Several months back I wrote about RadioShack, recalling the store of my youth which, similar to the comic book rack at Murphy’s Department Store at Seminary South, was a portal to a dream world. I think we’re all dreamers when we’re young and some of us try to remain dreamers even as we go out into what we call the “real world.” At the time I wrote that article, RadioShack’s prospects for survival on any level seemed bleak. Many were hoping for a buyout from Best Buy as the best available option. For those of you who have not been paying attention, the basic issue for RadioShack has been one of staying relevant. In an age when online retailers like Amazon.com are clicking away at its margins and suppliers like Apple are opening their own – much cooler – retail stores.
Those struggles have taken their toll on the company that was founded in 1921 to provide equipment for ham radio operators. It has been a staple of the Fort Worth business community since Charles Tandy purchased it in 1962. In the first quarter of 2013, shortly after new CEO Joe Magnacca came on board, RadioShack reported total net sales and operating revenues of $849 million, compared with $913 million a year earlier. Comparable store sales were down 5.7 percent in the quarter.
Let’s face it RadioShack hasn’t been cool in a long time. Maybe a really long time. But, as I wrote in my previous column, RadioShack doesn’t need to be cool, it needs to be a place where we consumers, particularly young consumers can somehow see a way for our dreams to come true. When I was younger, playing Man From U.N.C.L.E. with my friend Rick Thompson, it was a place to imagine building all sorts of spy-type devices as we wandered the shelves of our local RadioShack. Rick, I should mention, spent part of his electronics genius years working at RadioShack. So last week, when the retailer announced it will open one of its new concept stores in the new Commerce Building in Sundance Square, the aura of coolness – while no sure thing – at least seems like a possibility. I haven’t seen these new concept stores from RadioShack, but according to a note from Janney Capital Market analyst David Strasser, who visited the new location on Broadway in New York, the stores are “Applish,” which he said is a “compliment/complement in every sense of the word.”
The stores also display a different mix of products than those emphasized in the past. Mobile and wireless products were the hallmark of the company for many years before that category became commoditized. Mike DeFazio, senior vice president of store concepts for the retailer, noted that much of what is seen in the new concept store was already being carried at RadioShack, but it went almost unnoticed. “You’re going to see a lot of what we carry inside that store, just displayed in a visual manner in an interactive approach that just brings things to the forefront that the consumer didn’t see inside our store before,” he said. So will they be the stuff of our dreams? I don’t know. I don’t pretend to be Napoleon Solo from U.N.C.L.E. too much any longer. But since the new downtown store is only a few blocks from my office and I might want to take a break someday, who knows? I think a lot of local consumers, like myself, will be eager to check it out. n
In Market is a column written from the perspective of a plugged-in business journalist about business happenings in and around Tarrant County. Got an idea for In Market? Robert Francis can be reached at email@example.com.