What should Radio Shack do to satisfy the DIY/Maker community?

Radio Shack recently posted this (as yet, not incredibly popular) video asking for feedback on what they could do to support the DIY/Maker community:

I’ve thought about it off and on for the last couple of days, and read some other blog posts, and I thought I’d give my take on it.

I mostly don’t think they can help the DIY/Maker.

First of all, there is a cultural element. While Radio Shacks of the distant past used to be populated by people who might know something about electronics, for the most part when I go into them now I see kids working for minimum wage without any real knowledge or even excitement about electronics. They might be able to help you find the right 1/8″ jack Y-connector you need, or a battery, but for the most part, they don’t build things and therefore, they aren’t really very helpful to those who do. It’s nice to have a local store where I might be able to go in and get a voltage regulator or a MPF102, but I haven’t interacted with anyone at a Radio Shack in years who could tell me what one was, or even if they had them in stock faster than I could find them in their component cabinets.

Related to the first is that they simply have lost their niche. Thirty years ago, you might expect that you could see something in a Radio Shack store that was innovative and cool. Perhaps it was the TRS-80 or the Model 102. Maybe it was a ham radio or a scanner. Or even just a plain old stereo or radio (yes, they used to be more of a status symbol than they are now). Now, you simply see the same things that you can see at any of the big electronics stores like Best Buy, but you’ll probably pay more. They simply aren’t as relevent anymore: other than maybe an RC car or some batteries, most people I know don’t even consider making an electronic purchase at Radio Shack.

They also have pretty much abandoned the educational niche that they used to be good at. Let’s face it, there really wasn’t much practical reason to buy a 7400 series TTL gate, but I did, along with some books (probably by Forrest Mims) to help me understand how they work. I built crystal radios and had a 150 in one electronics kit. I learned alot. There are a lot of people today who would like to learn about how to assemble simple electronic and computer gadgets, but they can’t get those supplies at Radio Shack.

Lastly, they just aren’t innovative. Perhaps it is just because they are carrying the weight of their 4500 or so stores: there isn’t a way they can be sufficiently nimble. Small Internet basesd companies like Sparkfun, Adafruit Industries, Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories, and Seeed Studio are all actively, hungrily trying to develop and market new products, and to make components available to the Maker community. It’s these small companies and their innovation that I think are most exciting, and these are the people I feel more comfortable supporting, since it is obvious that these people “get it” to a degree that Radio Shack simply doesn’t.

What can Radio Shack do? Realistically, not much. If I was unrealistic? Okay, here are some ideas.

  • Revamp your staff. Stop treating them like minimum wage register-jockies, and pursue those with an interest in electronics and in helping your customers.
  • Bring back kits and educational toys. Consider it fertilizing the ground for the future. If kids aren’t exposed to this kind of tinkering, they aren’t going to grow into adults with lots of disposable income who tinker.
  • Bring back ham radio equipment. Hams are tinkerers, you probably want them in your store. Radio Shack used to sell pretty decent and reasonably priced ham radio equipment and scanners. Sunspots are on the rise, and 10m will begin to heat up. Take advantage of the recent increase in hams caused by the dropping of the Morse code requirement, and figure out a way to get them into your stores.
  • Pay attention to trends in open hardware, find popular items, and stock them. I’d go to the Shack to get an Arduino if they had them in stock. Or a Bus Pirate. Or some high power Cree LEDs. Or good solar cells and battery chargers.
  • FInd local hacker/maker communities, and help them. Be nimble. Support your local groups by stocking the equipment and components they need.
  • In short, ask yourself what the value is that you are delivering to your customers, and stop viewing them as mindless consumers. If you seriously want their business, seriously pursue it.

What do you all think? What could Radio Shack do for you that would make you cross their doorstep more often?

6 thoughts on “What should Radio Shack do to satisfy the DIY/Maker community?”

  1. What can Radio Shack do? Realistically, not much. If I was unrealistic?

    You do remember that Radio Shack used to use the brand name “Realistic” for their stereo components. You almost had a pun in there.

    What does Radio Shack need to do? Simply put, turn back the clocks about 30 years. The current stores have become all but indistinguishable from every other cell phone store in the mall. Well, except that their staff sometimes seems even less knowledgeable.

    Once upon a time Radio Shack was mecca for geeks. They even made great tutorial books and even kits for the youngling geeks. Where’s the Arduino kit that’s appropriate for a sixth grader?

  2. In the nineties, Tandy (Radio Shack) had a store in Atlanta called “Tech America” It was what Radio Shack had been, writ large. They closed it after only about a year. While I can’t expect them to open one in every backwater (I currently live in the Toledo, Ohio area) It would be a good start back toward their roots.

  3. I have a couple of friends that used to work for Radio Shack (one was a store manager). They’ve told me that employees are not simply minimum-wage register jockeys. In fact, they’re worse: less than minimum-wage, commission-driven sales drones. The internal structure of the company was very cut-throat at the time both of these guys worked for Radio Shack (it wasn’t all that long ago, but I’m leaving a possibility that perhaps it’s changed since they both left). Quite frankly, this is one reason I actively avoid the place. Not only are the employees not very knowledgable, they assail you the moment you walk in the door, and then about every 5 minutes thereafter, hoping to grab that tiny commission. That, and because I’ve been to a couple looking for an SMA->BNC adapter, and can’t ever find one. I need something for a radio, and it’s not at Radio Shack!?

  4. i used to go to radio shack almost every day for one thing or another now a person can’t even find an sma to bnc connector I need something for a radio, and it’s not at Radio Shack! like it used to be maybe you should turn back the hands of time some you used to have some of the best diy stuff you also had some of the best CB and ham radio equipment that was affordable youngsters to learn with the book you used to called now your talking helped me get int ham radio you should and could do a Lott better

  5. >What could Radio Shack do for you that would make you cross their doorstep more often?

    If you are buying a 15 cent pack of resistors, I don’t think Radioshack cares much that you are on their doorstep. I used to work for RS. We spent a lot more time dusting that stuff instead of selling it.

    I think electronics nerds are rather a dying breed. The question I think is…. Is there enough of a market for this stuff for a major retailer to stock it? As you can tell from Radioshacks almost completely depleted stock of this stuff….. the question has been answered.

  6. I worked at a Radio Shack back in the 80s while in high school. i spent almost every pay check on parts. The sad part is we are becoming a nation of non-doers. It’s exciting to see the rebirth of the electronics diy which was almost non-existent for the last 25 years. Sadly, Radio Shack can never return to their roots and it really doesn’t matter with all the great little diy companies poppy up such as Ada Fruit, Evil Mad Scientist, etc… I would much rather support them than a huge clueless non inovative corporation. I disagree with the last poster. The electronics hobbyist is coming back stronger than ever. It’s people like us that will fuel the inovations of the future. There is plenty market for this stuff, we just don’t shop at Radio Shack anymore.

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