The bankrupt corpse of RadioShack has nearly been picked clean, with corporate scavengers putting prices on just about everything of value left at the once-proud company. All that's left are the rights to reuse the name itself in the U.S.—and the names of millions of RadioShack shoppers. The defunct electronics retailer is selling those off in what should be the last major action in its bankruptcy proceedings. Bids are due on Wednesday, and an auction will follow next week, if there are multiple bidders. A court hearing to approve the sale could take place on May 20.
RadioShack has been selling off everything since it declared bankruptcy in February, and the results can be surprising. Who would have guessed that 17,244 leftover phones (auction price: $1.8 million) would be be worth more than rights to use the RadioShack brand name in the Middle East ($1.5 million)? Assorted international rights to the name have sold for millions of dollars more. Standard General, a RadioShack creditor, already bought about 1,700 stores for more than $145 million; GameStop, the video game retailer, bought an additional 160 locations at $15,000 apiece.
The upcoming auction will measure the value of RadioShack's remaining intellectual property, and the price will almost certainly be far less than that of the derelict real estate. The trademarks of bankrupt companies—even those with strong claims to consumer nostalgia—rarely draw large sums. Borders, which had $1.28 billion in listed assets at the time of its bankruptcy in 2011, sold its trademarks and consumer data to Barnes & Noble for $13.9 million. Circuit City sold its name, e-commerce business, and customer data for about the same price in 2009. The Delia’s bankruptcy earlier this year saw the namesake clothing brand and its cousin, Alloy, sold for $2.5 million. “There’s kind of a funny smell for any brand that goes through bankruptcy, unless it’s relatively unknown,” says Lawrence Perkins, a restructuring expert who runs Sierra Constellation Partners, a consulting firm.
The most logical buyer for the brand would seem to be Standard General. The investment firm would need to own the rights to the name if it wants to keep operating its collection of U.S. stores, as planned under the double-brand Sprint RadioShack. “We call it rip-down value,” says Brad Snyder, executive managing director at Tiger Capital Group, an asset appraisal firm. “What are the signs worth, what are the bags worth, what’s the existing advertising, what would it cost Standard General to transition from that to something else.”
Standard General declined to discuss its plans beyond saying that it will make a bid and has been working with state attorneys general to ensure that consumer data is protected. The sale of the names, e-mail addresses, and phone numbers of RadioShack shoppers has been a point of contention throughout the process. Ken Paxton, attorney general of Texas, filed a legal objection to the inclusion of RadioShack’s consumer databases, arguing that the company had promised not to sell personal data. Attorneys general from nearly 40 states joined in, and the two sides have agreed to mediation.
Just because Standard General, with its hundreds of former RadioShack storefronts, has the clearest use for the name and consumer data doesn't mean it's sure to be the sole bidder. Snyder speculates that a Chinese manufacturer looking to sell products under an established name in the U.S. could swoop in with a bid. Or a company such as TJ Maxx, for instance, might be inspired to buy the name to build an electronics department within its own stores, says Cory Baker, chief operating officer of Marquee Brands.
Then there are rivals from the bankruptcy proceedings. Salus, an investment firm, butted heads with Standard General in the auction for the stores and could potentially reemerge as a player in the intellectual property sale. Hilco Streambank, which is managing the asset sale for RadioShack, declined to comment.
The track record of companies trying to revive dead brand names is mixed at best. In 2008 Systemax bought CompUSA’s brand, e-commerce business, and a handful of stores. The following year, it purchased Circuit City’s trademarks and consumer information, spending more than $44 million in total on the two deals. The plan was to use the castoffs as way to bolster its own consumer electronics business, operating under the name TigerDirect. By 2012, however, Systemax decided the bankrupt brands weren’t worth maintaining and wrote them off its balance sheet for about $35 million; most of the TigerDirect stores started closing this spring. Still, if you type "CompUSA" or "Circuit City" into Google's search engine today, the second result will be TigerDirect.com. (The top result: woeful Wikipedia pages for both companies.)
Baker of Marquee Brands cites a rare example of an instance that buying a dead brand sparked a successful afterlife: Linens N’ Things was sold to a group of restructuring firms in 2009, then found new takers in 2013. There are no longer any Linens ’N Things stores, but the business continues to operate as an e-commerce company. Baker believes name recognition allowed the online-only incarnation to get itself off the ground—although he's quick to warn that it's not necessarily a useful answer to the question of whether it makes sense to take over a bankrupt brand name. "In the case of many of the recent mall-based contemporary women's stores that have fallen into the shadows, the answer is typically not," Baker explains.
A potentially confusing twist in RadioShack’s case is that rights to its name outside the U.S. have already been sold to separate buyers. The Mexican brand assets fetched $31 million (although the deal included more than just rights to the name); further Latin American rights sold for $5 million; and the rights to the name in the Middle East cost $1.5 million. This could make the name less valuable at home because a new owner wouldn’t have total control over what happens under the RadioShack moniker. Foreign websites using the RadioShack trademark would be accessible to consumers in the U.S.
Perkins, the restructuring expert, doesn't think the outlook is good for big returns on the RadioShack brand name. “Particularly in this case, because it’s been talked about so much, it’s almost like they’re being punished for the notoriety of RadioShack and the long fall it had," he says. Then he offers a gloomy comparison: “Imagine selling the name Enron.”