STORIES OF INNOVATION

THE LEGEND LIVES ON THROUGH
THESE STORIES OF IMPACT

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Tony Farrel

Tony Farrell

Former Senior VP of
Creative Services

Former Senior VP of Creative Services talks about the business insights
and life lessons he came away with from working with Richard
Thalheimer, “America’s Gadget Guy.”

Tony Farrell had a ringside seat to Richard Thalheimer’s creative vision in action. He believed that Richard was not building a business, but a community.

“He really wanted to share his enthusiasm with other people and that comes through. He wasn’t doing it just to sell it.”

Part of that connection with his customers was Richard’s ability to have faith in a product, be agile and think outside the box. As Tony puts it, “A great merchant is one who does a lot of stuff on instinct and also moves quickly.”

One of Richard’s most enduring legacies was making it cool for men to shop by catalog. Tony believes he achieved that by including so much of himself on the catalog pages. “It was all Richard’s taste, his personal taste.” That taste extended to the catalog copy which was very distinctive and originally crafted wholly by Richard himself. In that descriptive copy Richard’s genuine curiosity about and love for the products, shone through. As Tony recalls an early Sharper Image catalog, “It was like a whole long classic, 2,000 words of direct marketing copy, this wonderful copy. All genuine, all super enthusiastic.” 
 
Moreover, in keeping with a marketing visionary, Richard’s taste and style was not static but able to shift with the times. Tony notes how In the ‘80s Sharper Image catalog was full of extravagance and glitz, but by the ‘90s had become more practical and simplified in feel and voice.  
 
Like all members of the Sharper Image team alumni, Tony was captivated by Richard’s aura and the heady and enjoyable business culture it created. “He was having fun and he wanted you to have fun.” Tony particularly remembers  extravagant store manager dinners. These were like Oscars award ceremonies with everyone dressed to the nines and complete with big screens, loud music and elaborate Razor Scooter table centerpieces. 
 
“Richard’s sense of style, his sense of entertainment, but more of it was about showing respect to these people, these store managers.” Tony saw that Richard cleverly used occasions like this to both say thank you to individuals and motivate the team to work above and beyond – and it worked! “People will do anything for him. He really understood that, just paying attention to people and recognizing them.” 
 
Rchard’s ability to energize people for the brand was not saved for one day a year; it was part of daily working life at The Sharper Image. The laser-like focus Richard gave to his team’s personal and professional needs was exceptional. “Richard just always knew who people were, no matter where they were on the team and he recognized them. He was always absolutely alert to where people fit in, where they were good, where they were weak.”  
 
These unusual management skills extended to an unparalleled  level of empathy for his employees work/life balance that Tony experienced directly. “Half of 2006 I worked from home because we couldn’t leave my daughter alone. He was just incredibly sympathetic and supportive and helpful.” 
 
Above all, Tony was left with an incredible sense of pride and gratitude to have been part of the Sharper Image story. Richard’s passionate belief in the ability of his products to do good, make people more productive and live better and healthier lives, rubbed off  big-time on his colleagues and customers. 
 
That integrity was demonstrated by Richard’s determination to stand behind his products with full refunds and to actively solicit customer feedback. Tony reminds us that most Sharper Image catalogs included this remarkable pledge, “If you’d like to share your thoughts directly with me about our stores, catalogs, web site or products, I welcome your email…”  He finished that sentence with his personal email address underscoring the value he placed on personal service and connection.

Tracy Wan

President and Chief Operating Officer, The Sharper Image
1988-2006

Being in the center of the executive team, former President and COO, gives an intimate view of how moments of triumph and challenge were successfully navigated with Richard and the great teams of The Sharper Image.

What a thrill it is to have this website and the YouTube Channel, The Legend of The Sharper Image available to relive the nostalgia of my 18 years at The Sharper Image. Those years were the best years of my career. I can honestly say I am the luckiest person to have had such wonderful opportunities when I joined the company.

I have always felt the highest sense of pride when people ask me where I used to work. The responses from people are always phrases like, “I love The Sharper Image” or they launch into a store of their hands-on experience in one of the stores. This happened all the time during my tenure and it was so extraordinary to sense the customers’ relationship to this extraordinary brand.

My awe of Sharper Image goes back to 1988, a little over a year after the company had its Initial Public Offering listed on the NASDAQ to become a public company. I can still vividly remember my interview with the then CFO Bob Schultz for the position of Manager of SEC Financial Reporting.

