On February 2nd, Bloomberg News reported that Radio Shack was preparing to close its doors through a bankruptcy deal to turn about half of its 4000 stores into Sprint Corp. locations and close up the rest.
According to Bloomberg, it’s been a while since the 94-year-old chain has seen sunny days. Its share peaked 15 years ago; it lost $936 million since the 4th quarter of 2011 (the last time it was in the black), and lost about 90 percent of its value over the past year. But while its dark days have darkened in recent years, it’s actually been a slow demise that’s happened over the course of decades. Or as Bloomberg Business calls it, a “slow-motion collapse.”
Why? They’ve spent years reacting to the market instead of protecting their brand.
The initial brand was simple, authentic and successful: appeal to hobbyists who needed one small piece of equipment every week and keep each store small and staffed with tech gurus who knew electronics. It was a candy store for tinkerers and builders.
But instead of tapping into its core identity to evolve over time, RadioShack committed the worst of brand crimes: completely abandon their brand soul in favor of potentially quick market gains. Once iconic for hobbyists and tech nerds, the initially strong brand foundation has been deserted time and time again to instead, follow the ever-changing and dynamic landscape.
This is evident in 5 brand mistakes they’ve committed (and we can all learn from):
1. Developing a new product that doesn’t tie to your reason for being: In 1977, RadioShack began to manufacture and sell the TRS-80—one of the first personal computers sold to the masses. It was a big, popular hit. But over time, RadioShack realized they couldn’t keep up the dual business strategy (sell computers to the general market AND still sell to the tinkerers looking to build their own devices), losing their identity—and their money—for the first time.
2. Expanding the business beyond what the brand stands for: In 1999, RadioShack opened its own big-box stores that were essentially everything anti-RadioShack—vast spaces, large screen TVs, home appliances—going against everything they stood for. It’s no surprise that it ultimately became unprofitable.
3. Selling a product that drastically changes your core brand experience: Looking for the next anchor product post-PCs, they decided to focus on cell phones (which, is really just another version of the PC fiasco). Eventually, stores evolved into cell phone retailers staffed by aggressive salespeople with little knowledge or time to help the DIYers that were used to the helpful, lovably nerdy electronic gurus that RadioShack was initially known for.
4. Changing your brand and business direction without training your people: In 2013, they finally realized it was time to try to get back to their core brand and target, coming up with multiple strategies to reclaim the ‘makers’ market. New, smart partnerships and a ‘Do It Together’ Campaign seemed like a smart move. But no one in the company was trained on it. Thus, the smart brand plan turned into another brand flop.
5. Not learning from your mistakes: Today’s new marriage between Sprint and RadioShack could be a good opportunity to reduce costs and risk while still allowing them to ‘live on’. But it’s still tied to phones and it’s still a Band-Aid fix to a larger brand-positioning problem. They will need to rediscover the soul of their brand and develop a sustainable brand strategy that will last the ever-changing times.
In short, RadioShack has spent so much time looking out and not enough time looking in. The result? Spending 20 years trying on a number of identities – creating a foggy and wavering brand now perceived to be stuck in the 80s and left with little options for moving forward.
In the last several years, tinkering and “nerdism” has actually become cool again. It’s possible that if RadioShack invests in putting their heads down to look inward and develop a solid brand plan, they could recapture the specialty and small shop expert position they once had. It will be a difficult road, however, as customers have already been trained to look elsewhere for their tinkering needs.
Let this be a lesson to us all. Give room to grow and evolve your brand but keep true and authentic to your core brand identity. Don’t abandon what you stand for!