NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, February 24th, 2021

Ailing Fry’s Electronics is no more: Chain goes out of business after thirty-six years

Tech mega­s­tore chain Fry’s Elec­tron­ics is clos­ing down for good.

The eclec­tic brick and mor­tar retail­er, which was able to remain a going con­cern for years after the demise of com­peti­tors like Cir­cuit City and Com­pUSA, has itself reached the end of the line after thir­ty-six years in busi­ness.

Fry's closure statement

Fry’s state­ment on the ces­sa­tion of busi­ness operations

“Fry’s has made the dif­fi­cult deci­sion to shut down its oper­a­tions and close its busi­ness per­ma­nent­ly as a result of changes in the retail indus­try and the chal­lenges posed by the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic,” the firm said in a state­ment, which can be seen at frys.com. (Fry’s online store has been tak­en down; the excerpt­ed state­ment is now the extent of the com­pa­ny’s online presence.)

“The Com­pa­ny will imple­ment the shut down through an order­ly wind down process that it believes will be in the best inter­ests of the Com­pa­ny, its cred­i­tors, and oth­er stake­hold­ers. The Com­pa­ny ceased reg­u­lar oper­a­tions and began the wind-down process on Feb­ru­ary 24th, 2021.”

“It is hoped that under­tak­ing the wind-down through this order­ly process will reduce costs, avoid addi­tion­al lia­bil­i­ties, min­i­mize the impact on our cus­tomers, ven­dors, land­lords and asso­ciates, and max­i­mize the val­ue of the Company’s assets for its cred­i­tors and oth­er stakeholders.”

Most of Fry’s thir­ty-four stores were locat­ed in Cal­i­for­nia or Texas, but it also had stores in Ren­ton, Wash­ing­ton, Wilsonville, Ore­gon, Las Vegas, Neva­da, Down­ers Grove, Illi­nois, Fish­ers, Indi­ana, Phoenix and Tempe in Ari­zona, and Duluth and Mil­ton in Geor­gia. Unusu­al­ly for a large chain, Fry’s stores were themed.

Fry's store themes

Illus­tra­tions of some of the entrances to Fry’s stores (Graph­ic: Fry’s Electronics)

In its hey­day, Fry’s Elec­tron­ics stores were the place for technophiles on the West Coast to find pret­ty much any­thing need­ed to build a com­put­er or cre­ate a home net­work­ing set­up. Fry’s stocked tens of thou­sands of items. It sold tele­vi­sions, house­hold appli­ances, movies, music on com­pact disc and vinyl, and an array of gad­gets and periph­er­als in addi­tion to com­put­er parts.

One of my favorite ever Fry’s pur­chas­es was a Metro-Vac elec­tric duster, which I still have and use to keep my com­put­ers in top work­ing order.

Metro-Vac’s dusters are more envi­ron­men­tal­ly friend­ly than cans of throw­away air, and they’re made right here in the Unit­ed States. Metro-Vac has a prod­uct repair depart­ment, so if your duster hap­pens to need a new pow­er cord at some point, as mine did, you can ship it in for a new part rather than send it to a landfill.

I’m not sure I would have known about Metro-Vac’s prod­ucts if I had­n’t seen them for sale on a shelf at Fry’s. Fry’s was real­ly use­ful for prod­uct discovery.

Anoth­er mem­o­rable pur­chase was the Belkin Blue­tooth USB adapter I got at Fry’s in the ear­ly 2000s. Blue­tooth mod­ules were not as ubiq­ui­tous in lap­tops then as they are today, and I was try­ing to add Blue­tooth con­nec­tiv­i­ty to a Dell lap­top that did­n’t have Blue­tooth built-in. I ulti­mate­ly found an adapter that worked well at Fry’s, made by Belkin. My first stop had been Best Buy, but their selec­tion was unsat­is­fy­ing and I was unable to get the adapter made by their house brand to work. I still have that Belkin Blue­tooth adapter, too.