With the memorable, confirming handshake, Bob became my mentor and taught me so much about the retail business. In return, I vouched to do a great job for him, for Richard, and for the company with the SEC Financial Reporting. Prior to joining Sharper Image, I worked in public accounting, became a CPA, and worked in the real estate investment syndication business.

The ensuing years were the most invigorating, fun and fulfilling working years of all my career. I’ll quickly recap the roles so I can get to the fun part of sharing my fondest, most impactful experiences working alongside Richard and my colleagues. And, Richard is always to us Richard or RT; not Rick, not Rich.

For ten years, beginning in 1988, I rose through the financial ranks, advancing from Manager of SEC Financial Reporting to Assistant Controller, Controller and then to the huge honor as Chief Financial Officer. In 1999 Richard tapped me to be the President and Chief Operating Officer, what a special role to take on! I felt nervous about the BIG JOB, yet I also felt confident that I had learned our business very well coming through the financial ranks while working with Richard and other senior executives of Sharper Image. Having worked with customer service, supply chain, eCommerce and the quantitative side of merchandising, marketing, creative and advertising. (Remember you can see a lot of special behind the scenes videos in the video section on this site and on YouTube. I loved those videos featuring Richard and Steve Jobs, they are so fun to watch!)

The most impactful skill that Richard has taught me – is the ability to ALWAYS act with the most current information, in both our professional and personal lives. He is masterful at this. Others may interpret Richard’s skill and approach as a person who is always changing his mind. And, of course, he will be changing his mind to stay on course. He would regularly receive new information which was vital for his presentiment, strategic decision-making and especially his artful navigation of choppy waters. Richard always has more current information than most because of who he is. He is always observing, learning, listening and asking questions. He is the most inquisitive person that I have known. I have the impression that his mind is never turned off, even when he’s sleeping.

Great Care with His Team & Family Values

Richard showed great sensitivity to each one of our management teams. He took the time to get to know us individually and put a lot of emphasis and energy into learning what we valued. Family has always been, and is important to Richard, as it is for me.

Richard knew that I didn’t care about golf, mountain biking or other hobbies. He knew my family is the most important thing to me so he always tried to shape my work life in harmony with my family life.

I observed he did this with everyone on our management team. Richard devoted some very valuable time by being an assistant coach on his daughter’s middle school softball team when she was the pitcher. He always managed to be there. His work/life balance always included his family.

Richard, Hard to Get Along with?

There were many times that I was asked, “How can you work with Richard for that long? Isn’t he a difficult boss?”

The answer is Richard was great to work with, and yes, he can be a difficult boss at times (I think that’s the case with most bosses, true for myself as well) if you are not measuring up to his expectations and working at the speed with which RT processes.

Our working relationship was invigorating and rewarding. Richard is meticulous with each decision, his attention to detail is unsurpassed, his ability to spot trends, and his creativity all worked together in his creation and expansion of the Great Americana Brand – The Sharper Image. I experienced over and over, the way Richard would develop his trust in his employees, and then the working relationship would blossom. But, the employee would have to earn his trust through their own diligent conduct and ability to produce results. This is one of the ways he was able to recruit and maintain his loyal and independent, intelligent employees.

Sharper Image Design – Invented Here!

I will always remember the first time I joined our Sharper Image Design team at the remote offices in Marin County, California – the “secret skunkworks” location where the Sharper Image Design team got their creative juices flowing during dynamic sessions with Richard. Burritos were served on paper plates for lunch.

The Sharper Image Design team would spitball ideas for the next generation of our Sharper Image Design proprietary products. Some of these products included the Turbo Groomer, the famous nose hair trimmer; the Sound Soother with an astonishing 30 sounds (the most sounds was 12 before this) and the Ionic Hair Wand (an ionic hairbrush that brings out the shine in your hair). The design team also created the Shower Companion CD Player, a water-resistant CD player that you could hang in your shower! This was revolutionary back in the day, there was nothing else like it. Nothing was too crazy to brainstorm. Richard knew that anything could be made. But, the conversation always came back to reality – what would be the retail price? Can we get 75 points of margin at that retail?

Richard assembled the best group of talents for Sharper Image Design. The team was headed by Chuck Taylor, who is literally a Rocket Scientist from Honeywell, second in command was Andrew Parker, a Stanford educated engineer. We had our own manufacturing experts led by Tom Krysiak, industrial designers, electrical and mechanical engineers, and graphic designers.

