Will this new concept store save RadioShack?

Will this new concept store save RadioShack?

Summary: It ain't easy being an electronics retailer in the 21st century. RadioShack thinks it has a solution for survival.

Photo courtesy RadioShack

RadioShack, the U.S. electronics retailer particularly popular with hobbyists, wants you to know that it has a new brick-and-mortar retail experience.

The new look intends to—fingers crossed!—help the company buck the trend that has decimated its peers Circuit City (R.I.P., at least as a physical entity) and the oft-beleaguered Best Buy.

In the Shack's own words:

The store aims to attract tech-hungry shoppers who will find a new level of products, service and excitement in a store that makes the buying experience fun.

How, you ask? With displays that highlight "in-demand brands like Apple, HTC and Samsung"; arrangements that allow shoppers "to find and compare products, such as a speaker wall; touchscreen devices installed on the floor to "make shopping interesting and playful"; and "helpful, informative staff" to assist customers.

In other words, all the trappings of a modern retail store. (Which makes you wonder what the company was doing beforehand.)

Chief executive Joe Magnacca says the company's goal is to "make our iconic brand relevant to new segments of the consumer market, while reinforcing our commitment to the strong and loyal base of customers who have known RadioShack for many years"—a noble goal for any legacy brand.

The company's fighting an uphill battle, though. It seeks to attract a segment of customers who use brick-and-mortar electronics stores primarily as showrooms for Amazon and who, arguably, enter the store knowing more about the products than the store employees themselves.

RadioShack seems to have avoided meeting the same fate as Circuit City by focusing on what it does best—filling the role as the hardware store of electronic retail, essentially—and keeping square footage and overhead to a minimum. That may be a fine survival tool, but I wonder if it's a real strategy for growth. Especially when so many of the company's products are increasingly sold at retail by their own makers, sometimes with superior buying experiences.

The company's first concept store will open this weekend in the Upper West Side neighborhood of Manhattan, about 50 blocks from ZDNet's New York City headquarters. (More are in the works in New York's metropolitan area, as well as New Jersey and the company's home state of Texas.)

If the effort is successful, the company plans to roll the new design out to all of its 4,300 stores in the U.S. What I'm wondering: for this, how and when do you define success?

Topics: Tech Industry, E-Commerce

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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  • Radio Shack just a phone store

    The problem with Radio Shack is they have become just a phone store. I cannot believe how much space they waste displaying all those phones from all the carriers. Does Radio Shack really do well selling phones? Otherwise all they sell is a little of this and a little of that and much of it is never in stock or their is one on the shelf or the package has been opened and taped back shut. Its really sad that Radio Shack at one time was the go to place for all electronics not just cell phones.
  • My visit to Radio Shack

    I actually happened to step inside of Radio Shack this weekend. I needed an antenna for a TV and while I can see the one I want online and read the specs and reviews, the convenience and ease of exchange (should I need to) is what sold me on walking to my local store. Online is great if you know exactly what you want, but having the ability to figure out which product suits your situation best and the option to have the product same day is what won me over.

    However, while in the store, I couldn't help but smile when I saw the packs of VHS tapes for sale. Really? People still buy that stuff?
    • Yep.

      They're the same people that say Windows 8 is too hard to use.
  • Waste of money

    Radio Shack - you've got questions, we've got blank stares...and cell phones!

    Rat Shack is toast. When nobody in the store knows what an op amp is or how to order it management needs to start thinking long and hard about an exit strategy. Parts Express, Mouser, Element14, etc. are where the hardware hackers get their parts now. There is no saving it. Putting lipstick on a pig doesn't help.
  • They've been calling it Radio Scrap for over 20 years

    Yet they're still around. They used to be the go to place for electronics. Not so much anymore. It would be fun to see a TRS-80 tablet.
    • Best Idea Ever.

      TRS-80 tablet - WANT. One that plays ROMPaks would be amazing.
  • BM survival

    The problem for many BM retailers is finding a niche to fill other than absolute low price. Many who survive will probably be successful with two complimentary strategies: very knowledgable staff and immediate delivery. Currently most BM do not have very knowledgable staff so there is no reason for many to walk in.
  • lost their direction

    There is still a market for an electronics store for tinkerers and hardware hackers. There is no market for another cut price phone store with low paid staff and no answer to etail.
  • yikes

    I hope the picture included with this article isn't the 'new look' that RS is hoping will save them.

    30+ square feet of wall space with some hipster-groovy orange-y shelves, and what is the "in demand" product being showcased to the target "tech-hungry" shopper? Add-on speakers! Oh boy! Take my money now!!!

    It reminds me of The Source in Canada which use to be called "The Source by Circuit City" before BEll bought the chain. Prior to that it was Radio Shack but when Circuit City bought the Canadian side of Radio Shack, they had to lose the Radio Scrap name.
    Of course the Radio Scrap mouth-piece says "we carry the latest brands" crap. what else they would say? "We carry outdated hardware. Here's a 15" CRT TV. There is a Motorola StarTac cell phone. Behind that are some VHS players." :-)
  • Cater to geeks

    I know it would drive labor costs up, but the clerks should always know significantly more about what they're selling than does the average customer. The one area where brick and mortar stores will always have an advantage over mail order is in customer service (which is always best when it's up close and personal).

    If Radio Shack can do that, they have a good chance of surviving.
    John L. Ries
    • TRUE -

      Better to concentrate on products that store really stands behind. All stores - including Apple - need to have clear delineation between sales people and "geniuses" (as Apple calls them, tho I use the term loosely) as even techs come with varying levels of expertise. Why not an online form for customers so they may be directed to someone with more knowledge than they have? Cant tell you how much time I have wasted even in Apple with geniuses who know much less than I.
      If one knows the specific part/piece needed, I have decent luck with Radio Shack, and if there is a problem - item replaced with no questions.
      America as a country needs to concentrate on quality products that last instead of junk that is dead
      • con. ...

        due to obsolescence in 12-18 months. I need new microwave: if cant find one at resale or pawn shop will pony up for the one I've researched that will most likely last me til I move on to the next phase, where I doubt microwaves or computers for that matter will be a concern.
  • RadioShack

    RadioShack needs to rebrand, focus on its website for sales, and open/franchise mall kiosks for high-volume, high-profit items. Then they might have a chance to survive.
  • Aaaargh!

    The sixties called, they want their shelf units back.....
  • Really, besides online where are you going to go?

    I bought a Aurdrino from the shack a year or so ago. Just like most times I stop by, there's some punk bored out of his mind wondering the aisles then doesn't make eye contact and mumbles if you need help. God forbid you ask if you have any 10K ohm resistors! Huh?!? The funny thing is, when I'm really not looking for anything in particular I run across the super knowledgeable friendly salesman who wants to help.
    I wish there was a biggest market for Rat shack type stores that sold relays, and other hard to find electronic items, not just online.