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Troubled RadioShack taps local flavor to rebuild business

A RadioShack employee demonstrated how customers at the redesigned Downtown Crossing store can swipe their debit card and have access to free and secure phone charging.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff/Globe staff

Struggling electronics retailer RadioShack Corp. is trying to rebuild its image in Boston, the city where the chain was founded in 1921 by two British immigrants.

The Texas-based company on Wednesday plans to unveil a redesign of its Downtown Crossing store that ditches the familiar red, black, and white color scheme for white walls and cabinets, stainless steel, and chestnut wood accents. And in a nod to the city’s coastal geography, the store includes nautical map wallpaper, an activity table built to resemble a ship’s bow, and sails hanging from the ceiling.

Beyond the new look, the revamped RadioShack is equipped with interactive features, such as a touchscreen that controls a dozen wireless speakers and automatically mutes the store’s background music when customers want to listen to them.


It’s one of seven locations in the Boston area that will get makeovers in the next few months. Nationwide, dozens of RadioShack stores are being renovated.

They are also adding more products like 3-D printers and home automation systems to appeal to increasingly tech-savvy consumers.

“Boston always has been and will be an important market for us,” said Michael De Fazio, senior vice president of store concepts at RadioShack. “We’re excited to open the new store in such a highly visible location.”

Downtown Crossing RadioShack employees Betty Kassahun and Pedro Garcia at the store’s bow-shaped activity table.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff/Globe staff

The company is among a handful of retailers that have responded to poor financial performances with plans to close some locations and revamp others.

But RadioShack’s plight is particularly dire — revenue fell 20 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013 compared with the same period the previous year, and the $400 million in losses last year dwarfed the $139 million deficit it reported in 2012.

Last month, RadioShack said it would close 1,100 stores — about one-fifth of its US locations. The company this week said it had not determined whether any of its 111 Massachusetts stores will shutter.


Some analysts and Wall Street investors, while encouraged by the turnaround attempt, are not convinced the chain can prosper again.

“The key is they have identified that it’s a tired brand, both in terms of what is has offered and how it looks,” said Scott Tilghman, a Boston-based senior analyst for B. Riley & Co. in Los Angeles. “The challenge is that this could have been done two or three years ago.”

Tilghman said competition in RadioShack’s core wireless phone category is increasing as companies like Best Buy Co. Inc. and Staples Inc. offer more phone deals.

Another challenge is that most people don’t think of RadioShack as a place to check out the latest gadgets. Store traffic is largely driven by shoppers looking for last-minute items — like adapter cables — or obscure products, Tilghman said.

The store still draws hobbyists such as amateur radio operators, but even that demographic has dwindled.

“My question that I still don’t have a satisfactory answer to is: how do you drive traffic?” Tilghman said.

The Downtown Crossing store, on School Street, is one of three unique concepts being rolled out by RadioShack. The other two are in New York and Fort Worth and the look of each is tailored to its location.

Six additional Boston stores will be remodeled in keeping with the new RadioShack concept being duplicated all over the country.

Besides the touchscreen speaker controls, customers can place their hand over any of the Downtown Crossing store’s streaming media players and details about each device flashes on a nearby screen. There’s also an Afinia 3-D printer that spits out pirate figurines and key chains.


“The concept store was created to bring about an entirely different customer shopping experience,” De Fazio said. “It’s a very big part of our strategy to turn the company around.”

Taryn Luna can be reached at taryn.luna@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @TarynLuna.