RadioShack Demise Could Signal the Rise of Mom-and-Pop

No matter how you feel about RadioShack, for many hackers it was the one place that components could be sourced locally. Upon hearing that the stores are being shuttered (at least for those seeking non-cellphone items) we wondered if someone would rise to meet the maker market. The answer may actually be mom-and-pops — independent stores owned by people passionate about hacking and making.

tinker-and-twist-boothAt SXSW Create in March the Hackaday booth was right next door one such establishment. [Martin Bogomolni] is hard at work launching his brick and mortar store called Tinker & Twist. In the video below he speaks briefly about the concept of the store, which focuses on curating the best products and tools available and stocking them locally.

The store will be located in a shopping mall in Austin, Texas. But it takes about 100 days launch a storefront considering the permits and build-out. [Martin] decided to take the store to the hackers by exhibiting (and selling products) at SXSW Create. How else would you do this than by building a store-front as your booth? The store’s sign was CNC routed from rigid foam, and combined with a set of columns and storefront window. We stopped by late on the last day of the event and they had been having a great weekend. What started as a very well stocked set of shelves looked nearly bare.

Tinker & Twist is just the most recent in a growing trend of standalone stores focusing on hackers and makers. Our friends at Deezmaker in Pasadena, CA gave us tour last year. They’ve married the concepts of hackerspace, small-run manufacturer (in the form of their 3D printers), and retail store all-in-one. These types of examples make us quite happy — it’s been years since RadioShack was tightly focused on those actually building things. We hope to see more stores like Tinker & Twist up and running to support and enhance hacker communities everywhere.

103 thoughts on “RadioShack Demise Could Signal the Rise of Mom-and-Pop

  1. The problem for these shops is that they do not get the economy of scale in purchasing that a company like Radio Shack does(did). This makes it tough to compete price wise.
    Someone should start a purchasing co-op for maker shops to solve this problem.

    1. ….. which would have meant anything if Radioshack had actually passed that economy of scale on to its customers. Which from personal experience wasn’t happening. Radioshack for me was a place I went when I couldn’t wait on a part and getting stuck with the premium was something I HAD to suck up. For everything else there was Digikey, Mouser and even occasionally McMaster because factoring in the price and S&H it was more often than not cheaper to have the parts shipped to me than walk into a Radioshack.

      That is why I had pretty much been avoiding Radioshack like the plague for years and didn’t bat an eye when it was announced they where closing.

      Assuming Mom&Pops don’t go crazy with the markup I don’t doubt that they can and will beat the heck out of the old Radioshack gouging.

      1. You forget just how inefficient retail is. RS was probably mostly killed by lack of customers period, but its prices reflected the fact that their stores occupied premium retail spots in malls. I’ll give this guy the benefit of the doubt, if he’s been able to secure funding for this venture, but brick & mortar retail costs usually drive prices up 20-50%, and that’s without a profit margin. I’d pay 10% or even 20% extra on something in order to support a store that went to the effort of curating stuff. If markups go beyond that, they’re going to end up being the amazon/ebay/adafruit/sparkfun showrooms, unless they’re in a place where they can live off of “emergency buys”.

        1. 20-50% is nothing on what Radioshack was charging on some items. Some of it appeared to be pretty darn close if not exceeding 300% markup. That isn’t even attempting to compete, that is the “we are you’re only option” pricing scheme. The problem is …. they weren’t the only option unless it was an emergency and in the case of an emergency you ended up leaving resenting having to give them your business.

          If they had only been charging on average 20-30% I don’t think I would have had a problem buying from them. Just for the convenience of being able to walk out with all the parts I needed for a spur of the moment project. Instead of waiting 1-3weeks for a delivery.

          1. Well, even the ‘in an emergency’ backfired on them because they rarely even had stock. I stopped even trying to go their even in an emergency because 9/10 I walked out empty handed anyway.

            I just simply stopped going there altogether. The last time I was in a Radioshack was when they were selling the DTV Hummer on clearance. I can’t even remember the last time before that. I imagine it was sometime in the mid 90s.

          2. I highly doubt anyone can make money in niche retail with only a 20-30% markup. It would have to be a high volume item. When you’re talking tiny niche items like these, you need a bigger markup. Retail is a hard business as it is.

            With some exceptions, I just don’t think there is a way to compete with the “long tail” of internet sellers. It’s pretty rare that I’d go with a sub optimal part rather than ordering the best part that fits my need and getting it 2-3 days later. It seems I’d have to be pretty desperate. I do try to buy local, but almost always it’s not worth it.

            Even stuff like computer parts sellers, the number of B&M retailers that can afford to offer computer components is down a lot. In my area, we’re down to Best Buy, and their selection was always negligible to nothing in many parts categories.

        2. Retail isn’t inefficient. Although many retail business owners do run their retail establishments inefficiently, there’s a difference.

          With a comfortable profit margin, I am able to sell products at very competitive prices. Plus, you have the benefit of same-day purchase and the ability to look at, hold, and preview almost everything we well. This is a big, BIG benefit of retail vs online purchases.

          I wouldn’t have opened Tinker and Twist if there wasn’t a pent-up demand for the products we stock and sell, and if I didn’t wholeheartedly believe in servicing the maker / DIY / craft community in an honest and knowledgeable way.

          Give it a chance aleksclark … give it a chance.

