Richard Thalheimer’s solo act

Richard Thalheimer is back in action. Less than a year after he was replaced as chairman/CEO of The Sharper Image Corp., Thalheimer has unveiled an e-commerce Website, RichardSolo.com.

But Thalheimer hasn’t strayed far from the formula that made him his fortune: RichardSolo.com, which went live in April, sells such items as air purifiers, scooters, and funky electronics — all Sharper Image staples.

After founding Sharper Image in 1977, Thalheimer built it up into a $525.3 million brand that includes a catalog, a Website, and nearly 200 stores nationwide. Following a financially rocky period, he left the company this past September.

Thalheimer, 59, says he considered just retiring. “But after relaxing for a couple months, I decided I wanted to do again what I love, which is finding and promoting unique products.” He insists that the site does not compete with Sharper Image, “because my new venture is private, very small, and Internet only,” he says. “It hardly competes with the big retailers like Sharper Image and Brookstone.”

Others disagree.

“This is exactly the stuff Brookstone and Sharper Image sell,” says Stuart Rose, managing director of Wellesley, MA-based investment bank Tully & Holland. “How is he going to differentiate himself?”

Given the competition, not to mention Sharper Image’s dismal performance — the company’s sales for fiscal 2006 fell 21.5% to $525.3 million, and it posted a $60.0 million loss — it hardly seems the world needs another high-tech gifts and gadgets merchant.

Rose, who is surprised that Thalheimer wasn’t “tied up with a non-compete,” also doubts the attempt to brand RichardSolo.com personally — using Thalheimer’s photo — will drive business. Rather, “selection, pricing, and direct marketing basics will.”

For his part, Thalheimer says “there was no non-compete clause ever mentioned or negotiated” with Sharper Image. And unlike his former company and Brookstone, which are entrenched in retail, he says, “RichardSolo.com is geared toward the Internet.”

Thalheimer believes he has the merchandising savvy and product development track record to make the site a success. “My goal is to locate a really special exclusive” and promote it in large quantity, he says. Considering that he’s the man behind the Razor Scooter and the Ionic Breeze, among other product winners, “this has given me some good experience driving sales in multiple channels for one hot item.”

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