Eldens sell German Abodia Slide Cabinets Internationally

People from across the country and around the world have toured his ingenious showplace

Published: Tuesday, April 10, 1990
Page: P1B

"I can go anywhere in the world and find my product on somebody's desk." The Smithsonian Institution has one. So do 7,000 other big-leaguers in America. "The Fortune 500 is our back yard." More than 300 magazines have published articles about it. Orders and inquiries pour in from around the globe. At least one customer flew in just to see it.

For 25 years, an international business has flourished beneath our very noses.

The ultimate solution to a very special problem has the world beating a path to the door of Elden Enterprises in Charleston, W.Va From Toporock, their studio-home overlooking MacCorkle Avenue, father-son architects Henry and Ted Elden market a sophisticated storage and viewing system for slides.

"People have slides and they don't use them," Ted Elden said, "because they can't find them." Their Abodia storage cabinets accommodate thousands of slides in orderly, "findable" fashion and feature metal racks that pull across an illuminated panel so hundreds of slides can be scanned at a glance.

"You can label slides forever," Elden said, "but visually you can get to things so much faster. If you're looking for a girl with a red umbrella, mechanically you can't get to it like you can see it ." The expensive systems - from $500 to more than $10,000 - aren't for everybody, he said. "There are only one in 1,000 people who need me. I'm not selling soap. It's something for a very special man.

Not only does he have many slides, but the slides are important and valuable and he plays with them. Like, he's going to give a lecture and he wants this slide and that slide. He intermingles with his collection." Libraries, hospitals, architects and physicians are among Elden's customers. Or clients, as he calls them. (Go-Mart has customers. Anyone shelling out several thousand dollars to store slides is a client.) The product sells itself, Elden said. "This is the only thing for a serious slide user. All you have to do is get the knowledge to people and the sale is done. They see this device and they're captivated. They know this is the answer." His father knew it the second he laid eyes on the thing in 1964.

As an architect and world traveler, the elder Elden had amassed a vast collection of slides, all stashed in boxes. "He was walking around in a furniture store in Germany and he saw this and he knew right away it was good. So he had one shipped to America." The original cabinet was created by Burchard Bonacker, son of a German cabinetmaker, who devised one for a friend after World War II. When Henry Elden wrote the German to praise his invention, Bonacker suggested he peddle the product in America. Elden's wife, Evelyn, took on the project, traveling around the country to get the business going.

"We started small," Ted Elden said, "just traveled around on an airplane and showed it to people. We had no real ambition.

It was fun and we were doing OK." Eventually he got ambitious enough to create a catalog. And father and son got serious enough to make some changes. "We started sitting down and saying, "Well, we ought to have some drawers on the bottom and an enlarger and a light drawer.' We squished the racks closer so you could get more slides in. There were lots of ways we improved it. We're architects. We're cabinetmakers. We know how it works and we thought of logical additions." He said Bonacker often balked at their ideas. "He'd look at what we had and do something like it and we'd fight about it for a while, then he'd make it for us the way we wanted it. In the end he'd realize we had some good ideas and he'd sell them in Germany. But we tested them over here first, so America led the evolution in many regards." The name Abodia reflects the German's role as manufacturer. The "a" means one, Elden explained. The "bo" is lifted from Bonaker and "dia" means slide in German.

Today, the Abodia line is pretty much Ted Elden's baby. A dynamic, confident man with endless energy and interests, Elden, 41, finds it not at all incongruous to have a global business emanating from West Virginia.

"West Virginia is an ideal place to work from. When I was 20ish, my destination was to live in California. Then I visited Sweden and that seemed pretty good. But I think what's best is to be here and be mobile. I have great mobility from here. This is a great hub to the world." Elden's unflagging enthusiasm could probably turn a remote jungle into a worldwide hub. "Like my father, I have a real gusto for everything I touch. I have the perseverance to turn everything into magic. I don't eat, sleep or drink," he said. "I just keep on going." He turned the mushrooming Abodia project into several other businesses. Abodia book work eventually required computers, which begat a computer company. When film-oriented companies such as Kodak.

wanted his list of moneyed clients, he gave them access by starting a magazine. "All these people wanted into my magazine because I had the big clients, people who were spending $5,000 and $10,000. No matter what I touch, it becomes a business." Although an architect "first and always," Elden takes great pride in his thriving computer operation and the fact that he created the entire Abodia catalog in his office on a $000 computer.

With typical passion, Elden also is developing a career as a candid photographer. And who knows what's next. "I don't think I'm doing 10 percent of what I'm capable of," he said. "I want to be everything. I'm a generalist." Blessed with what he calls "infinite bravadero," Elden describes himself with the acronym, HIM: "He who lacks Hesitation, Imitation and Moderation."