3. Abt Electronics
was started by CEO Jon Abt's grandmother in 1936.
The story goes that Grandma Jewel started the business with her husband and $800 after she was thrown out of her family's grocery business for being a woman, Abt says. The store started with just three employees in a Chicago neighborhood and has grown to become one of the largest independent single-store electronics retailers in the country, sprawled over 37 acres in Glenview, Ill., and employing a staff of 1,100, the company says.
As the name suggests, Abt Electronics sells electronics products -- some 12,000 lines of TVs, stereos and computers, but also outdoor grills and grilling accessories, among other things. Basically a paradise for men.
The store has morphed into its own mini-mall. The showroom is 100,000 square feet and has "boutique" shops for
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Bang & Olufsen
and others. It also features a 7,500-gallon saltwater aquarium that's used to demonstrate the image quality of the store's wide selection of cameras and camcorders, and has an atrium with a large fountain in the middle.
Abt says it's a great place to bring the family; the store has interactive displays for kids, and other activities. "It keeps the kids distracted so the parents can shop," he says.
The staff's technical expertise -- acknowledged by many manufacturers -- and strong customer service add to its appeal.
"We put a lot of attention into this store, and that's what makes it successful. It's a unique shopping experience," Abt says. And while he says one day he might consider expanding, for now the company is happy with a single store.
"We don't want to dilute what we've got going," he says. Instead, the company has expanded online and with product offerings.