The Sharper Image

The Antithesis of the 'Social Media' Catalog
November 21, 2012

Have you noticed this too? Since Nov. 1, I have seen 42 articles in the various publications, newsletters and blogs to which I subscribe on how to use social media to grow my business. I have not seen a single article on traditional cataloging. I know that for many of you who are catalog practitioners, this over-saturation of the media with stories on the potential success of social media, and its close cousin, mobile marketing, causes problems. Your boss, or someone in upper management, or a board member, sends you an email asking why you are not doing

A Eureka Moment: What to Do Next
February 8, 2011

When I came across the obituary of Milton Levine, it struck a chord deep within me.

Here was a 43-year-old salesman of toys and novelties watching some ants at a July 4, 1956 picnic when he suddenly saw his future—the ant farm—a 6” x 9” two-sided plastic frame with sand, tunnels and live ants busily doing their thing as mesmerized kids watch and learn.

A half-century later, kids are still enthralled with ant farms. The basic model sells for $10.99.

Last year, Levine sold his business for $20 million. His website, UncleMilton.com has a slew of wonderful scientific gadgets for kids.

Milton Levine—described by one magazine writer as “anty-establishment”―gave pleasure (and inspiration) to millions of kids, made pots of money, obviously had great fun and went to the great beyond at 97.

Life doesn’t get any better than that!

So what does a fledgling entrepreneur do following a “eureka moment?”

How do you translate an idea into a profitable business?

My suggestion: go the dry test route.

I spent 15 years creating dry tests for clients and my own little business—the WHO’S MAILING WHAT! newsletter and archive service—started out life as a dry test.

Technically the dry test is illegal, but many years ago I discovered a possible loophole.

Hotlists—New and Updated Files on the Market
September 14, 2010

Find the latest lists to test—complete with names, descriptions, counts, prices and list managers'/owners' contact information—with this biweekly online feature from Target Marketing.

Doo-Doo Diligence and Buccaneer Businessmen
March 6, 2008

Last week I did a column on the simultaneous bankruptcies of two famous catalogs—Lillian Vernon and The Sharper Image—and received a long comment from Michael Muoio, president and CEO of Lillian Vernon. (See the image below.) His comment ran beyond 1,500 characters, and I quickly e-mailed him with effusive thanks for taking the time to write and to ask him to either cut it or finish it so I could run it as two entries with “continued” on the first one. Muoio e-mailed me back and said, “Wanna do a phone call?” I e-mailed him back and said sure, and that I would write

Lillian Vernon, Sharper Image Crash. Why?
February 25, 2008

The king of high-end tchotchkes (Richard Thalheimer, former CEO and chairman of The Sharper Image) and queen of low-end tchotchkes (Lillian Vernon) have been dethroned. Lillian Vernon and Sharper Image—two iconic catalogs—were known to have been struggling in recent years. Their bankruptcies were expected. That they were announced on the same day is astonishing. How could this happen? Both Vernon and Thalheimer launched businesses without paying their dues. Ultimately, neither of them knew what the hell they were doing. Lillian Vernon’s Story In 1933, Lillian Katz’s family fled the Nazis. They left Leipzig, Germany, for Amsterdam, and four years later were lucky enough to

Insert Media Buying Guide: Help Wanted
September 1, 2007

The good news: Insert media continues to blossom, with new programs being announced regularly. The could-be-better news: The channel still needs more players, both advertisers and program owners. While this medium has seen significant expansion in recent years, everyone with a stake in its success is clamoring for more. More large programs. More variety in advertisers and offers. To identify a few of the main challenges and opportunities in the insert media arena, Target Marketing called on two leading experts: Leon Henry, chairman and CEO of Leon Henry Inc., and Lisa Roland, president of Everyday Media. They shared their thoughts on how marketers can leverage

The New Robber Barons
November 2, 2006

In the late 1970s, I was hired to write a membership mailing for Comp-U-Card, a Stamford, Conn. organization that claimed to have built “a data base of price and product information on approximately 60,000 brand name products.” Consumers could tap into this wealth of information and presumably save many times the $25 membership fee. Goods were shipped directly from wholesalers to the customer. I met briefly with the president, Walter A. Forbes, who was good-looking, articulate and very intense. At one point in our meeting, he took a phone call and asked me to step outside, which I did. When I returned, Forbes told me that

A Look Inside Statement Insert Programs
May 31, 2006

Looking for another channel through which to acquire customers with a strong lifetime value? Of course this is a rhetorical question because who isn’t? Statement inserts are advertisements for products or services that ride along with monthly billing statements, and they may be your answer. There are upwards of 200 programs on the market today, and they fall into one of three primary categories: * Visa/Mastercard credit cards, including Bank of America, Capital One, Chase and MBNA, which account for about 125 million statements per month. * Retail credit cards, such as Saks, Macy’s, Belk and Sears, which total about 60 million statements per

The Book Publishing Game
April 11, 2006

Welcome to the Toughest Business on Earth April 11, 2006: Vol. 2, Issue No. 28 IN THE NEWS AMAZING TUGS by the Crowley Corporation Every once in a while a book comes along that captures the imagination of kids and adults who are young at heart. The Crowley Corporate Communications group has published a children's book about tugboats entitled AMAZING TUGS. —MarEx Newsletter, April 7, 2006 According to publishing guru Dan Poynter, a survey by the Gallup Organization found that 82 percent of the population believe they have a book inside them. Six million people have already written a manuscript. That

The TM Curse?Broken!
October 1, 2005

I 'm going to let you in on an inside joke at the Target Marketing offices. For a while, we've been speculating that our Direct Marketer of the Year Award was cursed. Consider: Of the 12 previous winners, six had their careers hit the skids shortly after being proclaimed by us as the best in their field. A couple examples: 1) Who else but the infamous John Peterman to start our curse? A little more than two years after Target honored him, J. Peterman Co. filed for bankruptcy. 2) Ah, Jay Walker and Priceline! We knew we were taking a gamble on