Recently I had the chance to chat with the owner of C.B. World (Wearecb.com), about his business. I found his story interesting so I asked if he would be willing to share some of the history of his business with our readers. C.B. World has been open for 37 years and made the transition from a physical shop to a web-based shop in the early days of the internet.
What year did your CB shop open?
C.B. World was established July, 1976.
What was the original idea behind the shop and what was the atmosphere like surrounding CB radio at the time?
The original idea was to open a store to serve the entire Willamette Valley and draw customers from Hwy. 20 East & West. By locating C.B. World in Albany, one block off the Interstate 5 freeway between Salem and Eugene, and 1 mile from Hwy. 20, it served as the ideal location for a CB Radio store.
C.B. World was opened during the “CB Boom” when drivers of all types were interested in communicating with other motorists and base station operators. The “CB Boom” enabled hobbyists to meet new friends, get instant road side assistance, road condition information and talk to other drivers on the road. Hobbyists with base station radios with good antenna applications could talk to other hobbyists in other states and sometimes overseas. Hobbyists with CB radios were connected on and off the road! The connectivity led to the formation of many CB and emergency (REACT) clubs to develop which drove the business even more.
What kind of products did you carry? What kind of services did you offer?
C.B. World carried a broad inventory of CB radios, scanners, antennas and accessories. It was not uncommon for customers to special order products and pre-pay in advance so they could obtain hard to get radios. Cobra, Browning, Pace, Golden Eagle Bases, Tram, Midland, are some of the brands we carried at start-up. We also sold Marine products.
C.B. World was a complete one stop shop, offering sales, service and installation.
As CB radio technology advanced how did the shop change to meet those needs?
When radios changed from tube radios to transistor radio technology, our technicians utilized Sam’s Books and factory schematics to repair and re-align radios.
What kind of people would come into the shop and what kind of questions would they ask?
The majority of our customers were truck drivers, loggers & timber companies. We also had a big clientele of “4 – wheeler” consumers and farmers & ranchers who made up a significant portion of our business. Always got a chuckle when customers wanted a radio that would talk 100+ miles!
How did you compete with other CB shops at the time? Was there a lot of competition and what made your CB shop stand out from the rest?
We were the ninth CB shop to open in Albany, Oregon. We gained a reputation for having a large diverse inventory with knowledgeable sales staff, offered fair prices, great technicians and first rate installations. At the beginning of the “CB Boom” we had difficulty getting enough radios to satisfy demands. As stated previously customers would pre-pay in advance to get some specialty model CB radios.
Can you recall any instances where CB radio saved a life or showed how useful a technology it was at the time?
One of our customers told us that while hunting alone he fell down a cliff in the woods, broke his leg and needed help. He got on his portable CB radio and called for help. When he contacted someone on the radio he asked them to call Linn County Rescue to get him some help. The person who responded to his call had never heard of Linn County Sheriff or Rescue Squad and finally after a period of time figured out the person requesting help was in Oregon. The base operator he contacted was in Tennessee! Needless to say the base operator called information and got the number of the Linn County Police department. It just goes to show you the versatility and usability of the CB radio.
Another customer who frequented our store was an avid CB user as she traveled frequently to Idaho to visit family. Traveling over Thanksgiving weekend she found herself in a big snowstorm, hit a patch of ice and slid off the road. Her car landed on its side and because she was an elderly large size woman she was not able to climb out. There was no traffic on the highway and she knew that no one saw her run off the road. She was stuck. She got on her radio and hollered for help, finally contacting a truck driver. She gave the driver a basic idea of her location where she thought she left the road. Sure enough, the driver went slowly along the road and found where her tracks veered off the embankment. He managed to get her out safely. Her testimony was and is to this day without her CB Radio she would have frozen and died. The local rescue operations and law enforcement still use CB radios today.
As cell phones became more popular in the 90’s how did the CB business change? What changes did you see specifically as a CB shop?
Our CB radio business remained strong because our clientele and drivers understood the need for both a cell phone and CB radio. You can not call another vehicle with a cell phone and in a lot of areas there is no service. We still see the need for a CB radio and cell phone, especially during catastrophic events, IE: earthquakes, hurricanes, bad storms, floods etc. Your cell phone may not work! We took initiative and cashed in on selling cell phone accessories and installation of cell phone antennas and units.
At what point did your CB shop begin the transition from a physical CB shop to a web based shop and what kind of drivers initiated the change?
Over the years radio prices declined. Prices of radios during the “CB Boom” were selling from $200-300+ on average to $59-159 in the late 1990’s. However, the accessory prices remained strong. It was difficult to lose the margins and we were looking for additional revenue streams. Internet was making its presence, not strong but gaining market share as consumers evolved into the cyber world. As the world of consumers became more tech-savvy and found they could purchase cheaper online and install their own radio gear, store traffic declined. Eventually it was not feasible to employ a sales and installation staff. The move to online sales paid off and we slowly made the transition to close the retail store.
Can you describe what kind of emotions were involved in closing down a physical shop and what impact it had for you personally and for your customers?
It was very difficult to close the store as it was a fixture in the community. We still have many local customers who call us and pick-up locally.
What kind of obstacles were involved in making the transition from a physical shop to a web based store?
The biggest obstacle was in website marketing, changing and learning how to sell online profitably.
As a web based CB shop what types of problems/successes have you dealt with in the on-line industry (more potential customers, larger product offering, payment/shipping difficulties, etc)?
There are a lot of dealers who are selling communications and it is difficult to make a good profit. Many of the e-commerce dealers have no product knowledge, offer no product support and utilize distributor inventory feeds to fulfill products. C.B. World has the largest inventory in the country and stands by our reputation “AAA” Better Business Bureau rating. C.B. World ships products same day or next business day and offers a real customer service representative to assist customers Monday – Friday 9:00AM – 6:00PM. We feel that our reputation, knowledge, inventory and business ethics make us the number one choice for web based purchases. The way products are marketed on the web has created a price war and no one is able to make the profits we once did. Another avenue of frustration is fraud. Online suppliers, no matter the anti-fraud software utilized, suffer from fraudulent transactions. Losses due to fraud are hard to swallow due to the low profit margins we operate in.
How do you choose which products you include on your website?
We try to include the main CB components and popular accessories on our website. Adding products is an ongoing process. We continue to expand our product offering and will continue to add products as schedule permits.
Certain CB shops are known for having shady business practices. How do you identify yourself as one of the safe or reputable shops?
We have been in business since 1976. I think that is a testimony in itself but we are also rated by Trust Pilot.
What do you see as the future of CB radio? The future of your business?
Due to the internet and big box sales the CB market is tough. We still feel there is a need for CB and Ham radio and we will continue to market products, change and evolve. The hobby is still strong in many areas and like any trend will be back! Once you purchase your radio equipment there is no monthly bill and you can talk without time restrictions! You can ask any first responder to any major emergency and they will tell you that the CB radio still worked to communicate their needs when there was no cell service.
Do you see any particular function or radio as a game changer for the future of CB radio?
As CB radios have evolved they have become multi-faceted radios. Many offer color changing face options to match vehicle interior, have blue-tooth capability to sync with cell phones, offer wireless microphones, 24-7 weather access, built-in clocks with drive timers and instant emergency channels. Ham radios are still Ham radios and I do believe one day a broad band high power CB radio will be approved by FCC.
Our thanks to C.B. World for taking the time to answer our questions. If you’d like to learn more about their business or see their products the website address is www.wearecb.com.