You’ve probably heard that RadioShack is rebranding itself to be The Shack. This has triggered another round of criticism of RadioShack stores, with the usual tired references to “Rat Shack”, “Radio Schlock”, or worse.
Apparently, RadioShack has failed to live up to the expectations of the technorati. Well, it is true: RadioShack is the worst chain of electronics store in the US. It is also the best chain of electronics store in the US. That is, it is the only one we have with any breadth of coverage. (The RS web site claims that 94 percent of America lives or works within 5 minutes of a RadioShack store or dealer.)
So what’s going on here? Electronics experimenters, computer geeks and ham radio enthusiasts all lust after having a local store that stocks all of the parts and trinkets that they’ll ever need, with knowledgeable staff and reasonable prices. We want RS to be the electronic equivalent of the local hardware store. In reality, RS is more like the local Walgreens store than a hardware store — offering up what sells quickly and not always what we want.
So now remove RS from the picture — imagine that all of their stores closed overnight. Would our access to electronic treasures improve? I don’t think so. In fact, we’d really be hosed in most parts of the US. (If you have a great electronics store nearby, count your blessings.)
There are some RadioShack stores that operate above the norm — they are usually the franchise stores that are not owned by the RS corporation. These stores augment the RS product offering with product that serves their local community. One example is my local RS: Tri-Lakes Electronics in Monument, Colorado. They do a pretty decent job serving their customers and I try to give them business whenever possible.
You might hypothesize that something better could evolve out of today’s RS (something more substantial than a “rebranding”). When I think of this possibility, I imagine larger stores and better product selection. I don’t think it is realistic to have a deep stock of every possible transistor, capacitor, resistor and integrated circuit… this might work in San Jose but not across the US. I do think RS could be a stronger supplier of computer networking gear, connectors, cables and adapters (the things that it takes to make all of the electronics stuff work). A bit more like Fry’s Electronics but without the appliances and Jolt cola. (Interestingly enough, Fry’s has plenty of detractors, so serving the ‘tronics market appears to be a tough gig.) I also think some (not all) of RS products need an upgrade in quality (e.g., their RG-8 cable is lean on shielding…and where is the 9913 Flex equivalent?). A thorough scrubbing and makeover of the product list could really help.
So if you were in charge of RadShack, how would you change it?
And would you make any money at it?
73, Bob K0NR