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Subject: Sep-Oct 2004 VMS3.info: Fry's Electronics Analyzed via the Value Framework®

Value Framework® Institute eZine: Your Link to Business Strategy
September 7, 2004 *5,200 subscribers* Volume 6, Issue 5
Online at http://ValueFrameworkInstitute.org/publications.html
This Issue online at http://ValueFrameworkInstitute.org/Sep-Oct2004/

Fry's Electronics Analyzed by
IdaRose Sylvester & Surya Jonnavithula,
using Mitchell Levy's Company Analysis
Value Framework


Fry's Electronics is an electronics retail store founded in 1985 to serve the needs of high technology professionals. Growing from one store in 1985 to 25 stores (concentrated in a limited portion of the Western US) after a major expansion push in the mid-1990s, Fry's sells, services and supports computer hardware and software products, technical books, electronic components and accessories, audio, car audio, video, telecommunications, household appliances, personal entertainment and convenience and general purpose items. While the initial goal of Fry's was to provide engineers with the parts and products needed at work and for hobbies, Fry's quickly moved to provide a much wider range of products to meet virtually an engineer's every need, along with serving a wider audience.

Over the years, Fry's has done the following things right:

  • Provided an outstanding range of products to draw in diverse audiences, and to obtain maximum value from each customer
  • Become known as the low cost leader
  • Deployed and maintain an aggressive market-dominant advertising approach
  • Built a cult following among loyal customers, probably not through an active strategy to obtain status but by indirectly providing a unique atmosphere and product line that happens to serve a certain market segment extremely well (engineers, electronics hobbyists, the technologically savvy)

On the other hand, Fry's has also:

  • Built a reputation for having poor customer service, from few educated staff to help with complicated technology choices to long lines for returns
  • Limited itself to a small portion of the Western US, whereas many of it's competitors have grown
  • Has focused on spot transactions and missed the opportunity for recurring transactions
  • Avoided an e-commerce play until recently where it purchased Outpost.com which doesn't provide an equivalent experience as shopping at Fry's
  • Has started an ISP play of questionable value


Strategy Deployed
Fry's has succeeded in building strong local followings, particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area. Shoppers go to Fry's for an outstanding selection of merchandise, much of it hard to find in other stores, and for reliably low costs. Obtaining almost a cult status, Fry's draws in regulars who arrange trips to Fry's on the excuse for needing something as mundane (and obtainable elsewhere) as batteries, but who plan to make the trip an entire afternoon outing, browsing all the latest gear. Often, a trip to Fry's will become a social outing, with several people roaming the store together, and in fact, the stores often cater to this social atmosphere by offering a café and live music. Of course, the carload of engineers who stop in to help someone buy batteries wind up walking out with batteries, a home networking router, a DVD player, the latest game software, a mixer, Doritos and a flat of Coke.

Fry's has evolved from being a small, low cost single outlet to a large box store with many outlets. While prices remain low, Fry's has increased the number of items, and the range of the product line.

As Fry's grows, it is expanding it's reach throughout California, both in and outside of technology hubs. In other states, Fry's is building a very limited number of stores, usually in technology hubs. These newer branches represent a key way for Fry's to grow outside saturated California, but the geographically dispersed strategy is inefficient in distribution, creating great distances between central warehouses and stores.

This strategy has spread the Fry's brand thinly over a wide geography, unlike more well known Circuit City. Most stores are in California, and are targeted in technically savvy markets. There is potential for additional discovery.

Fry's has built a reputation for having poor customer service, from few educated staff to help with complicated technology choices to long lines for returns. While this is accepted by the technologically savvy who can, and often want to make choices on their own, it is an alienating strategy towards most consumers.

Fry's has also deployed an e-commerce strategy by buying Outpost.com, a popular but limited customer base electronics e-commerce website. Up until recently, Fry's did not have a web presence whatsoever, and customers could do no research on products, specials, locations or customer service. Now, there is a webpage with basic information, and a link to Outpost.com for online ordering. This site does not mirror the brick and motar Fry's, and appears to the consumer as an entirely separate business and brand.


