Richard Thalheimer is back in business. 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. What is Richard selling solo? The same type of high-tech gifts and gadgets you might find in The Sharper Image.
Thalheimer, 59, tells MULTICHANNEL MERCHANT that he started the new venture to pursue his passion for marketing innovative merchandise. “When I left Sharper Image, I thought about just retiring,” he says. “But after relaxing for a couple months, I decided I wanted to do again what I love, which is finding and promoting unique products.”
RichardSolo.com, which went live in April, sells such items as air purifiers, scooters, and funky electronics items—all Sharper Image staples. But Thalheimer 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.
In fact, Thalheimer says he looks forward to running a smaller company. “I want to give really exceptional and personal customer service, which is hard to do in a big organization.” Thalheimer founded Sharper Image in 1977; after 18 months of shrinking sales and profits, Thalheimer left the company in September. In addition to its catalog, the $525.3 million Sharper Image now includes a Website and nearly 200 stores nationwide.
But some industry watchers don’t see how Thalheimer’s new effort is different from his old business. “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?” What’s more, Rose doubts the attempt to brand RichardSolo.com personally—using Thalheimer’s photo–will drive business. “Selection, pricing, and direct marketing basics will.”
For his part, Thalheimer believes he was the merchandising savvy and product development track record to make the site a success. “My goal is to locate a really special exclusive, or have something manufactured privately for me, so that I can promote a special item in large quantity,” he says. “Having introduced in the past, the Razor Scooter and the Ionic Breeze, among others, this has given me some good experience driving sales in multiple channels for one hot item. I like print media, television, radio, and direct response of all sorts. But it takes the right item to promote.”