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RadioShack Attempts To Shock Itself Back Into Relevance Using Dumb Tactics From Five Years Ago

from the cannon-ball-run dept

As you Techdirt readers know, we regularly publish posts on the weekends taking a sweet look back at what was going on on our pages in past years. The powers that be around this joint never let me get my hands on that post, probably either because I’d simply fill up the space with my own comments from the early days of Dark Helmet’s existence, or because I dedicate my weekends to getting really, impressively drunk and scaring my neighbors. But a quick trip down memory lane brings up a thing tech companies used to do some years back that we used to have some fun with: appointing artists and celebrities as Chief Creative Officer, Chief Creative Director, Chief Creativity-Gasm Producer or some such nonsense. There was a rash of these announcements in 2010 and 2011, tapering off before it appeared like the world generally acknowledged that all of this was a giant waste of time and money, roughly around 2014. Sort of, oddly, like RadioShack, which found itself making some wildly bad financial decisions around 2011 or so before falling into disrepair and bankruptcy in late 2014 and early 2015.

Did you know RadioShack still exists? No? Neither did several of my Techdirt compatriots when I mentioned the company to them. But, yeah, RadioShack is still a real company with real aspirations to once again become relevant to the real world in the hopes of making real money. And, to accomplish this, the company has boldly decided to go back to the 2011 well and hire its own Chief Creative Officer: Nick Cannon.

Does this “hire” mean anything more than seeing Cannon’s face on advertisements, as has been the case with many other major tech company celebrity hires? RadioShack certainly wants us to think so, as the company’s announcement gave a vague list of Cannon’s CCO duties, the biggest of which appears to be the “development of RadioShack-exclusive products.” Cannon will also be tasked with in-store music curation, event promotion, and helping the company “continue to grow” its educational and STEM-specific initiatives. RadioShack didn’t specify what existing educational initiatives it is running, and its home page currently offers no official information about such initiatives.

Now I had the same reaction as my fellow Techdirt writers had to “RadioShack” when Nick Cannon’s name came up: “That still exists?” But, it turns out, that isn’t Cannon’s fault, as he’s been fairly relevant to the current music and television scene, including a role in Spike Lee’s film “Chi-Raq.” And I can’t say I know a whole lot about Cannon’s business acumen, or his ability to develop RadioShack exclusive products, or grow educational initiatives. What I do know is that seems like an awfully diverse list of big responsibilities to place on the shoulders of a singer/entertainer who happens to have a decently known name and not much else notable in terms of a corporate resume. He is, I have learned, the chairman and creative consultant for TeenNick, the Nickolodeon outlet, but does that really prepare one to direct a zombie-retailer that refuses to die back into relevance?

However, while Cannon has launched tech ventures over the past few years, the results have spoken less to RadioShack’s maker mentality and more to its modern, suffering incarnation, including budget-priced tablets sold on QVC and Beats-like headphones. Cannon previously served as an “entertainment ambassador” for the annual Consumer Electronics Show, apparently to promote a line of “Ncredible” tablets. Those devices included a built-in multimedia sharing app designed to let aspiring entertainers pitch their acts directly to Cannon’s production company.

That sounds like a pitch-man and peddler of low-budget electronics, not a creative force for a retailer that nearly found its previous involvement with budget electronics to be fatal. Much like the surprise that RadioShack was still alive, I can’t believe this entertainer-as-creative-director thing is still going on.

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Companies: radioshack

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Comments on “RadioShack Attempts To Shock Itself Back Into Relevance Using Dumb Tactics From Five Years Ago”

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Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Alive but different

Maybe or maybe not of interest. Somebody related to Office Depot is using Radio Shacks name in Mexico. I was in an Office Depot looking for a monitor for my apartment down there, and was referred to a related store, the RadioShack down the mall. It was not the RadioShack from the US where I constantly had to complain about them asking for my zip code or phone number (none of your business for cash transactions and please tell your manager that I object to your asking) and obviously a Mexican company from talking to the staff. They had none of the electronic parts that built the brand in the US (you have to go to a place called Steren for those down there), but they had the monitor I was looking for.

