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Abt Electronics: Part CE Design Center, Part Circus

Chicago-area Abt Electronics is also a recycling plant, wedding venue, Apple store, kitchen showroom and more.


Abt Electronics offers everything from Tumi to TVs to trash compactors, not to mention Control4, Crestron and most other control products, in its 22,000-square-foot design center.
Julie Jacobson · July 28, 2010

When you talk about Abt Electronics, it’s hard to know where to begin. You don’t even know what to call the place, which is located in the Chicago suburb of Glenview.

It is just as much a recycling plant as it is a store. And the store sells everything from dishwashers to iPads to watches to almost every popular home control system. The décor is one part nostalgia and one part Vegas.

Most of all, though, Abt is a destination.

“We’re the Bellagio of the industry,” says co-president Mike Abt, my tour guide for the day. About six weddings have been held in the idyllic Abt atrium, a sunny space with a fountain and gardens. And when one guy proposed to his girlfriend in front of the store’s TV section, it made national news.

It wasn’t always that way. When Jewel and David Abt opened Abt Radio in 1936, the three-person shop sold only small electronics.

Abt Electronics
  • Location: Glenview Ill., outside of Chicago
  • Website: http://www.abt.com
  • Principals: The Abts: Bob (father/CEO) and sons Mike, Jon, Rick, Billy
  • Revenues: $25 million (2009, based on CE Pro 100 data)
  • Years in Business: 74
  • Number of employees: 1,100 (total, all departments)
  • Residential/Commercial Split: 60%/40%
  • Internet Sales: 18%
  • Specialty: Top quality across all products and services, from watches to home theaters to automation to BBQ grills.
  • Top 5 Brands: M&K, Sony, Samsung, Deno
  • FYI: The dated Abt logo … isn’t so dated after all, according to Mike Abt. It was “modernized” about 15 years ago, but maintains the flavor of Abt’s former neighbor, Zenith, which inspired the lightning bolt.

By the time the couple was inducted into the Consumer Electronics Association‘s CE Hall of Fame in 2008, the store occupied 37 acres, employed over 1,000 people, and operated 70 large delivery trucks, 45 custom installation trucks and 100 service vans.

Situated on the current property are the main showroom and warehouse at 350,000 square feet, a 22,000-square-foot design center with leased space (kitchen and bath, cabinets, stone, lighting and a Viking cooking school), Abt’s very own restaurant called Jolane’s, and an 8,000-square-foot recycling facility. Plus, the sprawling space is home to Jewel and David Abt’s son Bob (CEO) and his four sons Mike, Jon, Rick and Billy—all principals in the family-owned business.

What’s in Store
In addition to major appliances and home electronics available in the namesake Abt store, customers can purchase any number of seemingly random items at any of the adjoining shops. There’s a dedicated store for Sony, Apple, Thermador, Tumi and other popular brands. At 3,000 square feet, Abt’s Sub-Zero showroom is the largest independently owned Sub-Zero space in the country - about three times the size of similar stores. All of the shops are managed and staffed by Abt employees.

You can pick up some fancy coffee beans and Viking skillets at the gourmet kitchen boutique. Or shop elsewhere for sunglasses, fitness equipment, breathalyzers, water heaters, mosquito repellent systems and power generators.

imageThere’s so much to do at Abt Electronics that you can easily lose track of the time … not. Just stop by the newest “Time” store in the Abt village. There, you’ll find a variety of watches, some of which cost more than a high-end big-screen TV. The difference is: watches are much easier to transport and no problem to “install.”

“We’re just looking for things to make us more profitable,” Abt says. “As I looked into the [watch] industry, it seemed profitable.”

To manage the Time store, Abt hired a watch specialist from Macy’s. The luxury products are a nice fit for the typical Abt shopper, and Mike Abt is confident that when customers get wind of the new offerings, they will buy.

“The challenge is to get our existing customers—over one million of them—to learn about it,” he says.

Custom Installation & Service
Most hybrid retailers and custom installers focus on one or two home control brands, but Abt sells and installs just about all of them.

On the high end, it all started with AMX, which currently runs many of the in-store demos, most notably the theater and music rooms. On the lower end, Abt has offered URC products for quite some time and added Philips Pronto to the mix. In the middle is Elan Home Systems, another long-time offering from Abt.


  About the Author

Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson Email Julie at julie.jacobson@emeraldexpo.com

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