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If you’re under 40, when someone utters “Radio Shack” your head likely fills with images of third-rate cell phone deals, Sharper Image rejects, and overpriced electronics. If you’re over 40, though, you just might remember the ‘Shack as a local source for electronics components, cheap batteries, and home computers (when the latter was still a rarity). It looks like a few folks in the ‘Shack management team remember that, too, and put this video out to find out what it would take to get back in the good graces of those who remember — and into the buying thoughts of those who don’t.

Or maybe the whole thing’s just a stunt to get some views on their YouTube page. Either way, that’s fine with us. A hit on RS’s YouTube channel isn’t going to draw me to the store.

The video asks for your recommendations in YouTube comments, and looking through them I see some great ideas already. A few of my faves:

Hire or Train Employees: I can definitely remember the switch from knowledgeable employees to overly-intrusive-per-the-policy but not-very-damn-savvy employees at RS. It’s the same sort of problem that Home Depot has dealt with over the years, but ‘Depot had an ace up their sleeve: Their prices were low and they carried a lot of good stuff. Not so with RS, whose prices are often stupidly outrageous.

Sell Parts I Can’t Get Elsewhere: That was the real draw to RS back in the day — they carried stuff you just couldn’t get anywhere else but in catalogs. With damn near anything available at a click on the ‘net, “being able to order it” is the same as not carrying it. I can order it myself. If, however, I could saunter down to my local store and buy, say, arcade game controls, Arduino start kits, or other fun stuff, I’d probably find my way down once in a while.

STOP TRYING TO BE BEST BUY: Seriously, this is great advice. You’re a sh**ty Best Buy, RS. And now that Best Buy is often closer to folks, serving as a lousy copy of them is just dumb. Move on and do something different.

Sell Cheap Cables: HDMI cables are not worth $60. Ever. Everyone with brains orders them online from places like Monoprice. Make the same deal, add a buck to the price, and stock ’em in your stores. I’d buy all my cables from you and gladly pay the extra $1 to get it NOW instead of waiting for shipping.

Embrace The Community: Know why it’s called RADIO Shack? Because back in the day they embraced the amateur radio crowd — a group that was into electronics big time. With ubiquitous cell phones, smart phones, and tablets, the radio crowd is a lot smaller. Now it’s the maker/hacker crowd. Yes, they can get a little overbearing sometimes by calling anything they do in life a “hack.” And lots of folks are trying to capitalize on the craze. But if you want to develop a loyal audience, RS, you need to embrace these folks. Try, as one commenter suggested, sponsoring a little open-to-the-public shop every now and then. And carry kits to allow people who get infected to give building something a go.

In short, RS, take a clue from Home Depot and others who’ve already suffered through the kind of ugliness you have — though maybe not as completely as you have. Above all, remember that while asking for suggestions from the public might temporarily help improve your PR, ignoring them will freakin’ decimate it.

Your move.

Radio Shack & DIY Community: We’re Listening [YouTube]


35 Responses to Can The Shack Unscrew Its Image?

  1. steve says:

    I try the store always, but the last two times I went into the place the “sales-tech’ knew nothing about TV antennas and had zero understanding of what they carried.

    Zero luck on pre-paid phones also.

    In Phoenixville, PA

  2. george says:

    last time i was in one they had a little corner for electronic stuff and the rest of the store dedicated to phones and such. i was looking for a connector but they were “out” of that.

  3. AJ says:

    They lost me when they required my address and phone number to buy a simple battery. I put the item on the counter and walked out. I don’t think they do that anymore, but I’m still pissed.

  4. fred says:

    Their TRS80 computer was a valid choice at one time – despite its later being called a “trash 80” . When the name Radio Shack conjured up Marconi and the actual radio shacks shipboard – and hobbyists were into fixing radios and TV’s and building kit electronics or breadboard ones from plans – Heathkit and Radio Shack were highly relevant. RS’s parent corporation Tandy was also associated with leathercrafting – so probably had a business model that was based on hobbyists – just as you suggest. I recall building an intermittent windshield wiper control box – that I think I bought in Radio Shack. Who does this sort of thing now – let alone buy an electronic component to fix a radio? I think that their problem is not that they don’t sell “you can’t get it elsewhere components” but rather that they have too many outlets to support such a niche market – which more often turns to the Internet – not bricks and Mortar Stores. I hear that there is a computer modding group of folks out there – but do they need a RS to fill their needs?

