It was a different world in 1965 when 10-year-old Mark Vrontikis went on television with the first of the commercials that were to make his dad's appliance store a household name in Utah.

Back then it was rare to see amateurs doing commercials and still rarer to see a child."Having a kid on TV saying, `Me and my dad are partners,"' was something that stuck in people's minds and made for very effective advertising, the grown-up Mark Vrontikis recalls.

Mark's younger sisters, Stella and Petrula, also did the ads for a year or two in the early 1970s until they lost interest and dropped out. Their father, Pete, never forced any of his children to work for the store.

But Mark has enjoyed selling right from the start. He's never worked anywhere except Pete Vrontikis & Son.

After graduating from the University of Utah in business management, he now heads the company. His father remains involved but turned over the job of president in 1987, keeping the position of chairman of the board.

That transition wasn't easy, Mark admits. For his dad, relinquishing the reins of the business that's been his life for nearly 40 years has been difficult.

Still, that's the future he hoped for when he and Alan Frank & Associates advertising agency first put the 10-year-old Mark on TV.

The younger Vrontikis still does many of the commercials. Once a bespectacled kid in a suit, he's now a balding, bearded father of two. But in many ways he's still the same. At 34, he still seems serious for his age. Ask him to talk about himself and he's more likely to talk about the business.

For information about Vrontikis himself one must ask his wife, who also works for the company.

He's intelligent, loves his children, likes playing practical jokes and has a dry sense of humor, says Hosanna Vrontikis. And her husband loves the outdoors. Choosing a wedding date was tough, she says, laughing, because the couple had to find a time that wasn't during any hunting season or major promotion at the store.

The marriage has worked especially well, she says, because she comes from a traditional Armenian family and he's from a traditional Greek one. They grew up with similar respect for family values and parental authority.

Will Vrontikis put his own two children on TV?

"It's just old hat now," he says. "I don't know as I would do that now, because I don't think it would have the effectiveness."

Child ads are not the only ones that have gone by the boards. In about 1979, the store stopped the deer rifle promotion that many oldtimers still recall fondly.

It used to be that women could talk their husbands into a new refrigerator or washer and dryer in the fall because the store would give away a deer rifle with each major purchase.

Economics killed that as profit margins on rifles and appliances shrank, Vrontikis says.

How's the business doing these days? "Right now, because of economic conditions of this valley, business is very difficult."

Competition with national chains like Silo and Fred Meyer has squeezed the company's profits.

But Vrontikis hasn't given up. He took the business public last July by merging it with a blind pool corporation, so he could raise the capital to get into more specialty appliance and electronics products.

He didn't want to discuss details of that venture without first checking with his lawyer.