Radio Shack's happier days, when it sold $2495 cellphones


#1

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#2

I would say “Take notice” as a general warning to all employers, but I know it’ll fall on deaf ears.

I remember Radio Shack as the place two doors over from the video arcade. It was the place to get wires and Christmas tree lights that I could take home to build “robots” out of cardboard boxes. I had a Radio Shack battery club card. Every month I could go in and get a free battery. Sadly I think their first mistake was tying themselves so closely to radio. Sounds like prime material for a Buggles parody.


#3

Hey, for us home recording musicians of the 70s and 80s the Shack was often a life saver. Where else to get that RCA female to mono 1/4 inch you suddenly needed?


#4

Elektra Woman and Dyna Girl turned me on to the place back in the 70s. I used to get all the red SPST momentary on, normally open push buttons for my superhero gear from them. Have to find a new source now.


#5

Ironically, I think that very business model — the only place to buy a single, slightly obscure electronic item — might be part of what led to their downfall.

You have a finite amount of inventory space in a given location — and RadioShacks were usually tiny, in my experience — so you can’t conceivably carry every random little geegaw… but people are going to come in and hope to find it anyway. 50% or more of the time, your local 'Shack isn’t going to have that item on hand, and their supply chain was too small and complicated to get special order items to specific stores in a timely manner.

People are only going to walk out of a store empty-handed and frustrated so many times before they stop trying, especially once online sellers could mail you that same item in less time than RadioShack could get that item into their inventory.


#6

I’m just sorry Forrest Mims III had to see this day coming.


#7

The last time RS was any good was in the 80s when they a) stocked electronic and electrical parts you might actually want at a fair price, and b) the clerks had the faintest clue what they were selling.

But for the last 25 years the stores have been utterly worthless, selling obscenely overpriced trash and staffed by people who couldn’t tell you anything about any of their products.

Last year I went into a RS to buy a battery pack for a project. A mistake, sure, but I didn’t want to wait to order one online. They only had one left in the entire store (!) and it took 4 x AA. But the packaging gave no hint about voltage. It could have been 1.5V, 3V, or 6V. The clerk didn’t even understand why anyone would want to know the voltage, or indeed what voltage was. He was however willing to look the SKU up in their database… which also didn’t give any specs whatsoever. What kind of corporate buyer would acquire stuff like this that can’t be sold except to people who don’t know what they are buying or why? What purchasing middle manager would fail to enforce product description standards? What executive would tolerate such inept operations? Obviously those who just don’t give a damn. Anyway the chain’s demise is long overdue and unlamented.


#8

That SB Nation article is heartbreaking. I made a point of dropping by my crappy little Radio Shack after reading it (The one stuck between the nail salon, check cashing place, and shuttered grocery? You know the one…) and bringing the salespeople a Little Caesars. Yeah, they looked at me as though I had an extra ear, but I sent one of 'em the article and told the kid, “Please read this. And please, please… get a new job.”


#9

One of their last surviving brick and mortar stores is walking distance from me. When I needed a last-minute USB cable they came in handy, but I haven’t gone back. That’s not much to build a business on.

I think a big part of their problem is they’re famous for selling little packs of resistors. Nobody wants little packs of resistors any more. When I told my son we used to build computers out of parts, his jaw dropped.


#10

I recently went to the local Radio Shack to buy the big pack of assorted resistors. They had a few packs on hand which looked like they had been there for fifteen years.

But then, I’m one of the two dozen people in my city of a million people that needs a big bag of assorted resistors. That’s their problem right there.

Oh, and Digikey.


#11

As a lonely kid in the 1980’s I spent hours looking at weird gadgets and parts in both the catalogs and in person at the stores, it was a weird nerd haven for me to get comfortably lost in. Watching the slow decline was painful, looking through the old catalogs at http://www.radioshackcatalogs.com is fucking heartbreaking. You can never go home again.


#12

True, that was 1987, but it was also 1987 dollars; the same price comes out to over $5301 today. You’ve got to stay up pretty late at night to misspend that kind of money coming in, but somehow, Radio Shack always managed.

Sorry, but as someone who worked in the cell phone industry in 1994, when those Motorola flip phones were all the rage, and it was still mainly business folk who were using phones, I disagree that Radioshack was raking in the profits on these. Like all tech, cell phones have dropped in price as it has become more widely adopted.

A car phone in 1987 was an oddity. I was just entering high school at a wealthy private school and cannot remember anyone owning one, even though many of my friends parents drove Porches and Mercedes. Fast forward to 1994 and I remember looking with my boss at the business model for when cell phones would start making a profit for our company and how suddenly, once we hit a certain number, it’d be nothing but profit. We were on the road but still had not landed into profitability.


