605 Main Street, Gregory, S.D. 57533
605-835-8711, Web site under construction
Elmer Karl, founder/owner
Annual Sales (fiscal 2002): $30 million
Number of Stores: 16
Product Mix: Appliances, consumer electronics and furniture
Gregory, S.D.— Elmer Karl jokes that his "sparkling personality" draws customers to his Midwestern stores, rather than his competitors — Best Buy, Sears and Lowe's. But it may very well be his smiling face in local television commercials and his promising slogan, "Your servicing dealer since 1956," that gives his stores the personal touch many shoppers look for.
After serving in the Korean war and then working as a repairman for Marshall Field's in Chicago for a year, Karl returned to his hometown here and opened his own TV repair shop. Seven years later, in 1963, he opened a second store in Winner, S.D. and began the slow-yet-constant expansion that continues to this day. A member of the MARTA Cooperative buying group, Karl's has never lost its focus on service and in-house repairs.
"Our niche in the market is that we're a self-servicing store," Karl said. "We do our own repairs, installations and deliveries. We're just a strong independent that services our customers."
Many of Karl's stores were acquired from CE businesses that already had "very good reputations," and in many cases, he kept the managers or owners of those stores on staff in hopes of maintaining customer loyalty and trust.
His explanation for his stores' success is rather pragmatic, and may hark back to his farming roots: "We've been able to maintain a good credit record with the agencies and the banks."