Monday, January 19, 2015

Losing the original geek squad

Radio Shack, where you bought your last blank cassette in 1998, could file for bankruptcy reorganization in the next few weeks.

Retailers have had a rough start in 2015. Macys, J.C.Penney, and Target Canada, which never got its supply chain issues under control, all are shuttering stores.

Coolcaesar at the English language Wikipedia
 [GFDL ( or
CC-BY-SA-3.0 (],
via Wikimedia Commons
Radio Shack, however, has been losing ground for years, squandering opportunities to rebound. When it lost the computer retailing business to Best Buy, it went into cellphones and wireless phones. And remote controlled toys. And digital cameras. And even created a buzz-worthy TV ad for the 2014 Super Bowl.

Of course, RS' marketing never drew crowds. Check out this 1980's ad for the Color Computer III, and you'll see why.

Why did Radio Shack falter? A few reasons: its aging customers finally learned how to order cheaper digital parts and electronics online. Its customer-engagement strategy that found sales clerks asking for everything except a fingerprint and blood sample just to buy a replacement phone battery.

Most damning, however, was the company's employee engagement strategy:

There wasn't any.

A few years ago, most Radio Shack employees I met knew plenty about their products, unlike the clerks in a Kmart electronics department. The Shack's workers were the original geek squad, and could tell you the difference between flux-core and rosin-core solder.

But, this sad account of working for Radio Shack makes a shift behind a McDonald's grille sound like a good time. If it's even 50 percent accurate, it shows an utter disregard for engaging employees in any effort to rescue the company.

Employee engagement is a major issue in Human Resources, and HR executives often turn to their public relations colleagues for help. Tapping into the energies of motivated employees can spell the difference between success or demise. And many communications strategies, including two-way communications, diversity and inclusion, and employee/executive chats, are in the wheelhouse of most PR professionals.

Engaging employees may or may not have saved Radio Shack. And, because RS also owns the cell-phone aisles in many Target stores, it won't vanish completely. But when you squander the knowledge and energy of store employees -- the original geek squad who were the face of the business to consumers -- you're doomed.