When I was a kid, we lived near a Radio Shack. I would go there to pick up parts for my electronic projects. Sometimes, I would just browse the aisles to get inspiration for my next “invention”. I bought things like resistors, switches, project boxes, etc. I loved the store and the selection of products. My guess is that other hobbyist agreed; as there were thousands of stores at the time.
The store manager, Nate, at our location on Bouquet Cyn Rd in Saugus, California was very friendly and always remembered me. When I turned 16, I asked him for a job and he said I needed to be 18. So, when I turned 18, during my senior year of high school, I applied.
Nate directed me to the division headquarters about 20 miles away. I finished the sales training and then almost quit before I started. They had tried to assign me to a different store. So, I told them that I work for Nate in Saugus or I don’t work at all. I didn’t really need another job as I already had two other part-time jobs at the time. However, they saw it my way and I got to work at my favorite location.
At first, it was just as I imagined it would be; a great place to work. My co-workers were just like me. They had a passion for tinkering and enjoyed things like computers and amatuer radio. Because of this passion, store sales were good and we had many regular customers that really trusted our advice.
After a few months, corporate started making changes. They remodeled the stores and removed most of the electronic parts; replacing them with mobile phones and later satellite dishes. Knowledgable and friendly managers like Nate were replaced with sleezy sales people who only had a passion for their paycheck.
This all took place 20 years ago, and in my opinion is the business decision that led to their current financial problems.
The honeymoon was over and I was no longer in love with Radio Shack and I quit after a few months under the new management. However, it wasn’t all bad.
During my time there, customers would come in to buy parts and would ask me how to connect their devices. The most common request was how to record one show on their VCR while watching another at the same time. I would sell them the parts and draw them a diagram. Fearing they wouldn’t be able to make it work without a geek standing by, they offered me money to come by their homes and do it for them. While I was there they asked me to hook up their other audio and video devices.
I recognized there was a huge demand for audio/video installers, started a small company, and within in a few years was selling millions in audio/video installation services. Although, I am no longer in that business I use the sales lessons I learned from Nate and team in my current venture.
Radio Shack tried to be something it wasn’t. Shifting focus from serving hobbyists to trying to serve everyone was the start of their downfall. If they had focused on serving that community with passionate, knowledgable sales people, they would be in a niche that has little competition.
Where can a young electronics geek go to buy parts for their projects in your town? There are not many places. Maybe someday they can order parts through the Internet and have tiny drones deliver them to their doorstep with minutes.
Rest in peace Radio Shack; we will always have 1995.