The Sharper Image
|Industry||Consumer Electronics and Lifestyle Products|
San Francisco, California, U.S.
|Parent||– ThreeSixty Group;|
– Camelot Venture Group
(US catalog/ecomm rights)
Sharper Image is an American brand that offers consumers home electronics, air purifiers, gifts and other high-tech lifestyle products through its website, catalog, and third-party retailers. The brand is owned by ThreeSixty Group, with the U.S. catalog and website owned and operated by Michigan-based Camelot Venture Group.
The brand has been in operation since its relaunch in 2010. The earlier consumer products retailer by that name was founded by Richard Thalheimer and was in business from 1977 until its closing in 2008. The company sold merchandise through dozens of retail stores throughout the United States, a monthly catalog, and its website, along with business-to-business sales teams that marketed products for corporate incentive programs and wholesale to retailers.
The Sharper Image was the brainchild of Richard Thalheimer. The company started in 1977 as a catalog business to sell jogging watches. Later, through what had become an iconic catalog, The Sharper Image expanded its product assortment to include high end, futuristic gadgets, electronics, massage chairs, and air purifiers. Popular products such as the Ionic Breeze and exclusive models of Human Touch massage chairs helped propel The Sharper Image to become an iconic American brand with 187 retail stores in 38 states.
In 2006 there was a change in the board of directors of the company, including the removal of Thalheimer as CEO. Thalheimer was replaced by Chairman Jerry W. Levin. Not long after, on April 9, 2007, Steven A. Lightman became the president and CEO.
On April 10, 2008, Levin resigned as a member and Chairman of the Board of the company to pursue participating with other investors to acquire some or all of the company’s businesses or assets. But, as was pointed out, "Levin hasn't made a lot of money for the investors of Sharper Image he's teamed up with so far, including hedge fund Ramius Capital, which helped bring him in as a director, and Clinton Group, which announced a large stake in December." Under Levin, the company's stock price had fallen from about $40 three years ago to about 23 cents (a "paltry" $3.6 million market capitalization) at the time of his departure, on the over-the-counter pink sheets. His group's bid did not succeed.
The Sharper Image stock price reached a record low of 29 cents a share on February 20, 2008. On February 25, 2008, The Sharper Image announced it had received notification that it would be delisted from the NASDAQ exchange. The company filed for bankruptcy protection with the U.S. bankruptcy court in Wilmington, Delaware. Sharper Image said it had $251.5 million of assets and $199 million of debts as of January 31, 2008, according to the filing. Cash on hand totaled about $700,000. All of its retail stores were closed by the end of 2008.
On May 29, 2008, a joint venture led by units of private investment firms Hilco Consumer Capital, Infinity Lifestyle Brands, Gordon Brothers Group and Bluestar Alliance won a bankruptcy auction to acquire the assets of The Sharper Image, paying $49 million plus some contingent recovery for the company's assets. The Sharper Image name was licensed and used to sell products through major third-party retailers or the branded website. New products were created through partnerships with other businesses.
In 2011, Iconix Brand Group bought the Sharper Image brand and took control of all licensing relationships, while Camelot Venture Group continued to operate the catalog and website. In June 2014, Camelot Venture Group acquired the rights to the US direct-to-consumer division of the brand (catalog and e-commerce) from Iconix Brand Group.
In December 2016, Irvine California-based ThreeSixty Group, owners of brands such as FAO Schwarz and Vornado Air, purchased all remaining rights (including global manufacturing, distribution, and licensing rights) from Iconix Brand Group for US$100 million. In 2019, ThreeSixty Group relaunched Sharper Image with new logos, styling, slogans (including Tomorrow’s Tomorrow℠), and a refreshed product assortment.
Advertising and business
The Sharper Image's advertising budget was primarily directed to its monthly catalog for about the first 20 years of its existence. Once products like the Ionic Breeze were introduced, the company began using infomercials for advertising. Most other products in the home air purifier market (including those made by Oreck) already used this medium, so The Sharper Image followed. This move boosted sales, but led to confusion between prices advertised on television and those marked in the retail stores. The company was known to receive special supplier contracts. For instance, its HW551 and HW552 product code massage chairs were specific to The Sharper Image, and Human Touch Interactive didn't sell those specific chairs to any other retailer.
Today, The Sharper Image features products and promotions through multiple digital and traditional marketing mediums, including TV commercials, email, search engine marketing, display ads, its blog, and its social media outlets - Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Pinterest. In addition, it maintains the tradition of high-profile catalog covers, recently featuring stars such as Josh Duhamel, Heidi Klum, Betty White and Megan Fox.
The Sharper Image's website showcases unique products, carrying both The Sharper Image name and other brand names such as Bose and Human Touch. While various products are featured in gift guides across the internet, The Sharper Image website also features its own Gift Guides for occasions such as Mother's Day, Father's Day, and the major holiday season.
Consumer Reports lawsuit
In 2002, Consumer Reports tested many fan-driven air purifiers alongside the Sharper Image's Ionic Breeze Quadra. The Sharper Image was not happy with the results, and sued Consumer Reports in order to get what they thought would be a more fair testing of the product. However, the suit was dismissed, primarily due to the court finding that the company "has not shown that the test protocol used by Consumers Union was scientifically, or otherwise, invalid," and had not "demonstrated a reasonable probability that any of the challenged statements were false." Furthermore, Sharper Image could not "come forward with any evidence from which a finding of malice could be made."
Two years later, Consumer Reports stated that the Quadra could be dangerous to consumers' health, because of the trace levels of ozone produced by the unit. As a result, sales plummeted, and Sharper Image stores took back all units for a cash refund. The Sharper Image's response was to work with the Engelhard Corporation and create an ozone catalyst that reduced the amount of excess ozone in the purified air before it circulated throughout the room.
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