          -Martin

          1. Martin, May I call you Martin?

            Reading down a number of comments a lot of people are upset with the prices they charge(d) for individual components (or 2 to 5 packs).

            Do you sell components? Individual resistors or LEDs, or switches, or xsistors, or capacitors?
            I’m not trying to nail you or anything, I’m just curious if the RS complaints are even applicable to your store.

            Do you buy a bunch of cheap components from China and sell them? Again just curious…
            Do you sell surplus equipment?

            Thanks in advance.

          2. No offense, but retail is an intrinsically inefficient model, simply due to the economies of scale. One small brick & mortar outlet costs far more per delivered item than a giant warehouse. As you point out, it does offer one tangible benefit (same-day-purchase), and several intangibles (curation, preview, support, socialization). The same day purchase, vs 2-day shipping from amazon, is (to me at least) offset by the fact that I have to spend significant amounts of time to do the purchasing. A little bit of foresight saves me an hour of time, and typically a non-negligible amount of money.

            If you’ve got demand, sure, people will buy your stuff, that’s why I mentioned emergency buys. If you’re in a place where enough hackers have the demand for same-day parts, or don’t know what to buy, or happen to drive by/near your store every day, then by all means, go forth and conquer the world. The place where you can probably make the most impact is the small parts, as noted by other commentators: people will gladly pay 500% markup on a $0.02 LED, and the stocking space isn’t prohibitive, but even 30% markup on a $100 voltmeter is enough to get people to buy elsewhere.

        3. RS killed themselves by ignoring the customers. They allowed the age of ‘no user-servicable parts’ age to kill them off by going with the easy out of becoming the equivalent of a mall cell phone kiosk.

          Even when they pleaded to the hack/make/tinker community for what we needed them to stock they limited themselves to packaged goods that were essentially toys like ultrasonic range finders but nothing in the drawers to stick in a breadboard.

          Things like resistors and simple LEDs killed RS… when they did have something you could make work you’d end up paying $4.99 for a single blue LED and they’d only have 2 in the drawer. $6.99 for 5 1/4w resistors.

          I liken the death of RS to be like the religous fanatics that insist that prayer alone can cure their sick childs pneumonia.

          1. I couldn’t agree more. I worked for them for ten years. From the time they were hauling tube-testers out to the garbage, till the time they discovered how much money they could make with mobile phones. When I started, most employees still knew how to cross-reference a tube, and when I left, they offered four styles of phones in the same private-label name.

            After I left, the back half of the store became a small section of drawers.

            Yeah, they forgot that their core customers could fix their own products. And they didn’t care.

            Radio Shack didn’t learn from Lafayette.
            Radio Shack didn’t learn from Heathkit.
            Radio Shack just didn’t learn.

      2. I agree 100% with this.
        Canada’s spin-off has been trying to sell 2 packs of LEDs for $4.99
        I feel sorry for the staff that want to experiment with these things, because the computer actually shows the purchase price and profit margin. Even with the pitiful discount you get for being employed, it much cheaper to go to any online retailer to buy LEDs. Even if the retailer marks up their LED’s too! (Same goes for buying a simple 555 timer… I’d rather pay $1 and get it from something like Sparkfun even if I can get it for half that on digikey or farnell)

      3. That’s not my point. Obviously Radio Shack didn’t pass on their economy of scale advantage. That doesn’t mean it’s not an advantage worth having. My point is that now these guys have to compete with the likes of e-bay and Ali express. The convenience of being local will help, but competitive prices will only add to their competitive value.

    2. Exacty. One of three things will happen.
      1. The Maker movement will be a fad and the mom and pop stores will go bust.
      2. Online will keep killing them with lower prices.
      3. Hobby Lobby, Michaels, WalMart, and or AC Moore will start to carry electronics parts and kits and can beat them on volume.
      More or less exactly what has happened with Scrapbooking. A few years ago their where a lot of mom and pop scrapbooking stores. Today they are very rare.

      1. I can think of 3 mom and pop stores within a 2 hour drive of me. All of them were there long before the maker movement.

        I don’t see any reason why #1 would eliminate them. They existed long before the maker movment. They started in the previous maker movement and already survived the wastelands of the 90s and zeros!

        I can see stores like those in #3 trying to do what the Rat Shack tried to do. I can see them putting up little stands with things like Arduinos and shields. I can’t imagine them having actual stocks of the wide varieties of discrete parts though. The mom and pops have a lot of stuff I don’t think anyone else is going to carry.

        As for #2.. well… if it hasn’t killed them yet…

        What really worries me about our “local” mom and pop stores is fate #4. Mom and pop are getting old! We lost what I think is our best local mom and pop way back in 2007 and it was because the owner retired and nobody wanted to take his place. I see the owners of the remaining ones getting grayer.. scratch that… whiter hair and expect we will lose them all soon. :-(

      2. The markups on the junk sold at Hobby Lobby, Michaels, AC Moore are as high or higher than RS’s. I don’t think these stores would be of much use to makers if they carried the kinds of things we buy. And we’d have to drive to their locations in suburban rat-shopping meccas

    3. To be fair, Radioshack’s pricing on its own was stupid. The prices they had were upped mostly due to re-packaging and private labeling. They could have saved tons by stopping that practice alone. The mom-n-pop stores could get by with lower quantity pricing and still meet or beat most pricing Radioshack advertised.

