Is Fry’s the Real “Best Buy?”

IMG_1762I always want what doesn’t exist.  In this case, it was an old, and possibly discontinued, model of a small electronic appliance that customers seem to prefer over the newer models.  However, after some online searching, I found that the item indeed exists, only at Fry’s Electronics.   I didn’t know anything about Fry’s, except that I pass by the one on Route 1 in Manhattan Beach every so often, and one time a passenger in my car cheered when she saw the place.

So I made it to Fry’s yesterday, and was quite pleasantly surprised.  IMG_1764The look of the store can be described as Trader Joe’s meets The Dresden Room.  It’s a throwback that includes fake Tiki torch chandeliers, fake black rock walls, and an outdoor pond/fake rock garden.  With toned-down lighting and signs, and an army of sales people (almost all male) dressed not in colorful short-sleeve polo shirts but old-school white dress shirts with ties, Fry’s seems the antithesis of its competitor Best Buy, as well as other popular big-box chain stores such as Target.  According to Wikipedia, the Manhattan Beach Fry’s has a “Tahiti” theme, joining other Fry’s theme stores in our area, such as Alice in Wonderland (Woodland Hills) and the Industrial Revolution (City of Industry).

The array of big-screen tv’s, GPS units, computer supplies, Xbox and Wii games, and more left me happily glazed over.  Down one aisle, the latest and slimmest Motorola and VTech cordless phones.  Along another aisle, the most electric shavers and hair trimmers that I have ever seen.  Around a corner, Elvis bobbleheads above a box of … umbrellas?

But Wikipedia also references a possible dark side of Fry’s, including some dubious consumer practices (such as taking payments to let customers cut the line on Black Friday), a high-profile lawsuit from famous celebs over use of their image, and even an illegal kickback scheme involving Fry’s vendors and gambling debts.

So what’s the deal, folks?  Is Fry’s a beloved, quirky California-based institution that some of you have enjoyed for a couple of decades, or just another evil corporate chain in retro trim?  All I know is, I left the place with a new old model and a wry smile, and that never happens at Best Buy.

19 thoughts on “Is Fry’s the Real “Best Buy?””

  1. People that work there seem shady
    God help you if you need to return something
    Parking is usually impossible
    Lots of refurbished stuff of ill-defined provenance

    …but then you find something really cheap, or something that no one else seems to have, and I get suckered in again.

  2. Fry’s has far better electronics selection than BestBuy, plus all the geeky guts and gristle you need to build your own crap.

    They are also a drag for returns, their floor help ranges from sketchy to (very infrequently) brilliant.

    Yet: I went looking for new living room speakers last month.

    Best Buy – the guys could barely be bothered to show stuff and answer questions, didn’t really understand audio specs. Plus, the selection was severely limited into two categories – cheapass and nosebleed-pricey. Unfortunately, I needed something in between.

    Walked into Fry’s, had a nice talk with the sound-room guy, who courteously pushbutton-demo’d five sets of mid-quality/,midpriced speakers for me (repeatedly) with my own iPod jacked into their amp, and steered me correctly to the ones that really sounded the best for the money.

    Walked out with speakers. Damn, they sound good.

  3. As a wise old friend said one time when I was complaining about Fry’s customer service: “You don’t walk into a Red Lobster looking for a gourmet meal. Don’t walk into Fry’s looking for customer service and you will be just fine”…. Know what you want, go in, find it, stand in the slaughterhouse line to check out, and then get out as fast as you can.

  4. Not to mention that they restock all returns, so over time most ofthe items in stock have all been returned.

    My mom got burned buying a motherboard that was missing cables and drivers and when she went to return it, they said that because items were missing she could not return it. After 10 minutes of going back and forth Fry’s finally took her mb back.. and most likely, but it back in the shelf for some other poor soul to buy it again.

    I do my best to stay away from Fry’s.. you never know what you are going to get.

  5. When you’re trying to buy a simple audio cable to go from ipod to jack in the car, $2 @ Fry’s wins hands down over $20 @ any of the big box stores.

  6. There is also a Fry’s in Burbank just south of the airport on Hollywood Way and Vanowen. They have a “Martians Attack” theme, a really amusing interior with a crashed spaceship at the front entrance. I get all of my computer peripherals and other stuff there. Their prices really are the best. Too bad that none of the Fry’s are near any good transit.

