AV Identity Crisis: Radio Shack and Wilson Audio Abandon Well Known Names

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On August 6, 2009 with great fanfare (including the creation of two giant 17 foot laptop computers) one of the most familiar names in consumer electronics retail, Radio Shack, changed their name to "The Shack." Radio Shack is one of the best known retail brands in America with a presence in thousands of shopping malls, strip malls and even around the corner from our offices in Beverly Hills. If you need a cable, a part, a new cell phone or nearly any other kind of electronic goodie - Radio Shack always seems to have it tucked away somewhere in the store. For over forty years, Americans have come to know Radio Shack for what they are and what they are good at. Changing their name is a poor attempt to breath new life into the franchise in a depressed and changing market place. The brand equity of the name Radio Shack is worth more than Circuit City, The Good Guys, Tweeter and any other regional chains you might want to toss into the equation. Rebranding the stores will cost in today's dollars tens upon tens of millions of dollars that could have been used to push product - not new nomenclature.

Wait - Radio Shack isn't the only company making wild changes to their product names. Wilson Audio, one of the most highly revered - if not the most - high end audio loudspeaker manufacturer, has made an entire business on their WATT Puppy loudspeaker line. Not too dissimilar from Porsche and their 911, the WATT Puppy is the core of their performance lineup. Yes, Porsche makes higher end cars like a GT3 and Carrera GT but their bread and butter is their basic 911. They have different subnames for the car but the 911 is still the king of the product lineup. Wilson's best selling and most well known speaker is the goofily named "WATT Puppy" but that name has been ditched after decades of building brand awareness. The WATT Puppy is so identified with audiophila, that its shape is the icon that the Consumer Electronics Association uses for their speaker displays at the CES tradeshow. Now Wilson Audio, after 8 versions of the WATT Puppy, has changed the name of the speaker to the Sasha WP. What Sasha has to do with anything, even people at Wilson can't explain; however the WP is a reminder that the WATT Puppy is the single best selling audio speaker in audiophile history, with over 6,000 pairs sold in 20 years with prices ranging from $10,000 to nearly $30,000 for a pair today.

What Radio Shack Should Have Done
Instead of cooking up a promotion based around two 17 foot laptops to promote a needless new company name - how about Radio Shack invests the money in their stores? How about an automated system with a giant touch screen system that accesses parts, cables and other AV products, that uses thirty times less floor space? Shack clerks can navigate the screen to find the battery or cable a customer needs and then can retrieve it from the back inventory as they do now. Just in Time inventory systems can automatically replenish this profitable part of their business with overnight shipping from a centralized location. Costs are lower, inventory is higher in the stores and overall sales can increase, while opening up incredibly valuable floor space.

With that extra floor space, Radio Shack could take a page out the Steven Jobs' playbook and offer solutions on the good, better and best options for PC computers, Apple Computers as well as modest and somewhat pre-packaged home theater systems. The same type of video screens that are used for parts by the register could be used to see other types of installations, like speakers by the swimming pool, basement media rooms, in-wall speakers, solar panels (yes, Radio Shack could sell these in huge volumes including professional installation by subcontracted electricians), lighting control and so much more. There isn't room for this kind of demo in the store but there is plenty of room on a 50 inch HDTV to plant ideas in consumers' heads that lead to much bigger sales. In the store, there would be room for the latest plasma, LCD and LED backlit HDTVs that would woo customers in from the mall. There still is room for every brand of cell phone known to man. Radio Shack would have been reinvented - not rebranded. It's the experience in the store that is sour - not the aged name.

What Wilson Could Have Done Differently
Don't get me wrong - Wilson's Sasha WP speakers are impressive. They even lowered the price a bit from the WATT Puppy version 8 speakers, but I am still baffled as to how, after 20 years, anyone could abandon the highly established name "WATT Puppy" at this stage of the game. "WP" might mildly refer back to their past success - Sasha means nothing to consumers. Respectfully, Wilson doesn't have Radio Shack (or even Meridian or Paradigm) money to spend on advertising, and what money they do spend on advertising is spent on the audiophile print magazines hunting down more of the same type of Baby Boomer clients. Those clients know what a WATT Puppy is and likely already lust after them, yet just like most exotic car buyers - they buy them used.

A new speaker design with new technology from speakers higher in the line was a great move for Wilson. A modest price decrease is somewhat helpful, although a more significant cut would have helped to sell more speakers over time - but simply calling the speakers Wilson Audio WATT Puppy Sasha would have seemingly given the company the best of all worlds. It ends the "version 8" lineage and suggests that the new speakers are very much a new speaker. And if renaming the speaker the Wilson Audio WATT Puppy Sashas isn't dramatic enough, then act like a Hollywood script writer and dramatically kill off the beloved character. Do an audiophile farewell tour for the WATT Puppy the likes of which nobody has ever seen. Run an ad campaign with a countdown in the pages of The Absolute Sound or Stereophile saying in your ads "Only 40 pairs left" until the WATT Puppy is gone forever. People don't want to be left out and the WATT Puppy is beyond a franchise of audio speakers - it's a legend. Popular Patek Philippe watches often gain value when discontinued. Thus Wilson gives owners more equity to make the move to the new speaker product. A few months after the goodbye - release with great fanfare, glowing reviews and plenty of print ads a new speaker simply called the Sasha. And like an aging rock star, who is to say that Wilson Audio couldn't re-release the WATT Puppy? MartinLogan did it with the CLS. McIntosh did it with their classic 275 tube amp. Why not a limited edition of WATT Puppies later down the road?


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