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.”
Batteries Plus, of course, specializes in selling batteries and light bulbs for anything imaginable. If you have a 30-year-old cordless phone and need a battery for it, that place probably has one that will work. But Radio Shack may too.
Here’s the other thing. They plan to survive selling batteries, AC adapters, USB cables, and other high-margin items that are easy to lose, or break. I think this has a legitimate shot. Here’s why. When my son and I visited one of the few remaining Radio Shacks in St. Louis, the place was busy. I haven’t seen a Radio Shack that busy in years. Three people must have come and gone while I scrounged through the parts drawers, and all of them bought AC adapters. They overpaid, certainly, but they were paying for service and convenience. Regular readers of this blog can read the markings on the back of a device and know what AC adapter to buy, then order one for $2 online–but judging from the foot traffic at that Radio Shack on a Sunday night, not everyone can. But they can take the device to Radio Shack, and for $20, they can leave knowing they’ll have something that works and they won’t blow up their gadget, and they’ll have it the same day. No waiting for shipping.
I think the location had something to do with it too. I drove 15 minutes to get those diodes, but I guarantee nobody else there drove far to get their AC adapters.
It’s a long way from being a destination for consumer electronics like it was in the 1970s and 1980s, and it probably will never recapture those glory days. And if you weren’t alive then, you probably think I’m kidding when I say that, but it was. It was the one store in 1985 where you could go to buy everything from a computer to a VCR to a stereo to a telephone, and all of the cables you needed to hook it all up. Granted, they had one of everything and it was never the best quality or the best price, but the quality and price were good enough that people kept coming back. Thirty years ago, it worked rather well.
But it seems like Batteries Plus is doing well, if not thriving, and their business model is nearly identical to what Radio Shack is planning now–selling batteries and light bulbs, repairing busted screens, and selling the odd cable and USB thumb drive. And one of the reasons Radio Shack did well in the 1970s and 1980s was because they had stores where no one else did, in small towns and in strategic urban locations where competition was low, and many of them were franchises rather than company-owned. That’s what they’ve whittled themselves back down to again. If you’re in Perryville or Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, you’ll appreciate being able to get what you need at the local Radio Shack franchise and not having to drive to St. Louis.
Radio Shack probably should have done this 20 or 25 years ago. But then again, I’m not convinced it’s necessarily too late for the new owners to make a go of it.