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Radio Shack to start stocking Arduino, Other Goodies (radioshack.com)
177 points by vineel on July 24, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 73 comments

I remember watching my local Radio Shack turn into just another commodity electronics shop, and not a very good one, at that. By the end, it was just a place I would go if I wanted to be harassed about buying a cell phone (i.e. never).

If Radio Shack has gotten rid of the high pressure cell phone sales people, started hiring nerds again, and started stocking the kind of things I need when I want to finish a project but don't want to schlep out to Fry's or wait for an order from Amazon for, I might return. But, it's been a long time since I've been to a Radio Shack, and I rarely think of them as the place I should go for anything, since they trained me out of that habit.

I have to admit that carrying Arduino and other assorted tinkerers toys does make me think maybe the company at least has some of its old spirit. I guess we'll have to see what comes of it. Next time I pass one, I'll probably take a stroll around...I'll know whether they've gotten good again by whether I walk out empty handed or not.

The best Radio Shack satirical slogan I've heard which sums up their decline:

  "Radio Shack: You've got questions, we've got more!"

"Radio Shack: You've got questions, we've got batteries."

If there is any chance of them turning around, buzz would be crucial at this stage. Tell all your friends, and when you do visit, ask specifically about the Arduino (and maybe some other things that haven't been mentioned).

I don't care enough about Radio Shack to be part of their personal army, and what feelings I currently have are negative (me and the shack still have some unresolved issues, you see). I guess I wish it was a cool, nerdy, store again...but, if they don't want to be a cool, nerdy, store, and would rather sell phones to grandmothers I'm not going to make it my mission to convince them to do something more interesting.

I'm gonna let Radio Shack make the first move in our reunion story.


I think this is the first (and hopefully last) Reddit-esque novelty account I've seen on HN.

This is exactly what RS needs to do. Go back to their roots. I was bitterly disappointed a few months ago when I needed a breadboard and a few basic components and RS didn't have half of them. I ended up going to a store in Denver that strips old electronics and sells the components.

There are tons of electronics geeks still around from Arduino builders to car audiophiles building custom circuits to the RC crowd - and no one serves them. Right now half RS's inventory is available at Best Buy, Walmart and every other store with an electronics department. There's a very profitable niche waiting for them if they're willing to do what they do best.

Employing a few guys who know what they're doing would help too. The local ham radio club and computer and electronics engineering faculties would be a good place to start recruiting.

What is the store in Denver? I would love to know another place I could go locally for parts. (other than RS obviously)

They're really looking to make stronger ties with the "maker" community, and are ramping up their DIY cred by hiring Meredith Scheff http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wpZ7FyjGkGk (of NorthSkirt fame http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UktOOIK_6nU) at Noisebridge, and Ed Lewis at Instructables http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pxRqGOSHbUg to do ads.

At first I was like "whoah," and then I got to the last part of the sentence "to do ads." That's still cool I guess.

Yeah, I had a really hard time trying to fit all that into one sentence :)

3D Printing has a lot of potential as a profitable niche for RadioShack to get into. It would certainly get me in the door.

I had heard something like this a few weeks back--that Radio Shack is going to start stocking more components again. Discussing it with my co-workers, we decided they probably can't make as much on the old business model any more. Every time I've been, they try to sell me a cell phone, but there are cell phone stores in every town already. Everything they sell is available at Best Buy for comparable prices (with better selection), or on Amazon for far cheaper.

I look forward to a day when perhaps Radio Shack will sell kits and electronic components... even if it's more expensive than Digikey. There aren't really any nationwide brick-and-mortar electronics stores, but there are plenty of consumer electronics + cell phone stores... I'd love to see Radio Shack making money with a new business model.

>Everything they sell is available at Best Buy

Well, I've found radioshack sells cables far cheaper than the equivalent at best buy.

really? aren't they the single most expensive place to buy cables or has the internet spoiled me?

If you have to buy local, Radio Shack does have some cheaper cables. I notice Best Buy is the worst, but Apple has ok priced cables. This is mainly in locales without Fry's or other non-mainstream box stores. Heck, Apple has been cheaper than Wal-Mart in cables.

Obviously, online is cheaper than any retail.

Yeah, no Frys where I live. :(

We recently got an apple store though, I would never have thought to look there for cables. For some reason assumed they'd be overpriced... :)

Likely because Apple has other stuff they can make money on, while Best Buy, having won the race to the bottom, really doesn't.

