RadioShack tries out new concept store

It ain't easy being an electronics retailer in the 21st century. RadioShack thinks it has a solution for survival.

Andrew Nusca Special to CNET News
Andrew Nusca is the editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor at ZDNet. He has written for New York, Men's Vogue, Popular Mechanics, and Money. He is based in New York.
Andrew Nusca
2 min read
The concept... RadioShack

RadioShack, the electronics retailer particularly popular with hobbyists, is testing out a new design for its stores.

The new look is intended to help the company buck the trend that has decimated Circuit City (RIP, at least as a physical entity) and has pained Best Buy.

In the Shack's own words: "The store aims to attract tech-hungry shoppers who will find a new level of products, service and excitement in a store that makes the buying experience fun."

How, you ask? With displays that highlight "in-demand brands" like Apple, HTC and Samsung, with arrangements that allow shoppers "to find and compare products, such as a speaker wall, with touch-screen devices installed on the floor to "make shopping interesting and playful," and with "helpful, informative staff" to assist customers.

In other words, it will have the trappings of a modern retail store -- which makes you wonder what the company was doing before.

Chief Executive Joe Magnacca said the company's goal is to "make our iconic brand relevant to new segments of the consumer market, while reinforcing our commitment to the strong and loyal base of customers who have known RadioShack for many years" -- a noble goal for any legacy brand.

The company is fighting an uphill battle, though. It seeks to attract a segment of customers who use brick-and-mortar electronics stores primarily as showrooms for Amazon and who, at times, enter the store knowing more about the products than the store employees themselves.

RadioShack seems to have avoided meeting the same fate as Circuit City by focusing on what it does best -- filling the role as the hardware store of electronic retail, essentially -- and keeping square footage and overhead to a minimum. That may be a fine survival tool, but I wonder if it's a real strategy for growth, especially when so many of the company's products are increasingly sold at retail by their own makers, sometimes with superior buying experiences.

RadioShack's first concept store will open this weekend in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. More concept stores are in the works for the New York metro area, as well as for New Jersey and the company's home state of Texas.

If the effort is successful, the company plans to roll out the new design to all of its 4,300 stores in the U.S. What I'm wondering: for this, how and when do you define success?

This story originally posted as "Will this new concept store save RadioShack?" on ZDNet.