We coined the slogan, “Invented Here” for Sharper Image Design products because they were truly invented in Marin County, California, just a quick trip across the Golden Gate Bridge from the corporate office. How cool is that?

Product details such as the color of the LED on the product (blue, or white, or green), the color of the finishing, what type of battery the unit would run on were all important elements for great product design. These key details were all hashed out over burritos by Richard and the team.

Sharper Image Design proprietary products gave us the competitive advantage of exclusive products, reinforce our brand as the leader in cool products, and provided us with the financial benefit of bigger margins.

Bold & Bright Creative for Memorable Product Packaging

Bold, bright, attractive creative was quintessential and synonymous with the Sharper Image products, catalogs, and website. Richard loved this part of the business and pretty much retained all creative control while leveraging on a very talented team of creative directors, photographers, graphic artists, copy-writers and production talents. This creative process also provided for gorgeous product packaging for our Sharper Image Design products, which made for great displays in our stores.

Thrive in the Face of Adversity

Like many retail businesses, there were ups and downs in our business. I recall when it was early in my tenure at Sharper Image, we had a very tough year during one of the recession years. Our first nine months of operations that year had larger losses than we had expected. We needed to come up with a plan to regain sales and profits.

Richard went to trade shows as often as he saw the need to. He would find unusual products and always bring back good stories. One story, he waited to tell us until AFTER the results came. Well, during this down-turned year, Richard went to a tradeshow, doing what he favors to do at trade shows – he made a straight-line dash to the hall where the smaller display booths are. These are not well-known product companies, and they pay less to be in the smaller booths in the less-trafficked halls of the trade show.

Richard could always see the potential of the products from some of these lesser-known companies and he proved it over and over again. (The original Razor Scooter, sold exclusively by Sharper Image in the beginning, was one of them!)

At this trade show, he met a small manufacturer that made his product in his own small factory in Pittsburg, PA. This manufacturer had a Gel In-Sole product that provided cushioning inside shoes. Richard asked the owner about the product specs and the cost per pair if Richard were to order some large quantities.

Shortly after, in a company presentation to all of us, and earlier to our Board of Directors, Richard said persuasively, “It’s 4th quarter, and we have to score!” He pulled the Gel In-Sole out of his jacket pocket and let us know this was the answer. There was a moment of silence.

Then, Richard looked around at the team – he knew we didn’t understand, and we probably looked a little skeptical. Richard said, “This Gel In-Sole will be a great seller. It’s made right here in the USA. We can get adequate stock quickly. It’s at the right retail price and a great margin. Only $19.95 with a 75% margin!

He and Craig, our President at that time, had done a casual survey with visitors in the Sharper Image stores to gauge the interest, at the $19.95 price point. The Gel In-Sole was popular in the casual survey. Well, it turned out, Richard was and is a Marketing prodigy – he was right!

He created the tagline, “Let Your Feet Take a Vacation” and put three inexpensive chairs in each store so customers could sit down and sample the gel sole in their shoes. Then he compensated our salespeople with a spiff for each pair they sold and, voila – we SOLD hundreds of thousands of pairs and made significant margin dollars to shore up the next year. Whew. That was a close one.

What Sells A Product: Sales Headlines and Story Telling!

Richard taught me to appreciate the art and skill of storytelling and sales headlines. To entice a consumer, Richard always uses the approach of emphasizing the benefits and features.

Copy included the answers to questions such as: What does the product offer? How does that matter to the customer? The skills of sales headlines, written product copy, and immersive storytelling were a big part of Richard’s consumer product marketing.

I recall one of our Sharper Image Design/Invented Here products, the Power Tower. The sales headlines were so vivid in describing what the product did, and why the customer would want it.

The product copy featured Richard saying, “How many CDs do you have that are scattered on your bookshelf that you wish were well organized? Here is the Power Tower – you easily put your CDs into each slot of the rotary tower, and with a press of a button, the CDs are brought up to your view, without you having to get down on your hands and knees to retrieve the CDs on the bottom of the rotary.”

Now, that’s a good copy. There are hundreds of cool, powerful sales headlines and copy for our products that were presented in the catalog, online, and in our stores. And, that was just one of our reasons for success.

Need for Speed

So – it’s true, Richard loves airplanes (yes he’s a pilot), motorcycles and various fast cars. Yet, there’s the safety-first side of Richard at the same time. Richard loved his Toyota Siena minivan too.

MENSA – One Last Personal Revelation

When I was a young Controller, I was invited to most of the senior management team meetings and board meetings. I always prided myself on having a good memory and being meticulous with the financial operations.