    4. Hello Tachyon, I’m Martin … the owner of Tinker and Twist.

      As a matter of fact, as a retailer I get _steeper_ discounts on my products that the online places do, and I also save on shipping. When shopping at a retail store, you save both ways … and you also get to preview and look at products in a way you can’t online.

      1. I assumed that any properly setup business would, at the very least, be buying wholesale so I’m glad to hear you are too. However, large corporations like RS and Best Buy etc. use their size and quantity purchasing to negotiate even better pricing. That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about. First tier buyer pricing would greatly aid small shops in being more competitive.

        While I personally will shop at a store like yours first for several reasons besides price, I don’t believe I’m in the majority on that these days. Unfortunately too many people only shop by pricetag.

    5. Um you never shopped at RadioShack did you? They were never inexpensive for equivalent products. They were always either expensive for convenience or competitively priced for cheap build quality. (Im looking at you Tandy.)

      Any scale in purchasing went straight to their bottom line, which they promptly squandered by buying up the most expensive real estate they could find. (Every mall in the u.s.) The larger stand alone shops were often an oasis in isolated areas with independent managers stocking electronics in spite of the lack of corporate support.

      1. My mistake was assuming people would understand the obvious so I wouldn’t have to restate it. You’ve proven me wrong on that. Thanks for pointing out that some people need even the painfully obvious pointed out to them.

        So to be clear. Of frickin’ course Radio Shack didn’t pass on their buyer savings to consumers FFS. That’s about 1/3 of the reason they’re no longer with us. However that doesn’t mean that economy of scale is bad or that it’s not useful to anyone else. They just have to be smarter and or less greedy with it.

        Prices will always be a prime factor in buyer decisions so anything these Mom & Pop shops can do to bring prices down without cutting too deeply into profits will aid in their success.

  2. Is RS being “shuttered”? My understanding is that a couple thousand will continue with Sprint occupying about 1/3 of the floor space. What will be in the rest of it? Will there be the component drawers, soldering irons, PCBs, kits, etc.? I haven’t heard one way or the other.

    1. Last week, I went to a location that I was told was going to be closing soon, but when I got there, it was already being converted into being Sprint-occupied, and the employees confirmed they wouldn’t be closing. It sounded like the component drawers and other maker stuff /would/ still be around, but I don’t know for 100% sure yet.

        1. Of my local stores, those that did not close in Feb are closing now, to the point where product is piled on the floor because the fixtures have been sold (I resisted the parts tray cabinets… I could not justify the size) I think the nearest one staying open is about 15 miles away, but I might have missed one somewhere. This is in central NJ. A year ago, there were maybe a dozen within 10 miles. I am not surprised that they couldn’t stay alive given their business model and limited, pricey product selection, and I will not miss them. I do miss the 1970’s edition, when they had parts, reasonable prices, and stock that wasn’t the same as twenty other stores in the mall, but the market changed and the world changed, and that company, obviously, couldn’t survive today.

          1. One of the ones near me went out and everything was gone in a couple of days. I did wind up getting several hundred feet of speaker wire in 50′ lengths, some connector ends and a BUNCH of button cell batteries for like 13$ at 95% off. Guess all my projects will feature white and white-with-a-black-stripe wires for a while.

    2. Last month the local manager (Rochester MN mall) told me his wasn’t one of those closing, and it didn’t have any of the cool clearance prices some HaD readers mentioned. Right now (as of 2 days ago) it looks pretty much the same as before. Than again, this particular store doesn’t have any competition for 70 miles or so.

      1. There are about 700 or so independently owned RadioShack Franchisees. Those businesses will continue but depending on who buys the RadioShack trademarks in the May auction they may have to change their name.

  3. Yeah, too bad anyone only cares about the more urban areas. RS, love it or hate it was just about everywhere at one time, and even my little town had one that actually stocked a good selection of parts. Though I shop digikey, mouser and ebay myself, it was there before the ease of mail-order. No one here is going to fill that role once RS is gone.

      1. My “local” radio shack is 40 mile round trip in a small rural town of 25K. Respectfully Martin while I wish yo the best of luck, I really doubt your anyone else will be opening yout style of store there. That town one had an electronics wholesale business. This was back in the day When the bus lines(both Continental and Greyhound operated out here) carried small freight and would stop at every podunk town. Despite shipping product out the door daily, along with local walk in traffic they closed shop in the early ’70s. Agsinn good luck with the venture.

    1. Agreed. I have a two hour drive from my relatively rural/suburban location to the only electronics specialty store I know of nearby(Baynesville Electronics), through hellish traffic and not-so-great neighborhoods. What’s worse in this particular case is that the store hasn’t modernized in many ways. They have a web page that was made in 1995 and refuse to carry items such as microcontrollers because they can’t compete with online sales.

      What they don’t understand is that I would rather give them money with a markup(even if I paid for shipping, which they don’t do) than hand over my cash to some monolithic company that’s most likely foreign-owned and operated.

  4. Here’s the problem with that theory. Unless you are one of those nutballs that makes stuff that you could actually purchase ready-made cheaper, most true makers are in reality, cheapskates. You build it because it’s cheaper than buying it.

    RadioShack failed because they stopped selling ratshack exclusives (a surefire reason to stop and buy something) and the things they did sell were more expensive than buying it online.

    I can buy resistors online for about 20-50 for a dollar with free shipping if I order directly from china. Or I can go to a retail store and buy 3-10 for $2.50. So the question arises… why would I EVER buy components in a store? The answer is only if I had to.

