focused in trying to bring growth to the group,” said Walt Stinson, co-founder of the Colorado-based ListenUp and a member of the PRO Group’s board of directors. “He’s very motivated to see the industry grow.”
Another big change Huppin oversaw involved the decision to close the store that had been in downtown Spokane for 60 years and to consolidate operations in a newer facility located on a busy commercial street in Spokane.
David Lorsch, former owner of DBL and a friend of Huppin, happened to be in the store a few days before it closed and remembers the emotions flowing through the employees. “It was killing him because it was about family,” he said. “They were people to him, not numbers.”
Lorsch went on to describe Huppin as one of the last of the CE retailers with “an old-school set of values. If he tells you he’ll do something, he does it,” Lorsch said. “He’s an old-school type of guy, but he knows you can’t live in the old school. He has worked really hard to survive in a modern world.”
And that’s probably the one thing that Huppin, who remains closely involved in every part of his two businesses, won’t change.
“Constantly being in motion is the thing that has seen us through,” he said. DS