Radio Shack preparing to close stores…
and I’m not sure anyone will notice


If you’ve started reading this article, there’s a good chance you got a look at the title. Because of that, I’m not sure this opening question will be much of a surprise, but we’ll give it a shot…

What would you buy in a Radio Shack store?

It’s kind of a crazy question. And honestly, it really is one that has puzzled me for several years.

When I was younger, Radio Shack was more or less the technology store.

Read: THE technology store. No Circuit City. No Best Buy. No internet with free home delivery for qualifying purchases. There was no app for that.

And yet, even as THE technology store, we really didn’t utilize or view technology in the same way as we do today. Again… just think, no internet, and you get the idea. Being THE technology store was, effectively, being a parts place. Funny enough, technology really wasn’t the same specialty as, say, hardware. You would occasionally think about Radio Shack, but there wasn’t a consistent motivation or pressing need to head there.

My first computer though was a Tandy. Again… it’s a generational thing. Many people can note Tandy as a brand the same way others recall Commodore 64… Atari or Intellivision… and the names change but the beat goes on.

I believe, to be technical, it was the TRS-80 Color model. And, to really stretch the imaginations for some of you… many of the games for it involved attaching a cassette player to the computer.

Yes. A cassette player/recorder. That was, in a very minor stretch of the word, an essential piece of computer hardware. (And yet some wonder why the Radio Shack Super Bowl commercial featuring the 80s was funny to so many in ways that couldn’t be appreciated beyond laughing at the VHS recorders.)

The thing is… Radio Shack hasn’t been a computer store for quite some time. At least not in the same way people thought of it as one thirty years ago. And even then, it wasn’t really a computer store.

As I mentioned, this was a store for all sorts of electronic devices and equipment. And while there are memories to recapture, for the most part we aren’t talking about THE place to be. Beyond the Tandy brand, my guess is most people my age will associate the store with remote-controlled vehicles. Start asking about what else they sold, and you’re likely to get pauses and silence as a response.

And the thing is… my guess is most people wouldn’t be certain what Radio Shack sells right now. That same thought applied five years ago… even ten years ago…and maybe fifteen to twenty years ago. Get past Tandy computers and remote controlled Christmas presents, and that thought applied thirty years ago.

Here’s a comparison that might work -- For most Radio Shack is a computer company basically the same way NAPA and other auto parts stores are car dealerships.

And that comparison runs deeper. Many folks will stop in NAPA to get an air filter and wiper blades. But unless you really are working on your own car, chances are good you don’t appreciate the full inventory at NAPA or Advance Auto Parts or whatever. It’s a mystery to you.

These may not be perfectly accurate (or perfectly fair), but it does drive the point home. Here’s another concept to get the head spinning…

Did you know that at Radio Shack they focus heavily on cell phones?

I know.

And right there, that’s a problem. Not because they sell them… but you could ask most people to name the top ten stores they would go to for making a cell phone purchase and I do believe almost every person would never put Radio Shack on their list. At all.

Sears… there’s another store having some troubles. But if I mention the Craftsman line of tools and products, or maybe Kenmore, most of you will at least nod.

What’s the comparable brand or product or idea at Radio Shack? Batteries? Go to their web site. I defy you to name another company that breaks down product categories and includes batteries so prominently. Seriously, there it is -- Cell Phones -- Electronics -- Hobby -- Batteries -- there on the home page. By a reasonable deduction, Batteries is one of their top four product concepts.

Tough love here. And yet, I still have a soft spot for Radio Shack. I like the company. I have fond memories of purchases made at their stores. I want them in my neighborhood. I just for the life of me think of why I would stop by frequently.

A few months ago, Terry and I sat down to watch some episodes of King of the Nerds. It’s a very goofy, somewhat unpolished, definitely not for a huge market, competition-reality show on TBS. (Season two airing now! I like the events and production efforts much more so far this season, but the contestants aren’t nearly as fun (or accessible) as they were with the first group.) Curtis Armstrong and Robert Carradine host it, and they do a really good job. It’s a fun show. Got some good twists. And it works great with the network’s The Big Bang Theory marketing.

Part of the show involves where the contestants stay during the competition… and that building includes a resource center branded and stocked by Radio Shack. I thought that was a great job by the company of getting involved to raise some awareness.

And now, we offer up the news that they plan to close an additional 500 stores.

Maybe the people that do shop at Radio Shack already know about the cell phones and the batteries.

And yet… perhaps I’m not their target consumer.

Thing is… it would appear that a company with a pretty decent 2014 Super Bowl ad and a room in Nerdvana, is having something more serious than the term troubles can really define. Because I’m not certain what their troubles are. And if most of the consumers across this country aren’t sure what they would buy in a Radio Shack store, then I’m not alone.

The eighties can call. We can all share a laugh. But… do you know where the nearest Radio Shack location is to your home?

I hope these efforts work. I thought the ad was really good overall… creative, funny, and showed an awareness of the brand image with no posturing or grand ideas. I think the association with King of the Nerds is fantastic… a good chunk of their products are geared toward do-it-yourself people in the -- forgive the expression -- nerd world.

But escaping the past… especially in technology… isn’t all that easy to do.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

While assembling this article, I decided to take a visit to the Radio Shack closest to my home… about a twenty minute drive on the highway.

I wanted to make certain I was being fair, and that there wasn’t something important I was missing. After all, if I’m critiquing batteries and remote-controlled cars and cell phones as an inventory being used for the foundation of a recovery… especially for a store that holds some great memories for me… it deserves a full effort when it comes to the research, and not just a visit to a web site.

I’m sorry to say… there’s not much else.

Inside I basically found four stores. I suppose, mini-stores would be more accurate.

There was a section offering up cell phones that looked remarkably similar to any cell phone provider’s store that you may have ever entered. Phones… cases… chargers… trinkets and plenty of things you need for your cell phone but never would have known you needed until you saw them here… you get the idea.

Another section offered up remote controlled vehicles. A Porsche Spyder was one option… along with trinkets and cases and plenty of things you need for your remote controlled vehicle but never would have known you needed until you saw them here.

In the third area was what I’ll call general stuff. Televisions, laptops, and so on. (Speaking of checking out the store and web sites -- and I want honest answers -- if you were one of the people looking for the new Xbox or PlayStation, did you check Radio Shack? Did that even occur to you? Not sure about release day, but there it is on the web site… Xbox One.)

And then, one more area, the difference maker. The final section offered those items that would separate Radio Shack from many places… and, I’m afraid, in so many ways find a limited audience. Yup… the soldering equipment… the tools… wires and bulbs and pieces that I’m sure many do-it-yourself people might want, but do not create a daily or weekly (or monthly or yearly) need for many of us to visit the store.

No one approached me while I was inside. One employee was ringing up a sale, and another was heading into the back for something. He didn’t return during the ten minutes I spent wandering around. Not really a concern, since I was just looking and not even for something specific.

As I walked around, I couldn’t help but think that everything looked remarkably well-placed. And by that, I mean spread out, as if they had too much display area to fill and spread everything out in an attempt to cover the walls and shelves.

If I needed some soldering equipment, a laptop, a Porsche and some batteries, I could definitely find a way to use a gift card from Radio Shack.

I hope Radio Shack figures it out. I really do. I may not get there often, but I will notice if the day comes when they’re gone.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at