As news comes forth of what appears to be RadioShack’s final days, I found myself today awash in a flood of memories from a time not many people know about: when I actually worked for the company.
I needed a job when I was 23 and new to the city of Springfield, Missouri. I signed on at the first place that would hire me, a RadioShack store on the southwest side of town.
I remember my time with the company quite well. It was short-lived, but it took place at a time of my life that I simply needed to find employment as I had just moved to Missouri to be closer to my family.
I don’t speak ill or well of my time there, but recognize it for what it was: a Bailey bridge across a chasm that separated two stints of employment in the journalism business.
The RadioShack I worked at was located in a bustling center of commercial activity on the south side of Springfield, Missouri, situated next door to the busiest Walmart in the city.
Generally, anyone visiting our RS location knew what they were looking for, wanted to buy it and get out. They didn’t want to be haggled with or bothered to buy a protection plan. They just wanted a set of resistors, a cordless phone, a pack of batteries — you name it, they got it and got out. While those interactions were the most pleasant, selling a $2.99 resistor didn’t really do much for a man trying to sell enough swag to reach a commission rate of $75 per hour for a bonus. More on that commission later.
A good number of the people who stopped in made you wonder if they got lost on their way to Walmart, which again was next door to us. Some of those people would just stop and talk to you about anything, with no regard for whether they knew you or not. I was fine with that, but some of my more introverted colleagues would have rather run in the back room and hidden.
Other customers would ask about items I didn’t know much about because most of our training was geared toward selling cell phones. Many times when I needed assistance from a co-worker, I was SOL because he or she was in the middle of a pitch to another customer who was on the fence about buying a cell phone or four.
If our store did not have much foot traffic and there were three of us behind the counter, we would routinely send a part-time employee home at about 7 p.m. That happened more times than I could count.
Any reason I can come up with for not liking to work there stemmed from a commission system that was very difficult to keep up with. I only remember making commission one month, and that was November. Most of the time, my sales pitches for cell phones or batteries turned into spending a good amount of time trying to simply help someone who needed it, knowing that trying to reach the sales goal was all but a lost cause.
I distinctly remember my manager, who I believe was a good person at the core, telling me that I needed to make my sales goal so he would get his Christmas bonus. At the time it seemed like a rotten thing for him to say, but when I look back at that moment I realize that he had a wife and baby, and he was just trying to exist. He was one of us.
I remember that we had several corporate-owned RadioShack stores in Springfield, and in several outlying communities the stores with RadioShack signage were franchised. There was a big difference there. Those franchise stores simply carried the RadioShack name, but seemed to cater more toward what I remember the stores being when I was a kid: a place for electronics geeks or those who needed spare parts for older equipment.
In southwest Missouri, farmers and weather spotters routinely visited those franchise stores for radio parts or resistors for electronics I didn’t know existed. Several who visited our corporate-owned store would leave, visibly and audibly frustrated that we no longer carried the part they needed.
As the company fades into what seem to be its final days, I’ll remember RadioShack not for the company I worked for, but what it was when I would visit the store at the Triangle Mall in Longview, Washington (the mall itself is long dead). To me, in the 1980s and 1990s, it was this cool store that had a bunch of electronic gadgets, whizbangs and scanners that would stimulate the mind of any young kid with an affinity for technology.
But when I worked for it at the age of 23, it didn’t resemble anything close to that. Maybe that’s the reason my tenure as an employee there was disappointing. For me, it was less about money than it was sentimental reasons.
Not only has the Internet put a lot of brick-and-mortar stores in serious trouble, but the reduced quality of electronics overall has really changed the game. Nowadays people are more apt to chuck a piece of non-working equipment instead of taking the time and finding the knowledge and equipment to fix it themselves.
It’s with that in mind that I say farewell to a company that seems like the last great link to the 20th century, a connection to a past that was simply trying to feel out the future. The future is here and it’s much different than any of us could have ever imagined.