It's great that Radio Shack is reaching out to the community and trying to stock more DIY items, however I'm not sure if it's going to work out for them.

DIY is a small subset of the population and a smart one. They're going to buy this stuff online, whether Radio Shack stocks it or not.

I read a AMA from a McD exec who said people are always complaining about them needing more healthy choices. Well, whenever they add them, no one buys them. The people who want that stuff aren't going to eat at McDonalds anyway, so why waste inventory space.

So, sure, i'd love to be able to be able to get in my car and get an arduino board and some servos, but I'm not sure if that one one trip a year or two from me is worth it.

I don't know if it were cheap enough. I could see using them as a rush order place, a little more markup over mail order but much faster.

Good first step for them. Next:

- Price cables and connectors at only a slight markup from monoprice levels (cover the overhead costs, but basically sell without any profit margin)

- Stock every single high traffic component possible at just slightly higher markup than digitech

- Sell components for custom PC builds (a la Fry's, CPUs, RAM etc.), charge slightly less than Fry's, slightly more than newegg, etc., but only stock components that are highly recommended by Tom's Hardware and other respected build guides. Have employees build machines with these parts and know what will go wrong, advise customers accordingly.

So where do the big profits come from?

Service contracts.

Give free support to walk-ins, one time only, charge on subsequent support requests. Become a non-ripoff/know-nothing version of geek squad.

>basically sell without any profit margin

Free one-time support is not going to make this strategy profitable.

The only knowledge I have of Radio Shack is when I went in and found the tinest of commodities - things like single LEDs and audio connectors and flashlights - to be priced so high it was almost unreal.

Is this still true of the place? Or did I go during a bad period in their history?

I walked in last year wondering if I could get RJ45 ethernet caps at a decent price. As I recall, they were 8.99 for five (NB: used in pairs). After shipping, I wound up buying 100 from Monoprice, for about a dollar more.

are they even still called "Radio Shack"? or is it "The Shack" now? They use to be the most amazing place ever, and would supply components and things to keep you busy beyond your wildest imagination. and at cheap prices too! Some kids went to the mall for the arcade. Radio Shack was my arcade. But that was decades ago..

No, they're still called Radio Shack. Not that they bear much resemblance nowadays. I saw (and programmed) my first TRS-80 there. Ah, halcyon days - now they're a phone store and the bookstore in the same mall - the bookstore where I bought Gödel, Escher, Bach and I Will Fear No Evil on the same day - is dead.

We need new cool stuff. The old stuff's all sad.

It has been a while since I've even considered buying components from them but over the past couple of years I've gone into them looking for things like USB cables and HDMI cables, only to leave in disgust when seeing the cost was about twice what the same thing would cost at Best Buy (and Best Buy itself is already ~4x more expensive than buying such things online at monoprice, etc).

Wire. I buy wire at Radio Shack.

Totally serious question: how is Radio Shack still in business?

I would love to see them go back to basics, with drawers upon drawers of components and wires and stuff. Seems like nobody likes doing that stuff on their own nowadays.

When I worked at RadioShack (several years ago) there was a near-constant stream of people coming in to purchase cellphones. As an employee I got a fairly good cash bonus every time I sold one, so I imagine RadioShack made a LOT of money off cellphones and accessories. For example: The cellphone sale itself was $X cash to me but accessories were $2X, $3X, or $4X as more were purchased. A brand new featurephone with 3 accessories and a warranty netted me roughly $75-100 cash for the sale. The warranty was actually good, too. We sent lots of different kinds of phones back in a re-usable plastic box to a repair facility somewhere. People seemed to trust Radio Shack more for cellphone purchases than the brand stores across the road.

However, that was back when Sprint, Verizon, and AT&T stores weren't as easy to find as they are now. I imagine they're not able to attract nearly as much cellphone traffic as they did before.

The last time I was in an RS it was for a capacitor. I found the bin (in the back of the store), dug out what I needed, and went to pay for it.

The salesman just sneered at me and didn't even trouble to ring it up; he just gave it to me and waved me out the door.

I haven't been back.

I'll stop by one this morning, I'm curious if they've changed at all.

Since when is free stuff an insult?

One of the metrics they kept track of was something like "dollars per sale" (they had a slicker name for it, of course). That salesperson had probably just checked the store's $/sale listing (quickly available to the salespeople on the sales terminals) and was grumpy because his wasn't quite right.

