I’ve Got Answers

I’m back but I can’t stay long. It’s been a busy fall. I am working on a couple of new ventures which are taking the majority of my time.

But I did want to take a few minutes and write about a Fort Worth company that is in the news again-Radio Shack. They fired their CEO and they are looking for new leadership. The press release stated that they “do not intend to place any limitations on the search” for a new CEO. That certainly makes it sound like they are going to try to retreat from the slash and burn tactics of prior CEOs and concentrate on finding someone with vision. Well, just like I did with American Airlines, I’m here to help. Here are a few things I would do:

1. Rebrand. The name “Radio Shack” is a combination of an obsolete communications device and a place no one wants to visit. Might as well call it “Pony Express Whorehouse.” And shortening the name to just “The Shack” is about as effective as calling it “The Whorehouse.”

How about something that highlights your point of difference or, heaven forbid, your strengths? But make it cool and edgy. How about “Smart Stop” or “Bright Box”? I’m just riffing here so it’s not all gold, but it’s better than Radio Shack. (Actually I really like “Bright Box” upon further reflection, and that took about five minutes of actual thought).

2. Play to your strengths-penetration and personnel. I’ve gone into Radio Shack a half dozen times in the past year. There are three within two miles of my house. Easy in. Easy out. There are 4700 stores in the US and Mexico. That type of penetration is almost unheard of these days without spending billions.

Usually, I go there for a USB cord or a mouse or some batteries. And every single time, without fail, I have encountered someone who is knowledgeable and friendly. These types of employees are plentiful too. There is an entire generation of young, smart, affable, underemployed workers with an ideal Radio Shack skill set. The operative words here are “young” and “smart” which brings me to my third and fourth points.

3. Create your customer. There is a huge divide in this country between those who understand and can work technology and those who do not.  There is an even larger segment of the population who understand technology but want to expand their understanding. The demographic with the greatest disposable income are over 50 and technology deficient. Find those folks and be their one stop shop. Offer free seminars at retirement communities. Ten thousand people retire in the United States every single day. Most of these people are not tech savvy. Let them know what you offer. I’m convinced there is still room for companies that offer this assistance. As tech-capable Americans age you will have to replace this customer base but it is ripe right now. And you will replace this customer by following my advice in point #5, below.

Take Geek Squad. I have a friend who paid Geek Squad a ridiculous amount of money to come to her house and adjust her television because it “didn’t look as good as it did in the store.” Geek Squad accounts for $3 billion in revenue for Best Buy and has very little competition from companies with a nationwide profile. Best Buy has about a third of the number of stores that Radio Shack has. It is interesting to note that Best Buy wants to move to a smaller store concept to focus on developing relationships with customers.

4. Incubate. I spoke above about the smart, young employees. These are where your best ideas should originate. What is the most common problem they encounter? Who is the most dependent customer? What other services or products could we offer (or even invent)? Make them feel like they are a valued part of the process and reward them for it. I am amazed at the ideas generated by young people these days. They are, without question, your best resource. Listen to them.

5. Give and you will receive. When Leonard Roberts joined Radio Shack he embraced his new home town. He and his wife still live here and are very involved in the community. Unfortunately, his succeeding CEOs have largely ignored Fort Worth. So, as a result, there isn’t a great deal of allegiance to Radio Shack any more. Just like children who are raised in a nurturing family, good corporations reflect the community to which they belong. But they have to belong. And, unfortunately, Radio Shack is a stranger to Fort Worth these days.

This same philosophy should apply to every community where Radio Shack has a presence. Go to the local high schools and colleges. Find out what they’re doing. Ask them what they need. Be their partner. Sponsor their science fairs. Have an competition for new inventions in technology.

It will be interesting to see who Radio Shack hires. If they hire another bean counter you can kiss it goodbye. The past two CEOs have shown that you can’t cut and slash your way to prosperity. You need a new kind of leader. I know you have to assuage Wall Street but your share price doesn’t have any extrinsic value right now anyway, so BE BOLD. I want to see Radio Shack thrive and I believe it can. And I am always available for consultation. I’m a mile down the road from Headquarters just past two Radio Shack retail stores.

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