In the 1970s my father owned a RadioShack franchise. So, while I was in high school I spent quite a bit of time on the floor selling electronic gadgets. Thanks to the Citizens Band radio craze (remember the movie Smokey and the Bandit?) we sold CB radios like proverbial hotcakes. The TRS-80 computer was there too. In fact, we could demonstrate it showing the store inventory application that was loaded. Of course I purchased a few prime items myself. I remember my Mach One stereo speakers completely filling up the back seat of my car when I took off for college. They were HUGE and could rattle my dorm room walls, even at half volume. Man, I loved those things!
Working a retail sales floor and learning about new innovative electronics was a great experience. So what happen to RadioShack? The 70s were a period of rapid growth and they entered the 1980s poised to be the center of the computer revolution. Why are they failing today? My father sold his franchise in the early 80s so I don’t have any current insider information. But I recently asked him what he thought about RadioShack’s possible bankruptcy, and our conversation became quite interesting.
Question: Dad, what do you remember about the TRS-80?
Answer: “Yeah, the TRS-80 was one of the first mass-produced personal computers. It was kind of buggy though. That stupid cassette tape drive never worked right and your mother hated to work with it. She was soon back to doing the inventory by hand. Funny thing though, the hobbyists and build-it-yourself type who shopped for parts at our store didn’t mind so much. They took its primitive features with a grain of salt.”
My takeaway: You cannot stop innovating or trying to improve the customer experience. Sure, RadioShack made some improvements, like offering the floppy disk drive and hard drive later on. But Apple, IBM and Dell soon passed them up. The mass market doesn’t want to spend time trying to make their electronics work. My mom was just trying to keep the inventory organized; it doesn’t surprise me that she was soon using her old paper-based system again.
Question: “Dad, but was it cool to be a part of RadioShack’s rapid growth in the 70s?”
Answer: “Sure it was fun. Your mom and I won some nice RadioShack sponsored trips based on our franchise sales performance. But you know, in the mid 50s before you were born I used to work for Gambles-Skogmo. At one point they grew to become the 15th largest retailer in the United States; really big in the hardware and auto supply trade. Ever read any business case studies on Gambles? About the time RadioShack was hitting their stride in the 70s Gambles was fading fast. Everyone can be a great quarterback after the game. This kind of thing happens.”
My takeaway: You cannot stop innovating or trying to improve the customer experience. Yeah, I know, it’s the same takeaway. But it feels like the right answer.