The Return of RadioShack?

We’ve been following the ups and downs of Radio Shack for a while now, and it looks like another chapter is about to be penned in the storied retailer’s biography – and not Chapter 11 bankruptcy this time.

According to the ARRL website and major media reports, up to 50 of the 147 US locations of HobbyTown, the brick-and-mortar retailer of RC and other hobby supplies, will soon host a “RadioShack Express” outlet. Each outlet will be up to 500 square feet of retail space devoted to electronic components that would be of use to HobbyTown’s core customer base, as well as other merchandise and services.

HobbyTown locations in Mooresville, North Carolina, and Ontario, Ohio, will be among the first stores to get the RadioShack Express treatment. Current employees of the franchisees will staff the store-within-a-store, which will be stocked with RadioShack merchandise purchased by the store. Stores with Express outlets will have special RadioShack branding inside and out to attract customers. There’s talk of the deal being extended chain-wide if the pilot program goes well.

Back from the Ashes?

This is obviously great news for the beleaguered electronics retailer that was once a neighborhood fixture. True, its parts selection was often less than complete, more so in recent years than in the chain’s heyday in the mid-1970s and early 1980s. And it’s true that prices were often astronomical compared to buying online. But on a Sunday afternoon, The Shack was a lifesaver for that last minute part needed to finish a project, and the premium was well worth the convenience. Watching the decline of the chain and seeing stores disappear one by one was a slow, sad process, so that makes this seems like an unqualified positive development.

But is it? On the face of it, there’s a lot of synergy between the HobbyTown offerings and what could be stocked in a RadioShack Express. I’ve never actually visited a HobbyTown myself — I plan to fix that now that I know I’ve got an outlet nearby, even if it doesn’t appear to be on the list of 50 early Express locations — so I can only go by what I see listed online for merchandise. But a store that sells every conceivable part for RC cars and planes, drones, model rockets, and STEM-related toys and kits seems a likely place to find customers for RadioShack’s offerings.

It won’t be clear until someone sees one of these Express kiosks first hand and reports back, but it seems like we might see something like the old “cabinet o’ components” that was found in the back of the most recent incarnation of RadioShack retail stores, along with a few shelves full of things like solder, wire, and tools. There may also be some items in the Arduino-Pi space, which would be really exciting, although that might run afoul of existing HobbyTown offerings. Still, one-stop shopping of everything from servos to MOSFETs would be a huge win for electronics hobbyists.

Not the Cell Phones Again!

But there may be cause for concern. Reports are that RadioShack Express locations will also offer services such as cell phone repairs. Dipping a toe into the cell phone market seemed to be the beginning of the end for RadioShack the first time through, and by the time it was clear to everyone that the chain was on death’s door, it was hard to go into a RadioShack store without being bombarded by cell phone sales pitches. To be brutally frank, I don’t take the early inclusion of cell phone repairs as an encouraging sign of the long-term viability of the RadioShack Express concept. Do we really need another place that fixes cell phones? The areas that HobbyTown stores tend to locate are rife with places that fix phones already, so I just don’t see the point. And it just smacks of the bad old days of RadioShack.

Still, I’m cautiously optimistic that this is a positive development for RadioShack, and I think it’s a win for electronics hobbyists overall. I’ll be keeping my eye on my local HobbyTown for the return of that iconic RadioShack logo, and looking forward to the day that I can pay a buck for a resistor again. Until then, if any readers happen to be near one of the combined locations when they open next week, we’d love a boots-on-the-ground report. Post your observations in the comments below, and pix or it didn’t happen.

[via r/amateurradio]

A Scam of Galactic Proportions

Here at Hackaday we see a lot of technological hoaxes looking for funding. Some are on Kickstarter, others are firms looking for investors. And unlike a lot of the press, we’re both skeptical and experienced enough to smell the snake oil. When you read about a laser-powered razor blade that looks too good to be true, you know we’ve got your back.

The background: [Zachary Feinstein] is a professor at Washington University in St. Louis who studies financial engineering, and in particular systemic financial risk in the banking sectors. So he’s just exactly the guy you’d tap to write a paper on the financial repercussions of the destruction of the Death Stars in Star Wars (PDF). Wait, what?

The central argument of the paper is that, since the Empire has so much money wrapped up in building the Death Stars, it’s economic suicide for the Rebels to destroy it. To quantify any of this, [Feinstein] runs financial crisis models. The idea is that the Rebels win, but they inherit an economy that’s so dysfunctional that they’d have been better off not destroying the Death Stars.

We’re not saying that the rest of the press is gullible, but we are saying that they’re not putting their best economists onto articles about financing Death Stars. But here at Hackaday, we are. And we’re calling it a hoax. So let’s look into what the paper gets right, and what makes less sense even than Chewbacca’s infernal growling. Spoiler: we’ll get wrapped up in numbers because it’s fun, but the whole thing is moot for Econ 101-style reasons.

Continue reading “A Scam of Galactic Proportions”

I’ve come to bury Radio Shack, Not praise it.

This is a post that has been a long time coming. Today, Radio Shack, the store that has been everything from an excellent introduction to electronics and computers to a store that sells cell phones, cell phone accessories, and cell phone plans has declared bankruptcy.

To anyone, this should not be news. For the last decade, the public perception of Radio Shack was one of a shell of its former self. In 2007, The Onion famously published Even CEO Can’t Figure Out How RadioShack Still In Business, an article that like most of The Onion’s work, is a sand dune of grains of truth.

In recent years, Radio Shack has made attempts to appeal to the demographic that holds the ‘shack in such high regard. Just four short years ago, Radio Shack made an appeal to this community and asked for suggestions for what people would actually buy at Radio Shack. The answers ranged from Arduinos and larger component selections to Parallax Propellers. Even with this renewed focus on DIY, repair, electronic tinkering, and even in-house cellphone repair shops in some select locations, this was not enough.

This was a make or break year for Radio Shack. Last fall, Standard General, a hedge fund with an amazing name, attempted to refinance Radio Shack’s debt with specific revenue benchmarks set for the holiday season. These benchmarks were not met, and now Radio Shack has filed for bankruptcy protection after reaching a deal to sell nearly 2,500 stores. Radio Shack now has about 5,000 stores in the U.S.. Half of them will close, and as many as 1,700 will be operated by Sprint. The future of Radio Shack was a cell phone store, it seems.

Right now, there are rumors of Radio Shack employees ‘released from service’, with mass closings of stores very, very soon.

There has always been a love-hate relationship with Radio Shack with the DIY and tinkerer community. It was everything from many programmer’s first introduction to computers, the only place in town you could buy [Forrest Mims]’ excellent books, to a horrible place to work, and an odd store where you need a phone number to buy batteries.

This is not a eulogy; Radio Shack isn’t quite dead just yet, and eulogies are reserved for the loved ones in our lives. Radio Shack is neither. We all have a rich history with Radio Shack, and next time you’re buying some resistors on Mouser or Digikey, just remember we’re living in a different world now.

Ugobe files for bankruptcy

pleo_bankruptcy

Ugobe has officially filed bankruptcy. This is bad news for Pleo. That lovable little dino bot is no longer being produced. If you’ve got one you might want to refrain from hacking, just in case it’s worth something one day. As the point out at Engadget, another toy company might buy up the rights, but we doubt it.  At roughly $250 per unit, these things probably weren’t flying off the shelves.