I love RadioShack.
I love going into the stores. Love checking out the bins of parts and electronics so much that I bought one of the parts bins from my local shop, which is closing forever tomorrow.
RadioShack is in the process of closing 1,784+ stores as it is going through bankruptcy. Another chunk of stores, under an agreement with Sprint, will be converted into dual RadioShack/Sprint stores.
I hate cell phone stores.
That got me thinking. Here are my 10 reasons why I believe RadioShack is going bust:
1. The Employees
First of all, let me say this: It’s not the employees’ fault. But how many times have you walked into a RadioShack in the past, oh, 10 years and asked a specific question about a technological topic that you did not understand, only to have the employee look at you all doe-eyed as if they had no idea what the difference was between a diode and a resistor?
Again, that is not necessarily the fault of the individual employees. I have had some great customer service experiences at RadioShack, with employees going out of their way to try to help me. But the operative word is try. RadioShack simply failed to adequately train its employees on new, old, and emerging technological trends.
But they know everything about the latest cell phones and rate plans, don’t they?
2. Best Buy
Not 2015 Best Buy, but 2005 Best Buy and 2010 Best Buy.
Go back a bit. The big blue box simply crushed RadioShack, both with its ability to compete for the lowest prices on major items like televisions, home audio receivers, and home theater speakers, and with GeekSquad, which, in its heyday, had everything that RadioShack employees didn’t, including bona fide nerd speak, in which they could tell you everything about a television, television manufacturers, color quality, black levels, inputs, outputs, and contrast ratio.
Best Buy bettered RadioShack when it came to training its employees — at least when Best Buy was doing well. Best Buy didn’t (just) bet on cell phones.
When HDTVs and flat-panel displays first came out, they were extraordinarily expensive, and nobody was going to RadioShack to purchase one. They were going to Best Buy, Circuit City, Macy’s, and their other trusted department stores. The flat panel television is an appliance, not a gadget, and RadioShack never got market share in the high definition television market.
And their effort reflected as much.
They’ve never had a selection of the top brands, and I cannot ever remember the company doing a good job showcasing the emerging tech. When is the last time you saw a 3D TV demonstration or one of those new curved TVs at a RadioShack? I don’t like either one of those, but it would show that RadioShack has “the new.”
The odds are, if you bought a TV at RadioShack, it was probably three-year-old technology, and you probably paid more than you would pay at Best Buy or Amazon or any of the bevy of online retailers.
Part of it is real estate. Televisions take up a lot of room in a store. Maybe if they devoted front-of-store space to TVs instead of cell phones?
4. Cheap Computers
The second you could buy a Dell from Dell.com for $299, RadioShack was doomed.
Because today, if your computer (or printer, monitor, television, radio or speaker system for that matter) breaks, you throw it away and buy a new one for less than the price of replacing a few of the parts.
Even some hardcore hobbyists and true computer nerds don’t bother upgrading their computers anymore, because they could buy a brand new PC for less than the price of a replacement video card. That is not good news when you sell thermal compound, case fans, power supplies, and soldering guns. We don’t even take our cell phones apart anymore. Apple and Samsung sell us sealed units that aren’t meant to be tinkered with by adding parts, antennas, or even new batteries in some cases. That’s BAD for a store that sells those parts.
5. The slow progressive death of the personal computer
Beyond the prices. RadioShack has always been known for DIY, but as the computer is turned into a tablet, or smart TV, or the smart phone, RadioShack simply never expanded its brand beyond the “computer and radio parts store.”
As a result, if you needed a part for something for your smart device, and you didn’t just buy a new device, you went online for it.
When computers were hot, RadioShack was hot. But there’s no excitement left in computers. The Pentium giving rise to the Pentium II isn’t happening again. No one cares if they have an i5 or an i7, and if you’re just using Office, Quicken, and email, you don’t even need that!
Think back. In the 1990s, when the CD-ROM drive bundle was a $500 upgrade that somebody would make for their $4,000 IBM PS/2 computer, RadioShack made money. Now there’s nothing left to do.
6. The failure of DIY
DIY electronics never got the critical mass of customers needed to keep a store like RadioShack in business. Things were actually much better in the 1980s. Sure, there have been a variety of new, exciting ways to make electronics: solar technology has gotten better and components are better, faster, cheaper, and more reliable. There’s really never been a better time for a parent to teach their child, or a high school student to teach themselves, or a college student to pick up the hobby of how to build your own electronics. The trouble is, nobody bothered.
RadioShack is left quite literally holding the bag when it comes to DIY electronics.
