Corporate wisdom

By Bob Buckel | Published Saturday, February 14, 2015

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I am far from the smartest investor who ever lived, but give me credit. At least I never bought stock in RadioShack.

Even if I’d had the money to invest, my few experiences as a customer in their stores (not the one here) would have discouraged that. They seldom had what I needed, nor did anyone seem to care whether I found it.

If, by chance, I found some small item to purchase, they wanted my last five years’ tax returns and a lien on my firstborn before I could give them $7.49 in cash and check out.

The one time we used their service department, we took in a broken VCR and they gave us a loaner because it was going to take a long time to fix. (I believe they sent it to India. On a boat.)

Then, the loaner broke. We took it back, and after lengthy research [waiting until the “manager” was through with his video game so they could ask him] they told us our old VCR was fixed. With some fanfare, they disappeared into the “back” and proudly brought out … a VCR that was not ours.

We told them that. They shrugged and asked if we wanted it anyway. Then, things got complicated.

I think by the time we were done, we owned two VCRs, one to take home and one that just stayed with them, being repaired. When the one at home broke, we’d just swap out.

As we walked out of there with someone’s VCR, my wife said, “That company’s going to go broke.”

RadioShack moved into its beautiful new Riverfront Campus along the Trinity River in downtown Fort Worth in mid-2005. By December of that year, they had sold it to a German company and leased back some space.

A few years later, the Germans sold it to Tarrant County College, and RadioShack leased even less of it.

Observers feel the college will:

1) never collect the half-million in back rent RadioShack owes them, and

2) quickly find a use for the rest of that space – as they continue to re-train newly-unemployed RadioShack workers for new jobs.

[EXAMPLE: When you say, “Do you want fries with that?” you actually see to it that they get fries, and when you take customers’ money you just say, “Thank you!” and let them go. It’s weird, but a lot of companies have made it work.]

I have no horror stories about Pier 1 Imports, but because they’re a Fort Worth company, I bought a few shares of their stock several years ago.

Like RadioShack, they built a big new corporate headquarters, then began to struggle.

Pier 1’s building – also on the Trinity – opened in 2004. In March 2008, they sold it to Chesapeake Energy and leased back the space they needed.

Then Chesapeake fell on hard times, and last August, they sold the building to someone who had money. The new owner renamed it the Pier 1 building to reduce confusion.

I noticed in the paper this week that Pier 1 stock had fallen about 25 percent and the chief financial officer had resigned. You don’t have to be Warren Buffet to know those things are not good.

Before that, the stock was up about 10 percent for the year, and I was feeling pretty smart.

Then I remembered that in order to buy it, I sold my few shares of Southwest Airlines, which had gone nowhere for several years.

Since then, of course, the Wright Amendment has expired, fuel prices have fallen, and Southwest’s stock price has basically tripled. I try not to think about that, but I can’t help it.

In in the future, I plan to listen to my wife more, and trust my own experience as a customer.

I don’t buy many bamboo end tables, Malaysian throw pillows or copper wall sculptures, so I really had no business buying Pier 1 stock.

I do fly occasionally, though, and Southwest is terrific. Their prices are hard to beat, they’re easy to deal with, they don’t charge for baggage, their employees actually smile at you, and … I really like those peanuts.

And when they need a building, they get the city of Dallas to build it for them.

I think I’ve got a system. Now all I need is some money.

Bob Buckel is editorial director of the Wise County Messenger.

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