They’re Back! Three Retailers Once Thought Dead Are Rising from the Ashes

Radio Shack, Circuit City, and Toys“R”Us may be back in new retail formats

We have talked a lot about the changing retail landscape and the struggles of major iconic brands such as Sears, JCPenney and Macy’s. These struggles continue. But for some once iconic retailers—think Radio Shack, Circuit City, and Toys“R”Us—the end has come. Or has it? Looking at these three brands today, is resurrection possible? The answer is yes.

Radio Shack
At one time, Radio Shack had as many as 4,300 stores and more than 2,000 independent franchisees. And in the early 1990s, they were the world’s largest manufacturer of personal computers. Their stock reached its peak in 1998. As of 2011, smartphones represented half of all sales revenue. But, by then, the company was in a period of long decline.

Their old base of do it yourselfers were finding it harder and harder to find the gadgets they wanted in-store. Increasing management turmoil made matters worse. Store closings began in earnest in 2006 as the company began losing money. Losses continued. In February 2015, Radio Shack filed for bankruptcy. Standard General acquired the assets and formed a new company, General Wireless Operation. But this new entity filed for bankruptcy in March 2017. The company engaged in the liquidation of most assets and all but 20 corporate stores were gone by June.

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In July 2018 what was left of Radio Shack partnered with Hobby Town USA to open about 100 Radio Shack “Express” stores. Radio Shack dealerships had re-opened around 500 stores as of 2018. Currently the Radio Shack website seems viable, offering online product and shows hundreds of store locations on a US map, mainly in smaller towns and cities.

Circuit City
Circuit City, arguably, was the first major electronics superstore chain with over 800 stores at its peak. But strong competition from Best Buy, outdated stores, and abandoning the appliance business led to declining sales. Circuit City announced in January 2009 that it was going out of business and liquidating stores. The final day of operation was March 8, 2009.

Systemax bought the Circuit City name, trademarks, and e-commerce website at auction out of bankruptcy. In November of 2012, Systemax consolidated under the TigerDirect brand and the use of the Circuit City brand name ended after 63 years.

In January 2016 retail veteran Ronny Schmael revived the name as Circuit City Corporation after acquiring the brand from Systemax. On August 22, 2018, Circuit City officially relaunched the brand name as an online retailer and announced plans to begin operating a “stores within stores” chain. On their website as of early 2019, Circuit City referenced opening up retail storefronts around the country. The website is robust and offers a multitude of products. And the company is even sponsoring a NASCAR race car in partnership with H2 Motorsports. But, as of this writing, I could find no evidence of open storefronts.

Toys“R”Us
By Christmas 2018 Toys“R”Us was gone. The powerhouse category killer once had more than 800 stores but finally succumbed to management and inventory issues plus intense competition from Amazon and Walmart. Plans to keep as many as 200 stores open never materialized. But, as of last week, it looks like Toys“R”Us may be back.

Richard Barry, a former Toys“R”Us executive is now CEO of a new entity, True Kids, Inc. and has been discussing his vision to reincarnate Toys“R”Us. His vision includes smaller stores of 10,000 square feet (one third smaller than before) with more “play area” experiences. The company has not commented publicly, but when you type in Toys“R”Us on the internet you find yourself on a website with the Toys“R”Us logo. The site discusses its new vision, team, and global strategy. Nothing specific has been promised, but there are rumors of stores opening by the Christmas season 2019.

Even with the amount of retail change, the closing of thousands of retail stores, and the apparent disappearance of major iconic brands, there is still hope for some that were thought to be gone forever. Although in different forms, Radio Shack and Circuit City are back. And Toys“R”Us is planning to be. So, as Yogi Berra once famously said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

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