Underrated in America: RadioShack

It's all too easy to make fun of RadioShack. The home electronics chain endures with whole walls devoted to different kinds of wires, cables and connectors. A 2007 spoof , "Even CEO Can't Figure Out How RadioShack Still In Business," from The Onion has its chief executive saying, "I wouldn't think that people still buy enough strobe lights and extension cords to support an entire nationwide chain, but I guess they must."

Well, I certainly do. I'll go there for an ethernet cable, a cheap phone, an AC adapter, even a quick birthday present for a child's party. If I need some kind of component to get my ancient VCR hooked up to my new TV, I know where to turn.

RadioShack is a bridge from old technology to the new. The stores are ubiquitous and remain an easy stop for picking up items that can solve all sorts of electronics problems faced by modern families -- a phone with three handsets, a box to convert your television to receive digital signals (that was a big recent driver of sales).No, I would not go there to buy a computer or a flat screen TV. But I shop frequently at RadioShack since I know it will have what I need and there is one pretty much everywhere I turn in New York City.

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The people who work there are eager to help -- some would say overly aggressive -- but I find they are simply fast at locating what I am looking for, and getting me to the register. I may not get the best price available, but I'm usually amazed at how little the little gizmos they sell cost.

The company may be facing hard times ahead (like all retailers in an economic slowdown). 24/7 Wall St. recently included it on its list of companies hardest hit by the credit crisis. In its earnings announcement last quarter, it warned of a slowing in sales and the stock (see RSH quote) fell to a 12-year low.

But I think RadioShack will weather the storm. A BloggingStocks writer asked in a recent post, "where does RadioShack go from here?" once digital broadcasting is mandated in 2009 and everyone has bought their converter boxes? Well, there will probably be some other device that cheapskates like myself need to make it work with all the old stuff they don't want to upgrade at the same time.

Getting customers like me to move a little faster on the upgrade cycle is clearly the plan. On October 28, it announced a new service allowing people to trade in their old digital cameras, computers, game consoles and MP3 players in exchange for a RadioShack gift card. It seems like a smart plan to me, especially ahead of the holidays.

RadioShack will never be cool or cutting edge. But for solving the average family's electronics problems, it most definitely is underrated.
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