  5. Rembret says:

    Went into RS last week, found a not-very-common button battery for a car remote within seconds, waited 10 minutes for the manager to try to ring up a purchase that he just couldn’t get right, all while some junkie was trying to negotiate a deal on 2 mobile phones in his other ear… I put the battery back, told him why, and walked out fuming.

  6. Rembret says:

    btw – I think they are missing an opportunity with the flourishing Maker community.

  7. Mike says:

    I worked at RS for a couple years during college, and I absolutely agree with the transition from knowledgeable and helpful staff to annoying people pushing cellphones. Training courses were pretty much optional and self-motivated (I went through them all just to learn new things). We were always pushed to sell phones to people more than anything, but I always got a kick out of solving someone’s weird TV problem etc. with parts from the store. I’m usually disappointed now when I go into a radioshack with a question.

  8. Simon says:

    In Canada, the Racks were licensed stores run by a different company – they had some kind of falling out and all of the Radio Shack branded stock was sold off and the stores stayed open as the “The Source”.

    This was followed shortly by a bunch of American run Radio Shack’s opening up at the same time to compete with The Source. These stores were as you said, mini Best Buys but without the selection or price. Canadians did not care for the heavy commission based sales staff and stayed away and the store were out of business in less than a year.

    The Source remains and although it is not as good as the Radio Shack of the 80’s, it is much better than the ‘new’ Radio Shack they tried in Canada.

  9. Ben Granucci says:

    While I’m a decade too young to be part of the over-40 crowd, I do have fond memories of Rad Shack being more of a place for electronics DIYers. You were always welcomed with a flashing strobe light and a rotating red police beacon (which always made me want to go in when I was a kid) I think it was the early 90s when the flashing lights disappeared in the front windows and the “radio” in the name started to have a lot more to do with finished products of that nature and much less to do with parts and pieces to build or fix your own. Still, throughout High School and College, it was a quick place to grab simple parts like pushbuttons for little projects. Towards the end of my college days (~7 years ago) was what I viewed as the end of the true Rad Shack. Working to finish a project shortly before graduation, I was sent to find a store with standoffs. The size didn’t really matter, but we needed them. It took me 2 hours walking around downtown Brooklyn and a whopping 4 stores before I found one that stocked them. It was the only one in the area that hadn’t recently been remodeled into the current consumer electronics store atmosphere, and not surprisingly it was the smallest of the bunch. I only found it thanks to the knowledge of an employee in store #3 who actually knew what I was talking about and that there was a local store that still had them.

    Since then, I popped my head in a few times looking for parts, always leaving disappointed. I don’t think that I even checked there last winter when I needed some neon indicators and resistors. I got them off of ebay, a virtual lifetime supply shipped for free. I probably would have paid the same amount for just the number I needed at RS, but the convenience would have been worth it. Consumer electronics stores are a dime a dozen these days and I can’t think of any store that doesn’t at least sell the basics. Even the supermarket had GPSes last night. There are stores with bigger selections, lower prices, and more knowledgeable sales staff. I wish RS would go back to being the Rad Shack that I once knew.

  10. Fong says:

    Like Mike, I too was a Shack employee in my college years. In the southern california area, across a few dozen stores, I could only count on one hand, people that knew anything about anything.

    I had one coworker tell a guy (without me being present of course) that he could plug his car stereo directly into his wall socket. He was fuming when he came back with the story of a blown stereo.

    It’s true, there was no training on the products. Most learned (if they learned at all) through their coworkers & customers. The only formal training required at the time was sales training and it is exactly what you think it is; scripted responses and tactics to get a sale or tacking on accessories. It’s the same BS Best Buy uses today.

    I’m totally on board with the suggestions listed in this post though. Somehow, despite their mistakes (and they’re always evolving their mistakes), they’re still around and I hope they continue to be so all my stories will stay somewhat relevant.

