Tuesday, February 03, 2015

The More Things Change, The More They Change

Stick a fork in RadioShack because it's done, reports Bloomberg. 

How a chain founded on selling parts from the then new-fangled electronics industry can up and die in the midst of the biggest DIY high-tech "maker" movement in history is almost beyond me. But besides competition from the Internet and the difficulty in stocking inventory for the "long tail", I have a sneaking suspicion this is yet another example of short term optimization -- "Let's sell phones, it'll be a lot cheaper and easier, and everybody loves phones!" -- over long term optimization -- "Let's sell complex electronic components and kits at low margins and that require knowledgeable sales people".

I used to routinely buy electronic parts at the Shack at our local outlet mall -- "I need some 120 ohm resistors to terminate a CAN bus." -- where I dealt with an old guy (older than me!) who was clearly retired from one of the Denver area's high-tech manufacturers and who was always interested in what I was working on. "Bring it in, I'd like to see it!" he'd tell me. Wish I knew where he moved on to. But I'm part of the problem, not the solution. Me, I'm the guy that bought an oscilloscope off Amazon.com.

On the plus side, at the coffee shop yesterday morning a college-age guy sitting at the same communal table out of the blue asked me if I was familiar with the programming language Haskell. "Is that the one that's purely functional?" I asked, which was all that was necessary for us to nerd bond. In his defense, I was reading an IEEE book written by a capital theorist that was an economic analysis of the software development process. So he might have had a clue that we were of the same tribe.

It is both the end, and the beginning, of an era. Just like always


Paul Moorman said...

While Radio Shack sails off into the sunset, the Proto Build Bar opened in downtown Dayton. It's a collaboration space described, using their words, "is part 3D printing lab, part electronic maker space, and part café". The social version of "get your nerd on". Radio Shack could have been this, or many other things, but lacked the imagination, and/or guts, to take the leap. They took steps when a leap was needed.

Chip Overclock said...

Well said. There are hackerspaces in Denver, Boulder and Longmont Colorado. This kind of thing would have been logical path for a company with the history of the Shack. But their corporate leaders didn't have the long term vision to see it. And they were reminded that business is a Darwinian process.