Opinion column: RadioShack closing marks end of era

Store closing brings back decades of memories. (Photo from Murrel Bland)


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by Murrel Bland

The RadioShack store in the Wyandotte Plaza Shopping Center at 78th and State Avenue closed recently. A note on the door said the store is being remodeled and will reopen soon as just a Sprint store. It is an unfortunate end locally to a retailer that continues to struggle in a changing market.

I recall when RadioShack came to Wyandotte Plaza. It was the summer of 1969 when a young enthusiastic manager, Ken Jones, opened the store. He moved to Kansas City, Kansas, from San Diego where he was also with RadioShack.

A story in the Sept. 18, 1969, issue of The Wyandotte West told of all the items that the store offered—all types of radios—AM, FM, CBs and walkie-talkies—along with tape recorders, microphones and even electronic bug killers. Jones said the response to the store’s grand opening was very good. The store was located at the eastern end of the center in a space formerly occupied by the Woods-Balke appliance store.

RadioShack can trace its roots to 1921 when it owners, Theodore and Milton Deutschmann, founded the company in Boston. The brothers saw the need to provide equipment for the emerging field of amateur radio. The company published its first catalog in 1939 and moved into the direct mail business. RadioShack fell into hard times during the early 1960s. The Tandy Corporation, a leather goods company based in Ft. Worth, was looking for a related business that would complement its hobbyist products. In 1962, RadioShack sold for $14 million and the company became Tandy RadioShack and Leather.

Tandy closed RadioShack’s unprofitable mail-order business, ended its credit purchases, eliminated several top management positions and cut the number of items sold from 40,000 to 2,500. Such things as go-carts and musical instruments were eliminated from the product line. Charles Tandy, who had guided RadioShack through this change, died of a heart attack in 1978.

One of the successful RadioShack promotions was the “Battery of the Month Club” which offered a free battery each month. This, along with free tube-testing, generated considerable in-store foot traffic.

The 1982 breakup of the Bell Telephone system allowed subscribers to buy their own telephones. RadioShack offered some 20 models of home phones. RadioShack attempted to compete in the big-box electronic market with McDuff, Video Concepts and Edge in Electronics in the early and mid-1990s. That was not successful.

RadioShack was successful with its TRS-80 computer. However, it failed to keep up with the personal computer market.

In 1998, RadioShack claimed to be the largest seller of consumer telecommunication products in the world. On May 10, 2017, its stock was trading for 31 cents a share. So what happened?

Maybe the market forces have changed and RadioShack did not keep up. I read a column in the electronic edition of The Lawrence Journal-World that Chad Lawhon wrote about the closing of the last RadioShack in Lawrence. He said the stores were often helpful.

“I would get 10 minutes of advice, a $2 part, and with such knowledge and supplies, I could fix any audio/video device—as long as either of my children were around to help me operate the remote control,” Lawhon said.

I could identify with Lawhon’s comments. I recall shopping at the Wyandotte Plaza store. The advice was good—I learned how to hook up supplemental speakers to my TV. And a helpful clerk programmed the radios that my wife and I took to Kansas Speedway.

But the last time I was in the Wyandotte Plaza store, it did not have the cable I needed. (I was able to get it online, however.) The clerk was polite, but not nearly as knowledgeable as those who had waited on me in past years. I did buy some batteries however.

As part of the bankruptcy agreement, Sprint is taking over 1,750 RadioShack stores. Apparently that is what is happening in Wyandotte Plaza. Of course Sprint faces an uncertain future in the highly competitive telecommunications market.

A major influence in the retail market today is the impact of the internet. It is quite easy to order just about any product online and have it delivered within a couple of days—or sooner, if you are willing to pay for it. The giant 40-acre Amazon warehouse being built off the Turner Diagonal is a sign of the changing retail market.

Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is the executive director of Business West.

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One comment

  1. John Littleton says:

    It is an unfortunate end to an era that is mainly due to market shifts. However, if any Radio Shack were to move forward today they may want to look to the past, those who used to go there for electronic components are still out there and those who build in high school for First Robotics and the like would probably appreciate a place to shop. It is not recognizing what made them successful that led to their demise, too few options, too high a price and horrible service was their undoing.

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