Folks, I don’t like to say bad things about competitors, even after they’re gone. I’ve spoken fondly before about Circuit City and Radio Shack, both great places in their day and both gone now. As I was poking through YouTube I found a video about Fry’s, and thought it would be a good subject for an article.
Fry’s was a regional chain that you didn’t see outside of the Southwest. For a techie in the 1990s and 2000s, it was like a giant candy store. Every part you could possibly need, neatly arranged and ready to buy. Hard drives, modems, whatever. And it wasn’t just about consumer stuff. You could outfit an entire office with one stop.
Fry’s stores also carried magazines, odd beverages, even large appliances. This was the kind of store that you could spend hours in just looking, and while you were looking you could have your lunch so you didn’t have to leave the store.
Fry’s wasn’t the real tip-top of geekdom; that was Incredible Universe. Incredible Universe was a store where they would literally let you open any piece of software or any music CD and use it in the store if you wanted to. It was destined to fail fast, and Fry’s bought them after just a few years.
Not just a store, a destination
The stores were decorated to match local history or trends. The Las Vegas one was a slot machine, while the Anaheim one had a space theme. Yes, the logical theme would have required them to license content from Disney, and the area does have a lot of aerospace companies. I can say that I spent a lot of time at Fry’s way back when.
Fry’s was never that big of a chain, but it was a place you could spend a lot of time in and so if you were within an hour’s drive or so it wasn’t a big deal. Besides, you could get literally everything there so it didn’t matter how long it took to get there. You were going to spend a lot of time there.
So what did happen?
I stopped going to Fry’s back in the late-2000s when it became easier to order stuff online. I started ordering from Solid Signal and other retailers. When you consider that you usually had to wait a week or so to make the drive to Fry’s, the shipping times weren’t an issue. Around the same time I noticed that the selection there was getting kind of thin. Toward the end it was just a bit embarrassing to be there. I even unsubscribed from their deal emails about five years ago.
According to that video, the real problem was that they switched to a consignment model. Since they could only stock things that their distributors offered to put on shelves for free, this meant a lot less inventory. And, unfortunately, since the real draw was being able to get anything, things fell apart fast.
Of course this video does mention that the internet played a big part in the end of Fry’s. The company was slow to go online and got lapped by large and small companies. Companies like Solid Signal offered better customer service and a selection that was even better than Fry’s in its heyday. I guess it becomes easy to understand why people stopped showing up.