    “Maker stores” typically sell things at a premium that even radioshack would be embarrassed about and they often have even less of a selection of components, if that is even possible.

    1. Hello HowardC!

      Interesting … but that’s not the Tinker and Twist way. We purchase the components, and will have them on our shelves at very comparable prices to purchasing them from overseas. Just without the wait.

      Plus, we’ll be open from 9am to 9pm M-Th, and open 9am-Midnight on Fri-Sat. This means not only will we have what’s needed, but we will have it conveniently at the time most Makers/DIY’ers need it. The store is meant to service the Maker/Crafter/DIY community with the products and supplies you need most, right when you need it.

      Don’t judge us too early…

      The retail store will open late summer / early fall in Austin, and then spread to other cities as time and resources make it possible. The reason we’ve started the store is to make sure there -is- a place that’s open, available, and has the what you need at the right price.

      -Martin
      tinker@tinkerandtwist.com

      1. I absolutely wish you all the luck in the world in the hopes that one day you make it to my locality. If you ever make it to the Ozarks of Missouri I’d be happy to call myself a customer… maybe even partner.

        (Missouri University of Science and Technology is in Rolla fwiw)

      2. I wish you all the best.

        It just seems that most of the retail stores that cater to my interests are shrinking and shuttering, or shrinking the sections that are the reason I enter their doors.

        Maybe someone that cares about the idea will do better, but then, the places I frequented were also passionate people that just got squeezed out.

    2. “Unless you are one of those nutballs that makes stuff that you could actually purchase ready-made cheaper, most true makers are in reality, cheapskates. You build it because it’s cheaper than buying it. ”

      Or because when you build it you know its not a piece of self destructing trash with random kill switch timers built in.

      1. I build things because I want them to meet my specifications; I usually want some sort of customization not offered by mass-manufacturing company. There’s also the learning experience and fun that comes with building something myself for which I’m willing to pay extra.

      2. Or not so random kill switches like many solid state drives have. Intel’s consumer market SSDs have a lifetime write counter and when it trips, the next power cycle it bricks itself, becoming unwriteable and unreadable. For a 1TB drive it is over a petabyte of writes. That’s a LOT of data written but it’s still a hard limit designed into the drive, whether or not there’s actually anything wrong with it.

        Intel’s business/server market SSDs aren’t self bricking. When their write counter trips they just drastically reduce the write speed. Intel makes some that plug directly into PCIe slots, based on their server models with a new, faster, Intel proprietary data connection that’s faster than the fastest SATA. Those don’t have the self bricking “feature”.

        Other brands of SSDs will wait for a certain number of unrecoverable errors or until the “overprovision” area (spare blocks) gets all used before self-bricking.

        So if you care about real long term use of an SSD, make sure to get one that when it wears out it only blocks further writes and doesn’t become unreadable.

        Another issue with SSDs is long term power off data retention. A hard drive can retain data for decades, possibly longer.

        http://techreport.com/review/27909/the-ssd-endurance-experiment-theyre-all-dead

    3. ‘One of those Nutballs’ like every other reader of Hakaday.. All the people that pour thousands of dollars into 3d printers and cnc achines so they can spend countless hours to make a star wars themed lightswitch plate. Yeah those are real cheap skates.

      People who make things like having things in their hands. That will always be the advantage of a real store. Its one that they haven’t tried to capitalize on as they all cower in fear away from the great Amazon. Phone stores don’t have physical models in every store for no reason.

      Rifling through a pile and buying a single resistor for $1 when it costs them $.05 is worthwhile to people who like the convenience. Then for the places like the one listed in the article a gathering of like minded people has a definite appeal as well. You can find events relevant to your interests, people that have expertise that can help you with your specific example instead of dealing with the non-answers of most internet forums.

      There are significant populations of both to be had. RS has steadily alienated the ones that they originally based their business on. Moving to cell phones was done and done by the time they did it so every other retailer already had the same power as they did. I can think of 4 RS in my town that are within 2 blocks of 3 other cell phone stores. So while they lost their old customers they didn’t make up for it by finding enough new ones.

  5. Many times I would be willing to pay to get a part *right now* but the problem is what parts do you carry? Digi-Key has many hundreds of thousands of parts in their inventory – Radio shack had maybe 150. The chances of any retail establishment having the part you need is pretty slim.

    So here’s a proposed solution: create a co-op of electronic parts in a given area. I have, for instance, probably 1,000 parts surrounding me right now, and I’m sure there are many people like me. If we all cataloged those parts and put that catalog online, then I could simply query the database to find the closest person who had the part I need, contact him or her, pay a reasonable markup for their having put their parts online and allowing me to buy them and I have my part today.

    The bonus is you’d meet a lot of very interesting people doing really cool projects.

    Then, based on tracking what part requests came into the system one could determine the top 10,000 most likely parts requested and out of this there would inevitably arise a meta-reseller – one person who figured out how to efficiently store and retrieve parts and would become the dominant player in the arena, and there’s your path to a retail space.

    1. That’s a great and interesting idea Doug. It needs work, especially since inventory tracking of consignment items is a tricky problem, especially when dealing with lots of small items. Certainly, it would make for an awesome “wall of parts!”