One time at a meeting with Richard and the then CFO, Richard pointed to a figure and said that it didn’t look quite right. I stared at it for a quick moment and said that I was pretty sure that it was correct. Richard smiled and just said quietly to me to double-check that later and let him know. Of course, right after the meeting I immediately went back to my office and checked on the figure. Sure enough, I was wrong, Richard was right.

He is so sharp with figures and his financial acumen is extraordinary. Of course, Richard could easily run the finances of the Company, but that would not be putting his talents to best use. As I reflect on my working relationship with Richard, I believe the Yin and Yang that made it work so well for 18 years was that Richard enjoyed and excel at the creative process and unrelentless belief in his vision, while I enjoyed and excelled in the execution and quantitative aspects of our business, while believing in his unrelentless vision. It’s a pleasure to work alongside such greatness.

Staying Connected, Years Later

I look forward to the quarterly dinners I still have with Richard and our former CFO Jeff Forgan, who is known for being quite funny. The three of us shared a lot of times together, both good and equally as tough, in the decade that we operated the company.

Richard has maintained the connection with us and continues to participate in these dinners, even a decade after we have moved on. It’s always a good time to be with him– we put up our favorite stock picks, gossip about the celebrities, speculate on real estate, update on our children, and grimace about the political landscape and we drink good wines that Richard brings. Then we Uber home. I hope this goes on and on and on.

Current Days

I founded and operate the TYW CONSULTANTS LLC, a boutique advisory and consulting firm. We provide executive and board strategic advisory services, as well as consulting services for operations, financial, and full business spectrum that makes a business thrive.

Clients range from public and private-equity-backed companies, family-owned businesses, technology start-ups, and non-profit organizations. Our services to our client companies have been incredibly gratifying. I attribute a huge part of the success of my current professional life to the years of experience I accumulated from being on The Sharper Image executive team.

I appreciate all of the referrals that have come from my colleagues at The Sharper Image. I still live in the San Francisco Bay area with my husband of many years [LoL], while my daughter decided to stay in NYC after she graduated from NYU-Tisch.

(And to those that shared the 10-Year Reunion at Richard’s house, it was fabulous to see all of you – WE are still a great looking group! Looking forward to the next one for our 20-Year Reunion. In the meantime, drop me a line at my email-always a joy to hear from all of you.) tracywansf@gmail.com

Joe Williams

Former Chief Security
Officer

The Sharper Image’s former Chief Security Officer describes why “quirky”
delivered success at The Sharper Image and how his long working relationship
with Richard Thalheimer became a valued personal friendship.
Joe Williams knew he was going to get along with Richard Thalheimer after this frank exchange on their first meeting.
 
Richard: “If you get this job, what are you going to do for my company?” Joe: “I’m probably going to put a lot of your employees in jail.” Richard: “I like that.”
 
From that startling honesty, developed a trust that has endured for over thirty years and immeasurably enriched the lives of both men.
 
As Joe tells it, “He started to look at me as someone he could really trust. That created a bond that we kept forever.”
 
Joe and Richard worked together hand-in-glove for 22 years and Joe’s pride in their partnership is obvious. “I was featured in CSO magazine on the importance of a successful CSO working with the CEO closely. The picture that’s used in the article is of he and I sitting in the hangar where the airplanes were.”
 
Those airplanes (and motorcycles and cars too) were a key element of the bond that developed between the two innovators as they worked and traveled together over the years. It was a bond where the lines between boss and employee took a back seat to mutual respect and friendship. Joe recalls, “I was going to buy an airplane. Richard came to me and instead of me buying one, I started partnering with him.” In that partnership they flew together all over the US and Joe managed the maintenance of the planes. Those flights were special times when Richard and Joe were able to connect as admirers of airplanes and American landscapes while escaping the daily stresses of their roles.
 
Joe attributes much of Richard’s success in business to his innate curiosity about things and ideas. He remembers a conversation when Richard explained, “When you love the product you become interested in who thought of that product, who designed that product, where did that idea come from?”. That unending curiosity was part of Richard’s distinctive persona which he owned with pride in his “QUIRKY” license plate. Joe believes that Richard’s unique way of looking at the world set The Sharper Image apart from competitors. “No one could do the things that he did as well as he did. Nobody. A lot of people tried and a lot of people failed.”
 
