Podcast - Adam Savage Project

The Demise of Radio Shack – 3/10/2015

Adam, Will, and Norm discuss the fall of Radio Shack and share some formative experiences that happened in the store.

Comments (58)

58 thoughts on “The Demise of Radio Shack – 3/10/2015

  1. I used to work at RadioShack, It was a good experience but the pay was lackluster. The store I worked at was one I used to frequent as a kid and I always wanted to work there after I have though, it seems to have lost its shine. I currently work at a Sears Appliance and Hardware, I manage the tool department. I hope they don’t go the way of RadioShack. It was actually my first job working at the hardware store you learn a lot especially from the old timers and we have a few :-).

  2. Soooo, why was Radioshack a thing at all? 🙂 Just sounds like any of those chains I had here when I was young, not feeling anything for them really. I actually stopped going to shops years a go, because of the Internet I already know what to get and why, where I can get it and when. Recently visited a store because I bought a telescope, not to get advice, just because I didn’t trust the delivery guy with it. 🙂

    I totally agree with the accidental discovery as something great. It’s one of those things that’s actually negative about something great like Netflix.

  3. I agree with Adam that the best way to find solutions to any sort of design is flipping through a paper catalog. I highly recommend the tool and hardware catalogs from http://www.leevalley.com/. I have been using them for years and it is amazing what they have to order.

  4. I like this perspective on the demise of RadioShack. I’ve been lamenting it’s passing since I heard about it, but you guys bring up a good point: as with the fall of Kodak, the ultimate failure of the company signifies a fundamental institutional neglect. However, I will personally miss RadioShack because, in most parts of the country at least, it is still one of the only places where you can buy electrical components, switches, fuses, molex adapters, etc. to use right away. Mouser and Jameco are fine if time is not an issue, but there have been many times, recently, where RadioShack has gotten me out of a jam because I was able to walk in, buy what I needed, and walk out within 10 minutes.

  5. I bought a radio and receiver from them that didn’t work, they also said if i wanted it to be replaced i would have to pay the shipping to china.

  6. The DC area has a pretty great computer parts store called Microcenter. Not necessarily the greatest price wise, but it you need a computer part that day.. Man they are bound to have it, including water cooling parts which they started stocking just after I stopped doing that. Which is a good thing because I would have spent WAY to much money doing that there.

  7. Hey Guys,

    Figured I had a little to input here. Adam mentioned hardware stores. I am 23. I work at Chevy Chase Hardware located in Lexington Kentucky. I am working there through college. I can tell you we are the last real hardware store left in lexington, and there are not many great ones left in the state period. We have been open since 1946. Our owner has been in the business for over 40 years. I love working there and have learned so much that is transferring to so many things. But yes, the old school hardware stores are dying out.

    On a positive note. I love the show guys. I am a CrossFit athlete and in college for Finance. I really like fixing and building things. I found you guys on accident. Best accident ever. Keep it up

  8. I agree with Adam’s comments that Radio Shack never had the right piece or the right amount. I also worked at Best Buy for a time and their commitment to knowing how it worked and where is was, was part of the store’s model. With that said, they are also doomed as the current trend to “price matching” to get people to stay and then selling below cost cuts into profits and makes it so that, as was mentioned, high-priced, long-serving employees with great product knowledge get fired and replaced by less experienced part-timers.

    In Canada, at Radio Shack (now called The Source) we had to “surrender” our postal code (similar to your ZIP) buying a set of batteries and I just used to give them a fake one.

    I also agree with Adam, being of the same “vintage”, that there is (was) nothing like browsing stores like these and “finding” stuff you didn’t know you needed. This is missing from on-line purchasing.

  9. Radio Shack’s ridiculous pricing is what killed it for me. A SINGLE LED for $2.99? Nope, not happening.

    Not only that, but almost everything sold in their stores was some offbeat, Chinese-made brand, of dubious build quality.

    I just got tired of buying stuff that would invariably break after a few months, for no apparent reason. When most of those electronic items should have given me a few years of trouble-free use! 😫

  10. Amazon bought up small parts, which is bad if you are in the business of doing prototypes or design. It used to be that you could find what was available by going through the Small Parts catalog for things that aren’t obvious, which is important when your are trying to hack together ideas. I have experience that I got when things like paper catalogs were easily available, but now, it scares me a little bit that penny pinching is going to put new makers and engineers in a bind, because they don’t know what exists or how to find it. My major coup last year at the CT antique machinery steam up was scoring a McMaster catalog. It’s almost impossible to get one if you aren’t the purchasing agent in a company. Frankly I think that McMaster could make some easy money if they boxed up a bunch of their catalogs, put $20.00 stickers on them and showed up a Maker Faire with a truckload. I’d pay $20.00 for one and I think a bunch of people would. Combine that with their excellent services and it would be a winner.

