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Top 100 Flashback: Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going

In techworld, the more things change … the more things change

As the political news cycle approaches faster-than-light speed, it’s easy to lose sight of the history and trends that helped shape the present.

This applies equally, if not more so, to tech, where innovations in engineering, communications and logistics and have upended consumer electronics manufacturing and merchandising.

Given the whirlwind of change on the retail landscape, and in the products and services CE dealers sell, we thought it might be instructive to take a look back at how things stacked up a scant 15 years ago.

To help to help set the stage, it was in 2003 that President George W. Bush declared “Mission accomplished!” on the deck of the USS Lincoln; “Finding Nemo” was No. 1 at the box office; rear-projection TVs and MP3 players were all the rage; Arnold Schwarzenegger, a.k.a. “The Governator,” took up residence in Sacramento; 50 Cent topped the charts; and iPhones were still four years away.

See: TWICE 2018 Top 100 CE Retailers Report: Call It A Comeback

Speaking of charts, the terrain was also radically different on that year’s TWICE Top 100, and in some respects downright alien. Coming in at No. 3 on the hit parade, just behind Walmart, was Circuit City, which was starting an extended swan song with a 2 percent sales decline, while the 100 largest tech dealers as a whole enjoyed a robust 6 percent gain.

Also sharing space within the Top 10 was a pre-Chapter 11 RadioShack, back when its 7,200 stores still blanketed the land, as well as CompUSA. The big-box computer retailer survived The Shack’s sister IT chain Incredible Universe, but was ultimately outlived, at least on a regional level, by slow and steady Micro Center (No. 20 then, 10th place now).

Other ghosts of CE retail’s past included Gateway (No. 13), another PC specialist, which was vendor owned and adorned with Dell-branded plasma TVs; Electronics Boutique (No. 19), which would morph into EB Games before being swallowed up by GameStop; and Tweeter Home Entertainment (No. 21), which nearly succeeded in hobbling together a national A/V specialty chain from the exit strategies of regional dealers.

See: 2018 Top 100 CE Retailers: The Top 10

Also long gone from the Top 100 but not forgotten:

24. Ultimate Electronics
25. Good Guys
31. Blockbuster
36. hhgregg
37. Rex Stores
41. J&R Computer World
56. 6th Ave. Electronics
86. Tower Records
87. Ken Crane’s
97. MyerEmco

While those businesses would soon grapple with an overstored America, the advent of e-commerce, and yes, overconfidence, a glaring hint at the future of tech retail could be found germinating within the Top 20. Amazon, just four years into its CE assortment and still struggling to gain vendors’ respect and authorizations, plowed its way up to 22nd place on the 2003 listings, fueled by a 29 percent gain in sales.

See: 2018 Top 100: The Bigger They Are, The Harder The Rest Fall

And right behind it, at No. 23, was a pre-iPhone Apple, which added 22 stores the prior year to help deliver a chart-busting 95 percent increase in sales of its proprietary computer and music “i” devices.

Amid all the change to come, the greatest constancy could be found atop the rankings, where Best Buy reigned supreme, then and now. Still on an upswing, with its store fleet just halfway built, the company recorded an 18 percent sales gain that year — which should serve as a bittersweet reminder that we’re not in Kansas anymore.

See: The Top 5: What Moved The Needle For Tech Retailers In 2017

See all Top 100 multimedia coverage in the TWICE Research Center.