A conversation with Greg Hephner

05/04/2014 12:00 AM

08/08/2014 10:24 AM

Greg Hephner of Hephner TV & Electronics took exception to a headline on a recent story about Don’s TV & Video going out of business.

“Death of an Industry” didn’t capture the situation, Hephner said, explaining that “Metamorphosis of an Industry” is more fitting.

“We have had to spot trends in this business early, then be adaptive and nimble in order to change,” Hephner said of himself and his father, Lonnie, who founded the company, and his son, Michael, who joined the business in 2011.

Lonnie Hephner started the business in his parents’ garage at 1026 S. Washington.

“He got his first city business license in 1950, so that’s how we count our founding,” Greg Hephner said.

In 1960, Lonnie Hephner moved to 737 S. Washington, which is where the business is today.

Greg Hephner said with Don’s going out of business by early this summer, Hephner TV “now has the distinction of being the longest-tenured independent electronics store in Wichita.”

He said he’s proud that the store is still in the family and is multigenerational, but Hephner worries not all potential customers know that they can get the same deals there as at larger retail chains, but perhaps with better service.

“The world is flat when it comes to retail anymore,” Hephner said. “Nobody can be grossly out of line and stay in business.”

How did Hephner TV begin?

My father started the business in his garage (in) 1950. Actually, his parents’ garage because he was in high school. It was Hephner Radio at that point because TV wasn’t in town.

How did a high school student come to start a business?

He started building crystal radio sets and selling them to friends, and his friends’ parents started bringing their home radios to him because they knew he could work on electronics, and one thing led to another.

Then you were born in 1964 and joined the business in second grade. What were you doing for a paycheck?

Dumping trashes. Vacuuming the floors. Testing tubes. Just whatever Dad told me to do, I did. … It was fun. He taught me everything I know.

What were some of the most important lessons he imparted?

You’ve got to show up to work every day. You have to be prepared to do anything in the business, from – again – dumping trashes to selling to buying to anything in the store.

Did you ever consider not following your father into business?

Not really. I’ve always known this is what I wanted to do. I enjoy retail. I enjoy working with people. I enjoy this particular business because it’s always changing, always evolving.

Now that your son has joined the business, what does he do?

Essentially everything I did and everything I do now. … That’s exciting. He has a real passion for the business. As much as I did. As much as Dad did – does. (He) has a real entrepreneurial spirit. … He’s teaching me things. New business practices. New ways to market to the new generation that keeps it fresh.

How has the business changed through the years?

You know, there’s the physical changes. Just the type of things you’re selling. We used to sell a lot of big screens and large consoles, and in the ‘70s … just large physical pieces of equipment. … Everything was big it seemed like. … Now everything is sleek and lightweight. … In this business, if you stand still, you’re losing ground, and so we are continually evolving with the business to decide, OK, what kind of product mix are we going to have? … We’ve added more audio equipment in recent years. Higher-end speaker lines … to take advantage of the home-theater craze.

A lot has stayed the same as well, right?

The basics of the business, though, are still essentially the same. … We’ve always done delivery. We’ve always done service. … Service is evolving. Service used to mean fixing everything, which we still do … but service now means knowing how to do a software update on a TV or knowing how to connect your stereo receiver to the Internet so you can get Pandora or Netflix … or those kinds of things.

What are the new trends in the business?

We’re going to be seeing a lot more streaming services. … I think the trend is going to be toward bigger screens. LG is slated to have a 105-inch flat panel offered this year. … The 60-inch-and-above size has really exploded this year. … Home theater, it’s growing a little bit stronger.

So you have no qualms for the business evolving so much that it won’t be around for your son one day?

We just have to hold on and ride the wave. The industry changes on its own. That’s part of the fun of it.

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