June 5, 2014

RadioShack partners with firm on new gadgets

RadioShack Labs will collaborate with PCH International, which works with startup technology companies on product design, manufacturing and distribution.

RadioShack has partnered with a product development company in San Francisco to collaborate with inventors and entrepreneurs on new gadgets it will sell in its stores.

The Fort Worth-based consumer electronics retailer has formed the unit RadioShack Labs with PCH International, which provides product development, manufacturing and logistics support to startup businesses.

The program will offer special retail terms to select PCH-approved companies so they can quickly get their merchandise into as many as 2,000 RadioShack stores. The first products are expected to be in RadioShack stores by September, displayed in a 6-foot section called “Discover It, Powered by PCH.”

RadioShack CEO Joseph Magnacca said the initiative is part of an effort to energize the struggling chain’s lineup with technology products that customers cannot find elsewhere. He expects up to 15 new products to be in stores by the end of the year.

“We want people to look at us for innovation and newness and surprise people with what they find in the stores,” he said in an interview.

Liam Casey, who founded PCH in Ireland, said the partnership with RadioShack will ease the path for startups to break into the retail market.

“The retail model, which demands large capital in the channel, doesn’t typically work for startups and this hurts innovation,” Casey said in a statement. “Together with Joe and RadioShack, we looked at removing the barriers that prevent unique products from getting on to shelves.”

RadioShack Labs will offer what Magnacca calls a “fast-tech” approach. The retailer will work with PCH and the client companies to understand the viability of products and develop retail strategies such as packaging and pricing.

One of the first products coming to RadioShack is Littlebits, modular electronic kits that let people create electronic gadgets by snapping together various parts. The product harks back to RadioShack’s heritage as a source for electronic tinkerers who came to the store for decades for parts and toys.

Another product in the pipeline is Lively, a monitoring system that uses activity sensors and a smartphone app to allow children and grandchildren to keep tabs on elderly parents or grandparents.

“These products will require explanation and selling skills, which is really the heart and soul of what RadioShack is all about,” Magnacca said.

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