For more than 80 years, Abt has built its reputation by offering sweet deals on major appliances. Now the Glenview-based retailer is offering deals on sweets.
In an unusual partnership, Abt recently opened a licensed Dylan's Candy Bar boutique inside its 350,000-square-foot appliance store, selling signature chocolate, liquorice and gummy bears right next to its washing machines and big-screen TVs.
The latest innovation for the third-generation family-owned Abt, now run by brothers Mike, Jon, Ricky and Billy, is already flourishing by word of chocolate-covered mouth.
"I've seen mothers bring their kids in and they head right to the candy store," said Jon Abt, 49. "But most people come here to make major purchases, and that's sort of just a fun thing that they do while they're here."
Abt, which has been named by Consumer Reports as the best place nationally to buy appliances, regularly draws customers from 100 miles away. The full-fledged candy store within an appliance store features the same products, decor and vibe that have made Dylan's a destination on its own.
Founded in 2001 by Dylan Lauren, daughter of fashion designer Ralph Lauren, New York-based Dylan's Candy Bar expanded to Chicago with the 2015 opening of a store inside historic Tribune Tower on North Michigan Avenue.
Seven of the 20 Dylan's stores nationwide are company-owned, including the New York flagship and locations in Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami.
"We decided to open within Abt as it not only is a local destination for millions of families in the suburban Chicago area, but it is also a perfect match in terms of customer base," Tushar Adya, president and chief operating officer of Dylan's, said in a statement.
Adjacent to busy Interstate 294, the 15-year-old Abt showroom is something of a landmark for appliance shoppers. Bucking national trends, Abt sees about 10 percent annual revenue growth by expanding its product lines, absorbing business from closing competitors and, most importantly, keeping its loyal customer base happy.
Each weekend, the store hands out freshly baked chocolate chip cookies to customers, a tradition that will continue. While Abt and Dylan's will share revenues, adding a candy store is less about profits and more about giving customers another reason to visit.
"It's hard for a lot of retailers like us who sell appliances and TVs," said Mike Abt, 54. "They're losing the young generation — kids aren't interested in speakers anymore. Everyone is interested in candy."
Three years in the making, the candy store replaces a kitchen display on the first floor of the sprawling showroom. It was not the only nonappliance concept in consideration, Mike Abt said.
"We considered a liquor store because we sell a lot of wine," he said. "Marijuana became popular, we thought about a 'green' room for a minute or two — that didn't go far. There's many things you can do to entertain people, and candy is definitely one."
The Abt brothers took the helm from their father, Bob Abt, who died in 2015. The store was launched in 1936 by their grandparents, Dave and Jewel Abt, who may have been the original inspiration for the candy store.
"Since I was kid, I would come to the store, and Grandpa would hand out lollipops," Mike Abt said. "Grandpa loved candy too."