Thursday, August 31, 2006

And now a word from RadioShack: You're fired

Yesterday, RadioShack Corporation terminated 400 employees in a cost-cutting move. Those affected by the layoffs learned their fate when they received this curt e-mail from their corporate leadership:
The work force reduction notification is currently in progress. Unfortunately, your position is one that has been eliminated.
That's Shacked up.

RadioShack might as well have sent the 400 terminees a note that simply read:
You. Door. Out.
It's just as impolite, while saving 15 words per message.

The Shack has always been a peculiar entity. I say this from experience, because for two years in my long-ago post-collegiate days, I was a Radio Shack (it was two words back then) store manager. Now, I know what you're thinking: How did this erudite, cultured man-about-town devolve into a technonerd wearing short-sleeved sport shirts, a pocket protector, and a name badge. Two words: Rent and food.

Here's the encapsulated version. With the ink on my Bachelor of Arts in Radio and Television still slightly tacky, I accepted as my first job out of college an advertising sales position with a radio station in California's Central Valley. Six weeks after my arrival, the station was sold to a new ownership group, which proceeded to downsize the staff dramatically, yours truly included.

So here I was, an unemployed kid with a useless college degree and not a farthing to my name, living in a backwater town three hours' drive from home. My survival instincts kicked in. Recalling the word "Radio" on my aforementioned sheepskin, I hied myself to the Radio Shack around the corner from my microscopic apartment and filled out an employment application. Within a week, I was hawking everything from speaker wire to flux capacitors in the local shopping mall. Within three weeks, I was an assistant manager. I later managed a succession of increasing larger Shack outlets, biding my time until my bride and I had saved up enough cash to return to civilization.

When I say that the Shack (one of the more printable shorthand phrases used by employees) was a peculiar company, I know whereof I speak. Examples of this peculiarity follow.
  • Radio Shack marketed itself as "The Technology Store" — and rightly so; the Shack sold the first line of portable computers commercially available — yet required sales tickets to be written up manually (that is, in pen, on a pad of self-copying paper) by the sales staff.

  • The retail network was rife with graft. In my two-year tenure with the company, no less than five store managers in my local district were sacked due to embezzlement, theft, or similarly nefarious doings.

  • The middle management staff was, to be kind, incompetent. I never met a single individual in district or regional management who wasn't a complete moron. All that was required for promotion to top-kick status was a cheerful smile, a shoeshine, and a willingness to suck up to the guy just above you in the food chain.

  • The company's expansion plans overreached any conceivable notion of profitability. At the time, the stated goal was to place a Radio Shack store within five minutes' drive of every urban or suburban American. This resulted in a plethora of failing outlets that existed for no better reason than to have a Radio Shack in a given neighborhood or shopping center. Whether the traffic would support a store in that location never appeared to be a consideration. (To show you how this worked: The city of Stockton, California — with a population at the time of roughly 100,000 — had no less than seven Radio Shacks, only three of which came anywhere close to turning a buck.)

  • As a consequence of the aforementioned policy, competition between stores in the same geographic area was cutthroat. Does it make sense to you to have a company's own outlets competing against one another — rather than, say, somebody else's outlets — for business? What kind of economic theory bases a business plan on cannibalism?
If you want proof of Radio Shack's misguided internal promotion policy, you need look no further than my own career with the organization. I was promoted from assistant manager to manager for two reasons that had nothing whatever to do with job performance: (1) I had shown up for work every day for several months, and had never stolen anything; and (2) I was robbed at gunpoint and did not immediately hand in my resignation.

Once a manager, I continued to be promoted to the helm of larger stores, despite the fact that (a) I was vocal about my utter lack of interest in being promoted; and (b) I was a barely competent salesman and an even less competent manager. (I can't balance my checkbook or remember my doctor's appointments, and you're going to put me in charge of hundreds of thousands of dollars in inventory, and three FTEs? What kind of warped sense does that make?) However, I was honest, clean, well-spoken, and relatively likeable, therefore I was considered a real up-and-comer.