Anonymous Coward says:

Here’s my whole problem with RadioShack. (Yes, there are still two in my area.) I walk in, looking for batteries, but I want to maybe browse around. But the second I walk in the door, I’m assaulted by the help. They hold my hand, walk me directly to the battery aisle, then hold my hold hand to the register, and show me the door. They can’t get a sale from me because I have no idea what is in their store, other than batteries.

AC720 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

That’s because the sales staff are at least partly on commission and under tremendous pressure to sell sell sell!

They’re hungry, desperate for sales. Any sales. And you walk in with money. To a hungry salesperson, you look like a steak dinner. So please understand they mean YOU personally no harm. But they want you well-done with a side of buttered baked potato.

Whatever (profile) says:

RadioShack went through some very, very hard times in the last few years, reaching a point where they didn’t even have enough money to go bankrupt (that takes some doing). When they finally did file, the assets were bought out by General Wireless (I think that is the name) who have committed grandly to moving the brand forward.

Thankfully, their first step has been pretty smart – they signed a deal with Sprint to have “store in store” arrangements, that would put the wireless carrier into Radio Shack stores. That should create foot traffic and use up some of the space in the stores, exposing more people to Radio Shack’s current offerings.

Those offerings are the other issue. Considering that Radio Shack made a big part of it’s fame and money in three areas (Stereos, CB Radios, and electronic parts), and that those areas are all pretty much passe leaves them with a big hole to fill. They may be lucky with their timing, considering we are hitting a point in the electronics world where most products are badge engineered and all built by the same few companies. RS could potentially wedge themselves into certain markets such as big screen TVs or computer networking, and end up with a good chunk of the market.

RS will likely never be as relevant or as top of the mind as they were through the 70s and 80s. It’s really too bad, so many of us grew up enjoying the yearly catalog!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Thankfully, you are old enough, but yeah, RadioShack was the great division of Tandy Computers which would shape PCs for some time. Post time, I could still pick up solder and an iron to do some memory adjustments on those old PCs. Postfix, I remember picking up cheap gear when I was in a Ska band and we needed an 8 track mixer. Sadly, the store today is nothing of it’s founding. Go back to their roots, start selling Raspberry PIs, Androino’s, daughter cards, an lcd monitor, et al, that would bring back the PC crowd, and basically make a MonoPrice for the US market for the rest of the gear. I guess I’m just too old.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Thankfully, their first step has been pretty smart – they signed a deal with Sprint to have “store in store” arrangements, that would put the wireless carrier into Radio Shack stores.

Trying to turn themselves into cellphone contract whores is when Radio Shack first started going downhill many years ago. It’s not exactly “real smart” to repeat the same mistakes.

Whatever (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Normally I would agree with you. However, at this point, in the electronics field wireless (including portable computing of all sorts) is a big part of what drives people to electronics stores.

When they tried to do it themselves, they made a mess out of it in part I think because there isn’t a huge margin on the wireless stuff at a retail level, compared to the margins RS generally lived on in selling it’s self-branded electronics in the past. The Sprint deal is “store in store” which seems to be Sprint paying the rent for a chunk of each location. That should be a big step towards making the locations self-supporting.

Steell: RS was a leader in home computers, but were quickly overwhelmed and squeezed between Apple and Microsoft. They never really got their acts together to sell Windows based computers or Apple products, which pretty much shut them right out of that market.

They use to be a great place to get parts… but most of that business seems to have disappeared too…

annonymouse (profile) says:

Radio Shack had one outlet store in the GTA after their parting of ways from Tandy. It was filled with mostly crap, some of which I recognized from my Irwin days.
The Tandy owned / leased stores changed names at that time and quickly got one or the other local cell carriers in. They now call themselves The Source. Nothing like a bit of ego.
They still carry dollar store level branded parts and their electronics are consumer grade at best and always a generation behind. I’m pretty sure they survive on accessories and toys.

Anonymous Coward says:

It’s surprising that Radio Shack survived as long as it did. So many other electronic stores/geek shops have shut down just in the last few years — Computer City, CompUSA, PC Club, Circuit City, and very many independents. Sadly only the megastores like Best Buy and Fry’s survived.

