… and now, we can report that CompUSA bytes the dust.
Gee Whiz, I must be psychic or something. Just a few days ago, I posted a comment on this blog that CompUSA, a chain of computer stores in the United States, would soon bite the dust.I just stumbled across this article on Reuters and this article on cbsnews that confirms that CompUSA is on it’s way out. According to Reuters, the chain has been sold to the liquidation outfit Gordon Brothers. They will be closing the remaining 103 CompUSA stores in early 2008. No surprise, actually, since CompUSA closed most of it’s stores earlier this year. In recent years, CompUSA was controlled by Mexican businessman Carlos Slim Helu, reportedly the richest person on the planet, even wealthier than Bill Gates or Warren Buffet (see this Fortune article on Carlos Slim).
Have you ever seen a tree that was pruned to death? After a certain amount of pruning, the death of the tree is inevitable, because it can’t absorb enough sunlight to survive. So too with computer retailers (or any business, I suspect). I was quite certain that it was simply a matter of time before CompUSA was history. That time appears to be at hand.
I don’t have an MBA. I’m not an accountant or a retail executive. I’m a computer geek. But I know mismanagement when I see it, and CompUSA was a poster child for piss-poor management. I can’t tell you how many times I went into one of several local CompUSA stores to purchase sale items and came up empty-handed. So, I would walk over to one of the computer terminals that the sales staff used, and I would enter the SKU of the item I was looking for. Nine times out of ten, the computer showed that the store had stock on hand, sometimes a large quantity, but it was nowhere to be found. A few times, when I would pester one of the salespeople to go check the stockroom, they would usually find the item in the back, and bring one out for me. Sometimes, they wouldn’t want to bother because they did not have any confidence in the inventory quantities shown in the computer. Maybe that was just an excuse because they were lazy, or maybe their inventory tracking really was inaccurate. Sometimes they would say it was in the store somewhere, but they didn’t know where.
What a joke. I mean, if you go through the trouble of ordering inventory, printing up a sale circular, and shipping the item to your stores, but you don’t follow through and put the stuff out on your sales floor so it will sell, you don’t belong in business. This wasn’t a rare occurance. It was the status quo at CompUSA. I am confident that if you put me in charge of CompUSA, I could have done a better job. Who knows, maybe I could have saved them. I think part of the problem was that the chain had changed ownership years ago. When any business gets sold, especially if the new owners are investors and/or absentee owners who don’t know the business, look out. With some very rare exceptions, nobody will do as good a job running the business as the person or people that founded it. They don’t have the same passion. If the business fails, they’ll just move on to something else. There’s little devotion or emotional attachment, because it’s not their baby.
The sales people at CompUSA were rarely motivated. I suppose they didn’t earn enough to get real excited about their jobs. The store management was pitiful. There were a couple of employees at the CompUSA I frequented the most who did work hard, and I felt very badly for them losing their jobs when that store closed.
I recently posted this article about rebate scams. I had more than my share of problems with rebates on items I purchased at CompUSA. I complained a number of times, both to the CompUSA store where I purchased the items, and to their customer service phone number. There were many rebates on items I purchased at CompUSA that I got cheated out of, and never received.
You know, to be honest, CompUSA was never my favorite computer store anyway. I preferred the Computer City chain, which closed circa 1998 or 1999, if memory serves me correctly. Computer City was purchased by CompUSA. They closed some Computer City stores and turned the rest into CompUSA stores. Egghead Software was also pretty good, although they operated much smaller stores and did not carry a lot of hardware. Today, Egghead is strictly an online retailer. The newest chain to open in my neck of the woods is Micro Center, which started out in Ohio, and has expanded to almost two dozen stores. Micro Center is a pretty cool store. It looks like there are a lot more good deals to be had there, and they claim that they have prices as good as you’ll find on the web. They sell brand name (Dell, IBM, Compaq, etc.) brown-box “refurbished” computer systems alongside their big selection of new systems. They cater to system builders and gamers and have a pretty large Apple department. They also have a nice computer book and magazine section, nearly as large as you’ll find at Barnes & Noble or Borders Books. On several occasions I’ve picked up some bargain-priced (not-current edition) but otherwise new books for under five bucks each. They even have free Internet access kiosks, so you can comparison shop without leaving the store! There’s little in the way of computer hardware that they don’t carry. If there’s a Micro Center near you, you have little reason left to buy stuff online.
Life goes on. Other computer retailers will come and go, to be sure. Perhaps my opinion of CompUSA will mellow as the memories fade to black.