Abt Electronics: The Business, the Family

Visit Abt Electronics in Glenview, Ill., for the first time and you’ll be overwhelmed with a dominant feeling: jealousy.

Walk through the 350,000-square-foot facility—past the full patio kitchen solution outside the entrance, through the mobile electronics section, by the hundreds of appliances and flat panels and audio products, past the famous fish tank and into the mall atrium, anchored by a large fountain and surrounded by stand-alone boutique CE, watch, gourmet and kitchen stores—you keep asking yourself: “Why couldn’t there be an Abt in my community?” If only we could all be so lucky.

Mike Abt, part of the third generation of Chicago’s first family of CE, has a simple answer: if the company opened multiple locations in different states, it wouldn’t be able to focus on the Glenview store and remain as active as it is in the surrounding communities. The family has gotten plenty of offers to expand. But why risk something that could weaken the core.

“People have always been willing to drive here. If we had a second store we wouldn’t be able to focus on this,” Mike said. “But we know we could run another store.”

Seeing that there are several stores within a store at Abt (including stand-alone Apple, Sony, and Bang & Olufsen boutiques in the atrium), there’s no reason at this stage to complicate things. Besides, Abt established a national presence as one of the early pioneers of online retailing and has constantly optimized the site, integrating the latest Web 2.0 tools to replicate the same type of “customer service” online that customers have grown used to at the store.

“We focus on the basic things our grandparents focused on,” Mike said, referring to Dave and Jewel Abt, who founded the business 72 years ago.

“We’re very much part of the community. We like who we are today.”
A lot of other people do too, making Abt Electronics a worthy and overdue inductee to Dealerscope’s 2009 Hall of Fame. Abt fits all the criteria of a hall-of-fame retailer (the CEA inducted David and Jewel into the CE Hall of Fame last fall): longevity, innovation, the right product focus and presentation, commitment to the community and, at least in Abt’s case, a strong sense of environmental awareness.

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