The decline of toy stores

The retail market is certainly changing and there’s a lot of consolidation in the market. But some retail categories have pretty much dried up on a national level, like toy stores. It ought to be a safe market, because new kids are born every year to replace kids who become adults. What’s behind the decline of toy stores?

While there’s been a degree of mismanagement involved in the decline of the two most recent toy store chains to go belly-up, both Toys R Us and Kay-Bee Toys had something else in common, and it wasn’t Amazon. They didn’t need to survive for their owners to make money, and that’s why they ultimately didn’t.

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Central Hardware, St. Louis history

Central Hardware, St. Louis history

St. Louis-based Central Hardware was one of the first big-box home improvement chains. It peaked in 1993 at 39 stores in six states in the midwest, employing 3,700 people. It was once the 19th largest hardware retailer in the United States.

Central Hardware’s motto was “everything from scoop to nuts,” a play on the English idiom “soup to nuts,” which means beginning to end. Their inventory was over 40,000 SKUs, comparable to today’s home improvement stores. Its stores regularly exceeded 50,000 square feet. That’s about half the size of a typical home improvement store today, but it was large for the 1970s and 1980s. Traditional hardware stores ranged in size from 2,000 to 10,000 square feet. Its employees wore orange vests so customers knew who to ask for help.

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Radio Shack computers

Radio Shack computers

Radio Shack released one of the first home computers, the TRS-80 Model I, in 1977. Between 1977 and 1979, it sold 100,000 units. Radio Shack sold them just as quickly as Tandy could make them. You can count Radio Shack and its parent company Tandy among computer companies that failed, but they enjoyed a good run. For a time, Radio Shack computers, later marketed as Tandy computers, were very popular.

Radio Shack and Tandy computers included the TRS-80 Model I from the inaugural class of 1977, the pioneering Model 100 portable, and the Tandy 1000 series, which helped bring PC clones into homes.

There were several reasons why Radio Shack computers were hard to compete with in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s.

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When KB Toys closed

When KB Toys closed

When KB Toys closed is a relative question. While KB Toys went out of business in 2009, the store closest to you may have closed earlier than that. It was a sad end for a staple of my childhood, and possibly yours. KB Toys isn’t the only toy store to go out of business of course, but it was one of the more notable ones.

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Fare thee well, Radio Shack. Hello, Battery Shack!

The new owners of what’s left of Radio Shack want to specialize in batteries. Although this isn’t a guaranteed survival plan, it makes sense to me.

Last week, I went to one of the few remaining Radio Shack locations to get some overpriced diodes and D-sub connectors for a project. My oldest son tagged along. He asked about the store. I tried to describe it, and finally I said, “It’s kind of like Batteries Plus would be if it sold electronic parts too. And phones.”

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