The VEX line was developed for Radio Shack (as far as I can tell). It's
not some other company that Radio Shack sells the product for, it was a
Radio Shack product. Radio Shack recently decided to stop selling it
(after only one year) and has been selling all its inventory at half price.
I guess it just didn't sell well. If you found it for $119, that's even
lower than half price. Maybe they are dropping the prices even further now
- they don't seem to have much inventory left.
The line has been sold by Radio Shack to Innovation First
http://www.innovationfirst.com/ (they seemed to have been involved in its
creation but I don't know the actual business relationships or history).
See the www.vexlabs.com web site. The www.vexroboitcs.com name now
redirects you to the vexlabs site. I recently bought a ton of the vex
stuff at half price from Radio Shack. It's fun to work with and a good
deal at that price.
So even though Radio Shack will no longer be selling it, you can still buy
parts from Innovation First at the full price.
Don't think this is quite right. For many, many years Radio Shack has
not done their own product development, except in a very limited
fashion. Radio Shack will often strike up an exclusive arrangement of
product brought to them by an outside company. Except for the usual
product buyer input, the product is not developed or manufactured by
Radio Shack, and usually the only integeration with the Radio Shack
brand is the manuals and packaging. In its heyday, RS had some 8,000
stores, so if each store has just two of your product, you've already
sold 16,000 units. Not bad, so this is why companies used to do more
exclusive arrangements with RS. I doubt this trend will continue.
Typically the exclusivity arrangement is limited to a particular number
of years. But since Vex was never a huge seller for the chain, I imagine
the change in distribution was welcomed by both sides. RS gets to
concentrate on cell phones, and Vex is free to explore other
You'll often find companies in and around the Dallas/Fort Worth area
doing business with RS, because RS has traditionally shunned the Big
City Folk. So, though InnovationFirst/Vex is located close to RS
headquarters, I don't think they've ever been connected except as a
vendor/client. This was certainly the case with the book packager I
worked with during the 1980s when I wrote several books that were
exclusive to Radio Shack. They were located in a Dallas suburb, but the
company was independent of RS, and none of the principals ever worked
for the outfit.
I only wish retail was as simple as that. When you go into a big
retailer like Radio Shack, you sign a contract that is usually very
draconian. Typically they will require one or even two units free of
charge, to use as floor demos. Typically they will charge you "co-op
advertising", ie. you pay for the privilege of being in their catalog.
Typically they try to work in a condition where they can return all
unsold stock within some period - three or six months being common.
Unless you're very, very big and have frisky lawyers, you can't avoid
most of this pain. That's why the brands you see in stores like Circuit
City are either big, big names like Sony, or tiny noname Chinese OEMs -
in the latter case, Circuit City went to the OEM for some cheap junk,
not the other way round.
My former employer sold half a million dollars worth of [expensive]
electronic devices to a major national chain, and wound up OWING the
chain, as far as I can recall, nearly two million dollars. Some of the
floor units were returned, but they weren't boxed or anything - the
store guys just threw all the units, power supplies, cables etc. loose
into a huge box and shipped them back to us like a crate of oranges.
Yeah, I know nothing of what happened, but I didn't mean to imply Radio
Shack did the engineering and manufacturing. I suspect however that the
Innovation First people and Radio Shack got together, and developed the
line for the sole purpose of having Radio Shack sell it. Who approached who
first I couldn't guess.
But the product steals a lot from the other Innovation First robotics
systems used for the competitions. Except it's smaller, cheaper, and
packaged in a way that is clear to me Innovation First wouldn't have done
(just by looking at their web sites it's clear they are an engineering
group and not a marketing group).
So my guess is that the marketing folks at Radio Shack got together with
Innovation first and developed the product so that it could be sold as a
retail product though Radio Shack.
There's a press announcement on the Innovation First web site that talks
about how they bought the trademark and product line from Radio Shack. So
this was not something Innovation First developed on their own and then
worked out a distribution deal with Radio Shack. It looks like something
Radio Shack created by taking the basic systems that Innovation first had
developed, and then spent a lot of money to have it packaged into a system
for retail distribution. So I suspect it was Innovation First providing
the engineering with Radio Shack finding other groups to do all the slick
packaging and develop that stupid "development environment" and do the
manufacturing. So I think it was a Radio Shack creation, which, when they
decided it wasn't going to make any money for them, Innovation first picked
up all the slick packaging and the VEX brand name that I suspect Radio
Shack created. Innovation First was probably just a contractor for Radio
Shack before that. Or maybe they had some joint profit sharing deal.
That's my best guess as to how it worked out.
It could be that some other unknown third party put together the VEX system
for the purpose of selling it to Radio Shack, and then did just that. And
then Radio Shack sold it to Innovation First when they decided it was a
It doesn't smell like a standard distribution arrangement. It smells like
there was some other "good buddies" connection between someone at Radio
Shack and someone at Innovation first that led to the development of the
Vex system. Maybe the CEO of Radio Shack was old friends with some of the
guys at Innovation First and over dinner one night the idea was born that
Radio Shack should productize this robotics technology into a retail
It would be interesting to hear how it all actually happened.
--- snip for brevity and to avoid top posting which annoys many people,
although it will probably become the standard ---
Just for fun I just did a market research study on the sale of robot kits
and discovered that 90% of the actual workable kits are being sold are the
Parallax Robotics Kits
Boe-Bot --- I did this using the latest and greatest market research tool
known to man/woman alive. Got into eBay and selected robot kit for heading
and in text, and closed auctions only. The going price for the BASIC kit
ranges from $58 to $78 and about fifty have been sold on eBay in the last
fifteen days. No other robot kit, except for a few toys, is on the list of
some 404 items. I did not see one Vex nor Mindstorm kit at all.
Toy companies are no longer toy companies who design and manufacture a
product for mass distribution. Toy companies contract the design to
professional engineering outfits or agree to licensing some inventor's
product that came to them via an established agent, who then provide the
detail drawings and the toy company issue POs to the many subcontractors to
make and package the product which they then try to sell. I think Radio
Shack tried the same gambit with the Vex... and they simply did not put the
sizzle nor steak into their marketing. Any new product is a toss of the die.
I wish vex luck. They seem to have a decent product. But then so does
Mindstorm and Parallax for the money. In my humble opinion.
Well not quite. But I think I may come in second or so in number of
titles sold through Radio Shack -- something like 6 or 7. Over the
yuears I imagine Forrest sold some 30-35 books with them.
We never had to provide "floor samples" BTW. They bought every copy, and
had a contract to purchase the entire print run after a certain period
of time. This is how Radio Shack does (did) business.
They are still selling stuff on the web site at 1/2 price but there's not
much left. No more starter sets are available. Just servos, limit
switches, bumper switches, gear sets, and safety glasses. The stores still
have inventory I think so if you can find it in a store it's still 1/2
price I think. The web site can check the inventory of your local stores
and it seems to work fairly well because I used it to find a few parts in
my area and every store they said had a part did actually have it when I
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