Elmer Karl, Success and a Familiar Face

Getting to know the man behind the commercials

We all know him, we see him on TV in commercials. Elmer Karl turned a knack for fixing electronics into a thriving business. Now days, others handle the day to day operations. But, at age 83, Elmer is still involved in the business he created.

He started out in 1956 with one TV, he sold that one and kept going. A small loan from his dad opened the first Karl’s TV on Main Street in Gregory. There are now 24 Karl’s TV Appliance and Furniture stores in 7 states.

Elmer still lives in his hometown of Gregory. He lost his wife last year. He says at one point in the 1980’s they talked about moving, but decided Gregory was their home.

Elmer is a big part of the town’s past and present, but along with city leaders, he’s also looking down the road to the town’s future. At one point he drove us to the outskirts of Gregory to show us a plot of land.

“We bought 60 acres of land out here, and it going to be commercial, room for commercial lots,” said Elmer.


When he first got into business he was told he had to join the rotary club in Gregory, so he did. Fellow club member, pitch partner and friend for more than 50 years, Jerry Fogel says Elmer’s support for his hometown hasn’t gone unnoticed.      
     
“He’s always a thinker, you know some people will say its luck and some people say no it’s just being smart and taking advantage of the situation. So it takes a lot of guts,” said Fogel.

Long before TV’s hung on the wall, Elmer did a lot of driving between his stores. He now has a plane and a pilot. On this day pilot Mike Klarenbeek picks up Elmer and heads from Gregory to Yankton. He says flying gives him the opportunity to visit his stories more often.

For instance driving to the store in Minot, North Dakota used to be a two day trip. Now he can be up and back in an afternoon. Elmer and his pilot have logged thousands of miles together. In a plane equipped with its own parachute, Elmer says he feels safer flying than driving

Once on the ground in Yankton we head for the store. Before he even takes off his coat Elmer is on a mission.

“I always check the Service Department, because that’s where I started and I guess that’s what interests me,” said Elmer.

He anchored his business on customer service; something he believes is a big part of his success.

“My philosophy when I started if you bought it from Charlie Jones down the street, well that’s his problem, but if you bought it from me that’s my problem and I’m going to make sure you’re happy with it,” said Elmer.

Whether he’s talking with customers, checking in with his daughter Sandi or his workers at various stores, or hopping in a plane, Elmer admits after more than 60 years in business, he may be slowing down a bit. But those who know him best say he certainly isn’t stopping

“I’m still working on plan A, which is live forever, you know”, he said laughing.  
“So one of these days I’ll have to realize that plan B is going to happen.”
     
According to Elmer, the other key to his success has been good employees. He began the process of turning his company over to his employees in 1984. The workers now own 49% of Karl’s TV, appliance and furniture and the plan is to turn over more of the company in the near future.