After hearing about the place for many years, I went to Abt Electronics in Glenview for the first time on Thursday. Although I could have ordered the same stuff online, it was worth driving out there once to experience the place. I'm not really a technology freak -- yet another reason I didn't fit into the IT world -- but damn! Abt makes Best Buy look like a 7-11. Beyond the rows upon rows of TVs and appliances, there is a spacious indoor courtyard with a fountain. The courtyard is surrounded by specialty "shops" (actually, just different rooms in one big store) for featured brands like Bang & Olufsen. Somehow I missed the 7,500-gallon aquarium -- so big that a diver in a wetsuit cleans it! I wish I could say more, but I was so overwhelmed that I went directly to the things I wanted to buy instead of exploring the place.
I'm always curious to see how "mom & pop" retailers manage to compete with the ubiquitous chains in the 21st century. The store was founded in Chicago in 1936, but it moved to Glenview where space was cheaper. Today, Abt has a 350,000 square-foot showroom, covers 37 acres, and features a fleet of 200 trucks and vans providing delivery, installation, and repair service. Still family-owned, the company employs 1,100 people whose hometowns appear on their black uniform vests below their names.
Service was very efficient. A salesperson punched my order into the computer, a cashier processed my credit card, and my stuff was waiting for me when I walked directly to the pick-up area. I was a little disappointed with the salespeople, however. When I said, "I think I want this one," while pointing to an item, I expected the salesman to talk a bit about what made that one better or worse than similar models. I thought I'd get more expertise at Abt than at Best Buy, but I just got an order-taker. I don't know -- maybe I sounded too sure of myself (after all, I had researched this purchase ahead of time) so the salesman didn't think I wanted his input.
Overall, Abt is a place that every electronics geek should visit at least once. Their selection is huge, their prices are competitive, and the building is a temple of technology. On the other hand, a customer doing his/her own research would be just as well served by using their Web site since delivery and shipping are free in Chicagoland.
UPDATE 06/03/2008 - Someone called from Abt this morning at 8:20 to let me know my appliance will be delivered "sometime between ten and four." Sheesh, that's a six-hour range! Why bother calling me at all? The salesman could have said, "Just plan to be home all day Tuesday for whenever our truck shows up." Heck, even the freaking utilities can usually narrow it down to a three-hour window. Is six hours really the best Abt can do?