We’d been all over town trying to find a new gaming headset for my son and his unusually large head. It’s harder than you might think: most headsets grip his big head like a vise. We’d bought and returned four uncomfortable headsets already. On the way back from yet another failed mission, we passed by a RadioShack. “What the heck,” I said as I turned in. “We’ve tried everywhere else.”
It had become a sadly typical scene: RadioShack, the electronics store of last resort. It’s not a sustainable business model. The retailer has faltered for a long time, and looks like it will finally throw in the towel after 94 years.
Getting its start in amateur radio, and having not yet lost the space between Radio and Shack, the chain always had a defining, high-volume and high-margin product line. For years it was hi-fi, and then it was computers, and finally it was cell phones. But now phones are a commodity product, and nothing replaced them at the center of RadioShack’s business model.
I’ve bought a few things at Radio Shack over the years. I suspect you have too; the stores used to be everywhere. Their battery club first brought me in the door when I was about 12. A free, fresh 9-volt battery every month to power my handheld electronic head-to-head football game? Yes please. That’s how I became acquainted with all the gear Radio Shack carried, from diodes to audio cables to calculators to computers. Radio Shack’s TRS-80 computer was respectable for its day.
When I needed a 1/4″-to-1/8″ adapter for some headphones? Radio Shack. A universal remote control when such things were new? Radio Shack. Patch cables to connect my cassette deck to my computer so I could digitize my old radio airchecks? Radio Shack.
My wife and I bought our first cell phones at RadioShack. And remember how every Christmas the front of their stores were crammed with radio-controlled cars? One of the last gifts from my wife before my marriage ended was a big radio-controlled 1967 Chevy Impala. That was fun. The car, not the marriage ending.
But that was more than 10 years ago, and until my son’s headset adventure I’d had no reason to step inside RadioShack. Most of us didn’t, apparently, because now here the chain is, at its end.
The clerk at RadioShack listened to my son tell his tale of headset woe, and guided us to a short aisle with a small selection of headsets. He opened a couple boxes and let my son try them on right in the store — which was just enough for us to learn that this stop, too, would be a bust. At least we wouldn’t have to bring a product home just to return it later. And so with that, I walked out of RadioShack for the last time.