I always expected Radio Shack to branch out into selling PC components for DIY builders, but oddly, it never happened, and in its absence, numerous small independent stores popped up all over catering to the PC ‘gamer’ crowd during the two or three decades when that market still existed.

China is largely to blame for the demise of component stores (as Radio Shack traditionally was) since electronics are so cheap these days (as well as highly compex) it’s easier to just throw things out and replace them than it is to fix them. Not to mention that finding a nearby store that sells capacitors to the public (and is open at other than bankers hours) can be a bit challenging.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I always expected Radio Shack to branch out

There were a lot of opportunities over the years that these guys were well positioned for, but just blew off. This is still the case IMHO. With site-to-store becoming more prevalent now, the small stores these guys had are actually better suited to the modern market than the big box outlets. And with robotics becoming more prevalent, there is a high part-count industry on the cusp of exploding, that incidentally, will be highly dependent on RF gear.

I am pleased to hear that they were sold. Perhaps the new owners will be able to extricate some noggins. Their sales system was always PITA. You could never just buy something and walk out. EVERYTHING took 15 minutes, and everything was overpriced. You only ever went there if you needed something that only they carried, and only if you needed it immediately.

Some companies are bought to resell. In the radio world Apollo was an example – they were bought by UPS and sold to Garmin just to watch them die. So it will be interesting to see what banner eventually flies over the door. My guess is that it won’t be “RadioShack”.

Grey says:

Before the Fall of Radioshack.

Ex-90’s RS guy in one of my first jobs. $250k+ seller in a Million dollar store. Was a decent living for a 20 year old.

They had Sprint branded stores in the late 90’s, but braniacs that they were, they took over the front of the store to sell LAND LINE PHONES.

The real downfall was when they started making us sell Sprint branded long distance, that alienated a huge section of the customer base when 2 weeks after visiting a store their long distance service changed. I told my manager to shove it and kept selling phones and computers.

RS was a distributor of IBM branded products, (I used to sell a LOT of $6000 88 MHZ p2’s… and I still feel bad about that). Back then you’d be fired for connecting online, which is ALL ANYBODY WANTED TO DO. I could sell the PC’s like candy (one of the only people in the district) because I told the manager to fire me and replace me with someone who could match my numbers. (Never happened)

The Cells/Sprint PCS were huge business till the late 90’s when plans changed, SMS and Internet happened, and instead of taking an hour in the store to activate a phone with 30 minutes a month on it, anyone could do it over a toll free number or at any number of kiosks that also sold pretzels.

They reduced the parts sections, the massive catalog for all the order-in bits. Goodbye Margins.

Then everyone started shopping online. It was hard enough 20+ years ago, when the malls would turn into sea of walking wallets. You don’t need guys in a store with a catalog to find that variable resistor or actuator you need for your Sexbot (No sir, that’s ok, I don’t need to see it when it’s completed…. ), and certainly not for batteries, or the same name brand stuff electronics you can find in a Fred Meyer next to the produce section.

I’ll always have a soft spot for the place, between Zip-tying meth heads to the balcony when they were stealing the micro butane torches, to the discussion with the customer…

“You REALLY do need a computer between your keyboard and mouse… Yes I understand the gentleman at Goodwill told you you could go online to type your term paper… Ma’am, I know he said we could tell you how to hook them up, and what you need is a PC to do it… Absolutely! Let me give you the District Manager’s direct line. ”

You think these sorts of things are just bad IT jokes until you live it.

It was a good run, someone get ‘ol Painless and take RS behind the shed.

Monday (profile) says:

You too huh?

… I dedicate my weekends to getting really, impressively drunk and scaring my neighbors.

You too huh??? The other thing about that is I’ve simply stopped going around to the houses on my block and apologizing. I had half a socket set in my bed one Sunday morning, and I still don’t know who I snagged it from.

About that whole hiring Nick Cannon thing – Radio Shack‘s still trying to get on board with the success Apple had with hiring Poets, Painters, and other such Bachelor of Arts holders, in the unemployment line, and the relatively decent success that Apple had using that business model. It might have just been coincidence as well, because I read somewhere that Steve Jobs was a real asshole… “My way or the UI line way.”

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