TRS-80 "The Trash 80"
the spring of 1977, I received a phone call from Ben Rosen, who at that
time was a market analyst for Morgan Stanley. He was just about the only
stock market analyst specializing in the infant personal computer
industry and one of the industry experts. Ben, who later became the
Chairman of both Compaq and Lotus,
had already organized the first of his famous industry seminars, and
he had invited me on a panel as a retailer.
This call, however, was to tell me that I was about to receive a
visit from an important person, if I had time to see and talk with him
today. Ben went on to tell me that my visitor would be Charles Tandy,
who owned the Radio Shack chain of some 7,000 stores. He had only that
day, and he wanted to visit a successful computer store.
Tandy arrived shortly after lunch and introduced himself.
me Charles," he said as I conducted him through my operation.
started in the basement where we repaired computers, built many of them
into systems, and had our stock room. Then to the selling floor, where
he seemed most interested in the Apple II and the SOL. Charles was a man
who could put anyone at ease, even if they knew how important a person
he was. He had the knack of asking the most direct and revealing
questions in a way that aroused no resentment. I really enjoyed talking
with him, flattered that this powerful businessman would seek me out for
advice. At the end of the day, he told me that
he had visited other computer stores and in general classified them
into two categories: first, stores run by computer hobbyists where a
neophyte would be ignored, or snowed. The second type of store was run
by ex-used car salesmen who were masters of the hard sell. They tried to
completely snow the average prospective buyer. He said my store did not
fit into either category (for which I was grateful,) but seemed to meet
the customer at whatever level they were at. I told Charles that most of
my salespeople were recruited from the hobbyist ranks, but that I had
trained them somewhat in the art of retail selling.
talked all afternoon, and at the end of the day he asked what I was
doing that weekend, and would I consider going back with him to his
next morning was Friday, and I met the Tandy party in their suite at the
Hotel Carlisle on
this was new and exciting to me. I had never flown in a corporate jet,
and I had never been to
that, they showed me what seemed to be a keyboard and a 12-inch TV
screen, with a wire connecting the two units. The plastic case was
colored with a metallic
silver gray finish, and the keyboard and front of the TV was a
contrasting black. The oversized logo on the front read "RADIO
SHACK TRS-80" and "MICRO COMPUTER SYSTEM."
first comment was, "Where's the computer?"
inside the keyboard case," I was told.
under the keyboard!" I could
hardly believe it.
was used to the Altair and Imsai_even the
SWTPC 6800 and the SOL with their brute force power supplies and
expandable bus. Even the Apple II, which I considered a masterpiece of
compact design, took much more space than the TRS-80 keyboard unit.
Then I noticed the external power supply plugged into the wall.
Well, there was one reason for the size.
decided to use an external power supply to conserve space and keep the
heat out of the computer case.
I thought. That made sense.
really liked the idea that the TRS-80 came with its own TV monitor. In
those days video monitors were very hard to get and they were expensive.
I had bought a huge order of 9-inch, high quality, security type
video monitors to sell with my computers, and I sold them at a very
small mark-up if the customer bought a computer.
Shack had provided a 12-inch TV quality video display that was really a
television with the radio section removed. This was a smart way to get a
larger, reasonably priced video monitor if you had the buying power of
me some more about the computer?" I asked.
someone answered, "it's a Z-80 based machine with 4K of RAM, and a
ROM with the boot-up software and BASIC. Programs and data are loaded
through a cassette. The video display has 64 characters and 16 lines and
there are graphics characters as well as uppercase letters."
is interesting," I thought. "Just like the first Apple
me about the BASIC?" I asked.
it's out. Level I contained in a
now I was very impressed with the TRS-80, and I fully realized that it
was going to be hard competition for anything I sold, except possibly
the Apple II. The big question in my mind was,
how much would they sell it for?
if he was reading my mind, Charles asked me, "How much do you think
should I sell it for?"
really had no basis of comparison except possibly the SOL (I had not
received an Apple II yet,) and it sold for $1,400 with a video monitor.
Well, this machine is a lot simpler, so I should figure about $1,000.
However this is Radio Shack so it must be cheaper. I'll say $900.
I said, "about $900 would be a fair price."
would you think about $600?" one of the Tandy people answered.
you are going to sell this system with a video display and built-in
BASIC for $600, you better build a hell of a lot of them," I
just how many do you think would be enough?" one of the Tandy
I said, "would be about 50,000."
are out of your mind," answered one of Tandy's
staff. "No one has ever built more than 5,000 of the same type
of computer, and we are thinking 12,000."
have 7,000 stores," I returned. "If you have only one to show
and one to sell, that's no
way for a big company to do business."
don't think all of our stores can sell computers; it's a specialized
I answered, "but this computer may change all that."
this exchange, I sensed a division in the company. Charles and all the
people he had brought on board to develop the TRS-80 were convinced that
the TRS-80 would be a tremendous success and would change their
business. The older electronics people whose thinking was fixed in the
audio, radio, and hobby electronics business did not understand the
fascination of the computer for even the most conservative business
then showed me folders containing cassettes and manuals for all kinds of
home and business software.
There were accounting
programs, home management programs, and educational programs. They were
all going to sell for less than $30.
this I smiled and said, "Keeping business records on a tape
cassette program has not proved very practical.
(I was being very kind!) You
would be well advised to keep your programs very simple until you get a
ignored me and changed the subject. "How many of these computers
could you sell in your store?"
would start with 10 per week and end up selling 40 or 50 a week," I
obviously did not believe me, but they didn't challenge my statements.
meeting broke up at that point, and I was taken to a hotel to freshen up
, Charles picked me up at the hotel and
took me to the yet uncompleted
Charles told me how he had started in business making leather hobby kits
and selling them in his craft stores. How he had bought the failing
Radio Shack company, which was a retail
electronics distributor that had evolved from ham radio equipment. He
had built Radio Shack into the world's largest electronic retailer and
one of the largest distributors in the
we left the construction of
I returned to
said. "Do what you think best."
partner, Mike Alpert, said that as long as he got back his investment
and some return, he would go along with anything I wanted to do. So the
decision was mine alone to make. One thing bothered me about this sale,
and I called to talk it over with Charles Tandy.
When I started the store in 1976, I did not draw any salary for a
full year. We lived on my wife's salary as a
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