      -Martin

      1. I agree, time out to manage parts inventory is tricky. But it could be automated – Digi-Key keeps track of all my parts orders, so parsing that feed could keep the incoming parts inventory fairly clean and up to date. Using the co-op database requests as an inventory of outgoing parts could further automate the process. But one would always have to physically confirm the existence of the part in stock before the buyer arrived. That would be reflected in the markup.

        The problem is we need somebody funded to create the platform. Hackaday could do that. They are in the unique position of having no retail revenue. SparkFun, Adafruit and the dominant parts houses would of course be against it, so there’s that.

        I like the idea of calling it “the Virtual Wall of Parts”

        1. You say you have 1000 parts? What about guys like me that tens of thousands? I’ve accumulated them over the last 25 years of being an electronics hobbyist, and I recently spent several MONTHS sorting them into small plastic drawers, some of which contain hundreds of small parts each. You want me to catalog them all individually with part numbers and other pertinent info? That could take me years, and I’m just not willing to make that kind of effort. Tell you what, next time you’re in the neighborhood (northern New England) and you need a resistor or a capacitor, let me know and I’ll be happy to share with you. I’m just not willing to spend the time and effort needed to do what you are suggesting.
          That said, I think it is a good idea that should be developed somehow. I don’t see it working as-is, but with some thinking and tinkering it could turn into something quite good for you, me, and our fellow hobbyists.

          1. It’s not really an all or nothing thing – you could catalog 100 parts or 1000 parts or 10 parts. I have an entire reel of 270r 0603’s that I’d be happy to get rid of. I’m not even sure where I got it, but I also have a bunch of vintage telephone relays that aside from being truly beautiful have no value whatsoever :-) I’d love to visit northern New England :-) Never been.

          2. Several years ago, I and another person once presented the local hacker email group with the spreadsheets of our parts inventories, with hopes that anyone needing such a part locally would just ask. No one asked for any of my chips. The local hackerspace is operated out of a couple’s home, so we just can’t dump our stuff in their garage, they don’t have that kind of space.

          3. Just a point to ponder, I usually don’t buy from individuals because I’m not sure of the part. Some people will fry a part and put it back in their bin. Other people will try to unload their defective parts so they can replace them.
            Humans can be nice, but they can suck sometimes too.

          4. RandyKC,
            just to be clear, we were offering our parts (I thin)k for “free”, as in Pay It Forward, not come take my stash and hoard it yourself.

            And Dain,
            just start small, a few parts you know people might be interested in, put them in a .csv or database, include the location. (one handyman had over 100 drawers of tools and parts, and cataloged them all, numbered the drawers and put it in an electronic file so he could find what he needs fast, and knows where to put it back).

        2. There’s a site called Bricklink where you can go to buy pretty much any Lego piece ever produced ever, including the super-rare mold test pieces that are never supposed to leave the factory (such as a bright red Darth Vader helmet), and including pieces made in the 60s when Lego was just getting started on plastic toys. It’s exactly like this idea, there’s thousands of stores all competing to sell parts to you. This model could work for distributed sellers of electronic components as well.

        3. As long as we’re talking/typing about parts, there was that HaD post years ago about storing resistors and other small parts in envelopes. A neat idea to keep them sorted. (if they are ESD resistant)

      2. I wonder if you could work with local companies to buy up build spares. That’s what M.C. Howard Electronics (of blessed memory) used to do in Austin back in the day. I know in our lab alone we have tons of spares from proto builds where we were forced to buy reels that we used only a fraction of.

    2. How about making it customer driven? The customer goes to a site and requests a part, and the request can be read by all of the local makers. They check to see if they have it in stock and reply. Maybe even use Craigslist or something.
      Someone could even set up a quadcopter delivery system…

  6. Martin, do you also have a plan to dive into the makerspace region? that is, having 3D printers on hand, maybe a lasercutter, and doing workshops/classes? I love makerspaces but they are cost prohibitive for me. You could easily make up those costs by increasing your customer base and selling goods while servicing the maker community with a place to gather and share information without the >$100 a month price tag.

  7. I would love to have a Mom & Pop electronics shop ’round here. Some thoughts for success:

    1) You must be friendly and sane. There was a M&P aquarium store here. I originally tried to go out of my way (and budget) to help support them, but the owner made that impossible. You couldn’t go in the store without him ranting non-stop at you about how online and chain stores were killing M&Ps! It was the last straw when I went in, tried to purchase $50 of stuff, and had to wait 30 minutes to checkout. Not because the place was busy, it was abandoned, he just had to finish ranting to someone on the phone first! During which time I put back everything but the $20 item I really needed and couldn’t get locally elsewhere (and for less). I didn’t go back until I heard a few months later the place was under new ownership. Essentially the same stock and prices, but with a friendly new owner it was full of customers.

    2) You must build community. I’m sure it helps also that new owner in #1 also has strong ties to the local aquatic society. There are no local electronics clubs that I’m aware of. I know no one locally who knows electronics, can program a MCU, or otherwise qualifies as a hacker. I would like to, and if a store can help enable that, they would gain my loyalty.

    3) M&P can never compete with online biz strictly based on parts price. But I never had a problem paying RS $1 for a 5pk. of 1/4W resistors, if it was something I needed NOW. The problem is that they rarely had what I needed, and were also unable to get it. I’ve paid silly amounts for expedited shipping of parts costing a few cents. If a store were to get twice-weekly expedited shipments from a major supplier with a large catalog like Newark/Mouser/Digikey, and add customer special orders onto that, I’d gladly not only pay a markup on the parts – I’d also buy some normally-stocked items from the store while I’m there with some of the money I saved on shipping, and still come out ahead.

