I admit it, I’m a geek. When the weather wasn’t good, or if I was especially bored at playing manhunt, during the ages of 10 to 12 I spent a lot of time at my local Radio Shack. Doing what? Buying breadboard kits and building a radio. Having a conversation with Eliza on a TRS-80 (and oh my, the hours spent playing Zork). Buying my very own TRS Color Computer. Physically hacking it to increase the RAM to 32KB by stacking chips and soldering wire. Writing some software to remap the game cartridge memory to the memory space occupied by RAM (and then dumping that out to the state of the art tape cassette drive). POKEing a memory space to double (that’s right DOUBLE) the MC6809 chip to a whopping 1.9mhz! All within a context and community environment that nurtured geeks (no question was stupid) and provided help (with regular meet-up sessions while the store was open and after it closed).
When do I go to Radio Shack now? Hardly ever. Only if I need something “right now” and I’m willing to pay those “right now” inflated prices (e.g. $10 for a splitter that I could get from Amazon via Prime for $.99 if I could wait two days). If I’m going to buy a computer, I’m not shopping there. A mobile phone? Nope. A TV? Certainly not. Batteries (probably not, unless it falls into the “right now” category and it is a non-standard size). Are my kids going to shop there? Are my 12 and 11 year old boys going to ask “Hey can we go to Radio Shack?” Not a chance. You get my point.
I’m obviously not alone. A few weeks ago Radio Shack announced that it is closing 1,100 stores nationwide after same store sales plummet 19%. They obviously recognize that they have a “brand” image challenge (their Superbowl ad was actually quite funny). I would love to see a re-invigorated and vibrant community of Radio Shack stores – and so I offer the following Radio Shack “recovery plan.”
Return to your roots – You didn’t become successful because you sold all sorts of consumer goods to all kinds of people. Admittedly, the selling environment has changed entirely (big box retail stores, discount stores, online availability of everything), but who your customer is (or should be) really hasn’t changed. More on that later.
Start a conversation, build a community – It is difficult to survive in a low-margin, high-volume business that is today’s consumer electronics market. You will not now (not ever) make that tech-savvy purchaser buy a TV from you. You can engage certain types of prospects. Sales is a process. It is a conversation. Re-create the environment to have good meaningful conversations about (high margin, yet to be commoditized) tech which interests them. Those conversations may be with you, but most likely they will be with others. Hold meet-ups. Let folks play with things in the store. Make it become a place (again) that certain folks want to go. And who might those folks be?
Target makers and the makers to be – Look no further than the community of “makers” and “doers” who are building things, programming things, flying things and printing things. They exist everywhere. These were the folks you sold to before. These are the folks you should sell to again. Concentrate on STEM engagement with the children – partner with your local elementary and middle schools to show and demonstrate cool technologies. Become a partner for Lego Mindstorms. Let kids play Minecraft in the store. Put it up on monitors for people to see. Sell Rasberry Pi dev kits, as well as holding in store programming course sessions. Target all kinds of robotics and RC hobbyists, including of course those who are flying all types of unmanned aerial platforms (single rotor, multi-rotor, fixed wing, etc.). Partner with 3D Robotics and/or Airware to take their tech directly to consumers. Explain/help folks to get their projects on Quirky or start a campaign on Kickstarter or Indiegogo. Sell AR Drones as an entry point for folks to get into unmanned aerial systems. Go beyond offering 3D printers by offering classes on how to make them work most effectively (what software to use, what 3D scanners to buy, etc.). You already know this – admittedly, this is one pretty funny Radio Shack ad featuring 3D printing. Partner with folks like Shapeways to allow people to capture/design items in the store and then have them drop shipped to their homes. Show folks how to do it. Nurture the entire 3D printing ecosystem (not just the printers as the end to themselves). And with all of this, plug them back into a growing community of makers/doers and users.
Hire people who are makers and geeks – Hire people that are advocates for your target markets and consumers. No disrespect meant, but the folks who I have come across at Radio Shack recently (admittedly a very small sample size) didn’t look like they wanted to be there and certainly weren’t makers themselves. This is obviously difficult (because it is a self-reinforcing system), but make the “next/first” hire somebody who identifies with the target communities you are selling to. Why would I want to buy a 3D printer from somebody who really wishes that they working at Best Buy instead (and regardless, they have no idea what a water-tight STL is. . .)?
Consider the policy perspective – Go to Washington and start lobbying on behalf of makers, doers, builders and flyers. Help shape policy around thorny issues relating to 3D printing, unmanned aerial systems and robotics. Partner with existing organizations that share similar views. Become a positive voice in Washington for the community (of buyers) who you represent.
Result: Selling to a high margin/non-commoditized market – Following the above would get you right back to where you were at the beginning, selling high margin technology to the early-adopters, before things got commoditized. In many cases you are selling solutions where a community of others (and their knowledge) is required to get things “right” – like in the earlier days of the personal computing market, when you sold TRS-80s and CoCos. And breadboards. And capacitors. And wires. And motors. And a community. You get the picture.
I’ll bet if you did the above many folks will start visiting and communicating in your stores again – my kids might even ask to stop by, to play Minecraft at the very least. 😉