In the fall of 2009, Berryville resident John Kitler found himself laid off from his job after 17 years of work. His employer told him he was old and in the way, and to either take the severance package or sue the company. Not wanting to sue, he took the severance package and left. But the event spurred the entrepreneurial spirit in John. He had already launched a web enterprise with his website www.asseenontvandmore.com so he decided to expand on the idea and open up his first retail store in the Martinsburg Mall selling “the stuff you see on TV”. His store would accentuate the positive aspects of the products sold on television and eliminate the drawbacks. John disliked the “come on” approach from the TV barkers, who up sell by doubling the product order but then charge extremely high shipping costs. John’s approach was to have all the products “As Seen on TV” under one roof. His business model also provides a demo product customers can handle so they could try it out to see the quality and construction. His first store provided a fun place to shop with great products that customers could see and touch. The store also offered the benefit of having a friendly staff member to answer questions about products. But best of all, buying at John’s retail store avoided the shipping and handling charges.
John described the operation saying, ” Basically, if you see something that’s on TV, the store will get it in the same 6-8 week time frame it takes for the vendor to ship. Our customers are loyal, and we will take names and numbers and call them when the product comes in. When the order for a product called the Gyro Bowl came in, those customers were called and we sold out immediately and had to order pallets more.”
The level of service and variety of products have helped John develop a strong customer base. He said. “We get about 85% of them coming back and making the purchase. You can’t get that level of service anywhere and it again separates us from the big box retailer.”
His business model has also attracted interest from product manufacturers. When he started his operation John had to cultivate relationships with product manufacturers, but now they are seeking him out. One such vendor was Melissa and Doug Educational Toys. Initially unsure how toys would fit in his cramped store, John decided to go with his gut feeling and include the products. He was encouraged by the mall and customer response. He heard one customer say “I love this store” and so adopted the slogan, “You’ll love this store, as seen on TV and more.”
John’s Martinsburg store was a huge success. As other stores closed around him his endeavor flourished. He opened two more stores, one in Hagerstown MD. and one in Harrisonburg VA. The Martinsburg store is also expanding into a new larger space within the mall. John said, ” The whole management team at Martinsburg Mall has been extremely helpful in guiding me along my journey.”
Kitler has opened another store at Hagerstown at the Premium Outlets, and a small “As seen on TV” store in the Martins/Kohls plaza in Winchester on South Pleasant valley Rd. “He is like a freight train” says his wife. She said she is almost afraid to answer the phone for fear of another store opening.
Indeed her fears are well founded. His success with, “As Seen on TV” has spawned growth in a new direction. At the end of 2010, he got a call from Apple Blossom Mall and was offered a chance to try out a short term holiday lease for a toy store which he named Toy-Riffic. He offered a selection of Melissa and Doug toys, as well as Gund plush animals, the best selection of Pillow Pets, Ganz, and a variety of science toys and games. The store was a success and Kitler attributes it to his philosophy of letting people play with the products before they purchase. He also said he sees a big empty hole for educational toys and games that you don’t plug in or need batteries for. The short term holiday lease turned into a long term lease for his new toy store.
Now he is looking back to Martinsburg where his retail enterprise began as an opportunity for yet another store. “Martinsburg is ripe for a toy store, I know, because our customers tell us so.” he says.
The Kitlers are thankful to the community for their support and donate 10% of their profits to people in need. In John’s words, “I’m not a bible thumper, and we are not out to get rich, but if we can break even, or better yet make a profit, and we have provided jobs to people who need them, then God willing we can give something back”
You can view all the stores and their specials at www.asseenontvnow.com