News broke over the weekend that venerable electronics retailer, Radio Shack, would be closing between 400 and 700 stores after posting disastrous earnings last year. This came to light after their CEO, David Edmonson, became embroiled in a scandal over padding his credentials. He stepped down Monday. It’s clear that Radio Shack needs a drastic new direction if they want to stay in business.
I’ve got a suggestion: How about actually having stores filled with electronics and the parts needed to repair them, and hiring sales people who care about what they’re doing and have a clue about what they’re selling?
Thirty years ago, Radio Shack was one of the best stores in the country in terms of customer service. You could buy all sorts of tiny and obscure electrical components. The sales people knew what you were asking for without requiring a four-hour explanation. You could join the “Battery Of The Month” club and get a free battery every 30 days. Heck, even their advertisements were fun, with Lewis Kornfeld’s “Flyer Side Chat” and amusing asides in their catalogs.
About twenty years ago, that all began to change. The corporate culture creeped in and, in the name of boosting the bottom line, the informative flyers were cancelled; the Battery Of the Month Club was discontinued; the inventory carried by each store was slashed to a fraction of what it had been; the sales people were replaced with immobile doofi who don’t the difference between a capacitor and ham sandwich.
If you walk into a Radio Shack store now, one of two things will happen: You will either be ignored completely, or you will be harassed about buying a cell phone. Once you make it clear that you’re not there to buy a cell phone, then you will be ignored. If you manage to get the attention of one of their new sales people, and you ask them for something simple like a phono-plug adaptor, they’ll look at you like you just started speaking Chinese. All they seem to care about is pimping their cell phone plans and pushing their tiny little remote-control cars. I would wager that you can probably walk into more than a few Radio Shack stores, ask for a radio, and walk out empty-handed.
The only reason this bothers me is because I liked Radio Shack so much when I was a kid. I hate to see it wind up as just another carcass along the side of the highway that we call “progress.” Sure, you can get any tiny electrical part you need now on the Internet, but who wants to pay five bucks shipping for a transistor that costs a quarter? Maybe, just maybe, the board of directors at Radio Shack will gamble that a return to their roots will be the salvation of the company. Radio Shack should be the place for the electronics do-it-yourselfer. As it is now, they’re just a lame cell phone store with crappy service and lousy prices. They could be so much more. They could sell raw computer components, build-it-yourself DVD players, VCR repair kits. You can buy cell phones anywhere! I miss the old Radio Shack. It’s time for Radio Shack to get back to what made them cool….in a nerdy sort of way.