Even the CEO can't figure it out. Source: http://www.theonion.com/articles/even-ceo-cant-figure-out-ho...

Cellphones, batteries, and toys that only sell at Christmas.

I know I've had to go to the one near me a couple of times because it's the closest psudo electronics store, so when I've needed something at the last minute or right away and didn't feel like driving 20 min to the suburbs.

I think that folks do still do this stuff, but the Internet is so much more well suited. Sorting through parts drawers is a lot harder than typing into a search box.

I hope this works for them, I've been getting into Arduino and other electronics lately and would be nice to have a local place to pick stuff at the last minute. I went into our local shack a few months ago to pick up a piezo transducer to use as a pickup in a cigar box guitar I was making with the kids. It was dead when we got there, so all of the salesmen descended on me asking if I needed help. So I said I needed a piezo transducer, and they all looked at me like I had 3 heads. "Do you mean a transistor?" :) I asked them to just show me where the transistors were and I'd take a look around. Sure enough down in one of the bottom drawers of components was a label "Piezo Transducer" - bingo! As I checked out a few minutes later the manager was in awe that he had such a thing in his store. Surprisingly the same store actually had a decent (though small) selection of other supplies (hookup wire, breadboards, blank circuit boards, etc).

I arrived in the US in 1998. Prior to that, I remember reading good things about Radio Shack. When I finally found a branch, I browsed inside to see what the big deal was. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but I remember leaving very disappointed. It seemed to be all custom gadgets (PDAs, RCs, etc), cellphones, and expensive batteries. Reading comments here of what Radio Shack used to be at least clarifies why it got good buzz in the past.

I think Radio Shack gets the benefit of a lot of at least somewhat rose-tinted memories. Yes, they were a source for various electronics components at a time when there weren't a lot of sources for such things. And you had a decent shot at finding a knowledgable employee. However, for as long as I remember Radio Shack--which takes us back to the mid-1970s--their shelves were also filled with all manner of mostly overpriced and poor quality audio gear and the like. So they've been something of a mixed bag for a very long time.

I am a ham and as a kid I used to visit the local Radio Shack weekly. For a while they even stocked ham radios. I haven't been in one for over ten years.

I just attended an all day Arduino workshop a few weeks back and it was a blast. Talking afterwards it seemed everyones number one request was to get a local vendor to stock some of the more common Arduino parts. I sure hope Radio Shack is listening.

That's awesome! I remember 20 years ago radio shack was amazing for me as a child hobbyist. Now I only go there for obscure sized batteries (so once every 2 years). Let's hope they can revive the original spirit.

As a kid in Canada, I had this radio shack battery club card, where I could get a free battery every month. I always got the 9V size, which was perfect for little projects, handheld games or just sticking on your tongue. Sad to see what the shack became, but that little promo bought them a ton of goodwill.

yeah, it really would be nice for it to go back toward that again.

I wonder if Radio Shack is going to implement a DIY education system or something. I don't know how to build stuff with Arduino but if they had a little kiosk that showed how you could set up and program a hello world (led blinking) in Arduino I'm sure it could interest some people who had no idea what Arduino is.

Back in the day, I learned a lot about basic electronics and computer design from their old "Engineer's Notebooks" (e.g. http://www.radioshack.com/product/index.jsp?productId=108524...) and some books they sold about TI's line of microprocessors. If they wrote new books for Arduino, that would be a great start. I might even play around with hardware again (haven't touched it since I got my EE degree).

That, and maybe they could also host kids' birthday parties where they worked on one if these little projects.

Just to quibble: Radio Shack have only acted on two of those points, and not the top Arduino point. They say we’re actively working on every single one of these, but that might not actually mean they will stock Arduinos in their regular stores.

While great news for those who can go to RadioShack, I'm somewhat disappointed that where I live, Vancouver, Canada, Radio Shack's have been replaced by "The Source". NOt that I was really a fan of what Radio Shack had become, but I've got good memories of Radio Shack from it being the only electronics store as I grew up in a smaller town. If Radio Shack is really trying to offer hobbyists more, than it's too bad that their retails stores are no longer open up here. [Checked Wikipedia, CircuitCity owned RadioShack, changed the name to "The Source", then sold off the Canadian operations as part of bankruptcy proceedings.]

