Refusing to Leave Pa’s Shack: Why a Name Change Might Have Saved RadioShack

By Jed Rendleman

March 12, 2015

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Last month, after almost 3 years of hemorrhaging money, RadioShack filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Facing growing irrelevancy in the electronics scene, RadioShack spent the last two decades desperately trying to rebrand itself. They started calling themselves The Shack, rearranged the layout of stores, offered new products, but none of it really seemed to make a difference.

The first store opened in 1921 with ham radio enthusiasts as their target audience. But today, in a world where all ham radio enthusiasts are either dead or work in vintage found-object boutiques in Portland, no one really knows what RadioShack sells. Though its many CEOs had overhauled almost every aspect of the company’s business model throughout its decline, there was one part of RadioShack that remained unchanged: the name.

In 2004, a former RadioShack employee remembered reporting to work at the mall at 4:30 a.m. on Black Friday. The mall opened, letting in hordes of shoppers, but none of them went to RadioShack. He sat there, alone, as shoppers streamed past the open door. Would a name change have prevented this? In marketing, managers always consider a brand’s two identities: the name and the claim. With descriptive names like RadioShack, the two should be pretty much the same. Burger King sells burgers, Home Depot sells things you need for your house, and RadioShack sells… wait do they even sell radios anymore?

They invested all their energy into changing the claim by selling cell phones, computers, pretty much anything electronics-related that consumers were willing to buy, but the signs outside still said RadioShack. Even when they tried to rebrand themselves as The Shack with advertising, the signs never changed.

The Shack could have taken a valuable lesson from a different radio company that recently underwent a name change. Last year, Clear Channel Communications, the proprietor of nearly all network radio broadcasting in the country, changed its name to iHeartMedia. We’re yet to see the effect of this modern, personal messaging, but no one can deny that it’s an upgrade.

Since Amazon started selling electronics, most people have predicted the quick demise of brick and mortar electronics stores like Best Buy and RadioShack. Nevertheless, Best Buy is still going strong at your local strip mall, despite our ability to purchase everything they sell with a single click. So is there a niche for RadioShack? It’s hard to know. A name change wouldn’t have been a panacea to RadioShack’s downfall, but if it had been paired with an overhaul in the products and services offered, perhaps they could have stuck around.

Yesterday I realized I needed a new cable for my stereo. With news of huge clearance sales, I headed over to my local Shack to see if I could offer some condolences along with my purchase. After describing the cord as “the one with two fat ones on one end and the headphone plug on the other,” Lisa said she was pretty sure that they didn’t have it, but Zach came to the rescue and found it for me. At the register, I asked him how he felt about the store’s closing. “You know,” he sighed, “the word ‘apocalypse’ comes from the Greek word for ‘beginning.’” I later found out he was wrong.

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