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Opinion RadioShack, come home

RadioShack, come home

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Robert Francis
Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

Forget about E.T.

RadioShack, call home.

Better still, RadioShack, come home.

As RadioShack’s new CEO, Joseph C. Magnacca, 50, formerly of Walgreen Co., settles into his new job to revitalize the company, he ought to stoke the home fires.

Rebuild your company’s corporate reputation at home in Fort Worth, Mr. Magnacca. Reestablish RadioShack as a leading corporate citizen, support the arts, our charities, the local universities and our local institutions such as our Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo. Become a visible leader in Fort Worth and give visibility to Fort Worth-based executives of RadioShack. Make the RadioShack family our family like it used to be. If you change the culture here corporately and instill it with the example of civic leadership, there is no doubt in my mind you will begin to change the culture of your company outside Fort Worth. Perhaps before you work on your employee culture you might also want to take a look at your board. You have a great business leader and a local guy, Dan Feehan of Cash America, as non-executive chairman, but the rest of your board members are a bunch of industry and business insiders who most likely have scant knowledge of what the “little people” of America want from an electronics retailer. Jack Messman has local ties, but beyond him and Feehan the board members just look on paper like another insider clique and club. Get local like the old days of RadioShack. This is not a plea for parochialism to bring back the past. If there is one area of retailing where you can’t look back it’s in electronics. The field and the products change daily, almost by the hour. There is no finer tribute to what RadioShack means to this community than the column written by Fort Worth Business Press Editor Robert Francis in October, when the previous CEO left. Check it out here. But in the past RadioShack was a community leader and no one personified that responsibility better than former CEO John Roach. He did some innovative things while he worked for and then ran the company. Those were better times. Now, the picture’s not so rosy. RadioShack lost money last year for the first time in 11 years, according to Bloomberg. It has suspended dividends. Its share price hovers in the mid-$3 range. Magnacca is the fourth CEO in three years. Its stores have no sex appeal; poor customer service; disenchanted, tired-acting employees; lousy signage, and products that represent the company’s lack of focus. Exactly what is RadioShack? Hard as it is to define, it is one thing: iconic. That alone should be easy to build on. And while some critics cite poor store locations as a problem, that’s really not the major problem. In fact, no matter where you live, there is probably a RadioShack in your neighborhood. I doubt I will ever see a dime for this positioning line:  “RadioShack. Your favorite neighbor.” The company has 4,600 company-owned stores and 1,500 wireless phone centers in Target stores, though those will soon disappear. There are plenty of stores and they are in many good locations. They are not as ubiquitous as Starbucks but for a long time they have been either a short drive or a short walk from your home. And they have often been ahead of the technology curve. Virtually every newspaper in the country (speaking about the need for reinvention) used RadioShack’s TRS 80s as computers for their reporters back in the 1970s. This was before the word laptop even existed. And John Roach’s “Incredible Universe” stores were near genius in concept. Ultimately, they were deemed a burden on the company but the concept should have been refined. Perhaps the executive failed, but whatever caused these problems could have been fixed without abandoning the concept. Those stores were hip and modern and cool. Perhaps they were just too big. Today’s Apple stores set the standard for contemporary retail. There is always plenty of help, process is a science at the stores, and they are simply fun places to be. They let you play with their products and they teach you how to use them and then fix them. I have one more great idea for RadioShack. Reinvent Best Buy’s Geek Squad. Virtually every home in America has something electronic, perhaps as basic as a television, that cannot be easily turned on, programmed and just plain used. I had the Geek Squad come to my home to help me do these things: use my television, listen to my music through speakers in the house that do not work, connect me to my Wi-Fi, get my printer and fax to work, and deliver to me the promise of the new world where electronics would simplify my life. Perfectly nice, polite guys showed up and walked through my house making notes like physician interns in a hospital. They studied and whispered and looked sternly, gravely and seriously at one another. “We’ll get back to you with a plan and estimate,” they assured me as they left. That was six months ago and I am still waiting. I even went to Best Buy to ask the whereabouts of my two boys and the status of the plan to bring me into the 21st century. The store manager took my name and phone number. Apparently he lost it. Here’s the next marketing campaign I see for the new RadioShack: It has a voiceover about the days of doctors making house calls and then a visual to support the image of the family physician walking up to the front door holding his little black satchel. The voice says that doctors don’t make house calls anymore but RadioShack does. And just like that, Magnacca begins to earn his almost $1 million-a-year salary, which is probably what he will be paid. James Gooch, the former CEO, made just over $800,000 but had total compensation worth $5.9 million in 2011. Weeks ago I was asked by a cab driver in Washington, D.C., to tell him about Fort Worth, my ultimate destination, as he drove me to an airport. Among the things I bragged about were the headquarters for American Airlines, Pier 1 and RadioShack. Even though all have had serious business problems, they are iconic brands and we should be proud they call our city home. “Oh, my,” the cabbie said. “Every town has to have its RadioShack. You can’t find something at any other store you need to build or a part to fix something, just go on over to a RadioShack.” He went on to explain that he was retired from an engineering job and was filling empty time driving a cab. He had taken his 6-year-old son to a RadioShack the previous weekend to buy an electronics component. He said his son began asking him about all the things in the store and he explained that many of them were parts for various electronics products, parts hard to find quickly in other stores. “Yes sir,” he said as we pulled up to the airport curb, “you tell those people in Texas that every town needs its RadioShack.” RadioShack, start the rebuilding in this town, your hometown.   Contact Connor at rconnor@bizpress.net

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