Oh man... it would make Radio Shack awesome again. I might actually visit one of those stores on the way home. The parts might be more expensive, but if it saves me a trip to China, I'd do it.

Does this mean that Radio Shack will stock the Android Open Accessory Kit? Because I've been looking all around the net and I can't find a site I trust that carries all the boards.

They don't seem to have the store space for all these things unless other things are going to go. Is this just in the catalog?

Resistors and capacitors don't need to take up that much space. Heck, I remember when they used to hang them on the walls in blister packs. Drawers seem a lot more sensible.

Now, they could bring back the TRS-80 name with a line of non-PC-compatible computers ;-)

Heck yeah. I bet an Arduino would be fast enough to emulate them. They should make a miniature 3" high TRS-80 Model I kit with all the old software library included.

That would be cool, but I guess there would be cheaper ways to do it - a TRS-80 CoCo is more or less as complex as a C64 and that requires just an FPGA. You could build the whole TRS-80 line inside one chip.

The point is not to do it the cheapest possible way, the point is to do it in a way that appeals to hackers, makers, and other tinkerers.

Still, an FPGA could be even cooler than an Arduino if it were reprogrammable.

Will they continue trying to sell me batteries and cell phones with simple overpriced electronics components?

Finally, a reason to go to Radio Shack

I wonder if there exists a chance they will notice their current downward trend, look back at their heyday, and do an about-face?

That's what I'm wondering, but they are still heavily promoting cell phones like the recent HTC Evo for Evo 3D trade-in. I don't think they can be a relevant DIY shop and standard electronic store at the same time. All of the stores I've been don't have the room, not to mention the staff.

I go to Radio Shack several times per year. I would be absolutely thrilled if they would just pay attention to what's in their parts bins and actually keep them stocked.

The last time I bought something at Radio Shack (probably a battery), they asked me for my phone number, then made an issue out of it when I would not give it.

I haven't been back.

Here's my anecdote about the decline of Radio Shack:

I went there to get a USB cable the other day. The only normal male-male USB cable they were stocking had gold-plated ends (for reasons unknown), a big non-standard bulge in the connector at one end, and a ludicrously grandiose package, festooned with details about how this was a USB "transfer" cable, specially designed to transfer data between Windows computers.

For this reason, apparently, it was necessary to price it at $40. That's forty dollars. For a USB cable.

I laughed in the clerk's face while he was explaining to me about the "transfer cable" nonsense, told him he just lost a customer forever, and left.

Could it be that you picked up one of these?


Maybe overpriced but it was likely not just a USB cable if it was called a "transfer" cable.

To me, that's no excuse. I have a better idea: sell a regular USB cable for $2, which is what they should cost, and design your OS so computers can talk to each other without having to build gold-plated $40 SuperWindowsTransfer versions of commodity cables. It's outrageous to me that such a product even exists, outrageous that it was $40, and outrageous that Radio Shack, of all places, could not carry a reasonably-priced USB cable. I would have even been ok with a certain price premium; I don't expect a retailer to match Monoprice. But $40 for the only USB cable in the shop? Please.

Uh. That weird USB cable makes possible things which aren't designed into the USB hardware spec. It's the USB equivalent of a null-modem cable on RS232, something which cost quite a lot when purchased over the counter.

It may be not even be correct to call it a cable. Doesn't it need a CPU in it?

Correct. It makes for an interesting product-design case study -- the manufacturer probably thought they were being clever by making an intelligent peripheral look and behave like a 'cable', but the work went unappreciated ("This is just a stupid USB cable. Why are they charging $40 for it?")

I'm sure the R&D department at Radio Shack will get right on that.

Was it something like this: http://www.radioshack.com/product/index.jsp?productId=336658...

A standard USB cable is a type A plug to type B plug--is that what you mean by "male-male"? Did the RS cable have type A to type B or type A to Type A connectors?

Edit: Actually, I'm guessing it's this one: http://www.radioshack.com/product/index.jsp?productId=107951... (My curiosity is now satisfied. :) I'm guessing my search failed earlier because the cable doesn't actually have "USB" in the name.)

All else aside, being rude to service staff because you dislike the business they work for is utterly inexcusable.

Telling a business why they've lost your business isn't rude.

But getting pressured to sign long multi-year contracts for thousands of dollars when you go into a store to buy a connector is.

That's why I'll probably never go back to Radio Shack, even if they did stock capacitors again.

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