  11. jesse says:

    I have fond memories from the sixties in the Boston area of Radio Shack and Lafayette Radio. Heathkit too. Now the closest thing is You-Do-It Electronics in Needham. Going there brings back memories.

  12. Davo says:

    The Radio Shack 100-in-1 electronics kit was awesome.

  13. Keith says:

    It is a mystery to me as to how they have remained in business all these years. It must be someone’s pet project, even if it is at a loss.

    S&%^Shack as I like to call them, is no place for anyone who knows anything about electronics or tools. It is really just a place know-nothings go to buy cheap junk.

    They might have a change with some communities (DIY, hobbyist, etc.) if they start stocking components again and at reasonable prices. Otherwise Digikey, Jameco, Allied, etc. are the places to shop (online).

  14. terry says:

    wow… if only they *could* get back the old voodoo (which we surely didn’t appreciate back when)

    when I was a kid in the way old days, any trip on the bus into town was not complete without going in the radio shack to snoop around, dreaming of what I could make with this’n’that, spending a couple bucks, and then picking up a couple krystal burgers next door.

    it could come back. really. social-group names and labels change slower than the technology. the customers are still out there. makers, by any name, aren’t geeks and nerds any more. think disposable income. really.

    clever marketing could turn hard core gamers into makers, yes?


    i haven’t darkened the door of a “Shack” for years – since refusing to pay 15 bucks for an ordinary usb cable. i’ve been thinking of getting into arduino for a while. might actually do it as an impulse buy if radio shack were the kind of place that was inviting and not revolting.

  15. Old Tool Guy says:

    There was a time when the RS slogan was “You have questions, we have answers.”

    For far too long, their real life iteration has been:

    You have questions, we have blank stares”.

  16. Bill says:

    I’m not sure that their old business model is still viable. I used to buy parts for DIY projects there too, but it was a major hassle to mail order things back then. Now with online ordering, I am not sure you could sell enough low-price components to keep a retail store open. Arduino stuff would be good, but it would take a pretty good sized town to have enough volume for maker crowd.

    Personally, I think they shot themselves in the foot with the TRS-80. They could have absolutely owned the personal and small office market if they hadn’t tried to control the software end as well.

    Even after the IBM PC came along, they could have owned the clone market. They had the store volume and the perfect place to sell build-it-yourself computer components, but they let Dell and then Gateway dominate. To this day, why aren’t they selling replacement hard drives at a reasonable price?

    You can’t even buy a replacement mic for a CB radio in these stores. You have to go to a truck stop of all places to find that stuff.

    Agree that cheap cables would be a great start.

    It used to amaze me that they sold technology, yet took so long to go to a computerized point of sale system. Remember those stupid hand-written receipt pads?

    Back in the late eighties, we bought our sons a cordless phone. It was a total POS.

    I also bought one son a metal detector. Now mind you, I didn’t expect a lot from it, but I did expect to find things a bit smaller than say a manhole cover. Highly disappointed and I vowed never to buy any of their products again.

    I think they have had their heads up their corporate asses since Lewis Kornfeld was their CEO. Remember his “Flyerside Chats” on his corporate philosophies?

  17. DW says:

    If a brick and mortar has the opportunity to do anything with the Maker community. I would think it would be Radio Shack. While the RS of old is a distant memory, the name still has that spirit attached to it… I think to be successful, they would have to set up like an electronics parts store like this http://www.orvac.com/
    But make it more accessible to the beginner. Possibly free seminars like Home Depot does. Kids and teen seminars… That kind of thing.

  18. Brau says:

    I used to be one of those kids with a “battery a month club” card and went to RS regularly, but today I’m with AJ. I got plain tired of being harassed by aggressive sales staff for my address, walked out mid-sale, and never went back. It was good luck anyway as I found another supplier with a better assortment of components, far lower prices, and a knowledgeable staff.