    As for hardware stores, I think that, at least in my area, they died because they tried to be something else. Instead of emphasizing tools, screws, metal and woodworking stuff they tried to be little home centers or paint stores. A bunch of this came from the franchisers like True Value or Ace and some of it because the capital for change just didn’t exist. I worked for a hardware store off and on for ten years and I saw the issues from the inside.

  11. Here in Australia we have Dick Smith Electronics, which used to be our Radio Shack equivalent (along with Tandy’s Electronics). In fact it used to sell quite a few Radio Shack branded products. I worked there for a year in 2004-2005, which was just when they were moving away from hobby electronics and into consumer electronics. I had almost no training, but I knew a few basics so I could usually be found at the back of the store amongst all the components. My favourite thing was when a knowledgeable customer would come in looking for a component, and then they’d spend the next 10 minutes explaining to me exactly how they were going to use it in their project. You could sense their passion, I learned a lot during those conversations.

    Everything changed while I was working there, the aisles of components were gradually replaced with $40 DVD players and cheap LCD TVs. The hobbyists vanished and I started getting screamed at by housewives because “you never told me that this computer monitor had speakers in it!!!”. I was lucky enough to have a good manager who would sometimes say “don’t worry about your sales targets today, can you sit out the back and setup all the new MP3 players to go on display?”. The worst thing was when they started pushing “extended warranties” on us. Really? I’m going to pester every customer just so I can earn an extra $20 commission a day? And you thought being asked for your phone number was annoying…

    As much as I love ordering online from sites like Adafruit, I do miss being able to roam the aisles and see what I can find (exactly the same reason as Adam). We have one semi-decent electronics store in town that I occasionally drop into, but even their staff sometimes sell me the wrong components.

  12. Like Saturncanuck said our Radio Shacks here in Canada became The Source about ten years ago when the company that had the licence to use the name sold to Circuit City and Radio Shack US sued. Cause really, you can’t have a competitor using your name… They really didn’t change much after the name change at least where I am. They had all but abandoned everything that made them unique years before.

    The last time I was at the local outlet I was there to get a cheap soldering iron and the guy didn’t care what I was there for it was nothing but a hard press cell phone contract sales pitch. I had to tell him five times that no, my cell phone is only for emergencies I don’t need a $100 monthly plan I use a $100 yearly pay as you go card and never use it as it is. Just to get a $20 soldering iron…

    Also, am I the only person that doesn’t love Amazon? Every time I go there for something nine times out of ten it is more expensive than anywhere else, sometimes two to three times as much. I think maybe because it seems Amazon Canada relies more heavily on third party retailers using it as a storefront. The only things I buy there regularly are ebooks and that’s only when Kobo doesn’t have it because I prefer their app and they were, at least at the start, a Canadian company.

  13. The Galleria mall near tarrytown?

    Holy cow! Adam Savage went to the same RadioShack as I did. Wearing my RCK team sweater right now.

  14. Radio Shack was the Best Buy back in the 60s-80s (less the kitchen appliances). My first experience was getting one of their early catalogs back in the mid-late-1960s. They had a 10 Watt stereo amplifier that I wanted. There were no local stores, but on a trip to look over a college we looped past a store and I had the amp. It hissed like crazy (tubes hummmm; transistors hisssss), but it was small and worked and eventually found a home under my desk at work. It died after over 20 years of use; I had to buy a low-end hi-fi receiver to replace it.

    RS used to make its own products– Realistic, Micronta, and the TRS-80 home computer– one of the first mass-market machines! They sold hi-fi equipment– receivers, amplifiers, turntables, and speakers. I still have 10 Minimus-7 speakers throughout the house, and 2 more at work. They still sound great, and had great reviews when they first hit the market.

    And the parts! I used to wander the aisles when I was wiring hi-fi equipment– I’d pick up 3 things, wander, put back 2 and pick up something else. Pick up another 3 items and put back 2. I eventually ended up with a completely different set of things from what I started with, but it worked better! Now, they don’t have ‘aisles–‘ just a stack or two of drawers!

    RS started to go downhill when they stopped making their own stuff. They marketed other brands, but they didn’t have the same feel as the RadioShack brands. RS thought they were a high-end hi-fi store, but they were really a low- to mid-range store. Good place for the first and second sound system. And one or two high-end items. But the switch to selling other people’s stuff was the start of the decline.