  7. Both have their pros and cons. I’ve always gotten GREAT deals from Fry’s, mostly because I do research to find exactly what I want, avoiding their mostly moronic people in white shirts. I’m sure there are a few gems, but I’ve never met them. I would definitely avoid their repackaged items. I’m usually all about refurbished items and the like because they’re usually cheaper, but I don’t know that I’d trust Fry’s to give me a quality product.

    I do so love the differently themed stores though.

  8. Ever since I read “Microserfs” I had a romanticized vision of Fry’s as some sort of nerdgasm nirvana. It was way closer to that in the late 90s/early aughts. But the last few years every time I’ve gone in the salesmen seem like circling sharks fighting each other for commission, and the products all seem poorly stocked, shoddily shelved, disorganized and poor quality. I do love the junk-food maze right before the cashiers, though.

  9. Matt, little did you realize Fry’s is No Cal based, but they have tons of outlets in So Cal.

    Nerdgasm is correct Lucinda, always some cool tech toy there. Service is hit or miss for the most part. I go in with low expectations and that way am not disappointed should I be ignored on a busy day. Regardless of the service expectations, I love that place it is my first place to look for techy toys and the like.

    Returns haven’t been an issue. Getting things right on something they installed that goes kaflooie is another issue. The DVD player in the Dad car went out, wiring issues, after using it a few times and they tried to give me the brush off and blame it on me. It took writing Randy Fry, Pres/CEO one time to get it fixed right and some extra toys added in to make certain I was happy when the corporate follow up call was made. (Yes, corporate followed up with me direct to make sure I was happy).

  10. Interesting, interesting. The Wikipedia article also mentions “hoops and hurdles” regarding returns, so apparently that is a widespread issue. As far as restocking returned items, I’m not sure that’s anything unusual. Lots of chains have language in their return policy stating that they can deduct a “restocking fee” (I think 15% is commonly mentioned) from any refunds given for returned items.

    Fraz, yup, the Wiki article also states that the hq is in Silicon Valley and the first store was in Sunnyvale.

  11. Frys spans all the way to Texas I believe. Most of them have different themes (West Valley is Alice in Wonderland, Burbank is Alien Attack).

    It’s also a buffet of the trashiest people from nearly every culture in Los Angeles.

  12. Fry’s is the 9th circle of hell. I’ve bought numerous electronic doorstops there over the years, and had no luck returning any of them. I still end up there on occasion, but now I buy all the things I would normally buy at Fry’s at either Newegg or Tiger Direct.

  13. Julia, since Route 1 is Sepulveda in some places and Lincoln in others, seems to me that “Route 1” is a more accurate term. In any event, you should be disqualified from commenting on this post, since, even with the slight spelling difference, your hubby might be related to the owners.

  14. “Route 1” may be the ‘more accurate term’, but unless you want to look like an LA n00b, call it PCH.

    Frys in Manhattan is on PCH. (which is the same as Sepulveda in that section)

    Frys return policy actually used to be awesome.. they’d take anything back.. maybe not so much anymore, eh?

  15. My neighbor is an expert mail in rebate person. A lot of stuff at Fry’s is almost free due to mail in rebates, something that Fry’s excels at. YMMV because you have to follow directions exactly.

    Even though I should know about Fry’s recycling policy, I’m sorry I don’t. However at all electronics places you have to pay a recycle fee for monitors and TVs.

  16. I can’t get myself to call it the PCH on the stretch of Rte. 1 between Santa Monica and, oh, maybe Seal Beach. There’s very little PC (and not much H, for that matter) to be found. It’s primarily a commercial, heavily trafficked, speed-limited road. But remember, this post is about Fry’s, not about the name of a road. Thanks a lot, Julia.

  17. Fry’s works great if you are in a pinch. Say you need a jumper for your hard drive or some rarish computer part that best buy does not carry and don’t wish to do it through mail order. That said be careful when you purchase sale items because they will try to ring you up the normal price from time to time. Then when you bring it to the cashier’s attention they feign stupidity and say “oh yeah sorry…” Gotta agree with Mat, Fry’s brings out some of the trashiest people or people who care little about their appearance hehe.

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