Wonder why people hang around?
I think part of the reason is that for many people, myself included, is that we never really though it (bankruptcy) could happen to Radio Shack, and even after the stock delisting, are still in shock at ‘how fast the end came’. I use to work for them part time, years ago (1980s and 1990s) and still had friends there right up until the end. In this last year, I went to visit some of them, January 2015, that I had not taken time to go see in years at their store, and to keep them informed of what was going on throughout the bankruptcy process, especially after their 'chain of command' started to break down as some managers, district managers and even regional managers were laid off without warning.
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, while the company did have its operating problems and did miss opportunities, the people that I talked with, and myself included, never really thought that the 'problems' would ever rise to the level of killing the entire company. We always though that the company would somehow always make enough money to always continue on, in spite of the mistakes that were made.
When I first started out there, early 1980s, everyone wanted to become a store manager. The only thing that you had to be able to do was to sell. If you could make the numbers, you could eventually get a store. After that, even in a small store, you could make $30K to $50K per year. (Would be like getting $60K to $100K today.) Even though you had to work at least 50 hours per week and all the hours during the holiday shopping season, as long as you did the numbers for sales, you were free to do what you wanted and left alone for the most part. (in later years this all changed as the pay scale went down and all kinds of metrics were constantly being pushed that ‘had to be meet’, such as extended warranty plans.) The prize was if you could move into one of the better stores. In the late 1980s, the top store in my district had the store manager making $75K/year salary plus another $75K as a bonus for the year; today that would be like making over $300K each year. There were a number of stores that had the manager making $60K to $80K per year; and that would be like making around $150K today. And this was for a job where the person didn't need years of college, or all kinds of credentials, they just needed to know the product and be able to sell.
One of the problems is that as time went on, the company ‘wandered’ from one thing to another, and also focused more on things like selling extended warranties instead of what the product was. At the first sign that a product line needed to change or be invested in, the company would starve it of funds, and as sales dropped in the product, drop it when they were no longer making any money on it. When I started there, the PC was just starting and they opened their computer centers. At first it was great, and many people got their first computer from Radio Shack, and they had a number of deals. One of my friends was the manager of a computer center that had a million dollar month due to the sale of a large order to a local school district. The problem is that the Radio Shack was usually at or near the highest price in its category. One of the exceptions was the Tandy 1000, which was PC Compatible and one of its biggest successes (I bought a Tandy 1000 in 1982 and it lasted for a number of years.). Then it was followed by the Tandy 2000, which was only partly compatible and ended up as the store computer for transmitting data to corporate. Eventually there was a Tandy 3000, which was PC Compatible but some of the lead was lost at that point. They had a number of innovative products and programs, like their own source version of RealWorld accounting ported to a Tandy 6000 multiuser system, running a version of Unix and FilePro database program. At the time, there was nothing comparable in that price range, but then over time they let these things and advantages slip away from them. Eventually the Tandy 6000 systems become replaced with systems running SCO Unix on a 286 or 386 at a much lower cost.
Even with all of the problems and missed opportunities, the company stock from the early 1980s to the late 1990s split a few times. One hundred shares in 1980, costing around $2,800 was worth something like over $70K at the height in the late 1990s. A store manager, who wisely saved his money and took part in the employee purchase program, could have a very good retirement if they were able to retire in the late 1990s. (And that was while still living what I would call an ‘upper middle class’ lifestyle. As an example, one of my friend’s had his own house, plus a house on a lake with a speedboat; and was planning on retiring to Aruba when he was 60. Unfortunately, he passed away within a year of his retirement but I am sure that his family will be ok financially and provided for from what he was able to save while working for the company.) There was still hope for the product line in the late 1990s/early 2000s. Cell phones were all over the place, and Radio Shack with its hundreds of locations could become the ‘go to’ place for cell phones, and later smart phones. Instead, the product line was ‘starved’ and employees where paid very little. As a result, any employee that had any product knowledge, left as soon as they were able to. I remember one telling story recounted to me one summer in the 2000s, where one of the employee remarked that they could make more money mowing lawns than working at the store that day! In past years, that would have never happened. I remember another coworker recounting to me how in the 1990s, he worked 20 hours per week at his store, and was making $30K per year, while still in college and not even working full time! (Plus he was able to sleep in most days and getting up for work did not interfere with going out at night since stores closed at 9:30pm and didn’t open until 10am. So, depending on your schedule, you could go to class or work late morning, all afternoon and into the early evening, and still have time to go out with friends or to parties until 2am and still get in a number of hours of sleep until you needed to get up the next day. And since the work of being a salesperson never required you to ‘take your work home with you’ there was never any problem about getting called in or having to work on work after hours.)
While many people use to think, ‘if the company keeps doing this (current bad practice) it is eventually going to kill the company; none of us ever though that could happen.
In the days leading up to the closing of my friends’ store, I use to run into old time customers of theirs and had the chance to talk with them for a while. Many of them seemed to miss a ‘company that no longer existed’ with all of the chances over the years and good people that had to go elsewhere in order to be able to make a living wage. At the end most managers were getting only around $40K, and that was at the best stores. Inventory and scheduling had been totally taken over by the computer system. Some stores were having trouble restocking batteries and running out of some kinds of batteries!
There was always some kind of inventory restrictions that got stricter and stricter as time went on. One of the stores I was at, the sales people were always amazed that the manager was able to have just enough of something that was selling so that they never missed a sale due to the store being out of stock. I remember a salesperson telling me that he would go back into the stock room not expecting to find the item that he just sold, and probably lose the sale as a result, but then, there would one of them be, right on the shelf!
At the end, in some places, it was almost like a flash back scene from ‘The Walking Dead’ showing how things went as ‘order broke down’; store shelves stripped down to nothing as though the place had been ransacked by looters, managers and salesmakers missing/laid off/fired, district managers and their assistants gone, even in some regions people could not get the regional manager on the phone, boxes arriving by UPS from a store that closed a few days prior to a store that was going to close that Saturday only to be informed that they were closing early on Thursday with no instructions on what to do with the 30+ boxes of inventory that had arrived from elsewhere
That is what I think is so shocking for many people, including myself. At the end, if there ever was an end, we expected it would be very orderly and everyone would have been informed, sort of comparable to order when the Shackleton Expedition had to abandonee their ship in the Antarctic (one scene from a TV series shows them washing the dishes and neatly restacking everything in the galley, even though it has been announced that is the last meal they are having on the ship and everyone is being urged to eat as much as possible since they can only take a limited amount of items with them onto the ice. As they are cleaning and putting the dishes away, one of the stewards asks why bother cleaning, since the ship is going to sink soon and the plates and such will all be lost, to the galley chief, who tells him that he never leaves or would leave the galley a mess).
Louis J. Desy Jr.