    Today we have Best Buy– selling over-priced cables and adapters– and pushing $75 Monster Cables. MicroCenter is better– maybe expensive, but it’s in stock and you can take it home today! And some of their sales are worth looking at.

    Amazon’s main claim to fame is that they have it, and usually in-stock. Maybe expensive, but it’s available. And if you pay extra, you can have it by tomorrow!

    I, too, read catalogs. And walk the aisles in hardware and even Lowes and HomeDepot. Taking inventory. Finding out what they have available. So if I have a project I know where to go.

    –Paul E Musselman

  15. I lived a block from a Radio Shack for 4.5 years, they rarely had anything I’d go in for, wanted to charge me shipping to order stuff, and by the fifth time they tried to sell me on a new phone plan, I stopped going in. Their inventory was almost entirely rc monster trucks and terrible cellphone accessories. And the people working there were awful.

    If I needed anything right away, I’d go to Best Buy, if not I had Prime so it’d be on my doorstep in 48 hours, often less.

  16. It does seem like Radio Shack had considerably more electronics parts when I first remember being in one around 1980. Or maybe it just seems that way. By the time I had my own income I never went there because of prices. A friend of mine in those days called it Radio Shaft.

  17. Radio Shack was like what musicians think about Guitar Center now. “You have questions? Well, frankly, so do we.” – Perfect

  18. I would like to see longer Untitled pod casts. I feel like you guys still had lots to say about that and I enjoy listening to the conversations in the evening after work.

    Maybe not possible with schedules and all but it would be cool.

  19. Technology and economics evolved past the Radio Shack business. model. They used to carry all the components to repair TVs and Stereos. Now in the days of, almost, non maintainable devices they can’t carry enough circuit boards to repair everything like they could discreet components. Heathkit and Radio Shack provided a good experiences and practical education.

  20. “Time counts and keeps countin’, and we knows now finding the trick of what’s been and lost ain’t no easy ride. But that’s our trek, we gotta’ travel it. And there ain’t nobody knows where it’s gonna’ lead. Still in all, every night we does the tell, so that we ‘member who we was and where we came from” – Beyond Thunderdome

  21. Like many, my love affair with Radio Shack began as a child.

    In 1979 my brother and I attended a party hosted by a friend of my mother. She had a TRS-80 Model I sitting on her counter top. She used it to run her husbands business with VisiCalc and other software tools.

    Well….It turned out that this machine also played games…Me and my brother were hooked.

    The next morning my mom asked us over breakfast “You guys REALLY enjoyed that computer last night didn’t you?”

    The answer was a resounding yes…We had a TRS-80 Model I by the end of the day. Six short weeks later it was upgraded with more memory. Later it was upgraded with floppy drives and a line printer.

    It was that computer that undoubtedly launched the careers of both me and my brother. We are both completely self taught and enjoy very nice jobs in the IT industry.

    It also led to me getting a 150-1 Electronics experimentation kit (Remember these?)…Which led to my still passionate love of building things.

  22. Hardware stores are, sadly, slowly changing their aim to general home improvement rather than project hobbyists. The latest observation that confirmed this for me was when I went to Lowe’s to get some roller chain and sprockets. I knew damn-well that they had those things, because I used to go up and down that isle every time I entered the store, and they’d be right there, near the end of the bolts/screws aisle, in a drawer just for them.

    They didn’t have any. None, at all. No chain, no sprockets, not even a drawer.

    A smaller hardware store that I ALSO knew FOR A FACT had carried, bare minimum, roller chain sprockets, didn’t have them either.

    Well surely Fastenal has them, right?

    Nope. Chain, but no sprockets. Reason given? “There’s a Motion Industries here, we didn’t see a reason to sell them”.

    …Motion Industries packed up and left shop in this town well over a month ago, and if their online catalog is any indication, they’d have wanted an arm and a leg for their sprockets and chain anyway.

    But hey, at least Lowe’s still sells pipe/copper fittings. For now, at least.

  23. back in the early 20’s with the advent of radio Radio Shack thrived in providing parts for them. Just like those scrappy computer parts shops before the internet.

  24. In the 80’s Radioshack had every electronic everything. They lost it in the 90’s. They tried to be something they weren’t and people forget what they used to be. Frye’s electronics has better electronics parts now if you want a brick and mortar store.

  25. Oh man, a reference to The Good Guys. There was a Good Guys near me when I was a kid, and I remember going there after school on some days to play on their 3DO, CD-i and Jaguar displays, or point the video cameras on display at the TVs which output the camera signals and feel like I was falling into a black hole.

