Updated: Mar 9
Fry’s Electronics, a store, which if you had visited in the past, is not easily forgotten, announced on February 24th that they would be shutting down operations due to “changes in the retail industry and the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic”.
They were not the first to fall to unhospitable retail conditions and to be honest, the iconic electronics retailer had otherwise lasted the test of time.
Fry’s Electronics stood out amongst its competitors by offering a unique design and concept to each one of its locations (28 stores in 9 states). The San Jose based electronics chain decorated each store with a different theme. So much so that when you entered any one of their unique locations, it felt like you were transported to another world.
The stores I frequented in Southern California had a space and aquarium theme with a functional café in the center of the store. They offered over 50,000 electronic items in each of their stores including Home Audio/Video, Computer Peripherals, Car Audio, Appliances, and a very impressive catalog of Blu Ray Movies, Vinyl Records, and Compact Discs.
They were not the first to fall though.
Circuit City, a company I had worked for as a young man, closed in March of 2009 after a 59-year run. One year before the high-end audio chain, Tweeter, ceased operations at every one of their 100 locations.
Right on the heels of this was the closure of many music stores like Tower Records, FYE, and Wherehouse Music in the mid 2010’s.
What killed these stores?
Why is the consumer market allowing themselves to miss out on the experience of hearing a pair of speakers before buying them, or grabbing the latest release from their favorite artist on a Tuesday morning?
Online Competitors would be the stone I would cast.
At the time of this article, ecommerce now accounts for 21.3% of total retail sales, with Amazon having over 37% of the e-commerce retail market as of 2017.
It’s more convenient to buy online. Safer. Less expensive. That is the argument most consumers pose when challenged with the question, why don’t you want to go to the store anymore?
Even with a vaccine within the grasp of millions of Americans, they now have a new normal. They have grown comfortable with ordering online and not having to risk their health to go to the store. The consumer has changed and it’s uncertain whether retailers understand how MUCH they’ve changed.
There isn’t a store on the planet that has the catalog of offerings that Amazon possesses.
How can brick and mortar retail stores survive the age of e-commerce?
Once counties and states begin to reopen fully and the vaccine has taken its course, it will become time to evaluate what retail carnage is left behind.
Walmart still commands over 10% of retail sales, so we know they aren’t going anywhere.
What about Best Buy? They are starting to close many of their stores, more than usual since COVID hit us in 2020.
What destiny lies for many of these juggernaut retailers?
Well, I have one idea amongst a myriad of solutions that economists and business professionals have offered, and it may not make much sense at first.
The return of Ma and Pop stores.
Small, boutique brick and mortar style stores, have a certain allure as you pass them on the main street of your small town. There is always that comment in the car, “oh look at that store, it looks nice. We should check it out!”
Do you though?
Bogey’s West Music is a cozy shop owned by a couple, Tammy & Steve, who are long-time music lovers. The store, which opened on 8-8-88 is lined with displays filled with new and used Compact Discs and Vinyl Records. The walls are decorated with tie die shirts featuring some of your favorite classic bands of the 70’s and 80’s. Decades that are now having a resurgence with the eclectic community and younger generations intrigued by the culture of that time period.
For over three decades the shop has been a staple in an antiquated brick building in the center of Castle Rock, a growing city with a quaint historic district just south of Denver, CO.
The owners are both welcoming and knowledgeable about music. They can special order hard to find albums and offer a wide variety of alternative products. There is something soothing about thumbing through hundreds of vinyl records and discovering posters on the display unit one by one like turning the page in a book.
Discovering stores like Bogey’s who have served the music lovers of the community for over 30 years while contributing to the growth of the city, gives hope to many aspiring entrepreneurs looking to materialize their vision.
I don’t think ma and pop’s are in danger of extinction, business owners need to realize whether or not they are creating a solution for a potential customer or even better, establishing a destination for tourists to visit.
I doubt there is anything more flattering for a business owner than watching their customers snapping photos for their social media to tout that they were at their place of business.
Are brick and mortars in jeopardy?
Sure, all businesses run the risk of closing if their product, service, or process is not aligned with the community or current trends.
The ideas are out there, people need to take heed of these times.
We are seeing major companies fall like dominoes year after year.
This will inevitably leave a void in many niche markets.
One market in particular, is in the realm of audio.
If Best Buy eventually folds, the only place to listen to the newest gear in audio would be small stores offering such products.
People are nervous about purchasing a piece of audio equipment, regardless of price, if they haven’t had a chance to preview its prowess.
I am a strong believer that the sound of a pair of speakers or a new amplifier will be much different in your space than in the store. However, seeing it up close and personal is a luxury not many in the US have since most Hifi stores stay closer to the greater metro areas.
I would love to see small boutique stores, filled with the newest audio products from a wide array of manufacturers.
Eventually, big manufacturers will have to inevitably switch over to direct sales online as more and more retail stores fall. Where this hurts them, is that people have not had the chance to test the equipment. I can tell you within a few minutes of spending time with a product whether it’s too bright, too flat, or just right. Many consumers don’t have access to that ability. This in turn, creates a tidal wave of returns which could cripple many manufacturers that are getting by as it is.
In closing, I can’t express enough how important it is to support our local businesses.
Soon we will all see the paradigm shift from big box to small business and it is our duty as consumers to help small retailers succeed in this way for both of our benefits.
I don’t want to stay inside the rest of my life ordering things online.
I want to go outside and play.