Memories – Radio Shack Customers


The first job I got out of college was the position of “Assistant Manager” at Radio Shack.  It sounds more glamorous than it actually was.  Managers had no actual power at the store level, assistant managers even less.  My boss was not a morning person and he wasn’t too wild about working weekends.  That meant I got to open the store most weekdays and close it down on Sundays.  My Radio Shack was an actual store and – unlike a lot of stand-alone stores – we had a location on the corner of a strip mall that hadn’t been abandoned and left for dead.

Weekday mornings were generally a slow time at Radio Shack.  I used to watch The Price Is Right on the eleven Realistic brand televisions lining the far wall.  If anyone was going to come in, it would be a know-it-all.  We had two types of customers at Radio Shack: the know-it-all customers and the know-nothing customers.  The know-it-all guys would show up right after the doors opened and make a bee-line to the parts.  Radio Shack featured a couple of aisles of discrete components: transistors, resistors, diodes and so on.  It didn’t matter; it was never enough.

After an hour of muttered grumbling, they’d stalk to the counter with an armload of electronic whatnot and rant how I had half a dozen PNP transistors in stock, but how could I be so incredibly dense as not to have matching NPN transistors?  What on Earth was I thinking?  I’d promise the very next time I traipsed back to the stock room to whip up a steaming batch of transistors, I’d be sure to make a couple of NPN’s… just for them.  Then I’d ring up their 450 parts… which totaled about eleven dollars.

Sunday afternoons were the peak time for the know-nothing customers.  I could tell them the instant they opened the door.  We had a security sensor that would chime like a doorbell when someone walked in the store.  The know-nothing customers froze at the sound.  And since the sensor was still making contact, the ringing would go on and on and on until I walked over and helped the customer all the way inside.

“I don’t know if you can help me,” they’d start.  The answer was probably not, but perhaps I could sell them something.  Invariably they had a “thing” at home and they needed it to connect to “this other thing”.  I’d take them by the hand and lead them around the store, pointing at various things and asking if – by chance – our things looked like their things.  Sometimes we’d luck out and find out that one of their things was actually an answering machine or a VCR.  Other times they weren’t so sure; the color was wrong, it was a different shape, they couldn’t decide it the thing was a cell phone or a clock radio (they were alike in so many ways).  Then I would usually sell them a splitter of some kind – phone, cable; it didn’t matter.  Nine times out of ten, whatever they bought was never going to leave the bag it was sold in.

We did have a third type of person.  They were usually friendly and knowledgeable and eager to make some big ticket purchase.  Maybe it was one of the Sensation! brand computers we featured at the front of the store.  Sometimes they were in the market for a stereo or maybe a television.  I always tried my best to be friendly though they weren’t really customers.  After half an hour of bold talk, usually their wives would peek their heads in and ask them to come out to the car; they were done shopping at the supermarket.

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One comment

  1. i worked at several shacks (from pee-on to manager) back in the mid 80s to the late 90s.. many good memories of the products, and customers. not so many good memories of management, and the constant pay changes. they lost their niche when they dropped their own product lines. anywhere from computers, phones, stereos, they went w/ “name brands” and that killed them.. it was hard to justify the higher prices for the same items that they could purchase anywhere else. oh well – good memories, thanks for the first post.

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