Nobody breaks out the soldering iron to fix a broken radio. It’s cheaper, easier, and more reliable to buy a ready-made gadget, and throw it away when you’re done with it. And, really, that’s a shame. It’s kind of a pitiful reflection on the direction our country is going. I’m curious to research how this trend is going in the UK or China, Japan, Singapore or South Korea right now, but I would venture to guess that the DIY trend is much more alive and well in Europe and Asia than it is in the U.S. And nobody is playing with Arduino or Raspberry Pi, beyond a small techie niche.
And for that matter…
7. The failure of Raspberry Pi.
Raspberry Pi should have been a revolution. A way for anyone to build connected devices. But it hasn’t gone mainstream. No “Microsoft” or “Samsung” has marketed a way for this technology to appeal to “regular” people, and that’s nothing more than the assumption, on the part of tech companies, that we wouldn’t be interested. Maybe that’s true, but Raspberry Pi should have changed the way we “do” computing and electronics. It didn’t.
Raspberry Pi never got beyond the niche group of nerds, geeks, and tinkerers who decided to play around with it. It’s been confined to computer engineering students and people that really want to learn how to do something themselves and those people are few and far between. Raspberry Pi could have been the 21st Century Renaissance at RadioShack.
8. Lack of faith in the home brand
The RadioShack brand no longer means anything.
Take police scanners for example. The guts of a RadioShack police scanner are exactly the same as the guts of one that costs twice as much. However, people are willing to pay companies like Whistler, GRE, and Uniden two, three or even four times more than a RadioShack brand police scanner. That is because the perception is that it’s inferior.
This is that because RadioShack’s branded products feel cheap and plasticky, and it often seems as if you would break it by touching it too hard. It didn’t used to be like that, and it’s a cardinal sin.
This wasn’t always the case. My mother, for example, purchased a metal RadioShack EC-306 checkbook calculator in the mid-80s. It still works. It still holds my parents’ checkbook balance in its internal memory. My mother refuses to use anything else to balance her checkbook.
A brand that was once as respected as RadioShack should have continued building its products with more metal than plastic. They should have built them more durable and advertised them as “better” than the competitors — better and cheaper.
Instead, RadioShack has become for electronics what Home Depot and Lowe’s have become for hardware and tools: cheap, inexpensive, plastic-replacing-metal, poorly made.
But Home Depot and Lowes can get away with it! You need a shower head or a faucet or a power drill, so you’ll go to Home Depot and spend half as much as you would spend at a contractor’s store or niche hardware shop.
Trouble is, you don’t necessarily need a police scanner or a crank weather radio, and if you don’t feel like it’s well-made and you’re getting good value for your money, you’re not going to bother buying a police scanner or a crank weather radio. Same applies for cell phones.
9. Cell Phones
Nobody ever waited in line for an hour or six to buy a cell phone at RadioShack.
RadioShack never should have gone in the cell phone direction. This is one of the main reasons why the store is failing. RadioShack invested in cell phones, and it could not lure customers.
RadioShack turned itself into a cheap mall cell phone kiosk, and it killed the brand.
In one move, RadioShack alienated the nerds and geeks who were hopelessly loyal to RadioShack for components and parts for decades and never really made high-dollar phone customers comfortable enough to come in.
They became kind of a wallflower at the prom.
As a result you have a few people buying cheap non-top-of-the-line phones because RadioShack was forced to lower prices and got desperate to compete in a market that they never even came close to being in.
10. Cell Phones, Cell Phones, Cell Phones! (And Apple)
Let’s come back to something I said a minute ago: Why the hell wasn’t RadioShack doing everything in its power to get people to line up for days to buy the next iPhone? Where was it during the rise of Apple? Why couldn’t RadioShack get Apple to let them sell an Apple TV for $98 instead of $99?
Why couldn’t you go into RadioShack and buy an iMac or PowerBook or an iPad, or any of the bevy of super products that Apple has put out in the last, oh I don’t know, 10 years?
You want to sell phones? Take the best Samsung phones, the top three iPhones, the Fire Phone, one “value” phone and that’s IT. Line them up. Make sure they are in stock. And tell people: “Have at it. No need to push. Plenty go go around.”
You want DIY? Why wasn’t RadioShack, in 2011, hosting classes teaching people how to make their own Apple and Android apps?
RadioShack went quantity over quality. You can’t have a million stores and not train employees on the products you sell. You can’t champion a DIY movement if you aren’t part of it.
These are just my opinions. I’m sure there’s plenty of argument to be had. Share your thoughts below.