Utah Stories

Ra-Elco Electronics—A Salt Lake Fixture Since 1972

Ra-Elco opened in 1972 and has outlasted Radio Shack chain stores.


The Gunnell Family of Ra-Elco Electronics. Photos by Steven Vargo.

Last year, Walmart topped the Fortune 500 list of the world’s biggest companies with $482 billion in annual revenue. Amazon grew 27.1%, with nearly $136 billion in revenue. As big box stores and online sales become the norm for consumers seeking convenience and lower prices, it can be difficult for local businesses to stay afloat. Some of our neighbors, however, have found ways to not only survive, but thrive in the face of seemingly overwhelming competition.

Ra-Elco Electronics

When Ray Gunnell started his electronic company in 1972, he already had the competition from chain stores in mind. He named his company Ra-Elco (Ray’s Electronic Company) so it would be next to Radio Shack in the phone book. He was also friendly with the Radio Shack managers, so when someone couldn’t find what they were looking for at the chain store, Radio Shack would refer them to Ray.

Robert Gunnell started working for his father in 1992 and bought the business in 2007. I asked how he has kept the business going when so many other stores (including Radio Shack) have folded under the pressure of online and big box sales.

Most importantly, Robert said, they cater to their customers and offer their experience: “We focus on being more customer friendly than the internet can be. We are pretty knowledgeable about what we’re selling. If you buy it off the internet, you might have a description, but it’s not going to be as in depth.” Often, they’ll have customers come in who watched a YouTube video about fixing their television set and assume they need the exact parts that the video used. Robert explained that this is where his staff comes in: “Sometimes it doesn’t have to be the exact same part. That knowledge is a tremendous thing with selling items. Like a transistor, for example. If somebody needs one that handles 10 amps and you have one that can handle more current but everything else is the same, they can use it. A lot of people don’t know that.”

Robert and his staff hold regular meetings to discuss how they can help customers understand a specific item or be aware of common problems. For example, a few customers returned with a mess on their boards after a capacitor blew up because they put it in backwards. Now, Robert says, “If we think someone is a newbie, we’ll tell them, remember, these capacitors have a positive and a negative and we show them on the capacitor how to look for the negative leg so they don’t have to experience cleaning up that mess on their board.”

They have also made themselves fully available to their community. Robert explained, We cater to companies that are in production, prototyping, and modifications, hobbyists, ham radio operators, repairmen, students, professors, people who just want to tinker, people who want to set up a ham radio system for emergencies, and people who just need a cable for their stereo. Pretty much anything in electronics, we’re there.”

At first, the sheer volume of electronic equipment and parts in the store can seem overwhelming. But with the help of Robert and his staff, anyone can find quality products and good advice

If you need it, you can probably find it at Ra-Elco.

2780 S Main Street, Salt Lake City. 801 487-7749


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