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Abt Electronics: Best Practices Aligning Value With Values

By Bill Roth March 10, 2010

"No one will ever be mad at you for going green," says Mike Abt, one of the four brothers who operate Abt Electronics, recognized as one of the nation's largest consumer electronics merchant. "In the old days they might have thought of me as a hippie." Mike's quote captures the very essence of how going green has moved from outside the mainstream and into the income statement.

Make no mistake, Abt Electronics is all about being price competitive in the cut-throat world of electronics retailing. Visit the website and you'll see how aggressively they promote price. Yet, as merchants highly attuned to their customers they are also pioneering how to grow green revenues.

"Our Chicago store is one of the largest electronics retail locations in the world," Abt explains. "And right inside the front door we place an Energy Star display. A customer can't enter our store without seeing this display. And we are proud of our highly knowledgeable sales associates' ability to help our clients figure out how to choose a TV or hot-water heater that they will enjoy and that will save them on their energy bill."

Mike has has discovered, like a growing number of businesses, that going green can positively impact both top line and bottom line results.

An example of Abt Electronics' bottom line focus is its installation of two natural gas fired electricity generators that take the store off the grid during business hours. Doing this lowers the company's carbon footprint by avoiding the purchase of coal-fired electricity from the local utility. But Abt is also candid and honest in pointing out that the move produced a full repayment on his investment through utility cost savings within four and a half years. "We also have solar and wind power on our building's roof," he explains further. "The solar power is doing pretty good producing electricity about four hours a day. The wind technology we chose was immature and hasn't been as effective. Today, solar and wind really are not helping us that much on our bottom line, but we are going to keep experimenting with these technologies because we want to be green and we want to be ready to sell solar and wind equipment when they achieve price competitiveness."

Another focus is upon finding ways to align customers and associates. "One of the best things we do is recycle our wastes, including our e-waste. Our customers really appreciate our commitment to taking back whatever we sell them including the packaging material and their electronics at the end of their useful life. And we save money recycling this material rather than sending it to the landfill. This is also a great sale feature our associates use to demonstrate our commitment to both price competitiveness and our customer's well being."

As an aside, there is huge multi-national company that has been recognized by a leading business publication as being top in class for its commitment to sustainability but within my national network they are branded as green-washers. Why? Because when you call its customer service department with an equipment failure the standard answer is, "Throw it away and buy a new one, it's cheaper." What I like about Abt Electronics' approach is how it mirrors the customer's current path of experimentation, learning about and then procuring "green." This is much higher in credibility than performance dashboard-driven corporate programs that can generate impressive reports but not achieve customer satisfaction.

In summary, check out Abt because it offers great prices. But also check out its best practices for going green. They are best practices on how sustainability can generate top line revenues and bottom line results.

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