The Direct Marketer of the Year (3,039 words)
By Hallie Mummert
Master of Multichannel Marketing
If Richard Thalheimer was a different kind of person, he might be inclined to stick out his tongue at the big-box electronics and department stores that carry his company's line of product designs. After all, it was only a decade ago that these retail giants were copying The Sharper Image's merchandise mix of outside brands as well as its store layouts, diluting the strength of the company's message and stealing market share.
But the same entrepreneurial spirit that drove Chairman and CEO Thalheimer to launch the company in 1977 and then reinvent it in the early 1990s doesn't allow him to dwell on the past. Besides, his firm's financials say it all for him.
The Sharper Image, a specialty marketer of high-tech consumer products for home and office, is a $523.3 million company on track to deliver record earnings when it closes its books for fiscal year 2003. When many companies are posting modest gains or just holding steady, The Sharper Image's one-year sales growth is 32.1 percent—far above any of its direct marketing competitors.
The challenge that faces all companies today—how to succeed in a competitive marketplace—is one that The Sharper Image addressed during the recession of the early 1990s.
"I decided if we were to have a future as a company, we needed our own products, not others'," says Thalheimer. Currently, more than 75 percent of the company's products are designed and manufactured in-house, allowing the company to focus on a merchandising mix that generates the highest return on investment (ROI).
In addition to being a manufacturer, Thalheimer stresses the importance of being a marketer. "We're not just selling goods, but also promoting them," he asserts.
This blend of product development and aggressive direct response-based advertising not only spells huge success for The Sharper Image, but translates into brand strength that moves its product off the shelves of those big-box stores that once sought to contain its growth.