TI Calculations

After a delay of nearly a year, Texas Instruments has opened its second U.S. “international showroom” – a small, 675-sq.-ft. store in NorthPark – to sell calculators and, at any time now, TI’s line of electronic watches. The company’s only other U.S. retail store is in San Francisco’s financial district, although TI has four stores in Europe.

The Dallas company has played a coy, cat-and-mouse game about the purpose of these stores, insisting that the outlets don’t at all signal TI’s pending entry in a big way into the retail field. But hardly anyone in the electronics business takes this at face value.

The current economic slump – especially in semiconductors – was probably responsible for the year’s delay in opening the Dallas store. At one point last summer, NorthPark officials went ahead and painted “Texas Instruments” on a piece of plywood screening off an empty store space between Cuzzens and Alfred Dun-hill of London. A few days later, however, the sign had been painted out by workmen, and NorthPark’s PR director Joe Barta said TI had asked the shopping center to clam up on all inquiries.

A former TI executive active in the decision to open the four European stores says that while the stores abroad – in West Berlin, Hamburg, Copenhagen and Milan – may not augur a big retail push by TI, they were certainly intended to teach the company “something about the retail business without getting too much adverse publicity from the big stores in the U.S. over what we were doing.”

Retailing by TI is a touchy subject with department stores and other non-TI retail outlets that handle TI calculators. They don’t relish the idea of competing, in effect, with their supplier. This has been a sore point especially since TI refused at first to supply its SR-50 scientific calculator to retailers, but instead reaped the “cream of the sales crop” by selling directly to the consumer through direct mail.

The combustibility of all this explains easily why TI chose Stanley Marcus to speak at its pre-opening ceremony at NorthPark. If Neiman-Marcus, which has a store just down the mall and sells lots of TI calculators, doesn’t object to TI’s tiny little ol’ store, why should anybody else?

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