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September 21, 2011 AT 12:00 pm

RadioShack at #MakerFaire

It was nice to see Radio Shack at MakerFaire this year. I have to say I was really impressed with their soldering pavillion — it looked like everyone was having a good time, and from the time I arrived on Saturday till closing on Sunday, there was a permanent crowd around their booth.

One of the things that struck me about their kit was the final step: covering the flashlight PCB in heatshrink tubing — they had a whole station set up for that. What’s so cool about that last step is that it uses another process (heatshrink) that is different from soldering, which means that kids who make these kits learn two different (though related) skills. I just kinda thought that was a neat idea, because it requires a lateral step in thinking to go from one to the other. I realize that neither soldering nor heatshrinking is all that difficult, but I heard several of the kids exclaim “that’s SO COOL!” when the tubing began to shrink, so it definitely got them excited (which is the whole point, right?).

I also shot a little interview with Amy from the Radio Shack team:

They also have a nice writeup on their blog, detailing their experiences:

This past weekend, while Paige and Breanne were in Austin, TX for the Austin City Limits Festival, I packed up and headed to New York for the World Maker Faire at the New York Hall of Science! After our team attended the Bay Area Maker Faire earlier this year, RadioShack signed on to be a presenting sponsor for the World Maker Faire in New York, as we were immediately able to see how important Maker Faire is to the DIY community.

This was my first Maker Faire, and I have to say, it completely surpassed my expectations and helped me get a better idea of what DIY is all about.

I saw some pretty incredible things at Maker Faire NY. One of my favorite was the 3D printers from MakerBot. 3D printers are exactly what they sound like – you design something, just as you would write a paper for a regular printer, and then press print. Instead of ink on paper, the 3D printers use plastic to construct your design. It’s truly incredible, and when you see them in action, you immediately see the benefit, even for companies. Why stock an unending supply of small knobs and parts for discontinued products when you can simply share the design files and allow consumers to print their own on-demand?

Food abounded, including these huge vats of paella, a rice dish that includes a medley of various meats and vegetables – the perfect meal to embody the creative mixture of parts, pieces, and people that is Maker Faire.

I’d love to see them run these workshops in their stores, or at local fairs and carnivals. It was awesome seeing them at MakerFaire, and I hope the success of their presence there — they put together almost 4000 kits! — encourages them to do more work like this in the future.

Well done, Radio Shack!


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8 Comments

  1. I am glad they are trying to reach out from the top to hobbyists. It is good to see new products and things that will make me want to go back into their stores.

    Unfortunately, there is still a big problem with untrained staff at most stores I have been to. There is absolutely nobody in any store who knows anything about their component selection. Everytime I go in there, the employees pretty much say “feel free to look in the drawers, but I can’t help you”

    I talked to two separate store managers in two separate stores this weekend, and they both looked at me like I was speaking greek when I asked if their rgb led was common anode or common cathode (the package should really say which it is).

    It seems silly to stock the parts, and not have anybody qualified to sell them.

  2. @craig, over time the staff may get (more) training – we should celebrating and supporting radioshack, and encouraging them 🙂

  3. @Craig: While I’ve had experiences similar to yours in the past, I’m quite sure that training programs for RS staff are in the works. I’m basing that on the fact that, in retail, training always happens around the introduction of new products. In this case Arduino, which RS is making something of a big deal about stocking.

    As for your LED problem, I agree that the packaging on some of their components is bad. Have you tried sending a friendly email or tweeting your issue to @RadioShack? We all need a little corrective feedback now and then.

    🙂

  4. The group at Maker Fair was great and seemed to get it. They were very generous to the Hacker Spaces. I hope that continues. It would be great for Radio Shack to develop healthy relationships with the local hacker spaces. In other ways they have the opportunity to be hacker space in places where they don’t exist yet.

  5. For a big company, Radio Shack is making changes pretty fast. It was only earlier this year that they announced the renewed focus on DIY and that they were going to attend Maker Faire Bay Area. And now they sponsored a booth and have announced Arduino!

    Give them constructive feedback, this is really nice to see.

  6. I also have to applaud whoever decided to put the RadioShack tent right next to the TOOOL lockpicking tent. It was great seeing people move from one to the other.

  7. As far as Radioshack training, I’m not going to defend it, but there are around 5000 stores to staff, quantities of component sales are never going to be high enough to wow the shareholders, so training and staffing is going to be based more on sellers. I used to work there, and though I knew more on the parts than anyone I ever saw in the district(over time probably over 100, DMs, managers, associates) I couldn’t tell you the details on the RGB LED without looking it up.

    A company cannot afford to stock stuff that doesn’t sell, and so around 10 years ago, the components there started getting cut way back(there were all kinds of logic chips etc that no one ever bought anymore.) If components aren’t being bought day in and day out, the options for a business are to cut them, or find a way to get those who do come for them to buy other stuff too(cell phones etc.)

    Unless they can find a way to make lots of sales and profit on these type of items, you aren’t going to see many electrical engineers in the stores to help you pick components. As it is, base pay is around minimum wage depending on your state, a seller gets fixed dollar amounts for sales of items like wireless phone plans, and a percentage of high profit sales like parts and batteries if a certain dollar per hour in sales is made for the week.

    People complain that Radioshack doesn’t have amateur radio anymore, but honestly, the couple of years I was there when there were some still available to order, the single digit number of people who I saw ask about them had no idea what it was really, and were shocked by the price. I’m thinking they thought they could get into it for under $50. The people who knew what they were doing with amateur radio already, probably bought online, maybe for a cheaper price, and likely dodging sales tax.
    The same thing happens with the parts. I have to figure the arduino UNO will be in the $35 range, not as cheap as some online stores, but there are online stores selling for that much, + sales tax. If you need one today, or if the few dollars more doesn’t matter to you for the convenience, you will buy there. Otherwise you will buy online somewhere with free shipping, and forget to declare the "use tax" where you are supposed to pay unpaid taxes on out of state purchases when you file your state income tax.
    This just will not work for a retail store unless they are selling arduinos at least at a rate that averages a couple a week per store across all the stores. Actually if that happened, production would have to be increased, bringing cost per unit down, meaning cheaper arduinos for everyone. … not going to happen.

  8. It’s great to see the changes RadioShack is making. Anybody know more about the flashlight kit they were making? I’m a scoutmaster with a bunch of boys who would like to engineer something. They suggested a flashlight would be neat to make.

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