Joe respected that while Richard was clearly a creative visionary, he also understood the importance of attention to detail which was critical to Joe’s own role in security. “He’s very precise in everything he does and it shows in flying.”
 
While Richard clearly had a talent for playing “BIG” when it came to products and stores and was happy to boost the brand with appearances on TV, Joe noted that he was remarkably humble in person. “He will brag about the success of the company. But personally he doesn’t like to draw attention. He didn’t want to drive around in a stretch limo in New York; he didn’t want people looking at him.”
 
A career in security will tend to make people focus on the “glass-half-empty” and Joe was no exception – until he met Richard. “Richard always tends to see the good in everybody. He taught me that a lot of times people are trustworthy and they’re not all crooks.”
 
That optimistic “glass-half-full” spirit most impressed Joe immediately after Richard’s tenure as CEO of The Sharper Image ended abruptly. Joe was outraged on Richard’s behalf, but that was not the way Richard chose to handle the difficult situation. As Joe recalls, “Rather than go somewhere and dwell on it and be upset and mad and angry he just leaned into it. He just accepted what was and made the best of it.”
 
Joe attributes Richard’s tremendous resilience – the same resilience that allowed Richard to build The Sharper Image and steer it successfully for so many years – to Richard’s pragmatic understanding that business has its inevitable ups and downs. Taking those cycles personally will not serve you or the business.
 
At the end of the day, Joe Williams most admires Richard’s ability to keep what really matters in perspective. He can still hear Richard’s voice saying, “We’re in good shape and I’ve got a good family. I love where I live. Let’s go ride motorcycles and fly airplanes.”

Josh Tretakoff

Former Senior Manager, Digital Media
1998 - 2008

In a ten year span, this store clerk rises through the ranks, being molded by Richard and the team, and later being the inception point as the first Digital Media Manager, launching the original Sharper Image website.

Josh Tretakoff moved up the ranks at The Sharper Image, beginning as a stock clerk in 1998, then cashier to senior sales and later promoted to Store Manager, Ghirardelli Square, San Francisco, & Marketplace Center, Boston. His last position was the first Digital Media Manager, ending in 2008.

From Josh –

It was my 10th birthday. I saw a full-page ad in a magazine by my Dad’s chair, showing a watch as I’d never seen. The ad went on and on about how many things the watch could do, and I was hooked. Every month after that, I looked for the Sharper Image ads, and the picture of the man who was bringing these marvelous things to life, Richard Thalheimer, and I told my parents that someday, I wanted to be just like him. Little did I know how influential he would be in my life.

Fast forward. It’s the summer of 1998, and the new Sharper Image store in Boston has lines of eager customers, like me, outside. A security guard keeps the folks lined up so that the store is not overcrowded. I’m in line, waiting for my turn to actually see and touch the baubles from the future that the Sharper Image has only shown me in glossy catalogs before now.

The stanchions and ropes keep us practically pressed to the glass. It’s my turn, and I’m moving around in this interactive museum of gadgets, gizmos, and toys, marveling at the fact that none are isolated out of my touch. As I look around, I hear the staff talking about their need for some help in the stockroom. I ask for an application, and my life is changed.

From that day forward, I was a man molded by The Sharper Image. I spent years in the stores, moving from a stock boy, all the way up to a store manager. I remember how proud I was when Richard himself visited, smiled at me, and presented me with my first Gold award for exceptional sales performance. I wore that pin on my lapel for years, proudly.

During that time, I channeled my love of all gadgets beyond the store, immersing myself in the online world when I wasn’t working. Back then, I spent hours with online communities, accessing through modems and phone lines and this led to managing one of the world’s largest online communities at that time. I could see the potential of this new network called the World Wide Web.

I wrote a proposal for Richard and Craig Womack to open a store in San Francisco; I was so enthused by the idea, I didn’t even think of the insanity of having a store manager write a proposal for the CEO and President of a public company.

But, during the next annual Manager’s meeting in San Francisco, Craig offered to meet with me for breakfast on two of the mornings to discuss. After we did, he said, “Josh, we definitely should do it. In about a year or two, we will.”

Knowing that, I moved to San Francisco, so I would be there when Sharper Image was ready. Six months later, it’s Christmas time, I’m the store manager in Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco. It’s early morning, and I’m getting the store ready to open for the busy holiday, but it’s quiet for the moment. I hear a tap on the glass front doors, and look up: Richard Thalheimer, my inspiration, is standing there. Dumbfounded, I let him in.

