A Great Big City

Rearranging the Deck Chairs at RadioShack

RadioShack
RadioShack via Mike Mozart on Flickr

Things have been looking dire for RadioShack ever since their earnings report showed dwindling cash and a need to close many of their over 4,000 stores. However, you'd never suspect there was a problem at the store I visited this week.

Newly renovated and with a "Grand Opening" sign outside the door, this RadioShack was bright and the staff friendly. While tablets, cell phones, and all related accessories still took up the front of the store, I was glad to see the electronics section was still intact. Just past the iPhone cases was an aisle of their recently introduced Arduino kits to build robots and assortments of various electronics components. One of the few brick-and-mortar stores to carry microcontrollers, they had Parallax BASIC Stamps and Raspberry Pi in addition to the Arduinos.


Image via Vernon Chan on Flickr

The bad news? Unfortunately, it's almost always price. This RadioShack parts assortment ($35) is either rebranded, licensed, or from the same supplier as this identical kit from Seeed Technology ($20). The BASIC Stamp-powered Parallax Boe Bot kit is $180 from RadioShack, $160 from Parallax.

Doing cross-branded promotions with Make Magazine and Seeed is a good first step toward revitalizing the company, but selling similar products at higher prices could be a kind of "penny-wise but pound-foolish" tactic that hastens the company's demise.

Gone are the $20 remote-control cars and Casio keyboards that used to clog the store's aisles, but one small step into the future may not be enough. Quadcopters, 3D printers, and the DIY movement have advanced pretty far over the past decade and RadioShack hasn't kept pace. Being the one store in town with a file cabinet full of electronics components won't be enough to bring back the hobbyists and tinkerers, who are already comfortable ordering from places like Sparkfun, Adafruit, or even Mouser and Digikey.

Although the Shack may be the last place to get a VHS video head cleaner.

(Image via Mike Mozart on Flickr)

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