This year's winner for best consumer direct dealer is also the award series' oldest, as Huppin's/OneCall celebrates its 100th anniversary.
While premium CE shoppers nationwide should be familiar with OneCall, the pioneering specialty A/V and digital imaging e-commerce site, only Spokane-area residents would necessarily know Huppin's, a longtime fixture in the retail community.
Russian immigrant Sam Huppin founded the business in 1908 as a tailor shop, which sons Sam and Abe later converted to a pawnbroker that also sold men's fashion ware and luggage. By the 1950s a third-generation Sam joined the business, which began adding cameras, radios and stereo equipment, and by the 1970s Huppin's left pawn broking and apparel altogether to focus on photo and hi-fi gear.
Enter fourth-generation Murray Huppin, who joined the business fulltime in 1984 following a sales stint at Proctor & Gamble. Within 10 years, after management decided to expand into mail order, the younger Huppin "convinced the elders" to invest $100,000 in new phones and a computer system, and OneCall was born.
OneCall's Web site followed one year later, in 1995, out of necessity. "We had no catalog," Murray recalled, "and the best way to communicate was online."
The first iteration, during the Internet's dial-up period, was essentially an electronic catalog. An authorized transactional version, one of the first in CE, eventually followed as apprehensive vendors grasped the value of the new but untamed channel and established policies for selling their goods online.
In short order, e-commerce became commonplace and the field grew crowded with well-financed giants like nearby Amazon.com and the online arms of national chains. But OneCall has managed to maintain its first-to-market advantage through its nimbleness, customer service, competitive prices, consumer accolades, solid vendor relationships and "an assortment second to none in better A/V and cameras," Murray, now president, said.
The company, a member of the Progressive Retailers Organization (PRO) buying group is also continuously upgrading the site with the latest e-tail innovations, the way a brick-and-mortar store constantly improves its fixtures and signage, Murray said. Other differentiators include owning its own inventory, out of two area warehouses, which provides greater control over fulfillment, and OneCall's experienced, highly trained and non-commissioned 20-person call center, which provides "the right information and outstanding customer service," he said.