  26. Here in Australia it used to be Dick Smith and Tandy (Radio Shack) who had electronic components who both then went to general population goods taken over by Woolworths and sold off again. Thankfully Altronics is sticking with components, whereas Jaycar is going the way of Dick Smith. It does seem Altronics storefronts are expanding around Australia thankfully

  27. Mom and Pop hardware stores are something I really miss in the country I’ve moved to. Here, it’s all large chains/franchises. If you want a screw, you have to buy 50 of them. The mom&pop where I used to live was run by a really friendly indian family — I needed one screw once, went in and the grandmother helped me out, quickly rummaging through a huge pile of miscellaneous screws and finding the exact one I needed — and 10 cents later I was sorted.

  28. Mentioned in previous posts, Dick Smith which was a subsidiary of Radio Shack. It started to wane in sales and a business giant Woolworths decided to off load (for the same price for which is was purchased 20 years prior) it because it was hemorrhaging money (which shows how eager they were to exit the business). My brother-in-laws company (Anchorage Capital) bought it for a song, and focused it to a more consumer mainstream store (as mentioned selling more consumer products like Apple products, TV ans so on) to increase the target market and make it more much more profitable.

    The reason for refocusing the business was the amount of inventory that was held for components, and then hoping for that component to sell to that one specific person. This cost was so great that price model that the old managers of the company decided to price it to make the sale worthwhile (which was a rip job, and we all thought sucks a big one). And that one person these days would most likely now buy it direct from that component maker online.

    Totally off topic, but was Adam drinking an Australian Bunderberg Ginger Beer?

  29. For me, my “gateway drug” into a lifetime of what we now call being a “Maker”, was Lafayette Radio Electronics. I remember getting the big catalogs and paging through to learn about all the different component types, then finding library books to read what that component did, and how it worked. One thing I recall from the catalog was their TELEX address, “LAFRADELEC”, which was prominently featured on the back cover long before fax was ubiquitous.

  30. I have two things to note and while I have not finished listening to the whole podcast these are my thoughts.

    I live in Portland, OR. I decided to go past a Radio Shack the other day to get in on the clearance prices. But the three stores I went to up here are not out of business or on their way out. I don’t know what is going on but it seems like the stores up here are not shutting down. I am keeping my eyes on them but it’s strange.

    My other note is on small hardware stores. They are vanishing but not in areas like SF, Portland, Seattle… Next time you go to Vegas, drive around and try to find an Ace or a small hardware store. Your not going to find one or if you do it will be in a really strange area of town. The big box hardware stores are more logistical.

  31. Example of why radio shack failed.

    I was out of town on vacation and was running out of space on my cf card for my cannon 5d mk 2, a modern dslr. I see a radio shack on the side of the road and figure I should be able to stop in and pick one up. Hadn’t been in a RadioShack for years.

    Customer service has no idea what I am talking about. I say like an sd card but bigger. He says, “like for an old school camera.” And I just say sure. I leave and pick one up from a Walgreens. That should not be.

  32. I was just about to lament about the loss of Tandy stores when I saw your post. We lost Tandy in the early 90s here in the UK. They also used to ask for address when you bought stuff but the catalog that came had tokens for free stuff. Of course it was something like a torch that took 6 size D batteries that you had to buy.

    It used to be great for starter electronic kits and projects and was the first place I saw really decent RC stuff in the 80s. I was pretty sad when my local shop went.

    Also, googled them to see when they did shut all their shops down and amazed to find they still have an online UK store and stores in Australia. We have Maplins now in the UK. My local one is manned by ‘older’ guys who are really helpful and will go out of their way to get you the bits ‘n’ bobs you need.

  33. Brick and mortar store offer 2 major benefits to online shopping:

    1. Friendly, knowledgeable employees who can actually help you find or make a decision on a product.

    2. Immediate physical ownership.

    Ironically these are 2 services that stores seem less and less capable of providing. The only real reason for this is that making money seems to be the only priority and providing a service other than just selling you something is not Important. Cutting the wage and quantity of employees lowers the bottom line but it also eliminates the only advantage physical stores have.

  34. +1 on Microcenter. The one in the Detroit, MI area has a pretty decent electronics section and the prices are not out of this world. I’d still prefer to order from an online supplier of electronin components but if I need something right away, I’ll check out Microcenter.

  35. No joke, I was already on the Warby Parker site when I started listening to this episode. I made sure to check out through your url. I’ve got three frames and two sunglasses on the way!

  36. What was the “Babble”-something that is some event at South by Southwest, that they mentioned? I couldn’t tell what the word they said was… “Babble-deck”? That didn’t return any search results..

  37. I remember digging through poorly labeled bins looking for the one small part my father or myself needed. But I have not shopped there in years. I agree with that the McMaster catalogue is a magnificently useful shop tool. I can only hope that the few Radioshacks that will remain after the bankruptcy will revert back to the “screwdriver” shops they once were. There is no shortage of makers.

