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RadioShack is looking to better understand the needs of makers/DIY hobbyists. As part of that effort, they’ve asked if we would run a brief survey here on MAKE. They’d like to hear from you. It’s a brief survey, which will take about five minutes of your time, and as an incentive, we’ll be be giving away a $150 Maker Shed Gift Certificate, at random, to one respondent.

Update: The survey is now closed. Thanks so much to all those who chimed in. We’ll announce soon who gets the $150 Maker Shed credit. But DO feel free to continue the discussion about RS. I know they’re reading our comments, so it’s a great way to communicate your thoughts to them, your frustrations, and especially, your desires for what RadioShack could be.

Here’s the survey.

Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn is a freelancer writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture, including the first book about the web (Mosaic Quick Tour) and the Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Building Robots. He is currently working on a best-of collection of his writing, called Borg Like Me.


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Comments

  1. Chris Palmer says:

    Since there wasn’t a free form comment in the survey, I’ll add it here…

    I grew up shopping at Radio Shack. I leaned to solder from Radio Shack kits and learned to love electronics from them. If I need a common part, a perfboard, an enclosure, or a cable of some kind, Radio Shack is the first place I look. I love being able to walk out with a part instead of ordering it. I know (theoretically) that Radio Shack can order any part that I want, but that doesn’t matter a bit to me. If I’ve got to order it, Digi-Key or SparkFun is easier and (likely) cheaper (except for shipping). I don’t get the feeling that any Radio Shack employees know about electronics.

    I was excited when Radio Shack starting carrying the Basic Stamp experimenters kit and the Parallax sensors (RFID, ultrasonic distance, compass, etc.). Recently they’ve even started carrying real, honest-to-god PC-board based kits again (yay!). One of the kits is a PIC programmer. I’ll probably buy one, even though there are cheaper alternatives, just to support their stocking of them.

    However, there is one, big, glaring, gaping hole in all of this new stock: THEY DON’T STOCK ANY MICROCONTROLLERS. You can’t buy a Basic Stamp module, you can can’t buy any flavor of PIC or Atmel AVR. So if you buy their Stamp starter kit, you can’t buy Stamp modules. If you buy their PIC programmer, you can’t buy microcontroller ICs. The Parallax sensors are nice (and easy to use with Arduino), but you can’t buy anything to connect them to. While I would be (pleasantly) shocked if they started carrying Arduinos, they should at least stock some basic microcontroller ICs. If they don’t stock Arduinos, they should stock all of the parts to make one on a breadboard (microcontroller, programmer, proper crystals, etc.).

    They have a few other stock oddities that have persisted for years: they carry wire-wrap tools and wire-wrap wire, but no wire-wrap sockets. They have a nice digital soldering iron station (I have it and love it), but they don’t stock replacement tips for it.

    And I may be in the minority, but here are the things I’m not likely to EVER shop for in a Radio Shack: a cell phone, a computer, a TV, an X-box, or video games (although I might want cables and accessories for these things). In other words, all of the things they’ve been moving towards pushing for the last 10 years or more.

    1. VRAndy says:

      I agree strongly with every thing you said.

      - Radio Shack Used to be great for hobbyists.
      - Their digital soldering station is pretty nice.
      - I’m not interested in going to a store to order a part that’s not in stock, I can do that myself.

      - I will never buy a cell-phone from Radio Shack and I’m frankly amazed that people do.  I will always either buy my phones direct from my service provider (They’ve got a store right next to Radio Shack, and another in the mall, and another downtown.) or I’ll buy them online for a price Radio Shack couldn’t hope to match.
      - Their X-Box games are always out of date, but they are a handy (however laughably overpriced) source for cables to connect up home entertainment systems, so in a pinch I’ll sometimes buy that sort of stuff there.

      -I’m always amazed that they don’t stock microcontrollers. More than once I’ve gone in there hoping to find a PIC or something similar.
      – I’m actually not 100% sure what the parts rack is even for.  Nothing I’ve ever wanted to build could be made entirely from parts I found at Radio Shack.  No microcontrollers, no servos, no motors, no displays,etc.

      (Of course, it takes me a while to figure out that they don’t have what I need, because the parts rack is always in total disarray. )

    2. VRAndy says:

      I agree strongly with every thing you said.

      - Radio Shack Used to be great for hobbyists.
      - Their digital soldering station is pretty nice.
      - I’m not interested in going to a store to order a part that’s not in stock, I can do that myself.

