R.I.P. Radio Shack, you will be missed

My first job as a teenager was working for Radio Shack, the year was 1990 and I was a senior in high school looking for a job to pay for my ride. I already knew I had a love for computers and consumer electronics so Radio Shack was a good fit. I wound up working for the Tandy corporation for my entire college career.

Almost 30 years later and Radio Shack is on the ropes going down for the count. Where did they go wrong? How could they have saved themselves. I have a few theories that I would like to share.

Why did Radio Shack Fail?

  • Late entry into the online world – Radio Shack was a brick and mortar business that relied on tons of direct marketing and consumers viewing the “Radio Shack catalog”. As we went into the DOT-COM boom and the Internet took hold Radio Shack was late to the starting gate. They never placed enough emphasis on internet sales, however they did ask for the last 4 digits of your phone number for every transaction.
  • Loosing focus on its own branding – As Radio Shack saw the future writing on the wall they tried to adapt to the Best Buy model and began stocking name brand merchandise. Forgetting the tens of thousands of customers who enjoyed their Realistic speakers or  Optimums stereo systems. Don’t forget the DuŌphone answering machines and most of all Tandy computers.
  • Loosing focus on its staff  When I was a Tandy employee my compensation was commission based. We basically made 7.5% of every dollar sold and a few bonuses or “spiffs” as they were known on items corporate wanted us to focus on. If you knew your stuff  a college kid could make a decent living. A few years after I left the company I stopped back at one of my old stopping grounds and found the company reduced commissions to 1% plus an hourly wage. This reduction forced all the talented sales staff to move on to their next jobs. There was no longer any incentive to learn the brands and features and make loyal customers. What remained was mostly a young staff that was clueless to help you.

Radio Shack Corporate Auction.

A blog I enjoy reading daily – Consumerist – had a post regarding items that were being auctioned off at Radio Shack head quarters. I’m not going to re-post everything, but just a few items I actually got to use and sell.

The TRS-80 model 100

I didn’t start working for Tandy until about 1990, so these things were already about 7 years old. We still had a few hanging around the store so they were a fun toy to play with. Write a few lines of BASIC code and off you go. I even remember they had a built in word processor application and a small printer you could connect to. I went on to buy a pocket PC-6 and used it in high school and college!

The Executive Decision Maker

When the magic 8 ball is too mystical for your corporate life style the executive decision maker is there to help you out. Maybe RS should have taken some of its own advice over the years and used this little box of wisdom.



The Cue Cat Scanner

What a total waste of time this was! The Cue Cat arrived after I left Radio Shack and was supposed to be a marketing gimmick. Plug the cat into your PS/2 port (LOL no USB yet) and then scan bar codes in their catalog and sales circulars to load web pages featuring the product you scanned. The cats didn’t work well and the internet community immediately found ways to hack them  for other use. I modified mine to scan bar code labels on backup tapes that were being sent off site.

Radio Shack Catalog:

I remember as a kid and also while working at RS waiting with anticipation for the new catalog to come out. Thumbing through all the pages to see the next best thing in consumer electronics. Sometimes I miss those days. I worked for Tandy just over 6 years and these are the covers of my favorite catalogs.


Back in the 90’s Radio Shack was great place for a college student like myself to work. I had the ability to write my own paycheck depending on how much effort I wanted to put in. Corporate was helpful and provided training classes so we could learn about all the features, and we were able to try everything out in the store too. Radio Shack is on of the reasons I am an Amateur radio operator today, and solidified my love of electronics and computers. Sure there are lots of other electronic stores out there, but I bet none are giving you a free battery once a month.

The Shack – you will be missed!

Thank you for reading my blog,

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