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Abt Ventures into Bedding Business, New Department Features $29K Mattress

The famed Glenview retailer continually freshens up its offerings even while sales and customer loyalty boom. A new bedding department is the newest addition to Abt's 7,000-square-foot showroom.

August 15, 2012 | George Castle

The first item a visitor spots in Abt's new upstairs bedding department is a standard $299 mattress.

But a far more impressive sight is stashed in back of the 7,000-square-foot showroom overlooking the huge Glenview home furnishing retailer's atrium.

There, a $29,000 king-sized bed from Swedish manufacturer Carpe Diem is displayed in all its glory.

And, for those hunting for a mattress somewhere in betweem, Abt stocks all kinds of beds from plush and basic to gimmicky with electrical outlets and remote-controlled massage features.

Mega-store Abt is constantly evolving in the product lines it sells. Yet the new bedding department, starting with a "soft opening" Saturday, is part of a re-modeling project huge even by Abt's standards.

An elevator and escalator have been built to ferry customers upstairs to the sleep center. Meanwhile, in the atrium, the Apple store will soon move across the opening to take bigger quarters, replacing the Sony store.

In the vacated Apple space, Abt's "Connect" computer operation will greatly expand to sell computer desks and accessories. Management is even debating whether to open a "classroom" to better educate computer buyers.

Abt has also added lines like home workout equipment and home security devices, hoping to become a "one-stop shop" operation for its longtime customers.

Known for its prices and customer service, Abt has even sold a pair of Mercedes put on promotional display in the atrium. But management is drawing the line at entering the car business full-time or beginning a grocery adjunct.

The bedding department apparently was the next, complementary step after Abt's staple consumer electronics and appliances. It was an eye-opener for decades-long patrons.

Bed absorbs curious customer

Lau Tran of Gurnee, checking out the beds with his daughter and two granddaughters, was curious at the just-open status. He's bought Abt products since the store formerly operated on Dempster Street in Morton Grove.

Tran walked to the Carpe Diem bed, lay down, let himself be enveloped briefly by the soft mattress and then bounced up with a smile. He did not purchase the bed, but he'll be back again after previously shopping at Bedding Experts.

Don Burke, another 20-year Abt customer from Rosemont, looked around the bedding area with his wife and daughter.

"I didn't know they had this [the new bedding department]," he said. "When we have more time, we'll check it out."

Bedding department manager Geof Imhof said business has been steady since the opening, which was delayed from an originally projected mid-July start due to construction issues. The beds are located in a part of the building that was little used when Abt first moved to Glenview.

As for the space's prized gem, the mattress more expensive than many American's cars, all eyes will inevitably move back to the big bed in back.

"I'm sure there are things out there that are more expensive," said Imhof. "We weren't looking for the most expensive. We were looking for something that was a good fit for Abt, and provide our customers with quality, luxury and something that was different."

Not everything cash-and-carry

Another Carpe Diem luxury model, somewhat less costly than the $29,000 tops, was sold the previous day. But a well-heeled customer cannot just take the display model home if he has the bucks.

"We don't inventory these," Imhof said. "We'll get these shipped from the U.S. distributor on the East Coast. There are some things within Abt's walls that are not cash-and-carry."

The decision to get into the bedding/mattress business was "not a fast-moving" one by management, said Imhof, in a competitive market with bedding stores seemingly in every community.

"There are lots of people within our industry we were friendly with throughout the country that have ventured into this business and done well," he said. "We took a look at it and felt the investment to the second floor was worth it.

"So we tried it," he said. "We do like to offer different things to our customers. In the history of the company, there never used to be a high-end home-theater market. We brought that product in. We never used to have the gourmet shop. We didn't have watches or fitness equipment.

"We're always looking for different things to create revenue and keep our business trending up."

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