      - I will never buy a cell-phone from Radio Shack and I’m frankly amazed that people do.  I will always either buy my phones direct from my service provider (They’ve got a store right next to Radio Shack, and another in the mall, and another downtown.) or I’ll buy them online for a price Radio Shack couldn’t hope to match.
      - Their X-Box games are always out of date, but they are a handy (however laughably overpriced) source for cables to connect up home entertainment systems, so in a pinch I’ll sometimes buy that sort of stuff there.

      -I’m always amazed that they don’t stock microcontrollers. More than once I’ve gone in there hoping to find a PIC or something similar.
      – I’m actually not 100% sure what the parts rack is even for.  Nothing I’ve ever wanted to build could be made entirely from parts I found at Radio Shack.  No microcontrollers, no servos, no motors, no displays,etc.

      (Of course, it takes me a while to figure out that they don’t have what I need, because the parts rack is always in total disarray. )

  2. Chris Palmer says:

    Since there wasn’t a free form comment in the survey, I’ll add it here…

    I grew up shopping at Radio Shack. I leaned to solder from Radio Shack kits and learned to love electronics from them. If I need a common part, a perfboard, an enclosure, or a cable of some kind, Radio Shack is the first place I look. I love being able to walk out with a part instead of ordering it. I know (theoretically) that Radio Shack can order any part that I want, but that doesn’t matter a bit to me. If I’ve got to order it, Digi-Key or SparkFun is easier and (likely) cheaper (except for shipping). I don’t get the feeling that any Radio Shack employees know about electronics.

    I was excited when Radio Shack starting carrying the Basic Stamp experimenters kit and the Parallax sensors (RFID, ultrasonic distance, compass, etc.). Recently they’ve even started carrying real, honest-to-god PC-board based kits again (yay!). One of the kits is a PIC programmer. I’ll probably buy one, even though there are cheaper alternatives, just to support their stocking of them.

    However, there is one, big, glaring, gaping hole in all of this new stock: THEY DON’T STOCK ANY MICROCONTROLLERS. You can’t buy a Basic Stamp module, you can can’t buy any flavor of PIC or Atmel AVR. So if you buy their Stamp starter kit, you can’t buy Stamp modules. If you buy their PIC programmer, you can’t buy microcontroller ICs. The Parallax sensors are nice (and easy to use with Arduino), but you can’t buy anything to connect them to. While I would be (pleasantly) shocked if they started carrying Arduinos, they should at least stock some basic microcontroller ICs. If they don’t stock Arduinos, they should stock all of the parts to make one on a breadboard (microcontroller, programmer, proper crystals, etc.).

    They have a few other stock oddities that have persisted for years: they carry wire-wrap tools and wire-wrap wire, but no wire-wrap sockets. They have a nice digital soldering iron station (I have it and love it), but they don’t stock replacement tips for it.

    And I may be in the minority, but here are the things I’m not likely to EVER shop for in a Radio Shack: a cell phone, a computer, a TV, an X-box, or video games (although I might want cables and accessories for these things). In other words, all of the things they’ve been moving towards pushing for the last 10 years or more.

  3. Almost all of those questions I answered “strongly disagree”

    Which is a shame – because the Radio Shack of 20 years ago was LEGENDARY and I feel I missed out on this amazing place. Sadly… no member of staff any at of the radio shacks I’ve been to even knew what I was talking about when I asked about PIC chips.

    … then they tried to sell me a crappy phone I think :(

  4. Addidis says:

    Walked into a radioshack a week ago to get parts for a project, to try to encourage them in what they are doing.  When I walked to the part drawers the employee told me they were getting rid of parts , no one buys them. I even asked him if he thought radioshack loved diy (“no”). He was absolutely clueless and having worked there , I know when they are serious about something it meant a month of meetings for employees. 2 stores since they didnt have the part at the first one. Same results at both. No one has a clue about what radioshack corporate is doing with diy , in the stores. One of the stores managers actually did notice an influx of parts and stuff, but had no clue about “radioshack loves diy”. If you plan on sticking with this , you might want to tell your employees to stop turning people off to the idea.

    Any one else notice how the employees run away from ringing you up if your getting parts….. 
    The first and foremost problem is the employees (if they are still working there) are trained to sell phones and doing a good job at that. Not once during my visits did they ask what I was making . That was my favorite part of that job. They avoid parts customers because its not a phone, and is a low ticket item .

