February 9th, 2015

RadioShack woes

RadioShack recently filed for bankruptcy.

When I was young, RadioShack was a place we went at least a couple times a month. I had a battery card -- a loyalty card punched every time I bought batteries, and after a while you got a free battery. I remember buying a small transistor radio there, and later a larger boombox with a tape player. I remember my older sister buying a turntable, but I was gonna wait for CDs, which I had heard about on the radio (yeah, my anti-vinyl thing dates back a ways).

I knew, in some limited way, that Radio Shack bore some connection to the Tandy leather stores that my dad would occasionally buy some project at -- he'd buy the components for making a wallet every few years, assemble it, and then replace it when it wore out. He tried branching out into buying projects and then giving the results as gifts (belts, purses, etc.) but by that point I think it was probably 1980 and that kind of leather thing was beyond Not Cool any more.

I've been spending some time trying to figure out what happened to result in such an entrenched component of the strip mall retail ecosystem to declare bankruptcy. Here's what I've come up with so far.

(1) That battery card. Radio Shack is still the place where you can go and buy any conceivable battery. But you can also do that online, and for most batteries, you can get a better deal at an office big box store or Costco or whatever. Most importantly, a lot of stuff that used to take batteries doesn't any more, and a lot of us are using rechargables even for the AA, AAA etc. type stuff. We don't buy batteries every couple weeks -- we buy them in bulk at Xmas and that's about the end of it.

(2) The TandyCorp connection. Tandy had a history of hanging on to things way past their pull-by date. And when they did jump on a new trend, it was a little hit or miss. When my oldest sister was buying a computer because she needed one to connect to her college accounts in the 1980-1984 time frame, she bought a used TRS-80 system; they failed to transition successfully to the IBM PC era. Their efforts to come up with a big box chain failed -- they never made it out of their massive, entrenched strip mall retail ecosystem, which eventually seemed smart but meant they've been out of the mainstream of retail for a long time.

(3) Smartphones. Again, a hit and miss transition. They are a retailer, and as long as crackberries ran on regular batteries, that was helpful, too. But -everyone- sells smartphones now, and the batteries are all rechargeable, and everyone sells accessories and there's just no margin left at all. Worse, Tandy's focus on We'll Help You Fix it means they get stuck with a lot of high demand/low dollar customer interactions.

What could they have done?

Well, before there were Apple Stores, RadioShack was representing itself as the reliable, gentle place to bring your stuff and see if it could be fixed or possibly repair it. If they could have moved upmarket and been what Apple Store became, maybe Apple would never have felt compelled to launch their own brand. But Apple Stores went for lifestyle centers and eventually regular old malls -- they've steered clear of strip malls, which is where RadioShack has always lived.

What about games? There's no obvious reason why GameStop came into existence if RadioShack could have successfully served that crowd. And if RadioShack had successfully transitioned to big box retail, they probably _would_ have been selling all the games and game systems that people bought at GameStop for the last couple decades.

Music was never going to happen for RadioShack, because music stores selling vinyl predated them, and they owned the music market.

I think RadioShack was probably another fine example of done in by one's own success. They were pretty clear about what they needed to get into if they were going to stay current, and they even seemed to thoroughly understand each time they failed to do so. At the same time, with so many established stores in such desirable locations, with long term relationships with strip mall owners (who haven't been in a position to get new tenants or raise the rents on their existing ones for decades), they must have had difficulty going all-in on any one transition.

And so, they are soon to be All Done, with a ghost of its former self living on as cobranded Sprint/RadioShack shops. We're all walking around with radios (cell phones) in our pockets and soon to have radios on our wrists, and radios (RFID) attached to the shit we lose track off frequently -- but there won't be a RadioShack to go with all those radios for much longer.

ETA: Bloomberg article about Salus' big loan to RadioShack in 2013.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-02-08/behind-radioshack-s-collapse-is-a-tiny-lender-that-found-trouble

One of the circling sharks is Standard General:

http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20150207/NEWS07/150209814/radioshack-starts-store-closing-sales

Standard General bought out GE Capital's exposure? stake? Not sure what to call it when you are the lender, especially the lead lender.

http://www.thestreet.com/story/12903214/1/radioshack-is-thrown-a-lifeline-by-hedge-fund-standard-general.html

Standard General also has a stake in Dov Charney's shares of American Apparel.

http://fortune.com/2014/07/02/dov-charney-american-apparel-soo-kim/

The Radio Shack in my town is not closing, according to CNN's interactive map.

http://money.cnn.com/interactive/technology/radio-shack-closings-map/?iid=EL

Baker tries out this leadership thing.

On the 4th, I posted about (among other things) a link my husband sent me in which Governor Baker was taken to task for not providing good leadership during a recent storm. Well, Governor Baker got a do-over today, and it looks weirdly like he took that article as some sort of checklist.

Sweater vs business jacket? Sweater.

Leave it to people's own judgment or urge them to stay home but no travel ban? Urge them to stay home but no travel ban.

Baker is even wandering around giving praise to the people who clear the roads, and tweeting, "We ask everyone to stay off the roads, respect parking bans, help shovel out driveways, sidewalks & fire hydrants, & assist neighbors."

He is trainable. This is not nothing.

What does tomorrow hold?

Arlington schools are already closed, so I am not going to attempt to go to my Dutch lesson tomorrow; we might try to reschedule later in the week, depending on schedules.