Strategy Managed
Fry's continues to open stores at a pace of four or so a year, continuing to spread it's stores quite far apart, while not putting in place a cohesive strategy for growth, either with a regional rollout focus or a broader, more aggressive plan to become a national chain.

While store development strategy is fairly ad hoc, Fry's has maintained a very consistent strategy of providing a wide range of goods in it's stores, and all stores are developed with a unique flavor and feel. With a consistent product line strategy and the creation of unique stores-a branding characteristic of the chain-Fry's has promulgated a very consistent, winning branding strategy over the years.

Fry's has done little to obtain feedback or modify strategy based on customer feedback. The company has a word-of-mouth reputation for having very bad customer service, and Fry's gives the impression of not caring about feedback from it's consumers. Failing to provide better customer service can curb Fry's growth with customers who are less technically savvy than the current customer base.


Strategy Evolved
Fry's is expanding it's geographical reach with no cohesive plan. While controlling the rate of growth is smart, opening up a widely distributed set of stores is inefficient for distribution, and does not build up brand awareness in new geographies the way clusters of stores can.

Fry's is creating a new business, Fry's ISP. Fry's has operated a very traditional bricks and motar company until now, and is known for retail, and certainly not for providing services, a recurring revenue stream. This is also a national business, unlike Fry's stores. It is unclear what the strategy is here, and how it fits with long term goals. It is a distraction to the brand and a potential drain of resources, and it is not clear Fry's has any of the core competencies needed to succeed in this business, including strong customer service.

Fry's online presence seems an afterthought, and is not strongly branded or linked to the successful bricks and mortar retail chain. Fry's website (not store, which is run through Outpost.com) provides the most minimal information, and fails to provide a customer support function.


Fry's needs to define and manage it's geographic growth, to ensure efficiencies in distribution and to maximize brand awareness in new territories.

If Fry's wishes to have a more national awareness like Circuit City, or attract less technically savvy customers, it needs to improve customer service by adding helpful and knowledgeable sales associates. While laptops and DVD players might seem like second nature impulse buys to engineers in Silicon Valley, most consumers need knowledgeable sales support to help them in the decision making process

Fry's should avoid entering new businesses outside of the competencies, period. If in the future Fry's believes it can leverage a core competency, AND it has achieved a stable growth strategy, than other businesses should be explored.

Fry's should improve their customer service if the company wishes to expand to geographic or demographically different markets not as technically savvy as existing ones. Expanding customer service will most likely improve sales in current stores, encouraging less savvy customers to go to Fry'.

Fry's should continue to develop ways of growing recurring revenue streams. Pushing service contracts after people have bought a product is an idea. Offering corporate accounts to local businesses, with discounts and service contracts, is a way to ensure business customer loyalty and recurring transactions. Fry's can also provide more and better post-sale services, such as better repair, easier returns, and even more complex services like assistance with setting up SOHO networks.

Fry's needs to strengthen the brand of it's online presence, and tie it more closely to the brick and mortar experience. Customer loyalty can be enhanced by sending out targeted specials based on past purchases, and promotions can be sent to be used in a physical store. Creating an online presence that more clearly targets the needs of business customers and consumers would also build a better online presence.


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About the Authors:
IdaRose Sylvester, VP Market Strategy of the Value Framework® Institute is a committed strategist, taking satisfaction from helping companies of all stages uncover the best strategies for success. Her experience reaches across the disciplines of strategic planning, product planning and launch, market intelligence and analysis, partnership development and startup development. Her expanding range of covered industries includes semiconductors, networking systems, security, home networking, GPS, multimedia, video gaming, and environmental technology. She has served organizations in many capacities: as executive team member, strategic planner, independent marketing consultant, marketing team member, and product launch team member. She has also served as an industry analyst for Gartner/Dataquest and as a high technology conference director, and is widely quoted on her insights.

Surya Jonnavithula held Engineering Manager positions in multiple companies in the Valley . After completing masters from IIT Kanpur, India. in 1987, Surya has delivered many products in the areas of Workstations, Storage and Networking. He was the co-founder of Allegro Systems and was part of OnStream Networks. His interests include playing Badminton and community services.


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