#13

Indeed, one cannot really say Radio Shack was selling expensive cell phones without saying what people were paying for cellphones elsewhere at the time.

Now, for a real story of brazen arrogance, one need but look to the Tandy VIS, the great coffin-nail for the line that produced the TRS-80 and Tandy 1000. To put it succinctly, someone looked at the Phillips CD-i and thought they could do better, and was very, very wrong.
https://groups.google.com/forum/?hl=en�ea094c148b92eef#!topic/comp.sys.tandy/LGfbXF3k4Kk

(I E-mailed the author to see if he was still writing that book he was planning, but never heard back from him.)


#14

A 20-year-old email account isn’t still active? People are so irresponsible,


#15

I recall when I first heard about the cellular phone. It was around 1980 and on the TV news they talked about a bank robbery that had been reported to the police. The news was How it was reported, apparently the witness called police from something called a cellular phone. It was the size of a briefcase and cost around $5000.

And despite the comments about the mismanagement, and the fact that they couldn’t see it coming, it is still disappointing seeing a national chain close down, putting a lot of people out of work. I think even the big box electronic stores are cutting back on the number of stores due to “showrooming” and online sales. (Where people just come in to have a look at a product and then buy it online for a cheaper price.)


#16

A few weeks ago, I tried to buy some batteries at an RS. They wanted $23.00 for batteries that cost me $2.03 at a Batteries Plus a few blocks away.

I’m not saying that explains everything - But definitely a few things.


#17

I always found this baffling because they were in a clear position to corner a certain market - not just among techies who know where to look online, either, but with regular people too. There’s an obvious, large market for reasonably priced USB cables (of all kinds), power adapters, newer things like good external battery packs with USB output, adapters of all sorts, accessories of all sorts. For mobile phones, computers, every piece of consumer tech, there are tons of these items, and people want them.

Your choices in most cities are Best Buy, Target and Wal-Mart, or Radio Shack. A lot of places have battery stores like your example for batteries, but they aren’t going to have all the other stuff.

Target and Wal-Mart are reasonable, though selection is limited at best and skews towards bafflingly expensive name brands when it comes to electronics accessories. Best Buy has a lot of this stuff (a lot more than they used to have) but is notoriously overpriced and the selection has rarely included the item I would choose if I’m buying online.

Thing is, those stores (and similar) have a lot of other stuff to carry and so have to make choices about what’s most profitable for them (though sometimes I wonder how well they’re balancing per-item profit and total number of sales, they at least did a much better job at that than Radio Shack).

If you go (went) to Radio Shack, you can expect to find many of the items in my list, but they will be obviously overpriced, if not outright obviously garbage. Every time you bought something in there - if you just need something that day and can’t wait for the blindingly obviously better online option - you left feeling burned.

I’m not saying they need to match internet pricing - it’s obvious they wouldn’t be able to. It’s more than reasonable for them to charge a premium for convenience. But their pricing feels like a joke you see in movies and TV occasionally where top executives don’t have any sense of what regular people pay for regular things, and they end up paying $10 for a banana or whatever.

Fry’s Electronics (which unfortunately is far from a nationwide chain) is the example that Radio Shack should have looked towards. Take out all the stuff Fry’s carries that Radio Shack doesn’t deal with (and be a little more selective - Fry’s does carry a lot of junk because they can with their huge stores), and Fry’s is what you wish Radio Shacks would be like.


#18

Last Week Tonight had a brilliant angle on this:

What I’ve always preferred about Radio Shack is that their locations tend to be much more convenient; right now I could go to two or three locations without getting on a freeway or wrestling with big box mall parking crap. In fact the last two places I’ve lived they were in walking distance. Sort of like overpaying at the corner convenience store instead of driving to a full supermarket.

And in some ways I found electronics parts to be easier (if it was a store where their drawers weren’t all a mess) than ordering online; I remember looking at digikey for a simple capacitor, but there’s like 5-10 options and I don’t know which one is the “normal” one, whereas if Radio SHack had it, well, that’s the one. Easier for non-pros.


#19

Exactly this. Every time I’ve gone in there for something simple – since they were conveniently right next to my grocery store and hardware – I’d be utterly baffled by their prices. I can understand a brick-and-mortar upcharge. But $22 for a six foot long telephone cord? $20 for a USB cable?


#20

You may be the only other person in the universe who remembers this show. 4 y.o. me loved it.