At one time, there were more than 7,300 Radio Shack stores nationwide and in four foreign countries. That number has steadily dropped as the business model changed and stores were closed. Now, there are less than 600 stores – with one of those few standing in Derby at 707 N. Baltimore.
It’s a franchise store, meaning owners Mark Brecheisen and Sean Hadipour have paid Radio Shack a fee to use the name and order a minimum amount of merchandise each year.
In addition to the independent dealers, there are some corporate-owned stores left, but only about 70 – just a shell of the multi-billion dollar company that was founded in 1921 and could once claim that 95 percent of households lived within three miles of an outlet.
The two have been doing business in Derby since 1991 and are “very satisfied” with the city, where the business also is known as B & H Sales, Inc., named after the two owners.
It’s typical that Radio Shack stores are in the smaller towns, Brecheisen said.
“In the major cities, they’ve just shut down,” he said.
They still get branded Radio Shack products from a warehouse in Fort Worth, but even if the Radio Shack brand completely shut down, they would continue to be in business, he said, concentrating on ham radio operations and other lines of merchandise.
Hadipour said the nationwide, company-owned Radio Shack operation just couldn’t compete with big box retailers and the internet. The stores offered knowledgeable, in-house personnel, but shoppers bypassed them and went to their computer to make electronics purchases.
“Online was the worst one for them,” he said.
Ham radio makes up about 30 percent of the business’s trade and, as the only such outlet in the region, draws customers from a variety of places, including northern Oklahoma. The nearest competition, he said, would be in Kansas City or Oklahoma City.
Brecheisen and Hadipour started their business in Andover in 1988 and once had three stores, but are now down to the one Derby location – and plan to keep it running.
There’s about 3,000 square feet of sales space, enough to handle all the business’s needs, Hadipour said. There also is a repair and office area in the back.
Being on Baltimore with high traffic flow also helps the company, he said.
A lot of people don’t understand ham radio or how important it is in emergencies, he said.
“You can talk anywhere in the world, and it’s the last communication if everything goes down,” he said.
Since they can operate on batteries, in case of a natural disaster that destroys phone towers and the electric grid, ham radio will still be in operation, Hadipour said. Also, there are many places in the world where there is no cell phone coverage or landline service, and in those remote outposts, ham radio is a vital lifeline.
“There’s still a need for it,” he said.
The store also stocks and sells citizens band radio, which some may think has faded from use after being so popular in the 1970s. But Hadipour said the low-range radios are still popular with farmers who need to communicate with a combine or other equipment in operation in their fields.
The business’s mix of merchandise even includes big-ticket items such as stoves along with products that some retailers may have stopped stocking – such as bedside clock alarms – because of the popularity of smart phones.
Despite the competition, people come in because if there’s an electronic part, from a capacitor to a plug, Brecheisen and Hadipour likely know the intricate details of it and how it performs.
There often is an in-depth conversation as customers and the staff troubleshoot whatever electronic challenge is being faced.
The two are outgoing, friendly salesmen and say they relish the customer contact.
“It’s a lot of hours but it’s not a physically hard job,” Hadipour said. “There’s a base of customers who come here all the time and we enjoy talking to them.”
Indeed, they thrive on providing a family-like environment in the store, and know many of the customers by name. That’s something people going online won’t get, they say.
“We just like people,” Hadipour said.