Pundits say it won't save the company and others don't really care, but RadioShack today officially kicked off its efforts to be known as "The Shack." The electronics retailer that began selling radio tubes in 1921, hopes to shake up its dusty image and try to reinvigorate its sales figures. So, who cares?
Well, let me be the one to say that "I care."
OK, I'm not soldering up circuit boards on the kitchen table every night and building my own radios out of raw transistors and capacitors, but I do like going to the local RadioShack stores -- oops, sorry, "The Shack" stores -- and playing with all the latest and not-so-latest electronic parts and gadgets. For me it's like going to motorcycle shops in the winter. I have to go to my local Suzuki and Yamaha shops in February because it's usually too snowy and cold here in Pennsylvania to actually ride my motorcycle at that time of year. So I do the next best thing -- I go to bike shops to smell the oil, touch the shiny paint and sit and dream of the open road. Mmmmmmmmmmmmm. Heaven in the gray cold of winter.
That's how I feel about Radio Shack, even with its new Shack moniker.
I was literally in one of their stores this past Monday night, perusing all the parts, wire, weather radios, radio-controlled toys, cell phone accessories, soldering kits and more. As I walk the aisles, I can just imagine the possibilities, what you can build and what you can play with in every conceivable category.
Did I buy something that night? No, but I was waiting for my girlfriend who was shopping in the craft store next door, so I didn't really have lots of time to browse. But I've bought plenty of stuff there in the past because when you need some obscure part or accessory, The Shack usually helps me out when other stores leave me high and dry.
OK, so today's the start of the new image. Does the site look different? Not really. Oh, there's a little animated image of the word "Radio" being blocked out by a thumb to change the name to "The Shack." That's cute, but it still says "RadioShack" in various areas over the Web pages. The domain name radioshack.com still works just fine. There are some special purchase items and pricing on the page, but I'm sure those are there on a regular basis. Nothing too exciting there on the site today that's really out of the ordinary.
So will "The Shack" work for the chain?
Well, I don't have that answer, but I do know that something like this could help to make the company's image a bit more hip. Yes, critics are saying that other name changes by other companies often didn't help those companies. Circuit City, the now-dead brick-and-mortar retailer, tried using "The City" as a hipster name, but that effort apparently fell as flat as its overall business model.
I'd argue that The Shack is in much more of a niche than Circuit City and other dead chains ever were. You could usually buy the stuff sold at Circuit City at Best Buy, Kmart, Wal-mart, department stores and sometimes even in your local grocery stores. Ever seen a package of resistors at your local Shop-N-Bag? Well, just wait until you need one and I know where you'll be heading right away.
It appears "The Shack" branding didn't just come out of the blue, though. According to a search of The Internet Archive Wayback Machine, Radio Shack has been using "The Shack" as a URL dating back to 1998, not long after the e-business boom was getting underway. Funny that such an old-fashioned, stodgy, square business had such foresight to acquire an alternative URL so early in the game, isn't it?
Well, that's why I think we should give "The Shack" a chance to reinvent itself in 2009.
Tune in again later for the next chapter of "RadioShack -- Adventures in Renaming."
(Todd R. Weiss is a freelance technology journalist who formerly wrote for Computerworld.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TechManTalking)