Any Higher Ed Lessons From RadioShack?

Kicking around a couple of ideas.

March 5, 2014

Does anyone believe that RadioShack will still be around in 2020?

This week the electronics retailer announced that they will be closing 1,100 stores. This will leave the chain with about 4,000 locations. This is probably about 4,000 too many.

I’m not one of of those people that thinks that the campus based university is headed for a similar fate as RadioShack, Circuit City, or Blockbuster Video.  

Still, I think that there may be some lessons for us in the slow and painful demise of RadioShack, and that we would be wise to try and discover them.

Lesson 1 -  Change When You Are Strong:

Change when you are strong is both the most obvious lesson to recognize and the hardest to operationalize. The most difficult time to do something fundamentally different is when what you are currently doing is working pretty well.  

Why fix what isn’t broken?

What if Radio Shack had put lots of energy into experimenting with online retailing at the start of the Web? If RadioShack had created a small and dedicated team, separate from the parent company’s culture and organizational structure, and been given the resources and the power of the (then strong) brand to experiment?

How early would have RadioShack needed to say that what had been working since 1921 would no longer work into the future?   

What risks and bold moves could have RadioShack taken that would have prepared the chain for the world that Amazon is currently dominating?

I’m not quite sure how these questions translate to our higher ed context. Nobody I know seems against experimentation and risk taking on campus?  Everyone talks about the challenge of disruptive innovation.   

The example of RadioShack pushes me to ask, however, are we doing enough?   

I’m sure that many smart people at RadioShack over the years have tried to make changes. But have these changes were clearly not enough.  Somewhere along the way RadioShack was not bold enough. Are we making a similar error?

Lesson 2 -  Any Non-Digital Business Should Emphasize People:

What could have RadioShack have done that would have both built on its strengths and prepared the brand to thrive in our digital age?

The answer was probably not turning RadioShack into Amazon. RadioShack’s core competency was running physical stores. Places. They probably would not have succeeded in going all online because they didn’t know online.

So what could RadioShack have done?  

What if RadioShack had revamped its brand around the RadioShack employee?  

I would love to be able to work with an electronics expert when I buy my electronics gear. How could I set up my house better for wireless networking, printing, and media? What is really the best deal for mobile phone plans for my family? How can I help my in-laws setup their Internet enabled TV when they are a 1,000 miles away?

Here it seems that RadioShack’s small stores and many locations would have worked in its favor.Staff the store with lots people to help out, and make your money on value-added services. 

Any place-based business will have to excel at doing those things that cannot be done well online.   

People will pay for expertise. People will pay for services that integrate technologies with in-person services.   

Rather than competing head-on with Amazon,RadioShack should have emphasized those services that an Internet retailer simply cannot accomplish.   

How could this observation be applied to higher education?

What lessons do you take for us from RadioShack?


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