  19. Chris says:

    The last time I was in RS I was nearly arrested and kicked out the store. All because they wouldn’t let me swap out a cd lens cleaner that had no cleaner brush on it. The crazy thing was they didnt even know what a cd lens cleaner was at first. I wanted a vortex type and not a brush type as I was trying to clean a blu-ray lens. They also didn’t know what blu-ray was either! I just went with the brushed type but when I got home there was no brush on the lens. It had been sitting for so long that the adhesive had dried out and the brush fell off. The dam thing was $20 as well. The guy started to have a melt down because I would give my phone number. Then called the police and told them I was trespassing. I hope they go under ASAP.

  20. Shalin says:

    This is good to hear and hopefully they can follow through. I think it would be great for them to corner the market on educational electronics/robotics/scientific products. Maybe a merger with the mail order companies instead of a “slow build” approach would be best.

    I agree with the “hire/train employees (the give a damn)” & “Don’t be Best Buy” idea…totally.

    Also, it’d be a good idea to celebrate local area makers/hackers.


  21. aaron says:

    “Yes, they can get a little overbearing sometimes by calling anything they do in life a “hack.””


  22. Brew says:

    Well, most points were covered above, but I agree. I am not a huge electronics nerd, but have done quite a few of the “hacks” that used to be found on the net. Like soldering a couple wires on to a IDE board, to make it the raid version, stuff like that.

    I remember walking in to a mall RS 10? years ago to buy a couple components, and they didn’t have ANY of the DIY type stuff. Just phones, tvs, stereos, etc. The Guy working there seemed totally embarassed that he had to tell me that. Said RS was trying “something different” and I told him good luck with that, and walked out.

    Here are a few more stores that for some reason or another thought it was a good idea to change.

    I remember when JCWhitney used to sell generic car stuff for dirt cheap, but then they decided to get more in to the name brand stuff. Stuff you can get anywhere for the same price, so I quit ordering from them.

    Harbor Freight seems to be doing this too. Instead of carrying 10 different die grinders, they now have 2 different ones. Also starting to see more and more name brands too. Why shop at HF then? My local one used to be so packed with stuff, that it was hard to get through the store, now it is virtually bare?

    Sears quit making good products that were built well, and started putting their name on cheap imported crap back in the 80’s. All the people that used to buy EVERYTHING at Sears like mowers, snowblowers, tools, etc. now quit shopping there and went to other brands. They are trying to improve their quality and Name again, but it is probably too late.

    Just doesn’t make sense to get away from the things that got you where you are.

  23. Mark Colan says:

    Last time I went to RS I needed button batteries. They wanted over $20 for just the three I needed: explained they were expensive to manufacture. I found them on Amazon, bought what I needed plus a lot of extras (about 25 in all) for about $5, shipping included, and I got them three days later.

    I know they consider batteries to be an important cash cow, but at these prices they are way to expensive to get my business, even if I would like it right now. I have fewer and fewer reasons to go to RS.

    BTW the REAL deal in the 60s was Allied Electronics and their Knight Kits. When Tandy/RS bought them out, they destroyed the legend. Heathkit was good, too, but I guess newer generations can’t be bothered building electronics.

  24. Rick says:

    Radio Shack is dead to me.

    Visit any Fry’s and you’ll see why. Their customer service isn’t any better but the selection is pure awesome!

  25. Mr. Man says:

    RS once had the distinction of selling more cell phones than anyone else. Only problem for them is, now you can buy a phone at most gas stations. I general, I think I’m finished speaking with warm bodies that block the isles. When we go shopping; wife and I will split the list to save time. Inevitably, she will get drawn into a conversation with one of these time wasters. As we pry ourselves away I turn to her and say: Don’t you wish you could have those 5 minutes of your life back?

  26. Kris says:

    +1 on Orvac. The store in Pasadena used to be called Duvac but it’s the same. I like to just go in sometimes to wander and look at their stuff. They have every electronic related part and tool that you could ever want, and their prices are fair. I’ve never left there without more than what I originally came to buy.

    Catalogs and web sites are fine if you know exactly what you want but I like to browse and handle the merchandise sometimes.

