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Fry's Electronics

Fry's Electronics is a specialty retailer of software, consumer electronics, computer hardware and household appliances with a chain of superstores headquartered in Silicon Valley. Starting with one store located in Sunnyvale, California, USA, the chain now boasts sales of $2.4B with over 30 stores located in several Western states, two near Atlanta, Georgia, multiple locations in Texas, and one each in Illinois and Indiana.

History

In 1972, Charles Fry sold the Fry's Supermarkets chain for USD $40 million and gave a cut of the money to each of his sons, John, Randy, and Dave. The Fry brothers had little interest in grocery store retailing. Instead, in 1985, they joined together with a fourth partner, Kathryn Kolder, to open the first Fry's Electronics store at a 20,000 square foot (2,000 m²) site in Sunnyvale, California. Today, Fry's Food and Drug stores (which still share a similar logo) are not affiliated with Fry's Electronics, and are owned and operated by Kroger.

The original Sunnyvale store (located near the intersection of Oakmead Parkway & Lakeside Drive) stocked numerous high-tech supplies such as integrated circuits, test and measurement equipment, and computer components, as well as software and various other types of consumer electronics. The store also sold technical books, T-shirts, and featured displays of soda, snack foods, and copies of Playboy Magazine.

The second store to open was in Fremont, on Mission Court. This was the store that pioneered the "theme" stores. It had a space theme and had many artifacts from the original Battlestar Galactica TV series. This was the first store that had people from Industrial Light and Magic help design the store environments.

As the business expanded, the original Sunnyvale store was closed, and a newer, larger store was opened across Lawrence Expressway on Kern Avenue. The second Sunnyvale store was designed to look like the innards of a giant computer, the walls were adorned with simulated circuit components, and the floor resembled a giant printed circuit board. The outside of the building was painted to look like a huge DIP integrated circuit, and the external door handles were designed like the ENTER and ESC keys on a Computer keyboard. As of 2007, this store is now a Sports Basement store (which still bears some of the door handle keys); Fry's moved to the current Sunnyvale location (shown in the images) previously.

Because Fry's stores are enormous, often stocking dozens of variations of a single product, they are popular with electronics and computer hobbyists. As of 2005, Best Buy, the nationwide consumer electronics retailer, is the main competitor to Fry's. However, Fry's stores have more retail floor space and have a wider selection. In addition, Best Buy sells fully built computers, while Fry's sells computers and the parts consumers need to build their own from scratch.

As of May 2007, Fry's Electronics operates 34 brick-and-mortar stores in nine U.S. states: California (17 stores - Most Recent: Roseville,California); Texas (8); Arizona (2); Georgia (2); Illinois (1); Indiana (1); Nevada (1); Oregon (1); and Washington (1).

Store Themes

Following the lead of the Fremont store, new Fry's locations continued the use of elaborate themes and various designed props until well into the late 1990s. The original Fry's electronics store in Sunnyvale was themed to look like the inside of a computer, complete with large "Enter" and "Esc" keys on the entrance and exit doors. For example, the Burbank store which opened in 1995 is themed primarily after 1950s and 1970s science fiction movies and features huge statues of popular characters such as the robot Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still and Darth Vader from the Star Wars movie series. In addition, 100-foot-long giant ants (from the movie Them!) hang from the ceiling, and 1957 Chevys and Buicks were gutted for use as dining tables in the cafe. A flying saucer protrudes from the front of the store. After all construction and expenses, including land purchase and theming, the Burbank store cost $15 million to open.

Some additional themes include, California stores: Tahiti (Manhattan Beach), Roman (Fountain Valley), Wild West (Palo Alto), Mayan Temple (San Jose), Alice in Wonderland (Woodland Hills), Silicon Valley (Sunnyvale), Egyptian (Campbell), 1893 Chicago World's Fair (Fremont), Industrial Revolution (City of Industry), Movies (Sacramento), NASA Space Center (Anaheim), 19th-Century California Railroads (Roseville), and Atlantis (San Marcos). Arizona stores: Aztec (Phoenix). Nevada stores: History of the Strip (Las Vegas). Texas Stores: Music Industry (Austin), Lazy-K Ranch (Dallas), Oil Industry (Houston) and Space Exploration, including a replica of the International Space Station (Webster). In recent years, since Fry's acquired the Incredible Universe chain of stores, the company has reduced the elaborateness of its theming.

Criticism

Fry's Electronics has seen criticism through the years. In 1997, Forbes reported on a series of issues relating to Fry's customer service issues and somewhat unorthodox business practices. Among the findings, an internal policy identified as "the double H" or "hoops and hurdles" it was alleged to have been designed and employed in part to excessively delay or prevent customers from obtaining refunds.

In 1998, Fry's received attention when it was published that a number of customers had been reporting frustrating customer service experiences at Fry's stores.

Fry's pays its employees' benefits using a VEBA (Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association), and maintains a policy that all employees forfeit any accrued vacation pay upon leaving the company, even when employees work in states like California which mandate that vacation benefits accrue and are to be treated as wages.

House brands

In addition to selling many major brands of PCs, Fry's also sells two models of in-house PC designs. Their flagship Fry's PCs compete with similarly featured Microsoft Windows PC offerings from Hewlett-Packard, Sony, and Compaq. In addition, they offer a lower-end model branded as Great Quality (or "GQ") PCs. GQ PCs tend to be Fry's most inexpensive PC offerings, often priced in the sub-$200 range during daily and weekly sales. GQ PCs are often bundled with the Linspire Linux based OS as well as Windows, one of the few Linux offerings available in a retail PC configuration. Some of their Linux PCs feature AMD Geode processors, a processor normally sold in computers for developing countries. They also market accessories like cables and CD-R discs under the GQ brand name. Also notable are the ECS brand motherboards that are frequently bundled with processors to make them virtually free. The GQ brand of computers has not been sold at most of the stores now for over a year.

Emprex brand products are manufactured by Behavior Tech Computer (BTC) of Taiwan for Fry's Electronics. Products marketed under the brand include high-definition televisions, flash drives, and computer peripherals such as monitors.

Online sales operation

Fry's Electronics was late in establishing an online sales presence. They began offering low-cost Internet access in 2000 through their original Web address (Frys.com). The company later bought e-commerce website Cyberian Outpost on November 2001 and started online sales with a different URL (Outpost.com), which confused customers who didn't associate the online name with the brick-and-mortar store. In October 2006, a grand re-opening of Frys.com introduced the online store with the same name as the retail outlets.

As of July 2008, browsing to Outpost.com redirects to the Frys.com online store.

Acquisition of domain name

The Domain name frys.com was owned in 1997 by David Peter, who manufactured and sold french-fry vending machines under the business name Frenchy Frys. Fry's Electronics brought suit against him that year, alleging trademark infringement, and ultimately prevailed in a default judgement.

Since then, Fry's Electronics has aggressively tried to defend its trademark and domain names. In 2001, it successfully prosecuted a man who was posting its own print ads on the Web using the domain frysad.com. In 2007, Fry's Electronics lost a domain dispute against Prophet Partners Inc., an online advertising company with thousands of generic and descriptive domain names. The arbitrator dismissed the complaint, which requested transfer of the Frys.us domain, ruling that Fry's Electronics did not have any more right to use the "Fry's" mark, than other entities with a similar surname or commercial use of the word.

References

Further reading

  • " The Future of Retail," Wired 6.07, July 1999, page 146. Photo essay showing customers and their purchases; reference to customer service.
  • "The Hacker & The Ants," Rudy Rucker contains a passage describing vintage pre-expansion era Fry's and is the first mention of it in published fiction.

External links

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