RadioShack is a 94-year-old electronics chain that once spawned a generation of tinkerers and do-it-yourselfers. These proto-geeks knew they could travel a few miles to find a treasure trove of electronics parts and tools that they could fashion into their own creations.
Now that RadioShack has been rescued from bankruptcy by Standard General, a hedge fund, the plan calls for it to operate as a sort of high-tech 7-Eleven, selling chargers, batteries and other immediate gratification gizmos in a much smaller number of stores. Sprint will be a part of the store's offering.
To my Boomer eye, the best thing about RadioShack is a much bolder and a potentially bigger win. RadioShack could claim its rightful position as the center of the Maker universe, the same way it cut its teeth on tinkerers all those years ago.
The Maker Movement is the best way to describe the growing portion of the population that celebrates the resourceful creativity of making things. As the movement grows, it takes on many forms, from the MakerFaires now held all over the world, to school programs concentrating on robotics or invention, to stores like NY's MakerBot store that is part retail and part hobbyist hub.
The Maker spirit is not new. It's the same spirit that every kid who's ever held a Lego, Erector Set or Tinker Toys felt. The new tinkerer has a new set of tools: 3D printers, electronic circuits and sensors -- stuff that should be a part of RadioShack's DNA.
How can a store embody the sensibilities of builders, tinkerers and folks who value self-reliance and competence? They can make those the qualities that the store stands for -- something that could never be duplicated online.
Five ways to make RadioShack into MakerShack:
1. Change the name to MakerShack: Boomers will appreciate the nostalgia and millennials will appreciate the hipness.
2. Offer Access to Shared Collaborative Tools: 3D printers, laser cutters, dye sublimation printers and soldering stations, take what's expensive and a mess to set up yourself and offer it as a sort of high-tech shared community.
3. Hire Knowledgeable Tinkerers: Imagine going to a store where you can learn to set up your home alarm system or try out a new mobile controlled lightbulb? Tinkerers would appreciate the growth of new jobs and the store's image as Maker-leader would be reinforced.
4. Community Outreach: After school programs, DIY programs, home repair programs -- imagine being able to go to your local RadioShack as a vibrant center of the community.
5. Well Stocked Parts: It has become a bit farfetched to believe any brick and mortar store could out-stock its Internet competitors, so RadioShack would need to be able to get out parts and pieces just like Amazon. Drones can do that.
The history of RadioShack reads like a history of American ingenuity and failure. From its roots in the CB radio craze, to its early foray into personal computers, followed by dozens of facelifts and remakes, RadioShack epitomizes an America filled with possibility for the right company at the right moment. The Maker Movement has crossed the generation gap by appealing to the collective imagination of people who love what RadioShack had to offer. It can do it again.
Robin Raskin is founder of Living in Digital Times (LIDT), a team of technophiles who bring together top experts and the latest innovations that intersect lifestyle and technology. LIDT produces conferences and expos at CES and throughout the year focusing on how technology enhances every aspect of our lives through the eyes of today's digital consumer.