He’s been your servicing dealer since 1956. That’s the tag line Elmer Karl says in every one of his tv commercials.
In tonight’s Eye on Keloland, we take a look back at Elmer Karl’s humble beginnings and see how Elmer turned electronics into an empire.
After a brief stint in the military, serving in the Korean War, a very young Elmer Karl decided it was time for another type of service; fixing tv’s. After attending school in Chicago he returned to his hometown of Gregory, South Dakota and opened his first store.
“I rented a building for, as I recall $30 a month,” Karl said.
A year later, after careful consideration, he bought the building and decided he probably should start selling appliances too. After all, not many families owned tv’s back in the 1950’s.
“I said, well we’ll try it, and that worked pretty good,
Then he opened another store in Winner. It wasn’t long after that the business began to grow. He expanded to several other cities one by one.
“To tell you the truth it was never my intention to ever grow a company, my intention was to be a tv repairman in Gregory,” Elmer said.
Today, you’ll still find Elmer making the rounds at his stores, visiting with staff and customers.
His success he says is easy to define.
“I had foresight to hire good people and they became part of the company,” Elmer said.
That’s right, those employees now own 47% of the company. Tom Johnson is one of them. He’s the general manager of the Sioux Falls store.
“I’ve learned so much from him, not just in the business world, but about being involved the community,” Johnson said.
Johnson has worked for Elmer for 20 years and in that time, he says Elmer taught him one of the most important lessons in business; treat customers like family.
“I call it the E-Culture, it’s the culture of Elmer and it’s Main street Winner, it’s Main Street Gregory, it’s Main Street Sioux Falls and LaCrosse, St. Cloud; you know we live in a rural community we are not a big city, we still have our farmers who are the backbone of who we are, it’s that sense of community who brings us the business, the door swings every day and they are our friends and our family and that’s the lasting legacy I’ll never forget about Elmer Karl and that’ the Culture of E,” Johnson said.
While many big box stores have closed across the country, they say the culture of E is what’s kept this once small business competitive and relevant.
“And you know what Don over 20 years it’s been the most important piece of our business, is taking care of our customers,” Johnson said. “You can buy the stuff anywhere, but who’s going to take care of you.”
Elmer’s commercials have made him a household name, not only in South Dakota, but in all seven states where he now has close to 30 stores.
At 87, Elmer still enjoys what he does, including shooting the commercials.
Anytime, anyone asks him when he’s going to call it quits, he sort of avoids the question and jokes.
“There’ll probably be a notice in the paper and lunch at the church,…..laughs,
We get it, Elmer has no plans of retiring, because he loves what he does and serving his customers.
“That’s really been our strong point, we’re the servicing dealer since 1956 just in case you missed that, Elmer said.