NPI’s first dig­i­tal pro­jec­tor, a bright View­Son­ic unit with DLP tech­nol­o­gy, was also a Fry’s pur­chase. Our team still has that pro­jec­tor — it too remains in good work­ing order, in part thanks to the Metro-Vac elec­tric duster.

Though the excerpt­ed state­ment above blames the pan­dem­ic for Fry’s busi­ness dif­fi­cul­ties, the chain was in awful shape before the term COVID-19 had even entered the lex­i­con. Back in 2019, videos began cir­cu­lat­ing of emp­ty shelves at Fry’s loca­tions in dif­fer­ent places, from Phoenix to Ren­ton to San Jose.

Unlike Best Buy, Fry’s nev­er real­ly made a seri­ous push into ecom­merce. Its online store was clunky and dat­ed. Its prod­uct selec­tion, once one of its com­pet­i­tive advan­tages, failed to rival that of Ama­zon’s, or Neweg­g’s, or cam­era mega­s­tores like B&H Pho­to and Ado­ra­ma that did invest in cre­at­ing a seri­ous online presence.

Fry’s also neglect­ed to cre­ate a com­pelling in-store expe­ri­ence to com­pen­sate, as evi­denced by the fir­m’s fail­ure to upgrade its point of sale terminals.

You can see in this Retail Archae­ol­o­gy video that even in 2019, store com­put­ers were still run­ning Win­dows XP, which Microsoft end­ed sup­port for in 2014.

Hav­ing failed to piv­ot to ecom­merce prop­er­ly after the U.S. econ­o­my began com­ing out of the Great Reces­sion, Fry’s began a down­ward spi­ral it could­n’t recov­er from, which cul­mi­nat­ed in this week’s exit from the marketplace.

In addi­tion to not hav­ing a strat­e­gy for adapt­ing to the preva­lence of online shop­ping, the com­pa­ny also lacked sound inter­nal con­trols to pro­tect itself.

One exec­u­tive (Fry’s Fer­rari-dri­ving vice pres­i­dent of mer­chan­dis­ing and oper­a­tions) embez­zled $65 mil­lion before get­ting caught in 2008.

Fry’s cash crunch forced it to take increas­ing­ly des­per­ate mea­sures, result­ing in its stores becom­ing unap­peal­ing ghost towns. The Verge’s Sean Hol­lis­ter reports:

It turned out the com­pa­ny had been forced to switch to a con­sign­ment mod­el, only able to attract sup­pli­ers will­ing to get paid for their goods after Fry’s man­aged to sell them. Many sup­pli­ers weren’t. A for­mer employ­ee tells The Verge that Sam­sung stopped doing busi­ness due to unpaid bills, and that Fry’s had elim­i­nat­ed most full-time roles even before the pan­dem­ic hit, in order to save mon­ey. A long-time store man­ag­er tells me employ­ees got paid out (includ­ing vaca­tion pay) through Feb­ru­ary 24th.

Geek­Wire also ran a piece about Fry’s prob­lems in late 2019.

Some­how, the chain limped and stum­bled along until this month, when it became appar­ent that Fry’s was done and could no longer remain a going concern.

The com­pa­ny said in its state­ment it is “in the process of reach­ing out to its cus­tomers with repairs and con­sign­ment ven­dors to help them under­stand what this will mean for them and the pro­posed next steps.”

If you had turned over a device you own to Fry’s for repairs, Fry’s advises:

  • For cus­tomers who have equip­ment cur­rent­ly being repaired, please email customerservice@frys.com, to arrange for return of your equipment.
  • For cus­tomers with items need­ing repair under a Per­for­mance Ser­vice Con­tract, please call (800) 811‑1745.
  • For con­sign­ment ven­dors need­ing to pick up their con­sign­ment inven­to­ry at Fry’s loca­tions, please email omnichannel@frys.com.

Please under­stand if we are a bit slow to respond giv­en the large vol­ume of ques­tions. The Com­pa­ny appre­ci­ates your patience and sup­port through this process.

Good­bye, Fry’s, and thanks for all the tech.

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