Whatever happened to Comp USA?

Back in the 90’s, electronics was the new plastics, and CompUSA was deep in the game with other big-box supercenters like Incredible Universe, Circuit City, Best Buy, and Frys. Everybody wanted a piece of the dot com pie, and CompUSA was no exception. Every CompUSA I visited back in Dallas was always busy, and not too surprisingly, always overpriced. But since reliable websites specifically selling computer parts and supplies were still a few years away, the supercenters dominated all the shopping plazas along the freeways.

Then the juggernauts tripped. Dot com went dot gone. CompUSA stopped opening new stores, then cut off some underperforming stores, and eventually went bankrupt. But that wasn’t the end of CompUSA. A small number of stores were resurrected, and now CompUSA has 25 locations still open across the United States.

I live near one of them.

I stopped by the local CompUSA because I was curious. Had they changed? Were they the same overly-expensive mega store from Dallas?

As I pulled up, the store’s logo and white product badge displays on the glass looked familiar. I didn’t notice any NO PHOTOGRAPHY signs, and besides, it is a public location. But I made it a point not photograph any customers in the store with me just to be nice.

Check out the slideshow below to see the photos and click on any of them to enlarge.

Right off, things were different than I remembered from Dallas. There was an actual “greeter” at the door who handed me a sales flier and welcomed me to the store. This same person doubled as the “mark your receipt with a yellow marker as you leave” person at no extra charge.

Walking down the isles, there were more products for the build-your-own computer group than the original CompUSA ever had. Gone were the gaudy blue strobe lights and laser-cut chrome frag-u skulls. Instead, there were dozens of specialized, functional products that I am used to seeing on websites specifically catering to the PC do it yourself crowd.  There were a good range of power supplies, video cards ranging from the too-cheap “hope it works” to the “I need a second mortgage” variety, and tons of blank media stacked everywhere.

For the most part, everything was priced very reasonably.

Near the checkout, there were boxes and boxes of miscallaenous product, stacked 3 or 4 high, with the top box cut open for you to peruse. Some items were no-name brand, but most items were quality brands that I had heard of. Every stack of boxes had a sheet with price comparisons to their previous commercial sparring partners.

The biggest sign of improvement I saw was their game selection. It was very sparse and only had a few popular games to choose from. I think that’s brilliant. You can’t compete with a mega-superstore that buys product by the warehouse. They can outprice, outperform and outstock you without even knowing you are trying to compete with them. Plus the multitude of videogame trade-and-sell and even rent-and-sell stores have the gaming market pretty much sealed off to newcomers. So why fight the goliaths if you can go around them?

The laptop selection was decent and the perhiperal accessories had two retail-rows more to offer than WalMart, BestBuy or Target. In the back of the store was a wall of TVs that were setup much like you see at every BestBuy, Target, WalMart and Sears stores. There must be a high markup on TVs for everyone and their Aunt Petunia to have the same setup going.

I have to admit, I was impressed at the overall change. I still think Fry’s is the king of brick and mortar tech stores, but this CompUSA was lean, sharp and focused. It was miles better than the Dallas supercenters that tried to be everything to everybody. And I do think they finally got the right idea. Carry a few things, a few specialized things, and focus on what gets people into your store. Focus on a specific consumer type and let the multipurpose juggernauts go on their way.

I did hear that in the process of rebirth, CompUSA is really affiliated with Tiger Direct now, and even their sales fliers are identical in how they look. Apparently that was not just a superficial change.

Will I be back to CompUSA? Maybe. Having purchased most computer gear online for the last few years, the feeling of walking into a computer-specific store seems pretty old fashioned. But in a pinch, when I cant wait for FedEx or UPS, this reborn CompUSA isn’t bad.

1 thought on “Whatever happened to Comp USA?

  1. It’s been so long since you wrote this you might not even remember writing it. But I was wondering to myself tonight, I wonder what ever happened to CompUSA? Seeing Apple at the head of Fry’s alphabetical index made me think how smart Jobs was to come up with that name (first in the phone book was one of the defenses he used with Woz) That led to remembering how bad they had it for awhile and they only let certain stores carry Apple. The feeling was that Apple didn’t represent enough sales for the sales people to give it much space or time. By limiting the suppliers, the ones that carried Apple would have more sales. Thanks for the trip down memory lane and the update.

Comments are closed.