My favorite Radio Shack story actually took place outside the store environment. In one of its incessant sales-pumping gimmicks, our district divided the local stores into competing teams, with the winning team (based on sales figures compared with what each store had sold in the corresponding month of the previous year) winning a free weekend in Lake Tahoe. My team won, largely on the strength of my store's phenomenal sales increase.

(Which had nothing to do with me personally, as it happens. The previous manager of this particular Shack had been an abrasive nitwit, who had succeeded in chasing away the store's clientele with his annoying manner. When I took over the store — by coincidence, just over a month before the sales contest began — word quickly got around that the former manager had been sent packing and that a new sheriff had come to town, and the customers returned in droves. Q.E.D.)

Serendipitously, my wife and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary the same weekend as the Tahoe trip. In a twist of irony, the lodging assigned us was a palatial hotel-casino on the lake's north shore (which, for those of you not from around these parts, is the opposite end of the lake from where most of the sightseeing and casino action resides) and my wife, who was at the time under 21, couldn't enter the casino. So we had little to do for three days except...well...what newlyweds do with a free hotel room and time on their hands.

We spent a fair portion of our upright hours in the company of another young couple, one of my fellow managers and his wife — a pair of clean-cut Mormon kids who appeared ill at ease with the whole casino environment the entire trip. Their personal peccadilloes afforded us plenty of comedic fodder during our stay. At breakfast, for example, the distaff component of our companion couple ate her French toast seasoned with salt and pepper, which struck my wife and me as hilarious. The girl's logic, however, couldn't be faulted: "You put salt and pepper on eggs, right? French toast is bread with eggs on it, right? So you eat French toast with salt and pepper, right?" Well, okay.

The four of us spent one evening in the hotel's indoor hot tub, wearing barely adequate plastic-coated paper bathing suits (think Huggies, with a Huggies brassiere for the ladies) supplied by the management. That would have a fine Kodak moment. Or not.

Then again, we worked for Radio Shack. How much more ridiculous could we possibly have looked?


6 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Anonymous Joel offered these pearls of wisdom...

Thanks for sharing. Kinda reminds me when I worked at Gateway.
Personality, not skill, really made the difference. I couldn't wait
until that assignment ended.

9:32 PM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

That's me in a nutshell, Joel. Personality plus, skills not so much. :)

9:33 PM  
Blogger Joel offered these pearls of wisdom...

"Personality plus, skills not so much. :)"

Not. You're a free-lance writer, remember?

Who makes money, which we envy.

We write and write and hope for the day,

Our words will even make a penny :)

(No, poetry is not my forte

That's why I don't get paid :)

9:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous offered these pearls of wisdom...

This post explains a lot about Radio Shack.

I've always had a hard time figuring out Radio Shack as a consumer.

The things the Shack sold always seemed to be generic and stripped down versions of products that could be bought cheaper someplace else.

And, they don't really sell that many radios. You'd think that Radio Shack would offer a decent line of amateur radios to live up to its name. But, they don't.

I love the fact that Radio Shack sold the TRS 80, but wrote up the receipts on paper. It sums up Radio Shack.

Radio Shack seems to be the place to get an overpriced robot at Christmas and maybe pick up a cell phone that you could get for cheaper from online or some other place.

4:52 AM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

Good observations, Anon.

I think RadioShack (all one word, as they now like to write it) has struggled to find its way in the face of hard-hitting competition from the Best Buys and Circuit Cities of today's retailing world.

Even when I worked for them in the mid-1980s, Shack was eager to put off its old image of "that place that sells TV tubes and transistors," but they've never really defined a new image to take its place.

Their real shot came in the days when they were pretty much the only national chain marketing home computers. But with the rise of the big-box stores, and online retailers like Dell and Gateway, Shack can't compete in that market anymore. I'm not sure what market they do serve nowadays, aside from -- as you mentioned -- overpriced toys and cell phones.

10:56 AM  
Blogger Janet offered these pearls of wisdom...

I know this isn't the point of this post, but all this talk about Radio Shack reminded me of a bit Howie Mandell used to do years ago. I vaguely remember it took place in a mall and he went in to the store saying "Do you know Radio Shack?" Anyway, it was really funny.

You'll just have to take my word for it.

6:31 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home