Almost 40 years ago, Bill Gates gave Radio Shack a boost, in that the company’s TRS-80, the first mass marketed, fully assembled personal computer, used the Level II BASIC operating system Gates created.
Radio Shack’s TRS 80 Model 100 is a vintage collector’s item
Six years later, Radio Shack released the diminutive TRS80 Model 100 in a design we now call a laptop. The little computer continues to have a sentimental following. Radio Shack also continues to have a small design in the form of its convenient, neighborhood store approach to retail, ever since it became a brick and mortar presence over 90 years ago. Prior to this week’s announcement of plans to close many of those stores in favor of their “new concept” locations, they boasted more than 4,300 stores in the US, 20 percent of which are franchises, with 270 more in Mexico, plus a smaller worldwide presence.
Once known as Tandy Corporation, over the years Radio Shack combined several business ventures involving shoe leather supplies, ship board radio equipment, ham radios, and an electronics mail order business. In fact, the recurring company name, Radio Shack, refers to a small wooden structure onboard ships that housed radio equipment.
Heathkit also built its reputation on kits for DIY.
The company built itself originally on do-it-yourselfers during the time another opportunistic company began selling kits to ham radio operators. Heath Kit
bought up surplus wartime electronic parts and built kits from them. In 1947, Heath introduced its first electronic kit, the O1 oscilloscope
. Heathkit’s HW-101 HF transceiver for ham operators, affectionately known as "Hot Water One-Oh-One" is still used today, half a century after production ceased.
In 1959, Radio Shack sold its first Realistic CB (citizens band) radio, branching out in the early 1970’s to electronic calculators, for example the rudimentary EC-100 custom manufactured by Texas Instruments for Radio Shack. Electronics never stand still, nor does Radio Shack. They now sell solar powered calculators.
The new concept store harkens back to Radio Shack’s audio showroom of the 1940’s
Radio Shack was not only radio components in the early days. They opened the nation’s first audio showroom in 1947 demonstrating speakers, amplifiers, turntables and phonograph cartridges. Since then, they have been at the forefront offering mobile phones, wireless, digital stereo, and high performance satellite TV systems for do-it-yourselfers. Digital television broadcasting in high definition brought Radio Shack a special commendation from the FCC for assisting to educate consumers in how to make the difficult nationwide conversion to the new format.
Consumer electronics have always been Radio Shack’s basic focus. In the 1970’s, their TRS 80
brought computing into the home alongside the game-related VIC20
Just six years later, Radio Shack scaled down the personal computer to the size of its Model 100 with a 300 baud modem and built in word processor.
Staying on the forefront of trends, in 1994, the company went “green” offering to recycle batteries. Moving away from their own brands, more than a decade ago Radio Shack partnered with Apple becoming an Authorized Reseller.
Still, Radio Shack encourages DIY projects
providing the ingredients, such as arduino tinker kits, small solar panels and robotic kits
. In addition to their stores, Radio Shack sells even more online.
Radio Shack has presented several facades since its beginning culminating in its recently announced concept stores.
Radio Shack’s retail presence is getting a facelift. Stores will have bright, colorful completely redesigned interiors and new exterior signage. Their first custom concept store opened in their hometown of Fort Worth, Texas in downtown Sundance Square.
The Sundance Square location is an example of the new Radio Shack store interior.
Each location will incorporate something specific to that area as exemplified in the marque effect of the store in Times Square/Broadway in New York.
Radio Shack continues to be socially conscious. They carry weather radios, portable power and surge protectors for disastrous times, such as floods in New Orleans, hurricanes on the East Coast, and tornadoes in the Midwest such as the recent devastation in Texas and Oklahoma. Through their point-of-sale system, RadioShack collected donations for the American Red Cross, more than $450,000 last summer. They remain environmentally responsible in their sourcing and recycling. Consumers can exchange electronics through their Trade and Save Program.
Radio Shack is a dying breed amid all the big box stores. They may be going through some financially difficult times. We hope they don’t go the way of yesteryear’s corner grocery store. Heathkit moved beyond DIY parts sales, reinventing itself
as an educational company developing courseware for the academic community. However, in 2013, they restructured again, going back into electronic kit sales. Whether the two companies can differentiate themselves and co-exist profitably, or exist at all, remains to be seen.
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