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Wednesday, August 5, 2020

RadioShack Reboot: Retailer powers up with new vision

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It may look like a blast from the past but the familiar RadioShack sign hanging above a storefront in a Keller shopping center actually heralds the latest phase of the 98-year-old Fort Worth firm’s rebirth.

The Keller store is the first, and so far, only full-line RadioShack in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. At a time when other long-time retail stores are struggling against e-commerce giants, RadioShack is re-emerging with brick-and-mortar stores repurposed to be relevant, useful and provide an uplifting shopping experience.

A grand opening for the Keller store is planned for Aug. 16. This store represents Radio Shack leadership’s vision of its brick-and-mortar retailing going forward.

“Keller is our model store that we will replicate as well expand into other major markets throughout the country,” said Steve Moroneso, chief executive officer of RadioShack, officially known as General Wireless Operations Inc. DBA RadioShack.

“Along with the historic products that RadioShack is historically known for, we have put together complimentary in-store services that are in high demand, backed by store owners’ knowledge and expertise,” Moroneso said.

Once a leading retailer of electronics products, RadioShack’s name was prominent in shopping centers and business districts across the United States and some international locales.

At its peak in 2000, RadioShack operated 7,500 corporate stores across the country as well as in Mexico, the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada.

But competition from online and big-box retailers forced RadioShack into bankruptcy in 2015.

The formerly public company emerged from bankruptcy with an ambitious new plan that had it teamed with wireless carrier Sprint under the new ownership of General Wireless.

That plan didn’t quite work. The partnership and repurposed RadioShack-Sprint stores didn’t meet expectations and General Wireless filed for bankruptcy in 2017.

But the formerly publicly traded company wasn’t ready to throw in the towel. Before the RadioShack emerged from its second bankruptcy in January 2018, company leaders devised a new strategy based on e-commerce, partnerships and franchising operations.

RadioShack’s brand is now affiliated with 500 independently owned stores, up from 100 from a year ago.

Most of these franchisees, which the company refers to as dealer operators, are stores-within-stores known as RadioShack Express stores. Many are located in out-lying, rural areas and inside convenience and hardware stores and pharmacies.

Through a partnership announced a year ago with toy and hobby retailer HobbyTown, hundreds of RadioShack products are also sold under the RadioShack Express brand in nearly 100 of HobbyTown’s stores across the country.

The Keller store is considered a full-line RadioShack store, an independently-owned store that offers the full spectrum of RadioShack products and services.

“We want to be the model of what a new full-line RadioShack store can be,” said Jon Lindsey, general manager of the Keller store.

The Keller store is in the same location as a former RadioShack corporate store in the Tom Thumb shopping center on Keller Parkway and Rufe Snow Drive.

The owner, Fort Worth-based Haydn Cutler Co., an investment and commercial real estate firm, chose this location because it was one of the most successful of the RadioShack corporate stores, Lindsey said.

“It was a great store for RadioShack,” said Lindsey, a former employee of RadioShack.

The corporate store closed two years ago but it didn’t stay closed long. Lindsey and his crew have been remodeling since April. The store has also been quietly operating for months, attracting mostly passers-by.

The store has a completely different look than the former stores, which were distinctly dark inside. This store is light and bright and has an open, uncluttered feel.

As a result of a new partnership with AT&T, the store devotes a full section to AT&T products and services, including top-rated cell phones, DirecTV and U-verse telecommunications services.

Other product highlights include a full spectrum of batteries – and not just for electronic devices. There are batteries for vehicles, boats, motorcycles, golf carts, lawnmowers and recreational vehicles.

A large assortment of earphones, weather radios, headsets and home security products share space with RadioShack most popular items such as hobbyists supplies and DIY kits, soldering irons, tools, and parts and components.

For hard-core RadioShack enthusiasts, there is a line of polo and T-shirts with vintage RadioShack designs.

Among the new services available are cell phone screen repair and on-site auto battery replacement.

“People can drop off their cell phones with broken screens, go shopping at Tom Thumb and come back in an hour and their phones will be ready,” Lindsey said.

With products aimed at those interested in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines, including children, there are classes for DIY drones, soldering and other hobbyists projects.

“We hope this will bring in groups from schools, camps and scouts,” Lindsey said.

Founded in 1921 by two brothers in Boston as a ham radio store and mail-order catalog company, RadioShack’s name has been synonymous with Fort Worth since leather goods manufacturer Charles Tandy, looking to purchase hobby-type businesses, bought the Boston brothers’ firm and incorporated it into the Tandy Corp. in Fort Worth in 1962.

Focused on emerging technology, the business prospered through the 1970s and 1980s, by introducing innovations such as the TRS-80, the first fully assembled personal computer to be mass-marketed.

Among the 500 independently-owned stores are about 50 in Texas, including RadioShack Express and full-line stores. Owners can pick and choose which products and services they wish to offer in full-line and Express stores.

Haydn Cutler has plans for about 30 to 40 new stores in other parts of Texas but has not announced plans for more stores in DFW.

As a result of bankruptcy, RadioShack moved out of its landmark headquarters along the Trinity River in downtown Fort Worth and now operates in leased space in the company’s former distribution center near Meacham Field.

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