O.K. Houck Piano Co. addendum

Monday Morning, September 27, 1926

Little Visits Over Greater Memphis
By Ralph L. Millett

 There Are Five Monuments to O. K. Houck;
Four Are Living Institutions That Breathe
His Spirit of Golden Rule Service.

            Some men have the ability to found a business that is a success during their lifetime.  A few men have the ability to launch a business on such sound principles and along such high ideals that it is everlasting.

            Such a man was O. K. Houck, founder of the O. K. Houck Piano Company!

            Often referred to as Memphis ’ first citizen, Mr. Houck was a man of such magnetic personality and wide acquaintance that it seemed that the wonderful business which he had built could not successfully be carried on by others.
But today the O. K. Houck Piano Company is doing larger business than ever before in its history, and the loyal men and women who labor under the banner of the ‘House of Houck’ give all the credit to the man they lovingly refer to as ‘O. K.’
These loyal workers were so imbued with the spirit of service by daily association with the man they loved that it seems to them that his spirit daily walks by their side and helps them to achieve new successes.
The history of the O. K. Houck Piano Company should prove a splendid inspiration to ambitious business men.  It is convincing proof that a business built upon a foundation of right principles will endure as long as it is conducted along those principles.


            O. K. Houck was a business genius.  During his life time, many attributed his remarkable success to his wonderful personality.  Now as the business continues to grow to amazing proportions, being four times as large as it was in 1917 they realize that behind the magnetic comradeship of O. K. Houck there was a business building ability that few so-called princes possess.
First he laid down the principle of the square deal.  His slogan “One price—no commission” meant that a child blindfolded could go to Houck’s and purchase a piano as well as a Paderwski or a Hoover .  He insisted that every article of merchandise be the BEST at that price that money could buy.
Second, a remarkable judge of men he built up an organization of earnest men and women who dedicated themselves to the Houck idea and ideals of service.  He so imbued these men and women with the Houck spirit that they not only have been able to maintain it year after year, but have been able to impart it to others who have joined the organization.
In other words O. K. Houck was able to project his personality and ideals into the organization to such an extent that even after six years it is impossible to separate the Houck personality from the business which he left.  They are inseparable.


            O. K. Houck didn’t just happen in the piano business.  His uncle, Jesse French, was a famous piano manufacturer with music stores in various sections of the country.  As a boy O. K. worked in one of these stores during vacations and after school hours.  Later he traveled through country districts selling organs and pianos.  When he was 21, O. K. and his father started the piano business in Memphis .  The road was not easy but behind O. K.’s ready smile and hearty handshake there was a lot of old fashioned determination and stick-to-it-iveness.  Some men would have given up but O. K. had faith in himself and faith in his business creed and finally success was won.


            Working side by side with O. K. for many years was his brother, Jesse F. Houck, the present head of the institution.  Like his brother he has devoted his life to the business.  After holding various positions of responsibility in the Memphis store, he went to Little Rock and opened a Houck store there.  Later stores were opened in Nashville and recently a store has been opened in Shreveport but none of these is a branch store.  They are individual units and in each instance more than 90 per cent of the employes are residents of the city in which the store is located.  For instance when the Shreveport store opened with a personnel of 18, 16 of them were residents of Shreveport .  The result is that the Houck store in Shreveport is a Shreveport institution.  This is as true with Little Rock with 25 employes Nashville with 22 as it is of Memphis with 67.
Houck stores are loyal to their home cities.  There are no “branch stores.”
Mr. Jesse Houck remained in Little Rock until 1914 when he was called to Memphis to assist his brother in the rapidly expanding business here.  Upon the death of O. K. Houck in 1920, Jesse F. Houck became president of the company and proceeded to carry on the business upon the same high principles that O. K. had launched it.  With his 37 years of active work in the business Mr. Jesse Houck has earned the reputation of being one of the best trained general music men in the country.


There are now three generations of Houcks interested if not actively engaged in the business.  Mr. J. C. Houck, father of O. K. and J. F. is still living.  Despite the fact that he is approaching the century mark he takes a keen interest in watching the progress of the business which he and his son founded.  He especially takes pride in the fact that his grandsons are being trained to continue the business.  Jesse Houck, Jr., has a determination to play his part in ‘carrying on’ the honored Houck name.  He is secretary of the company while at Washington and Lee University the Houck twins, O. K. and H. B. are preparing themselves for the business leadership maintained by the two preceding generations.


            In every growing business there is a human dynamo.  In the Houck business in recent years it has been W. T. Sutherland, a man of boundless energy and enthusiasm, trained by the Houcks for the heavy responsibilities of which he now shoulders as vice president and general manager.  His meteor like career covers a period of 14 years when he entered the House of Houck as a retail Victrola salesman.  His work soon attracted the attention of O. K. Houck, and before long he was promoted to manager of the department.  His next step was sales manager of the piano department.  Then he was elected vice president and general manager of all the Houck stores.
J. G. McConnell, treasurer of the O. K. Houck Piano Company, has been in the Houck service for a period of 16 years.  Starting in as an office man and devoting all his energies to the interests of the company he has advanced by stages to a position that calls not only for ability, but for outstanding integrity.


            Out in Forest Hill Cemetery there is a beautiful monument to Oliver Kershner Houck, but as beautiful as it is it remains a thing of stone.
On Main Street , Memphis , in Nashville , in Little Rock and in Shreveport there are four other monuments to this wonder man.  They are living institutions breathing the same spirit of unselfishness and daily rededicating themselves to the ideals of service that always distinguished the life of the man they commemorate.
And what better monument can a man build for himself than an institution of this kind?  Caruso is dead, but his golden voice is not hushed.  Thanks to the wonderful age in which he lived Caruso still sings.
O. K. Houck is dead but his passion for bettering humanity through instrumentality of music is not dead.  O. K. Houck passed it on to his associates as a heritage which they cherish above everything else.


Music religious heat inspires.  It wakes the soul and lifts it high and wings it with sublime desires and fits it to bespeak the Deity.


Reprinted from a 1926 article of the The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, TN.  Courtesy of Dorothy Gustin, great granddaughter of John C, Houck's brother.

November 24, 2006


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