In 1978, Richard Thalheimer got his start in the mail-order business with $300 worth of $29.95 digital watches and a $200 advertisement he placed in Runner’s World magazine.
Today, Sharper Image Inc. purveys high-priced adult toys through a slick national catalog and 47 retail outlets.
The company, which issued stock publicly last year, made $5.1 million in 1987 on $160.9 million in sales.
Thirteen new stores were due to open this year.
That’s a long way from Thalheimer’s days at Yale University, when the Little Rock, Ark., native was selling encyclopedias part-time.
And it’s a long way from his first company – Thalheimer Paper Systems, a door-to-door distributor of office supplies he started in 1971 while he was a student at Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco.
Thalheimer adopted the name Sharper Image when he discovered that his company’s best selling products were copier machine supplies.
Luckily, the name fit when he expanded into high-priced gadgets from a $59 shower radio to a $1,695 recliner chair including massage rollers and a built-in stereo.
Thalheimer, now 40, took the company public in April 1987 but retained a 73 percent interest in it.