I have always loved electronics. When I was growing up back in the 80’s and 90’s, there were no big box stores in my area; if I wanted to get my hands on electronics, Radio Shack and Bradlees were the only places in town. I bought my first stereo at Radio Shack when I was around 12. When I got into djing as a high school student, I bought my 4 channel mixer there. As embarrassed as I may be to admit it today, I still have a dynamic mic that I bought there around ’95 (I use it for a talkback mic in my studio). I was a regular Radio Shack customer for most of my youth. They were everywhere, they were, and the people that worked there seemed to know what they were talking about. Today, I can’t tell you the last time I went there. Apparently, I’m not the only one.
Everyone seems to have an answer to why Radio Shack seems to be destined for the recycling bin of business history. The overarching reasons given seem to be the following:
- . Every deserted strip mall in North America has one. Even in the small area where I grew up, there were about 5 within a 15 minute drive.
- They did not change with time. Walking into a Radio Shack today is like going into a hot tub time machine to 1995. When consumers became accustomed to the masterfully-planned store experience like that of the Apple Store, Radio Shack seemed like an anachronism.
- Their online sales were an afterthought. There was no reason that a well-established company like Radio Shack should have allowed itself to be eclipsed by a startup like Amazon in the 90’s. With their name recognition, capital, and established relationship with distributors, Amazon shouldn’t have stood a chance.
- They allowed their brand to become uncool. In the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, tech people flocked to Radio Shack. Today, I’m embarassed to admit that I use a mic from Radio Shack as a talkback mic in my studio. A user should never be embarassed to use your product.
In essence, Radio Shack got too comfortable. They felt strong and secure, with locations every 5 feet across the U.S., and they ignored the changing times. They did little to improve the customer experience, they made little to no improvement to the look of their stores, they virtually ignored online sales, and their dependence on cellular sales in the early 2000’s became a crutch for their business. Their story is that of so many long-forgotten businesses: things were going so well and they were the strongest company around. They all forget the lesson that evolution has taught us: it isn’t the strongest that survives, it’s the fastest to adapt that survives.