Bob Abt, CEO of Chicago retail institution Abt Electronics, has died at 77. Abt Electronics was a major retail destination for the Narta Group which took over 200 members, suppliers and media to the store during its annual conference in 2005.
Abt Electronics was founded by Bob Abt’s parents, David and Jewel, in 1936 as a small radio store in Chicago’s Logan Square. From there, the retailer grew to become one of the largest single-store retailers in the US, a pioneer in authorized CE e-tailing, and a launching pad for many CE and major appliance innovations.
According to US industry media TWICE, Abt grew up sweeping floors at his parents’ store and learned the value of hard work and customer service by watching his father. He earned a business degree from the University of Florida at Gainesville, which he partially funded by his own poker winnings, he went to work for Goldblatt’s Department Store. His father insisted he work for someone else for at least two years a belief that is now a family principle. He eventually succeeded his father after convincing him that a larger facility was needed
Abt was a CE Hall of Fame dealer and winner of multiple awards, including the Better Business Bureau’s Torch Award for Marketplace Ethics. According to US industry media TWICE, he was a soft-spoken, self-described “average guy,” known as a creative genius with a gift for marketing and merchandising.
Narta’s executive chairman who was then managing director, Kay Spencer was keen on visiting the renowned Abt Electronics store because it held a strong reputation for service, competitive prices on a wide selection of premium consumer electronics and major appliances, and its vast, family-friendly showroom.
The showroom displayed product vignettes, single-brand showcase boutiques, and multiple attractions for parents and children, including a 7,500-gallon salt-water fish tank, a virtual “world” of butterflies display, and fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies made onsite every weekend.
Abt introduced seven-day-a-week customer support and expanded its assortment to such categories as wristwatches, fashion sunglasses, gourmet cooking products, luggage, sump pumps, fitness equipment, HVAC systems, mattresses and bedding in recent years.
Retail consultant McMillan & Doolittle called Abt Electronics “a powerful case study in how to succeed as an independent.”
“Robert Abt was an innovative retailer who wasn’t afraid to challenge the traditional ideas of retailing in order to succeed,” former Illinois Retail Merchants Association’s president/CEO David Vite said. “Abt Electronics is a great model for how independent retailers can not only survive, but thrive in a highly competitive retail industry.”
Store inspiration from Las Vagas
In an interview in 2004, Abt explained some of his success secrets, “I’ve equated my store to Las Vegas. As far as the entertainment, it’s really helped our growth a lot. Steve Wynn is my idol. People can gamble anywhere, but they want to go to Steve Wynn’s hotel.”
Besides the store’s bright elegance, customer loyalty is bred by exceptional service. “We really try hard to keep people happy, and we mostly succeed,” Abt said. “If people are happy, they’ll tell their friends about it.” Abt’s motto is “The House That Service Built.” The logo on every Abt truck reads: “Our Goal … Complete Satisfaction.” And its one-page customer service policy handbook simply says, “The Answer is Always ‘Yes’ to Any Reasonable Request.”
Abt is succeeded by his four sons, Michael, Ricky, Billy and Jon, all who work in the business.