    This experience in their stores , has shattered any confidence i had that they are serious.

    1. VRAndy says:

      Yea, the staff makes it pretty clear that if you’re not interested in a phone they’re not interested in in you.

      Sometimes they’ll even express amazement at your purchase. (“Wow, I don’t even know what this *is*! What do you use it for?”   It was a resistor.)

  5. Last week I went into Radioshack to get a 25′ phone cord as I switched over to Uverse and remembered I needed the cable at about the same time they shut off my old service, so quick and close were my main determiners. I walked in, went to exactly what I needed, and was truly HARASSED by the employee working about what cell phone company I had and that I should switch. I said I was happy with my service and actually couldn’t get reception with any other company, and he wouldn’t check me out until he had hounded me for a good five minutes continously telling him I was not interested and just wanted the cable. Corporate might have this new diy initiative, but it will fail horrendously because of the store environment they have created over the last few years based entirely on combative sales of cell phone service and the like.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I hope that they are:
    A) prepared to receive honest answers to their survey, not just the ones they want to hear, and…
    B) actually paying attention to what people are saying in the comments to these blog posts and in the surveys.

    Radio Shack suffered several major black eyes with extremely poor marketing decisions and actively alienating what used to be their core customer base.  Like many amateur radio operators, I got my start on Radio Shack equipment and training materials, but when they cut off that support and said to go elsewhere, I did.  Later, when they cut all but the most basic support for their do-it-yourself and hobbyist customers, telling us to go elsewhere as well, I did. 

    For many years now, they have made it quite clear that they have no interest in selling anything but overpriced phones and accessories.  The last handfuls of hobbyist parts that they do stock are generally overpriced, poorly packaged (static-sensitive parts sealed loose in normal plastic bags with no protection for the leads), and the salesdroids couldn’t care less about what any of it does, or if it’s properly organized.  The parts drawers are always a jumbled mess, and half of the bags have been opened anyway, and the contents scattered throughout.

    The sales force typically knows about nothing beyond which cases fit which cellphones, or how to push the service contract deal of the week on you when you’re trying to check out.  In the past, I’ve had sales guys try to tell me that their gold-plated audio cables made better antenna feedlines than coaxial cable meant for RF.  That may be true when compared to the lousy 40% shielded RG-58 and press-on UHF connectors that they sell for radio use, but more than anything it demonstrates the chronic lack of knowledge that is present throughout their entire system.

    It has been many years and many stores since I have run across a single Radio Shack sales guy who knew what he was selling, and as yet, even with this supposed push to change their image, I have yet to see any changes.

  7. Eric Smith says:

    I needed a cap and a zener diode to fix a tv a few weeks ago.  I Ran into a radio shack praying that they might have it.  I walked in, a worker asked what I was looking for, I said a capacitor.  The employee stopped spinning his name tag lanyard around, gave me a funny look, shook his head, and went on without a word.  Luckily they did have the cap and zener I needed.  The capacitor was axial instead of radial, but it worked.  Another employee checked me out and there was no harassment about phones, luckily, but they sure had no clue about anything in the parts bin.

  8. Eric Smith says:

    I needed a cap and a zener diode to fix a tv a few weeks ago.  I Ran into a radio shack praying that they might have it.  I walked in, a worker asked what I was looking for, I said a capacitor.  The employee stopped spinning his name tag lanyard around, gave me a funny look, shook his head, and went on without a word.  Luckily they did have the cap and zener I needed.  The capacitor was axial instead of radial, but it worked.  Another employee checked me out and there was no harassment about phones, luckily, but they sure had no clue about anything in the parts bin.

  9. Gregg says:

    Well that should have showed up in the Makezone blog feed earlier. It gave me:

    “Thank you for your interest, but this survey is currently closed. We have already reached the maximum amount of respondents.”I am firmly convinced that the company asked to perform the survey does not know how to ask questions.

  10. Gregg says:

    Well that should have showed up in the Makezone blog feed earlier. It gave me:

    “Thank you for your interest, but this survey is currently closed. We have already reached the maximum amount of respondents.”I am firmly convinced that the company asked to perform the survey does not know how to ask questions.

  11. Ren Tescher says:

    Okay, the survey is closed…

    Move along, nothing to see here.

