During the Super Bowl, RadioShack aired an ad that kicked off the retailer's new "Do It Together" marketing campaign. Two zoned-out red shirts stand in an old outlet-mall RadioShack store. The doors bust open. Enter Hulk Hogan, Cliff from Cheers, Mary Lou Retton, Alf, Sargeant Slaughter, and others. They scour the premises for their favorite stuff and carry everything out the door, leaving the red shirts standing alone in the dust. The tagline? "The '80s called. They want their store back."
Cool ad, but it missed the point. It's the Radio Shack of the 2000s, and even the 2010s, that people hate. Some crappy smartphone outlet store replaced the RadioShack many of us knew and loved. Many of us are still nostalgic for the original do-it-yourself store of the '80s—a place of weird computers, cool robot kits, strange circuit breakers, and random electronic circuitry that taught many of us to love tech. That's the store—in spirit, at least—that we want back. And thanks to a team-up with CBX, the same branding firm that reimagined Duane Reade, RadioShack is trying to get back to the roots of what made the company great.
In recent years, RadioShack has found itself in serious trouble. In fact, compared to what its stock was worth in July 2007, RadioShack's stock has lost more than 95% of its value in just the past seven years. In 2013, RadioShack lost $3.04 per share; the losses causes the once ubiquitous electronics outlet in March to announce the closure of 1,100 stores. And in 2012, the board fired the company's CEO as well as replaced most of the senior executive team. The message was clear: RadioShack either needs to find its way in a post-Apple age, or die out for good.
As part of an aggressive redesign across its 8,000 retail locations, the electronics retailer is trying to marry the RadioShack of the '80s—a neighborhood meeting hall for tinkerers, makers, and electronics enthusiasts—with the sophisticated experiential design today's consumers have come to expect.
"When we started talking to customers to see how to remake RadioShack, what we discovered was whether they loved us or hated us, they still had a lot of passion for the brand," says RadioShack chief marketing officer Jennifer Warren. "For the people who hated it when RadioShack started focusing on smartphones, they still had positive memories of RadioShack from the '80s as this place where inventors and makers got their start."
For its rebranding, RadioShack is trying to get this mojo back. The company is embracing the maker spirit, turning space back over to such gear as 3-D printers and robot sets. In RadioShack's new Boston custom concept store, there is meeting space in the back to encourage DIY types to come in and collaborate on projects. And although much of RadioShack's floor space still goes to smartphones, the company is trying to do a better job of integrating the phones into the company's maker heritage.
"It's important to realize that mobility has been a part of RadioShack's heritage ever since the days of pocket FM radios," says Merianne Roth, RadioShack's vice president of communications. "We might not have gotten the balance right in the past, but if you look at how people use smartphones these days, it's the thing that connects all these other things in your life. It's how makers control all of the cool things that they make. And that's something we really want to highlight."
Another central tenet of the RadioShack redesign is interactivity. In an age of ubiquitous online shopping, people go into physical stores to experience the products they want to buy before actually buying them. The new RadioShack lets customers try out headphones or speakers for themselves and lends a hand with sleek touchscreen displays that let shoppers compare and contrast different models with just a tap.
As part of its rebrand, RadioShack is also trying to more clearly establish the store's position as a part of local heritage. In three custom concept stores, the nearly 100-year-old chain incorporates distinctive visual elements of each location—Fort Worth, Manhattan, and Boston—into the in-store aesthetic. Not every store will get this personalized treatment, but in the case of the recently opened Boston custom concept store, the store's sleek interactive interior is set in relief by reclaimed wood and hemp rope evocative of the tall clipper ships of Boston Harbor's famous waterfront.
But, ultimately, the rebrand is about is getting back to a place where makers once more feel comfortable walking into a RadioShack and making their inventions a reality. RadioShack intends to rigorously pursue this initiative as it continues to rebrand its retail stores in 2014.
"Historically, RadioShack has been the MacGyver for MacGyvers, the place where makers who know how to do 80 percent of what they want to accomplish go to get the next 20 percent," Roth says. "So that's what we're trying to get back to. The only difference is that everyone is a MacGyver now, which means we've got to step up our game."
[Images: Courtesy of RadioShack]