Me and the Shack

My experiences with the Tandy Corporation.

In 1996 TSI’s salesperson, Doug Pease, and I had negotiated a contract to provide the Tandy Corporation with three licenses for our AdDept software system. AdDept was designed to handle all administrative functions for an advertising department of a large retailer. Tandy only planned to use it for its newspaper and magazine advertising for reasons that were never really explained to us. At the time Tandy had three sizable retail chains, RadioShack (which, at least at the time that we dealt with them was officially one word), Computer City, which sold personal computers and peripherals, and Incredible Universe, which sold all kinds of electronic gear in a Disney-like setting. The three operated somewhat independently, and so there were three different systems. Unfortunately, by the time that the contract was finalized, Tandy had decided to shut down IU altogether, and so we only sold two licenses.

Tandy’s headquarters was in downtown Fort Worth (or, as I later came to think of it, Fort Worthless) adjacent to a mall. There was no parking nearby. All Tandy associates and customers of the mall parked in a lot that was .7 miles from the building. A small train, which they called a “subway,” ran back and forth.

We sold the systems to Tandy, but all of the negotiations were with the VP of Newspaper Advertising at RS. The other divisions had no input. We learned that RS had two systems (the other divisions had none) for newspaper advertising – one for ordering and one for paying bills. RS had four newspaper buyers for four geographical areas, and each had an assistant and a few clerks. Each of these employees had two terminals on their desks because the two systems were totally independent. They had to enter every single ad into both systems, and at the time RS ran ads or inserts in over two thousand newspapers every week as well as a few additional ads.

While I was installing the AdDept systems on one of their dozens of large systems, a security specialist in the IT area was assigned to oversee what I did. She sat next to me and did nothing for the better part of a day. She had no clue about anything that I was doing, and she expressed no interest in learning. Now, I had once been accused of sabotaging word processing documents when I installed a system, and so I actually appreciated that someone else might be able to testify about what I was doing. On the other hand, she was totally incapable of actually monitoring what I was doing, and if I were malicious, she could not have prevented me from deleting or modifying their files or programs. What I did not understand was why Tandy would pay her to keep the seat warm. I had to wonder what she did on the days when a vendor was not installing a system.

For a short period of time the RS employees in the newspaper area had to deal with three systems. When AdDept was fully installed, they were able to remove one of the terminals from everyone’s desk. However, as far as I know, they never adjusted the staffing levels to reflect the fact that they were now doing much less than half as much as before. In fact, I would estimate that AdDept eliminated three-quarters of the work previously performed. I kept expecting to see empty desks on each subsequent visit, but I never did.

RS insisted that I train each of the buyers separately. Despite the fact that their job descriptions were nearly identical, they interacted almost not at all. This was fine with us. We charged them $1,000 per day for training.

The buyers were considered experts concerning all of their papers. I noticed that they were running inserts in The Garden Island, a newspaper only available on Kauai. The buyer told me that inserts were cheaper in that paper than display ads (called ROP in the business). I wondered why they advertised in that paper at all. My recollection was that it was not a serious paper and that free copies were available at any restaurant. It was more like a shopper, and on Kauai most of the shoppers are tourists. I doubted that many of the locals subscribed to it.

One day when I was at the RS office for training I mentioned that I lived in Enfield. One of the ladies told me that they were opening a new RS store there. I was surprised at this, and I asked where it would be located. She gave me an address on Elm Street. I knew that the only part of Elm Street that had any retail establishments was the Enfield Mall, which already contained an RS store, and the strip mall across the street from it. Sure enough the new store was located across the street from the existing one. It was open for two or three years, and then they closed it down. I wonder if anyone at headquarters knew how close these stores were.

My best stories from my many trips to Fort Worthless came from the installation at Computer City. One day I noticed the Advertising Director at the copy machine. I had never seen anyone of that level at any other company performing such a mundane task. He was not there for just five minutes. He had a huge stack of papers with him, and it took him several hours to finish.

You might think from this incident that the department was understaffed. Oh, no, there were dozens of employees, so many that it was impossible for me to figure out what most of them could be doing. One thing that nearly all of them did was eat. Every day one of them brought in a large tray of snacks, and they all took a break and chowed down shortly after the work day began.

They also talked a lot. One day the subject was cats. One lady mentioned in passing that she had fifty-three cats. I asked her whether they were indoor or outdoor cats. She said that she had to keep them indoors because one of her neighbors shot her cats with a rifle whenever one ventured near his property. I mentioned that this would be considered bad form in Connecticut. No one commented, and no one laughed.

CC was sold to CompUSA in 1968 just as the employees were getting used to using AdDept.

Retailers are known for running lean operations. Of all the major ones that I had dealings with, Tandy, which shortly after discarding CC became known as just RadioShack, appeared to be by far the least impressive in regards to the efficiency of its administration and management. I am not a bit surprised that the company is about to give up the ghost.