  27. Tom327Cat says:

    There is a place in Anchorage, AK called Frigid North Electronics, which is also a Radio Shack dealer. Radio Shack should model every store after them.
    The young salespeople are enthusiastic and work to learn the stock, the older salespeople are knowledgeable of both their stock and electronics. But, the greatest part is: You need a fluke meter, it’s behind the counter. Project box, what size? LMR400, cut to length! SCSI cable, darn straight! Terminal blocks, pelican case, 2.4GHz yagi, YES! Rohn tower? What freakin size do you want? You can sometimes talk the guy behind the counter into parting with one of his Linux Live CD’s.
    Whenever I need to geek out, and it is often, I head there.

  28. David says:

    Whenever I see “10 skills every manager needs” (type of) book on someone’s shelf I think of them – I used to work for a Tandy company – Computer City (remember them?).

    I’d sit in sales meetings often thinking ‘are you serious’? The techniques they used felt just like the ones I was exposed to when I was younger and would show up at an ‘interview’ that was nothing more than a pitch to sell freakin knives door-to-door.

    They just seemed (and still seem) like clueless country club buffoons chasing tail in the steno pool while being followed around by a group of ‘yes’ men (and a women because, you know, that means their ‘progressive’)

    For Tandy to survive they need to MOVE their headquarters, ditch the staff, and start over – I honestly think their corporate culture is irreparably broken.

  29. Mr. Mike says:

    The history of consumer gadgets can be written just with RadioShack catalogs. (or now their internet webpages.) When electronic companies like Sony, Panasonic were still competing with the old American brands like RCA, Motorola, a store like RadioShack was a way to grab some of the gadget market dominated by big department stores like Sears and Montgomery Wards.

    But cheap and disposable won the contest over quality and durability, so when the other discount retailers like Walmart, and Target started selling more electronics then RadioShack lost its purpose. Their product line and customer service are models of a failing business. Customers want more than better slogans.

  30. Dreamcatcher says:

    “Radio Shack has a hack for that!”

    How’s that for a slogan to regain their lost image?
    They should be the brick-and-mortar example of Instructables.com+Make Magazine.
    They should be embracing h4x0r culture.
    Instead of selling phones and computers that you can get just anywhere, they should be selling jailbroken iPhones and Hakintosh computers.
    They should be holding hacker-maker workshops on the weekends and stocking coolers full of Bawls.
    They should ditch their Uber-Corporate sell,sell,sell website and set up a web forum for hobbyists along with an archive of maker plans and hacker tips.
    If they wanted to be real cool they could even offer services like stereolithography and CNC laser cutting for those who want to make but don’t have $30k to buy a CNC laser cutter….. hey, they could also sell CNC laser cutters or at least CNC kits.

    I’m not 40 and I don’t remember RS ever being cool – although I remember them trying to be cool by calling themselves just “The Shack” (fail). But I think that they could certainly fill a leftover niche by indoctrinating themselves into this ‘new’ tech culture instead of just being ‘there’ and hoping that some naive geezer will walk through the door looking for “one of those new fangled tv cables”.

    ugh…..If only I were dumb enough to be a CEO……


  31. Dr Bob says:

    I used to habituate Radio Shack and I used to buy stuff from LaFayette as well. But alas, no more.

    I want to buy a new scanner now that most of the police and emergency services have moved to the new 800 band and while Radio Shack has them, I’m very reluctant to step into a store to be attacked by morons who know nothing about such things or totally ignored (not sure which is worse). If I’m going to drop $400 on something, I want some decent customer service that actually understands the capabilities of the item.

    I agree pretty much with Dreamcatcher. Radio Shack never has been cool – at one time they had a geeky technology bent with kits, components, heavy into ham, CB radio, scanners and the like – but they never were competitive outside of those areas.

    They shouldn’t waste the time attempting to compete with BestBuy. They need to find a niche, fill it and fill it well.

    A linkage/partnership to Make, Maker-faire and Instructables.com and similar such entities is promising – sort of becoming the store for build your own technology.

    I’d really like a local source for computer parts, motherboards, cases, etc. with some expertise, plans, etc. Sort of like Fry’s in places where there aren’t Fry’s. Or sort of like a local store carrying the stuff that Tiger-Direct has.

    As for products they don’t have, they really ought to carry in stock the whole series of Lego Mindstorms and robotic kits, real professional weather observation equipment and get into “smart home” technologies.