    4) However, markup must still be reasonable. If I need 5x 1/4W 100ohm resistors, I’ll pay $1 for a pretty little package at RS no problem, even though I know that may really be $0.02 of parts. Or if someone is lopping that many off a tape-and-reel in store for me, I might still pay $1 for their time and labor. Because either way, I know there is overhead in getting those resistors to me. But what if I want 50x of them? The overhead remains almost identical, yet at RS those resistors would be $10 because there was no quantity discount, and I won’t pay that. Nor will I respect any establishment that charges $25 for a 6ft USB cable.

    5) Provide access to expensive tools. 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC mills, etc. Even if for liability reasons customers can’t use the tools directly and it operates as a service, eliminating shipping costs still makes it competitive; especially on heavy/bulky items. I also sometimes need and would love to have access to a better oscilloscope than my crappy old 30Mhz unit, or a good logic analyzer, etc. If access to that is free, I’ll still find a way to pay for it.

    1. I have solved #5 by being a founder of ATX Hackerspace. Tinker and Twist works hand in hand with ATX Hackerspace ( and to a smaller extent, TechShop in Round Rock ).

      Wherever I start a Tinker and Twist store, it’s my intention to partner and make friends with the local hackerspaces, to make sure that my customers and community have a place to make things, and to have access to the tools needed.

      More info on ATX Hackerspace at:
      http://www.atxhs.org

      -Martin

      1. Maplin is nothing but a toy shop, have you been in one in the last decade?

        Maplin used to be a great mail order component supplier, but now they have very few parts, at prices higher than RadioShack.

        1. My local one is barely a couple of years old, so I have been in it quite recently ;-) Yes they sell a lot of tat,but it does have a parts and components counter at the back, and I have been able to buy stuff I needed there. I didn’t know that RadioShack even had a UK web presence – I’ll have to check that out – I assumed that when the stores closed that was it for their UK operation.

  8. Pssst .. if there is a web designer out there who would like to give our little Mom and Pop shop a hand. We need help putting together a quick website in the theme and style of our store ( victorian-ish ) Paid gig! Get in touch by sending us an email with a quick “web resume” and some examples of work you’ve done to :

    info@tinkerandtwist.com

    We really, really need a website up I guess .. now that people are talking about us and all.

    We’re on Facebook ( https://www.facebook.com/groups/tinkerandtwist/ ) and on twitter as tinkerandtwist.

  9. All of you saying “small electronics stores can’t work” are not paying attention. At least in Australia, we have Jaycar (a national chain) that just sells electronic components and related things (R/C toys, CCTV cameras, car-audio gear, electronics kits, etc). They are quite successful – not as cheap as online, typically 10-50% more than mouser or whatever, but they have most of what you could want.

    Jaycar has a number of independent competitors, some of which are as small as single-store owner-operator, and which are kicking along quite happily now for 20+ years.

    Electronics retail can be a successful business if you do it right.

    1. Don’t forget Altronics – I head into the store in Perth at least every couple of weeks for parts I can’t wait a week for. They’ve been expanding recently, too.

    2. Jaycar have stated that the hobby electronics were essentially funded by the ‘crap’ they also sell. (That was in reply to ‘why do you sell so much stupid rubbish?’)

      The trade side is a bit different.

  10. I am an old fart and I can remember when there were mom and pop electronic stores everywhere. I grew up in a small town and even we had 3. Each of them reflected the interests of it’s owner, so while they all carried the basics, each also had things the others didn’t. I learned a valuable lesson about the danger of chain stores from watching Radio Shack run all those other little places out of business. RS could come into an area, under price the local competition even if that particular RS store lost money, because the chain as a whole was still making a profit. Then when the locals were gone RS could raise their prices to whatever they wanted, as well as drastically shrink the number of items they sold. – 7-11 followed the same formula in running neighborhood corner food store out of business too. I have been waiting many decades for this day. Radio Shack, as far as I am concerned I am over joyed at your troubles. I am so glad to see you fail finally.

    1. As another OF, I recall that most of those stores had a tube tester and a bunch of shelves stocked with (vacuum) tubes. Is there an equivalent user replacement part these days?

  11. Radio Shacks pricing also did not keep up with the improvement in technology. A 300mcd blue led for 2.99 10 years ago was selling for 2.99 right next to a 3000mcd blue led for 2.99. Which would you buy? They did not even bother to clearance out the old technology to make room for the new technology. If they had consolidated 6-12 stores in an area into a “super-center” and stocked most of the things they had on-line (which were never stocked in most of their stores) I think they could have survived if they did it right. But looking at what happened their management would of screwed that up too.

    1. The problem with Radio Shack specifically was that their management was fragmented. Nobody knew what was going on, ever. The top dogs were trying a hacker/maker thing but since it was poorly implemented, it flopped. The plan would have worked, had all the teeth on the gear meshed. Instead they had a bunch of stores doing it differently than the way the CEO envisioned.

