After 60 years in business, a double whammy from Mother Nature and Father Time may force an iconic local shop owner to the sidelines.
Carl Miller and his wife, Karen, own Miller’s TV Sales and Service on North Marr Road. He made his first service call with his father when he was just 11.
“They wanted to pay with credit, and I remember telling my dad, ‘We’ll never make any money this way,’” Miller said laughing.
Now 70, and facing declining profit margins and advancing age, Miller recently put a sign on the door indicating the shop will be closing soon.
While he said that is not yet cast in stone, Miller faces an uphill battle to keep the store his parents, Arthur and Lucile Miller, opened all those years ago.
“I have a lot of loyal customers, so I would like to stay in business; but unless things change, we might just have to close the doors for good,” Miller said.
In its heyday, Miller’s TV had two stores and seven technicians. A shop on 25th Street was closed when Miller realized he was really just competing with himself for business.
Miller has seen plenty of competitors with names such as Steinberg’s, Sun and, more recently, Circuit City, come and go. He has witnessed the transition from large Zenith consoles to smaller portable televisions and the digital, high-definition LG models that dominate his current inventory.
As televisions became cheaper and more dependable, repair work dwindled and profit margins slipped. In many cases, it was almost as inexpensive to replace an older, outdated model with a new set.
Surprisingly, it is not competition from franchise stores that can offer lower prices through higher volume that has Miller contemplating retirement.
“We are pretty competitive on price because we own the building and don’t have any employees, so our overhead is pretty low,” Miller said.
Miller also services what he sells and, until recently, fixed other sets as well, which still gave him an advantage over some competitors.
As recently as last year, Miller still had two technicians on staff and said he was selling a good number of televisions.
A series of events near the year’s end, however, have made it difficult for Miller to maintain the full-service shop customers have come to rely on.
In September, Miller’s technicians abruptly quit, saying they needed to pursue other opportunities.
“There’s no hard feelings because everybody has to do what’s best for them, but it left me in a bind,” Miller said.
He was still in pretty good health at that time and had been servicing television sets for his whole adult life, so Miller was able to pick up the slack, including the more physical work.
A cruel twist of fate in December, however, delivered what may be the definitive blow.
Miller slipped on a patch of ice during one of the region’s many winter storms and, as he put it, “tore up my shoulder pretty good.”
Since then, his workload has been curtailed, and he had surgery in February to repair the damage.
He is on the mend, but knows that, at his age, it will take a while to recover and he may never again be at full strength.
Karen Miller, who also is 70, tries to help with the physical part of the job, but she, too, has a bad shoulder and struggles as well.
“It’s been hard for us, and we haven’t been able to hire anyone to replace the guys who left,” Karen Miller said. “There just aren’t that many television technicians out there anymore.”
The couple have been married for 50 years and have two daughters, one of whom lives in Columbus, and four grandchildren. Their other daughter lives near Indianapolis. As their grandchildren have gotten older and become active in school activities, they spend more time traveling around the region to watch them.
“It would probably be a little easier on us if we did close, but Carl really enjoys it,” Karen Miller said. “It’s the only job he’s ever had.”
Carl Miller has made a good living and some wise investments over the years, so he doesn’t need to keep the doors open to put food on the table.
He shares the strip where the store is located with a credit union and also owns a miniature golf course, an office space leased to a physician’s office, and some nearby homes that are rental properties.
He said he knows the time is coming when he should take it a little easier and enjoy more time with his wife, children and grandchildren, but it’s hard to just walk away.
“I could close up the shop, and maybe it’s time. But I would like to keep it open if I could find someone reliable to help with the repairs and the physical part,” Miller said. “One way or the other, we’ll have to make a decision soon. But no matter what happens, I’m grateful to all of the people who have bought from us over the years.”