  38. I first learned of monoprice.com from a disgruntled RadioShack employee. He told me this in a RadioShack while I was trying to buy HDMI cables from them.

    Great for me. No so good for RadioShack.

  39. I must be dating myself but I started out going to a NYC store named “Lafayette” before Radio Shack. They had tube testing machines and tools and parts I couldn’t find anywhere else. I’m not sure if it was a national chain but I loved it!

    One Christmas when I was about 8 years old, my dad took a cardboard box and filled it with broken clocks, basic tools, switches, and even an old telephone! I spent weeks just taking it all apart. Best gift ever.

  40. Fondly remember going to Radio Shack with my Dad all the time when we were building our model train layout. Loved those cases of electronic components. Fortunately, I live in Chicago and there’s lots of fun stores like this still around….albeit for the time being.

    Wow….that McMaster website is incredible, but yes, would love to have a catalog of that place. I’ve received ‘Silicon Chip’ from Australia and it’s a fun catalog.

  41. One thing that I have always been amused by with Radio Shack is their choice of locations. (This wasn’t talked about in the pod cast so perhaps it is just an issue in my area.) But it seems like every Radio Shack is located in a mall around here. But that always struck me as the worst place to run a store like Radio Shack or screwdriver shops as Will called them. From what I know about retail, those store locations tend to have the highest rents but should deliver more random walk in traffic to increase sales numbers. But most of what Radio Shack is known for selling is stuff that isn’t going to sell to random walk in traffic. So, were Radio Shack stores like this all over or just in the couple of cities where I have lived in the midwest?

  42. What’s that power-point presentation game Adam was talking about? I couldn’t find any info on it.

    I’d love to play that with friends.

  43. For those in the New England area, there’s “You-Do-It Electronics” (aka. You-Blew-It) in Needham, MA. I think they’re still open. (http://www.youdoitelectronics.com/)

    I liked going there as a kid with my dad, but it was always a trek to get there (about an hour from where we lived). But preferred them over Radio Shack. Though, I haven’t been there in years since it’s a 2 hour drive for me now.

  44. Just a quick FYI, you can sometimes get a recent McMaster-Carr catalog in the used book market. I just got a #118 (2012) for $45, which seems steep but is an incredible resource.

  45. I liked RS for its parts, but there were other and better parts sources back then (my favorite was Quement in Santa Clara — I never figured out why they died out because they were always super crowded). I liked RS more for gadgets like shortwave radios, and weather channel radios, and amateur band walkie talkies, and of course their RC model kits (they’d basically sell the RC controller, you had to find a car or plane to build around it).

    What electronics stores are left in my area don’t seem to be much more than cell phone stores. I’d like to see a links page on Tested, where we can find out about stores that still have any of these goodies.

    Oh, and somebody mentioned Fry’s — I see them as a last resort, not only because they’re so expensive but because their people always have better things to do than help you. And their web site bites!

  46. Great video, never really had anything like this where I live in Scotland (at least not to my knowledge).

    Also, totally off topic, but I thought you might like to check out these crazy photos an urban explorer took in Clydebank, a few towns over from me (Greenock). http://imgur.com/a/qi3kq#0

  47. I worked at a Radio Shack and was a Store Manager at Video Concepts, which was a subsidiary of Tandy. The pay sucked and the hoops a manager had to jump through to reward employees were horrible.

    I also worked at Circuit City and what happened there was Best Buy poached their management, I was one of them. They had a policy of sending Best Buy employees into the stores of local Competitors and have them stick Best Buy ads in the isles of the departments because they knew Circuit City salesmen didnt walk their departments. They also put ads in the Womens Restrooms because Circuit City was known for having very few female managers, the ads were for Management Positions. It got so bad that Circuit City was Catching shoplifters and having them steal signs in Best Buy, telling them that if the Shoplifter could bring back 50 price labels, they would let them walk for their crime. It was really bad, its probably the only reason Radio Shack survived, because nobody saw them as competition.

    Another store that will fail because they operate on the same business model is Ace Hardware. They will end up folding because of the micromanagement of their stores and the lack of training they provide their employees.

  48. I had to wire up lights for a Borg Cube and needed about 20 Ultra Bright green LEDs. I went to Radioshack and they only had the three packages of 2 green LEDs at $2-3 a pop. I pulled up google and found a 100x Ultra Bright Green LED pack for $2 with free shipping.

    If you can wait a couple weeks for delivery from China/Hong Kong, electrical components are ridiculously cheap.

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