The Return of the Prodigal Shack?

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was consulting for a car company and I needed to A/B two tweeters. I dashed over to the nearest RadioShack and picked up a speaker-switching box. Crazy to think about it now – a brick-and-mortar store selling something like that. Of course, RadioShack is just a distant memory now. Or is it? Is RadioShack making a comeback?

Founded in 1921 to sell amateur radio gear, RadioShack grew to achieve genuine ubiquity. In its prime, there were over 5,000 stores in the U.S. and another 3,000 in other countries. The company boasted that it was the biggest seller of consumer telecommunications in the world. But times change. The internet came along, the company declined, and in 2015 it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Aside from a few stalwart independently owned stores, the brand disappeared in the U.S. The company was sold, bounced around with various owners and their revitalization plans, and generally went nowhere. Few noticed that an outfit called Unicomer Group, based in El Salvador, had bought the brand's exclusive use in Central and South America, and the Caribbean. Price? $5 million.

Unicomer had been a franchisee of RadioShack since 1998 and by 2015 it had expanded to 57 physical stores in four countries. After its purchase from the bankruptcy court, things got even better. They added company-owned stores and picked up existing franchises in other countries. In fact, under its new management, RadioShack is doing pretty well.

Now here's the really interesting part: In May of this year, Unicomer acquired the RadioShack brand in about 70 more countries – including the U.S., Canada, Europe and China. With a 25-year proven track record of successful retail management, could Unicomer bring RadioShack back to its brick-and-mortar global glory?

The RadioShack corporate website relates how Unicomer became the majority owner of the brand, and explains how it intends to “... continue developing the business, in as many territories as possible, creating support plans for operations, reaching our customers with our broad portfolio of products...” It is mum on any specifics. But if Unicomer took the leap of faith and financial commitment to acquire rights to these new territories, surely it also has aspirations. Could an expanded franchise operation bring RadioShack stores back to the U.S.?

If for no other reason than nostalgia, I would love to see RadioShack stores again. And I wish them the best of luck. But is nostalgia a good business model? I'm just not sure what I would buy there. I already have a good speaker-switching box.

Billy's picture

Can't remember how to spell that, but I still have a bunch of stuff laying around in sheds from 40 years ago that say Realistic on them. The Shack had good stereo equipment at a cheaper price then say, Sansui or Pioneer. Often on half price sales too. It was the go to place for cables and switchers, plus electronic parts for internals if you were handy with a soldering iron. Plus, we got a single free battery every month with our card! Just like Young Sheldon did, I revered the place, but what would be the business model now? How could they compete with BB or Amazon? Maybe for a quick cable, but with Amazon Prime, the convenience of it would be lost with next day shipping, plus they would clobber them on price. In the last days of the old store, they only sold brand named gear and mostly phones for third party companies, and that is available other places now. Maybe I miss the old stores of yor, or maybe I just miss being young when they were around. What I really wish we could have again would be be small AV shops where you could demo gear before you buy, but alas, people spoiled that by wasting the locals time, then buying the gear online. I am not sure we can turn back the clock. Alas, the wheels have turned.

dnoonie's picture

I miss the cable collection and distribution items (Network switch, power strips, USB hubs type of things) from Fry's. BB has this items but the selection is poor and the prices are outrageous. I end up buying mail order from Parts Express, Markertek or other mail order shop with knowledgeable people. It's been a few years since I've had a home theater project but I'll be redoing my power distribution soon, I'm not sure if I'll need anything as my final plan depends on getting an electrician to come in and do some work first.

Traveler's picture

Store was important back in the day but these days? Not sure I see it at least in the USA.

John_Werner's picture

Born in 1959, and a bit of a budding audiophile at 10 I was in love with the Allied Radio catalogs. Sometime around the early 70's Allied got bought-out by Radio Shack. Soon Layfayette's catalogs replaced Allied-Radio Shack's for me. Radio Shack seemed a bit too concentrated on their brands, occasionally pulling a rabbit out of a hat. I didn't think I'd miss Radio Shack, but I was wrong. Here's hoping they come back in a big way as kids today don't have many aspired things to dream of.

jeff-henning's picture

Just like everybody who went to the Shack, there was more than one time when you had to go there on a Saturday or Sunday night to buy something so that you could then watch a new movie listen to a new album or CD on your new equipment. They didn’t have quite the right cable.

While I would certainly love to have that company, back in business, iron, see it happening.

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