AB&T has its roots in the 1920s with the birth of commercial radio and the harsh realities of the Great Depression.
That was when an energetic Westinghouse engineer in Pittsburgh, Frank Conrad, pioneered the first public radio broadcast from his living room, playing phonograph songs for his neighbors who listened on homemade radios. As his broadcast gained popularity, the president of Westinghouse convinced the engineer to move the broadcast to the company's rooftop in exchange for better equipment and a stronger signal. Westinghouse started making radios for the larger audience and the radio industry was born. That radio station, KDKA, is still broadcasting and is the oldest operating radio station in the country.
As radios became popular in the 1920s, a huge demand for radio parts materialized. At about this time, Emmet J. Tydings became stranded without money while in Pittsburgh on a sales trip. The company he worked for shut down overnight, falling victim to the Depression. With a vendor willing to supply him, Tydings set up shop there selling radio parts directly to the public to survive.
As the business thrived, it became The Tydings Electronics Co., and was reported to have grown to become the "largest electronics parts distributor east of the Mississippi" until after WWII when Tydings sold the company. Many a manufacturer rep traveled from Washington DC, NYC, Philadelphia, and beyond to sell radio parts to Tydings Electronics.
In 1947, when Tydings' son Dick returned from WWII, with wife in tow and baby on the way, he came to his father to get a referral for a sales position in electronics. Dick secured a job with the rep firm Morris Taylor Company, a major supplier to Tydings Electronics. In 1963 Dick formed AB&T with partner Hal Bloomenstein (thus the "B&T" name roots) to take advantage of growing sales in the nascent HiFi business (later the Consumer Electronics or "CE" business) that Morrris Taylor Co. thought was merely a passing fad.
Early on, AB&T had two big product hits with Harmon Kardon and Dynaco, two titans of the early HiFi industry. With new vendors like Maxell audio/video and HiGain CBs, the firm grew larger in the late '60s.
Starting in the '70s, big name vendors like Sanyo, Panasonic, Sharp, Magnavox, Akai, NEC and others contributed to a long growth period that lasted into the '80s.
The next big change came when Maxell added Floppy Disk to its A/V media line. Retail sales of floppy disks grew visible enough by 1982 to prompt an unknown software company named VisiCorp to contact Maxell for advice on getting their VisiCalc spreadsheet software out to dealers. AB&T brought VisiCorp on as it was emerging as the foremost catalyst in fueling acceptance of the PC as a general business tool. From that initial success, AB&T dove deeper into PC and peripheral products sales. In 1987 the computer peripherals division matched the consumer electronics division in sales.
Many changes have taken place over the last two decades at AB&T, most notably, the dramatic consolidation of the dealer base in both consumer electronics and computer products. AB&T responded early to those changes in 1994 by writing a new business plan to grow nationally and consolidate the rep business in lock-step with the retail industry. In 1995 AB&T was the first electronics rep firm to undertake a national expansion plan by buying up other small rep firms across the U.S. AB&T's "Best Foot Forward" strategy kept us focused on expanding successfully only when the opportunity was right.
Ultimately, AB&T purchased firms in Florida, Georgia, Texas, California and Minnesota. Even though some purchases were very challenging, the sum of AB&T quickly became far more powerful than its parts. That is one of the primary reasons why AB&T still exists today when the majority of our competitors have gone out of business. Our legacy of servicing hundreds of "Mom and Pop" shops in the mid-Atlantic region, changed to servicing a few dozen national mega-accounts all across the nation.
AB&T's decades of accumulated experience led to the formation of two new business units to take advantage of further changes in the industry. The first, AB&T Telecom, was formulated as a deliberate follow-on to the successful effort AB&T launched in 1994 with GE selling extended warranty contracts (i.e., a recurring revenue service similar to telecom services) at retail. In 1998, our first telecom thurst was the introduction of prepaid Long Distance Calling Cards through retailers. After successfully rolling out Qwest Prepaid Long Distance calling cards at Circuit City, CompUSA and SuperValue, we attempted to responded to request for business-class telecom services from the Office superstores.
Ironically, our response to the retailer's request for business-class telecom services led ultimately to AB&T rolling out telecom services through a dedicated Agent Channel that was closely aligned to our experience servicing VARs and System Integrators for computer products. Now AB&T Telecom is one of the fastest growing telecom master agencies in the nation attracting over 300 Agents, VAR's and resellers nationwide, and with over 40 service providers.
In 2003 AB&T launched PRI, our outsourced contract buying office headquartered in Richmond, VA. With technologically-coupled offices in China and Richmond, PRI has refined the role of middle-man-facilitator to its most efficient level by creating a model that eliminates every last unnecessary cost layer in sourcing. PRI's hyper-efficient direct import supply chain model (we call it "Speed-Sourcing") fills a major void that tier-1 brands can't address with national retailers. PRI acts as a CONTRACT BUYING OFFICE with automated supply chain systems between China and the US for some of the biggest names in the retail electronics and automotive supplies in the country. More can been learned on our website at www.prispeedsource.com.
Today, with 30 direct employees, AB&T stands alone as a long term, profitable and diversified company with operating divisions in Telecom, Direct Import/Contract Buying and Manufacture Rep businesses. With six offices in the US, China and Mexico, we share a common back office structure and management team with decades of experience to support all business units. Each has a Technology and Retail Channel sales focus and each business unit operates under its own P&L for maximum efficiency. AB&T looks forward to its 50th anniversary when we are the largest Rep Firm, Telecom Master Agency, and Asian Contract Buying Office firm in the world.