    The smart home a home computer system that receives sensor data from the electric meter, freezers, refrigerators, HVAC systems, fire, smoke, water sensors, air conditioner, various rooms temperature, lighting, security systems, weather stations, LP gas supply, etc. to manage the house’s systems to optimize energy savings and handle emergency and critical alerts.

    Sell the sensors, the software, cameras, weather stations etc. to let you manage and monitor your house via web page via Smart phone apps or cell phone browser. Make it modular so you can start small, then add more sensors as you go. This is all possible now, it’s just that nobody has integrated it into modular packages that can be easily installed.

  32. Mike says:

    Even 40 years ago, the Shack was aquiring a rep for crummy speakers and transformers. Anything with a coil in it. Their quality continues to drop. When I’m forced to buy there, 3 out of 5 products simply don’t work. In some cases, I can tell the item had already been returned, and simply re-stocked on the shelf. How does that drive repeat business? Radio Shack, Build on the quality, bring back carefully selected “suites” of gadgets that work together, like arduino-related products, X10-products, and yes, science fair stuff, to build young customers. go with a knowledge-based inventory system to back up and train your low-level employees. And partner-up with web-based projects, by posting your own, AND sourcing the parts for select Makezine, Hack-a-day, and even Howtoons articles for the young-uns.

  33. Donald says:

    I have found the mall ‘shacks’ to be just as you discribed, but the stand-alone stores still have the electronic parts (back in a corner) that I need.

  34. Ben Granucci says:

    Yes, I know its been a while, but I just wanted to update this a little. Twice this week I stepped into a Radio Shack. Both times I came out pleasantly surprised. The first time I went in searching for a scanner for cheap. The only one working was an older gentleman, probably retired from something else, who did everything he could to help out the customers. He was very pleasant to everyone in the store, and went out of his way to help them. He even went in the back room in search of the scanner I was looking for, and when he couldn’t find it was very apologetic. The asst. manager in this store was what I expected: not very professional looking (or acting, he arrived while I was there, apparently very late), and more interested in moving customers in and out of the store than with trying to help them. This was an older (gray scheme) store in a plaza.

    Tonight I went in looking for a battery holder. The staff knew what it was and the 2 places it would be (and took the time to show the trainee). While I wouldn’t be going in there to talk shop, it was nice that they knew what I was looking for and where it would be. What really impressed me though, were 2 signs. The first was advertising their (re)expanded line of components. There was actually a reasonable selection, though a far cry from yesteryear. The second was an advertisement for Maker Faire NYC (http://makerfaire.com/) a weekend-long gathering of everything homebuilt. There is a great write-up of last year’s faire in NYC on my friend’s blog here: http://www.controlgeek.net/blog/2010/9/26/world-maker-faire-nyc.html. The Shack is still far from perfect, but I think these are signs that they are taking steps in the right direction.

  35. IMissRS says:

    It’s not that electronics is the “old thing” and cell phones are the new. There were a number of people interested in DIY, electronics and had hobbies etc. I think the reason for the change is two fold. One is they discovered more sales to be made on cellphones during that explosion. And two, it’s that most kids today have only 1/2 the education of those in the 60’s through 80’s. They tend to be lazy, spoiled and undriven. Apologies to the hard working, smart kids…

    But mostly they expect everything to happen for them and fall into their laps. So RS turned into a cell phone store. And after apple successfully used it’s hypnosis and advertising magic, it turned into mostly an iphone store mostly for young social climbing hipsters. No offense, lol. But much of this is true.

    But what about the gifted kids of today? Well, I say, they are missing out on what used to be a pretty neat electronics store.

    I remember when I was like 8 and beg my parents to let me buy some resisters, transistors, capacitors and more. Or one of their cool hobby kits. I remember some of my friends in HS used to go with me and we’d check out new parts, or look at the computers, or neat scanners and other things. I also remember times when I went there to buy parts to fix some things. I couldn’t fix everything, and wish I could, but sometimes I succeeded, and that felt great. They even had TV parts sometimes.

    I wish it were back like it used to be. It could still sell cell phones, but have a big area for parts as well. I doubt it will happen.

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