  12. [sigh] much of the same old same old whenever Radio Shack is the topic. Cooperatives could help but will manufacturers alienating existing supply chains for their product by selling their product to an unknown and unproven chain? I tend to doubt they will. Of course localized coopwerative comeposed of hobbyists, not looking to make a profit are an entirely different matter. Beyond that I doubt there’s enough aggregate demand to keep product and cash flowing through any new coop. While I wish the new start ups well,but I see them being the target of baseless and unsubstantiated excessive mark up and price gouging assertion that RS has been. I say unsubstantiated, cause there was substance those hiding behind internet pseudonyms must be fairly wealthy people by providing competition to RS at their brick and mortar stores spread all over the US giving their customers a fairer shake than RS had been giving us, in the event those assertion are anything more than hot air competition to RS would have existed all along. What’s that? You have never seen those stores? I haven’t either. :) I still don’t see the logic behind selling mobile phone service contracts hurt RS. Selling mobile phone contract hadn’t hurt the rural mom and pop hardware stores, I doubt doing so hurt RS either.

  13. Hello Martin.

    I have suggestion. Self service stores are nice when you want clothes or bananas. It is huge waste of space for tiny components.

    Do it like they do it in other countries for years with great success. They order components in bulk from places like Digikey directly to the stores. They store thousands of different components in drawers or boxes like you do at home. Everything from SMT resistors on tapes to microcontrollers. They have show cases with leds, knobs, lcds, plugs, jacks and enclosures in many forms. There is no stupid retail packaging overhead. Cost effective and ecological.

    This way their prices are almost the same as online with huge convenience of getting everything locally in any quantity I want. Some stores let you order anything that exists. It is way better to pay 10-20% more for couple ICs than to pay 10x their price in shipping cost. Obviously they have tools, pcbs, kits and test equipment. Some of them fix electronics or phones in the back.

    Bonus points for having someone at the store really knowing electronics. Books with transistor replacements and similar stuff are common and extremely useful. All stores I used 10 years before I came to US are still there. Every time I visit my family I go to every store and I bring back tons of parts.

    I still can’t figure out how small cities in Europe can have profitable electronics stores operating like that and there is no similarly stocked store in NY where you have 100x or more potential customers subway ticket away.

      1. When you factor in time. Free shipping from China is unpredictable, ranging from 4-5 days, all the way to 6 weeks ( and some people report even longer shipment times). It gets particularly bad around big Chinese holidays like the new year.

        A subway ride across town to a store, where you can pick up what you need the same day without a hassle can cost a lot less in frustration, and in the amount of time wasted.

        Not everyone’s projects can take a days-to-weeks delay, to save a pittance.

        1. Get a website up, list what is in stock. People will take the ride over there. If you do the waiting for them, to guarantee it will be available when they arrive at the conclusion that they need the part, you have their business. I couldnt get on radio shacks website and even begin to understand how to find what I wanted. So I’d call. The people in there spoke cell phone. So I’d have to go over, get pissed it wasn’t there, then go back home and order. Could have saved myself the trip and radio shack wouldn’t gain any rep with me, but wouldn’t really lose any either. Don’t let people guess you have it, or they will scorn you for letting them show up anyways. That’s just how the consumer thinks.

  14. I wouldn’t mind having one like this close to where I live. May be something like a hybrid between Digikey/Mouser and Adafruit/SparkFun. IOW, a plain parts retailer and a hobbyist shop with some in-house development.

  15. Great idea! In my opinion brick and mortar stores can compete with the net, but they have to take advantage of what they have going for them: immediacy, real live people, the ability to foster creativity, direct customer service and feedback etc. These things can make repeat customers and thus make money in the long run. It looks like Tinker & Twist has figured this out.

    One thing i really hate about online purchases is that i cant pick the thing up, look at it, go down the isle with a buddy and tweak my design, come back with a better design and walk out with what i need then and there. Yes, online purchases can get me anything i want at a cheap price, but i’ve only rarely found digikey/mouser/etc. to be helpful to me in the design-redesign stage of a project.

    +1 for the Tinker & Twist signage by the way.

    1. Thank you Dr. Cryogen!

      It was wonderful ( exhausting ) work, but we really love how the pop-up store came out. When we move into our final location, we’re keeping the design elements. That sign is definitely going to have a place somewhere in the store.

      -Martin

      1. yeah, another +1 for the faux storefront, but if you are successful at the tradeshows (and I hope you are) the real B & M (brick and mortar) will have to mimic that close enough for people to recognize it.

        Also, a lot of Mom and Pop Radio Shacks had their own side inventories in addition to the RS inventory.
        Consider model railroading, RC crafts and parts, heck, even sell your Aunt Berthas crosspoint doilies!

        As Doc Hudson said to Lightning McQueen, “Find yourself a groove and drive it in deep!”

  16. Martin nice pitch but you only offer parts curated by you. I don’t trust your judgement because your accomplishments are not apparent. What makes you relevant and really, what awesome things have you made? Second how can you possibly clone yourself to other locations? Most people with the skillset required to advise makers on what to buy aren’t sinking their time into retail. If they want to sell things they sell on tindie or ebay.

    1. Well his accomplishments tinkering seem irrelevant if thats what you on about. He’s selling a product he doesn’t need to build a car to be knowledgeable about selling the parts.

      Personally think this plan reeks of no foresight or planning business wise. I sense a attitude of well we will make it up as we go along” Great let’s hope money and time spent isn’t an issue.

      I’d build an online company first and then if demand is high enough branch out into physical location. He looks wildly optimistic about his chances at making a successful electronics store in an age where diy is a niche hobby.