The New England Aquarium, where T. was supposed to go on a field trip tomorrow (this is like the 3rd date for the trip, IIRC -- it has been snowed out repeatedly), was closed today. They have adorable footage on YouTube of the seals having fun in the snow. Since Boston schools are closed tomorrow, I don't really expect the Aquarium to be open.

MBTA service has been canceled already for Tuesday. They had already shut down inbound and announced outbound shutdown early today. Some people got stuck a couple hours -- that's got to be all kinds of no fun at all for everyone involved. Few buses running and those on snow routes.

Littleton town offices are due to be open tomorrow. The governor has already announced Tuesday is a snow day for my county: "Non-emergency state employees who live or work in Essex/Middlesex/Norfolk/Suffolk counties should not report Tuesday". Massachusetts courts in area also closed. "On Tuesday, 2/10, Courts in Essex, Middlesex, Norfolk, and Suffolk Counties will be closed due to state of emergency in those areas".

I'm looking at the road out in front of my house, and thinking about the order in which stuff gets plowed out in my town, vs. other towns, my street vs. other streets. I'm thinking about how hard it is to find places to put snow in parking lots. I'm thinking about how fucking cold it is supposed to be tomorrow, and how the snow isn't supposed to completely stop until 1 a.m. I'm also thinking about how the last day of school is already out to June 25 (26?), and the implications of another snow day, plus whatever comes our way in the next couple months.

Because it is going to warm up, and because of how late we are already running into June, I predict a minimum of an hour delay, probably 2. And I don't think anyone should count out the possibility of another snow day. I'm trying to decide if it is worth suiting up and going for a walk to take a look at things. Probably not.

ETA: Littleton, 2 hour delay as of 5 minutes ago. Woooooot! This particular storm dumped more as you go east, so there's still a chance that Acton will cancel, but I'm betting on a 2 hour delay for them also. And -- to my sorrow, but relief -- I now know what the expectation is for A. on delay days.

ETAYA: 1 hour delay in town. Double woooooot! I get to go for a walk tomorrow morning with my walking partner!!! Probably. If she decides it's too Hoth-like out there, I'll go later with the icebugs by myself.

How much do people read in a year?

h/t Nate from the blog formerly known as The Digital Reader, now known as Ink, Bits & Pixels

http://publishingperspectives.com/2015/02/just-54-americans-read-book-last-year-says-nea/

"The number of adults who read at least one novel, play or poem within the past year fell from 50% in 2008 to 47% in 2012, according to a new survey of over 37,000 Americans, “A Decade of Arts Engagement” by the National Endowment for the Arts. (Thirty years ago, that number was at 56 %.)"

I usually use the Pew survey to answer this question. They have a very different result.

http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/01/16/a-snapshot-of-reading-in-america-in-2013/

"As of January 2014, some 76% of American adults ages 18 and older said that they read at least one book in the past year. Almost seven in ten adults (69%) read a book in print in the past 12 months, while 28% read an e-book, and 14% listened to an audiobook."

This is a really big difference and I wonder why. Expect updates.

ETA: In the secondary coverage, the NEA surveys and Pew surveys do not provide what counts for "reading a book" etc. When you drill down, the NEA disallows any reading you do for work or school. They are _only_ counting reading they you did other than for work or school. Pew doesn't care. Therein lies the difference.

If you quote NEA survey data as a measure of _reading_ by Americans, you are wrong. The NEA survey data is a measure of _reading other than for work or school_ by Americans. The Pew data _is_ a measure of _reading_ by Americans.

Pew data is sample size about 1000. NEA data is sample size about 37K, if I understood that right, and is based on questions in the SPPA, which ETA got that wrong! "In 2002, the SPPA began to be administered as a supplement to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS), the nation’s premier source of labor statistics. "

Sample size info (the 37K estimate was right): http://arts.gov/artistic-fields/research-analysis/arts-data-profiles/arts-data-profile-5/about-2012-survey-public

Snow storms and truancy

I don't actually pay any attention to the truancy laws, and maybe that's a bad decision on my part. R. and I have been arguing about what the schools are likely to do to make up for the snow days. Here is my theory: tack on days until you hit June 30, then have school on Good Friday, and then start having big meetings and arguments about (a) state waiver, (b) school on Saturday, (c) cancel April vacation week.

I don't really care, because for unrelated reasons, I didn't schedule any travel during April vacation week. I have been arguing that it doesn't matter whether the kids show up (or, for that matter, how much of the staff is absent) on Good Friday and/or the last week of June. You just need to meet the statutory 180 day requirement. Turns out there are some interesting problems that may arise.

(1) Family vacation. While I haven't schedule travel this year during April vacation week or during the last days of June, other people have. And family vacation typically counts as unexcused absence. When you get above 5 days in 6 months, you trigger truancy laws, which could mean fines and worse for parents. My theory is that excusing those absences is _very_ discretionary at the school level. But I could be wrong.

(2) Other commitments, such as summer camp and summer jobs. Not just for the kids! A lot of teachers wind up working summer gigs at summer camps (day camp and sleepaway). And some of those camps start in the last week of June. There is actually a fair amount of leeway in Massachusetts truancy law for students to be absent from school for employment (with adequate documentation); it's less clear whether they can be absent from school to go to sleepaway camp.

My attitude on all this has been, make sure I communicate early and often about vacations that are scheduled during the school year and not during school breaks. However, I'm starting to realize that that might not be enough, if the school district and legal system decide to start enforcing truancy laws on top of snow days.