    I once interviewed at a Radio Shack in Greeley, Colorado for a Christmas season job.  The manager told me he preferred people who would sell over the technically adept.  The Radio Shack in Apache Mall (Rochester, MN) was refreshingly different.  It had an electronic engineer “in the house” who would give the right advice and helped out other salesmen with customer questions/problems.  You’ve got questions? That RS had the RIGHT answers! Customers didn’t end up buying stuff they didn’t need or the wrong stuff when he gave advice.  I’m not sure if he still works there.  When I go there, I often got directly to the parts drawers, the staff will pretty much leave me alone, with an occasional “Can I help you? (but I hope you don’t, because you look like you know more about that stuff than I do!)”

  12. Joe & Karen Leier says:

    survey is closed.  It has reached the maximum number of respondents.   Too bad.   I was looking forward to wining the prize.

  13. First off, here’s another Make article with a lot of (new and old) comments that Radio Shack should be looking at too.
    http://blog.makezine.com/archive/2011/04/radio-shack-decides-it-loves-diyers-after-all.html

    Either here or in that article it was said that Minnesota still has a lot of parts-inclusive stores. I think that’s more or less true, so I may be biased in saying that RadioShack hasn’t gone over the deep end yet. They still seem to be hanging on and I’m encouraged that at least someone in corporate is trying to warm up to the DIYers.

    But I agree that they have to go full throttle on this try get any lasting success. The stores and employees need to know about this initiative, like someone else has said. And focusing on events, promotions, and beginner products that invite the curious and the general public would be great too. Like, if they ever have a big rolling out of this new idea, they better have some nice banners on the windows inviting people to buy and get started. People would say “oh wow, that’s great. Yeah, I remember RadioShack used to be all about new electronics and computers. That’s nice that they’ve gone back to that.” Because people know how big RadioShack was with the first computers that came out and all that stuff. That’s one of the only connections the public has with our kind of work/hobby (besides modding airsoft guns to make them hurt more ;-) ).

    So the Shack can definitely some extra customers with this idea. But they better get everyone on board and make a good effort.

  14. W. Aaron Waychoff says:

    RadioShack: Look at SparkFun’s retail-package offerings. Then buy the whole lot, but up a display in every store currently selling components and you’re half way there.

    1. Chris Palmer says:

      That would be perfect.

  15. Chris Palmer says:

    Although the prices aren’t always competitive, there are a few things where I go to Radio Shack first for, particularly if I’m in a hurry. Cables and connectors, for example. With the exception of horribly overpriced HDMI and DVI cables (their prices on those are insane). I might be able to find a male-to-female RCA y-splitter or a stereo subminiature to RCA at Wal-Mart, but I might not. Usually I can find those kinds of things immediately at RS. If it’s a really odd need, I can usually piece together cables or buy the proper connectors and do it myself. As I said in another post, perfboard, blank PC boards (although I really wish they sold single-sided ones ’cause for basic DIY boards, double-sided is a waste and a PITA), board etchant (usually), project enclosures, resistors and capacitors, switches (overpriced, but available), wire, etc.

    As others have said, even in the stores that still have component parts, it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to find all of the parts for a project in a RS store. I’m glad they still stock the Forrest Mims books. Has anyone checked to see if all of the projects in those books can still be built from commonly stocked RS components?

    The Radio Shack stores in my area are closer to home and work than the closest Best Buy (only one in the city). We don’t have stores like Fry’s. We had two independent electronics parts stores. The best one went out of business last year. The remaining one probably doesn’t have a single thing introduced in the last 10 or 15 years. So most of the time, it’s try Radio Shack and if they don’t have it, order it online and wait for it.

    1. Addidis says:

      Im not the only one thinking they need to partner up with digikey and be a store front for digikey am I ?
      That , and putting the cell phones in kiosk like they have been considering , in other stores like sams club is needed too. Transfer the people doing well with cellphones to the new cell huts . Get people that care bout DIY in the stores. Give them free / crazy discounts for parts and incentives for them to tell you they made something. Use submitted projects to host a project a month.

      No DIY person will work for you and contribute if they are made to sign the 50 + pages of IP paperwork I had to to get my 7 $ an hour job there.

      Did you know the store can’t even give you a quantity discount any more? You used to be able to order 100 switches and get them for a reasonable price with the discount. Now you have to go threw the hassle of corporate to do it , and the employees dont even want to tell you its possible because then the DM at corporate steals your sale .

  16. David says:

     for those of us who didn’t get to do the survey, could someone post the questions?

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