  17. Looks like a good idea but I’m skeptical that there is such a demand that people will flock to this store for diy electronics Besides the markup in price for the products I’m not sure that there’s that high a demand. Doesn’t help that it looks kinda bare. Kinda sad because they do seem very enthusiastic, hate to be negative but it seems like a novelty that will close soon afterwards. DIY electronics is very niche and you can get cheaper prices online. Factor in costs of inventory, rent,etc I don’t see this as a store that will have a high amount of customers going through to justify a physical presence. I dunno is there a huge DIY community in austin texas?

    Hate to be pessimistic but this reminds me of someone opening a hobby store (train, Tabletop gaming) and overestimating the local demand for such products. I don’t see this as a store in a mall people are going to come across and be like OMG arduino kits! this isn’t stuff most consumers are going to go for and i doubt many people are going to schlep out of their way to this tiny store for the few products that can be easily ordered online cheaper.

    I wish them all the best and hope they succeed but seeing a very costly gamble here.

    1. Hello Peter,

      As was mentioned in both the article and the video, this is our Pop-Up store. It takes about 100 days to build a retail location, and in the meantime we have put together a small, portable version of our store together to bring to events like SxSW, Maker Faire and others.

      We started the day with shelves stocked full of a range of items, from e-learning kits for kids to components … to 3D printers and Adafruit sewable arduinos with conductive thread.

      In two days, we were selling out of everything.

      Tinker and Twist is a company with a solid, written business plan and I’m an experienced maker and entrepreneur. I’ve spent the time to look at my local market, examine the state and national market, and understand the size and scope of the opportunity.

      I look forward to your business Peter. There is indeed a large community of crafters and makers in Austin Texas … and in cities aroudn the US.

      -Martin

      1. thanks for the response my intention wasn’t to be negative as i applaud your effort but it doesn’t seem very sane from my perspective

        It’s one thing to drag your inventory to a maker faire or a meetup and sell out its another to set up a physical location in a mall and expect there to be a continuous steady turnout of customers. Will you get some release hype and attendance as a result early on sure possibly. But I’m talking about a sustained steady flow of customers. Most of the customers in the mall are not going to be diy’ers and not sure how practical having a physical costly presence really is. As stated below its a niche area and i suspect this physical location will go out of business quickly if your business is going to be dependent on that customer base.

        I wish you all the best but sadly I don’t see this becoming profitable having a physical store especially one with limited merchandise and costly in comparison to online retailers. Okay even if your overlooked that part Your too dependent on a highly select and niche customer base. Seems risky to me to do so. How many customers rationally do you expect to walk through in a shopping mall and be like yep lets go get some electronics parts in an age when nobody builds electronics for the most part?

  18. Sorry I’m going to predict it opens they get maybe a few people walking through and leaving after discovering it sells electronics kits. I see this store maybe lucky if it gets a few people walking through and making a purchase in a week.If they are lucky and some DIY’ers walk through they will see the high markup and sparse inventory and be like yeah…i don’t think so. This store will quickly close after several months Nobody walking through a mall on a normal basis will want to buy that stuff. Did they even think of how many paying customers they need to remain profitable?

    One of those stores that your left wondering why its even there taking up space. We don’t live in the golden age of people doing DIY electronics like when Radioshack was king. For the most part are no real electronics stores where you buy stuff most consumers these days don’t tinker with electronics. They can’t compete on cost nor on inventory and this is a very niche demographic. I don’t see many local customers walking through and buying stuff. I don’t see many DIY people making epic journeys to travel to this mall for the small overpriced selection that they have.

    They are way overestimating the customer appeal i’m afraid.

  19. I generally skimmed the whole page. Most people are whining and doom saying. Last time I checked, it’s a free market and they are welcome to try the waters. Nobody contacted you and asked for your financial expertise, and I suspect none of you have any to begin with. I guarantee that if they flop, you will come flying in with your told-ya-so’s. If they succeed, If you wouldn’t travel to shop there, then stay put. Order online. Get your pizza delivered while you are at it.

    1. doomsayers or rationalists? not trying to dash his hopes but it would be wiser for him to start an online company first dip his feet into that and then take the leap to store. And no I’m not going to rush to say i told you so, i don’t kick a man when he’s down.

      There may be a big niche community of welders and glassblowers. Doesn’t mean if i build a physical store they will automatically come in crowds and sustain the business longterm when pretty much most stores are dead that sell such equipment and most people order online these days. Its still very risky what he’s proposing depending on that specific customer base. He shouldn’t take his selling out at a trade fair as any indication of how such products would sell outside that isolated environment. I actually don’t want him to get too excited and then be sitting in an empty store wondering why there isn’t a steady stream of customers coming through his place in the mall. A mall isn’t really a place to be selling electronics parts for hobbyists

    1. I almost went away when instead of going directly to the site, it displays some useless flashy stuff. There used to be, maybe still is, a website dedicated to “worst websites”
      It would do everyone who is even thinking about making a webpage to visit such a site and learn what NOT to do.
      A REAL electronics store would not have such a website as that IMNSHO

  20. Hello Martin,

    Great idea. Since you are in Texas, I suggest you consider Texas Instruments as your MCU supplier. The have WiFi CC3200 and BLE CC2650 MCUs plus don’t forget it is there MCU in the BeagleBoard.

    Good Luck!

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