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lifestyle & Arts | 21 sunday breakfast ■ by david sweet When one walks into Abt, the electronics store in Glenview, no doubt the 60-inch plasma television screens and sizable reclining chairs catch one’s eye. But it’s what pleases one’s nose that helps set the business apart from its competitors. “There’s nothing better than walking into a store and smelling fresh cookies, especially when you’re with your family,” says Jon Abt, one of four brothers (including Mike, Ricky and Billy) who help run the 77-year-old business with their father, Bob. That’s not all. Abt’s “store within a store” includes a salt-water aquarium along with a machine where children can get engulfed inside a giant bubble. “The kids will be entertained while the parents shop,” notes the Highland Park resident. “It’s all about the experience.” It is Jon Abt’s charge that even those who never step foot in the company’s sole store also enjoy the Abt experience. Since helping to launch the firm’s first e-commerce site in the late 1990s, he has solidified the bricks-andmortar veteran’s presence online, where free shipping is one attraction. “Your competitors are popping up from anywhere. When your product is commoditized, it’s a challenge,” says the quinquagenarian. “How do we give them the Abt experience when they live in Los Angeles? Once you purchase our product, you can call us directly. Others say, ‘Here’s a toll-free number.’ “ When, as a teenager in 1981, Abt first worked for the company — started by his grandparents in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago with an investment of $800 during the Great Depression — he cleaned toilets and toiled in the warehouse. Though the work may not sound glamorous, it gave him a chance to spend time with his father, a seven-day-a-week worker. And it allowed him to understand how the family business (for the last 11 years based in Glenview on 37 acres) worked from the bottom up. “During high school, we were required to help out at the store,” says Abt. “But afterwards, he (Bob) wanted us to work somewhere else before coming back here.” Among his three brothers, Jon Abt waited the longest to rejoin the family business. In fact, 17 years passed after that part-time job at the store before the American University graduate returned.

A smart cookie helps family business stay strong

Far from being a prodiChicago?“ he recalls. “It got me thinking that maybe I had gal son, Jon had come around full circle.” worked for A&M Around that time, the first Abt transactional Web site debuted, and Jon came on board as a consultant. Records before “No one knew if it would be a real business,” he says. being hired by “At the time, Amazon.com was just selling books.” EMI, then in Fifteen years later, e-commerce at the company conthe forefront tinues to grow, and Abt sales overall show double-digit of music sponsorships — percentage increases each year. Free technical support bringing as long as one owns a product and other amenities help g roups like set the 1,100-employee company apart from big-box comThe Rolling petitors. Fourth-generation Abts have already worked Stones together there — including Jon’s son Austin in customer service with brands and in the warehouse. such as Jovan Musk during “The kids will be entertained tours. “ No one while the parents shop. It’s all was doing about the experience.” anything quite like that | Jon Abt at the time,” says Abt, enjoying a Dutch Baby (sized “So many family businesses get ripped to the seams more like a Dutch from fighting from within,” Abt says. “My brothers and I, Daddy) at Walker we all get along. We try not to step on each other’s toes.” Bros. The Original All inquiries about selling the company have been Pancake House in brushed aside. “We’re a family business,” Highland Park. “It Abt explains. “Without the family, what contributed to my would they do?” understanding of the They would probably at least have business side.” to change the name — which many Soon after colcustomers still pronounce as lege, Abt moved A-B-T. to Los Angeles Says Abt, “One of our drivers will and spent a call and say, ‘It’s Joe from Abt.’ The skin tightening decade there. customer says, ‘Who?’ He says, ‘You wrinkle reduction He worked for know, A-B-T. You ordered a television.’ sun damage reversal Then they’re happy to see him.” the Grammys, Jon skinAbt texture rejuvenation where he helped Whether they credit A-B-T or Abt, Jon put on illustration by barry blitt knows satisfied customers are still the key to success. American Idol“At the end of the day, we’re only as good as those custype concerts to find the next big bands. Then he became the director of worldwide marketing for DTS, a surroundtomers say we are,” he notes. “We’ve built the business by sound company. More and more frequently, he’d hear the customer word of mouth. same question. “I want to make my grandparents proud. The company’s “People would say, ‘Are you related to the Abt in important to the entire family.” ■

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The North Shore Weekend EAST, Issue 63  

The North Shore Weekend (East Zone) is published weekly and features the news and personalities of Wilmette, Kenilworth, Winnetka, Northfiel...

The North Shore Weekend EAST, Issue 63  

The North Shore Weekend (East Zone) is published weekly and features the news and personalities of Wilmette, Kenilworth, Winnetka, Northfiel...

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