In 1960, there were nine Radio Shack stores all of which were in and around the Boston area. Those stores sold everything and anything that plugged in. Washers, dryers, refrigerators, mixers, radios – you name it and they sold it. But that was about to change.
The nine stores were not doing too well and were headed for a bank takeover. The bank that owned the paper on the company had a vice president who went to school with Charles Tandy. He contacted Tandy and asked if he would be interested in buying the company and seeing what he could do with it.
At that time the major effort of the Tandy Company was Tandy Leather. The Leather Company had done quite well with various contracts with the government selling leather kits for war veterans to have something to do while they recuperated from various injuries.
Tandy flew to Boston to look over the nine stores and their books and decided it was a worth-while endeavor. He interviewed various principles of the company and explained that he intent was to make Radio Shack a nationwide company based out of Fort Worth but not selling anything and everything that plugged in. His idea was to sell only electronics. He wanted to start with kits for the ham operators and various types of radios but absolutely not washers and dryers and such. He brought with him just one employee – Lew Kornfeld, who at the time was the advertising manager.
He brought the company to Fort Worth and set about building a series of stores that would soon become a household name. He established five divisions across the country. He worked with an idea of compensation that major universities and industrialists said would never work. He paid his people on the basis of the more they sold the more percentage they received in yearly bonus. At one point an average store manager could be making a small salary but could be receiving tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars at bonus time. A bonus predicated on total sales and profit.
Bonus time was always in August where there were five “Annual Meetings”. The meetings would include what advertising steps would be taken during the upcoming year and what new merchandise would be sold. Then at the last night banquet Charles Tandy would award the top sales performers with bonus checks. As they walked across the stage, he would shake their hand, encourage them to do more in the upcoming year and hand them more money in one check than they had seen all year.
As they walked off the stage they would be greeted by Executive Vice President James West, a long time friend of Tandy’s father and key component of the Tandy Corporation. West would talk the newly awarded bonus winners into the idea that they needed to invest their check into Tandy Stock and sign over their check. Many did and many became millionaires by doing so.
The Tandy Corporation was filled with such millionaires who were once store managers who had sold they way up from Store Manager, to District Manager to Regional Manager and finally to Divisional Vice-President. It was filled with quality upstanding men such as James West, Dean Lawrence, Bob Bourland, Dick Richards just to name a few this Examiner had the privilege to work with.
During the building of the Corporation it was widely known that Stock program was how you got ahead financially. For every dollar you placed into the program during your first five years the company would add 40%. After five years they added 60% and after 10 years they added 80%. The company was growing daily.
Charles Tandy told his managers he wanted to open one thousand stores per year. And that is what they did for several years. It grew to six-thousand stores in the U.S. with twenty-one manufacturing plants. It left their corporate headquarters on Seventh Street across from Montgomery Ward’s was and where Montgomery Plaza is today. Its headquarters were in an old ware house where apartments now stand. In its place Tandy built the Tandy Towers downtown. Two nineteen floor towers that housed all of the Tandy Corporations.
The successes of the corporation lead to three stock splits in as many years. It made multi-millionaires out of those who had the insight to invest in the stock program and watch it grow. The one thing it had going for it was they always sold the “Next Big Thing”. It was kits and parts for the Ham Operator, speakers and wire for the stereo buff and then for several years it was CB’s. The Radio Shack stores could not stock them fast enough. Their CB’s were high quality and an affordable cost. Throughout the company everyone could see that communication was the next big thing.
It invented and sold the first personal computer called the TRS-80. Its memory was stored on a cassette disk player. It came with three parts – a monitor, keyboard and the cassette disk player. It took personal computers to the next level with the Tandy 1000. But others were getting into a personal computer that they could stay up with.
They started selling personal phones for the home. These phones were not the old black rotary dial phones of the past but phones of various designs and equipment enhancements. From there it went to cell phones but selling other companies brands.
Radio Shack and the Tandy Corporation became a household word. With over six-thousand stores it seemed to be on every corner in America. And now in 2015 it is declaring bankruptcy. The Towers have been vacated for a new company, the stores are closing, and the millionaires are retired and gone. Is the closing our fault for getting complaisant and not seeking what they had to sell or was it that there were too many options for today’s buyer in the electronic arena or was it that there isn’t a “Next Big Thing”?