The headlines today were jarring but not surprising: RadioShack wants to close 1,100 stores. My thoughts first turned to all of the employees who would be losing their jobs due to the company’s ongoing struggles. (At least they don’t need to deal with the cognitive dissonance generated by this headline from last week: “Best Buy Returns to Profit, Announces Layoffs.”)
Anyway, we all hear (and have been hearing, seemingly forever) how a turnaround for RadioShack is in the offing largely due to how “powerful” its brand is. Well, I’m here to throw a pond full of water on that idea.
Sure, everyone knows who RadioShack is. But what do they know RadioShack for? Mention RadioShack to anyone over 30 and they’ll immediately bring up the company’s heavy-handed and annoying practice of asking for your name, address and phone number when you’re just trying to buy some batteries. I think a few years ago the company cut that practice out. I wouldn’t know, because even though I’ve visited RadioShack a few times in the last decade, I haven’t bought anything, save for a $15 transistor radio (natch) for emergencies.
Mention RadioShack to anyone under 30, and they’ll probably just give you a blank stare or worse. I asked my 20-something colleague Hannah Abrams what she thought of when she heard “RadioShack” and she said, “My dad.” That sounds about right.
As much as it has tried to be your electronics store of choice over the decades, RadioShack is in fact the convenience store of electronics retail. Pretty much every trip to RadioShack I’ve made or have been witness to has been roughly centered around, “I need this cable/adapter/doodad. I’m gonna run down to RadioShack.” The company’s advantage was that it was as ubiquitous in the nation’s shopping centers and malls as 7-Elevens, nail salons and pizza joints.
But the experience itself always sucked. Beyond the grating “give me all your personal information” solicitations at the register, there were the haphazard, depressing store layouts and worse, the interaction with the staff. Sometimes, especially in ancient times, they’d be big-timing you in some one-sided contest of nerdery. Lately, as in many retail environments, the staff often seemed less informed than the customers. Which is worse? I’ll let you ponder that existential question for a bit.
So that’s what RadioShack is: a place of last resort to get cables and other accessories. Or a phone if you’re feeling particularly adventurous. Cellphone stores have taken a big bite out of RadioShack’s accessories business. Best Buy, where available, beats it on price, as does Target, Wal-Mart, Costco… you get the idea. Oh, and then there’s a little thing called the internet, where you can get pretty much any widget you want at a lower price than you can at RadioShack.
Here’s my plan for how RadioShack can stay in business: Start selling cigarettes, candy, beverages and lottery tickets. The store size is right, and that’s a pretty sustainable business model, isn’t it?