He looks around, makes some small talk, then mentions my proposal. He asks if I am ready to do what I proposed. My heart pounds. I look him in the eye, and say “Yes, I am.” He smiles that smile that should be trademarked and tells me that I should come to the corporate office next week.

The next six months were a blur. I started at the office, working for the incomparable Sydney Klevatt, who wanted nothing to do with this insolent 20-something who talked about the internet, but he taught and learned, all at the same time. Richard came by one morning, asked us to come with him to a presentation at Yerba Buena from Steve Jobs, formerly of Apple.

We walked over, where Steve held court on the new software he was marketing, WebObjects, from his NeXT Computer co. When Steve demonstrated that he could book a flight online, then pick up the phone and have it confirmed by the call center in real-time, he was sold. He turned to me and Syd and said: “Let’s see if we can use that.”

Funny aside: Years later, I learned that the demo on stage was typical of Jobsian smoke and mirrors. That call center Steve called on stage? Was actually to his assistant backstage on a cell phone. Steve never let facts be the obstacle to a great vision.

As our internet business boomed, Richard came by my desk one day and led me to my new office. He was so pleased to see how floored I was, and excitedly said, “Let’s go pick out some art for you.” We dashed around the building for 15 minutes, as he looked in every office, every conference room until something caught his eye. He grabbed it off the wall (I honestly can’t remember from where), and we walked it back to my office, where he proudly hung it for me. It was one of the most rite-of-passage moments I’d ever experienced and stands out today.

Richard was not by any means the easiest CEO; he demanded results, and he was quick to express his displeasure when I came up short. He was equally hyper-aware of how important it was to motivate his people.

I remember a day I let him down, and he (rightfully so) let me have it. The next morning, he came by my office and said, “I just want to let you know that you are one of the smartest people I think I’ve ever worked with,” and left. I sat there, stunned, and redoubled my resolve to live up to that compliment.

The hardest decision I ever made came a couple of years later when I had the opportunity to join a startup in the dot-com boom. I labored over that decision for weeks. I didn’t want to leave TSI, but it was too good of a chance. I remember when Richard learned I was leaving, and he greeted me with a wan smile, a shake of his head, and that “Josh…really?” that only he could pull off with both sincere honesty, and friendly mocking. He wished me well, and I couldn’t help but feel like I was leaving home for the first time.

Over the next few years, I found every way possible to work with Sharper Image, doing partnerships and deals. I was back in the office for one such meeting, and Richard walked by the conference room I was in. He stopped short, flung the door open and said, “Josh, are you coming back?” with that enthusiasm that only Richard could muster. I wistfully replied that I was not, and he said: “Oh, well…worth a try!” And off he went.

Josh Tretakoff is the Lord of Partnerships (yes, his real title) for JustAnswer, the leading provider of online professional services. Talk to doctors, lawyers, mechanics and thousands of professionals about your issue for a fraction of the price. Learn more at JustAnswer.com.

Jenny Williams

Marketing
2000-2008

Get an internal view of the extraordinarily visually appealing place to work from a member of Sharper Image’s marketing team.

The Sharper Image corporate office was an exciting, inspiring place to work. It felt like a planned community, designed to spark creativity and excellence – – making it a place you wanted to be and contribute your best work.

The backdrop was sleek, color-coordinated furnishings, uncommon in most offices, particularly in the retail industry where the office is considered “back of the house.” Throughout the spacey, Richard shared his collectibles, artwork, and colorful, eclectic gadgets.

Visually memorable are the lighted jukebox, neon sculptures, child’s airplane barber chair, specialty Harley-Davidson motorcycles, life-size Star Wars characters, autograph of Abraham Lincoln and, of course, the suit of armor.

No vendor or visitor failed to comment that it must be a great place to work – and they were right.

Federico de Bellegarde

SVP Licensing
1989-1993 / 1995-2015

Over a 26 year tenure, this executive connects the Sharper Image culture of the team akin to a great sports team striving to sync up at the right time and sustain the performance.

My 26-year Sharper Image journey started in Boston on Patriots’ Day 1989 and ended in April 2015 in NYC. However, it has never truly ended due to the experiences, camaraderie, great memories and genuine affection for the many talented lifelong friends I worked with over the years and beyond.

Richard Thalheimer created and fostered an enduring legacy and The Sharper Image, in its first incarnation, was much more than a direct marketing, product or retail story. The culture of constantly striving for perfection down to the most minute detail across a host of disciplines was akin to a great sports team syncing at the right time and sustaining the performance. We mostly synced perfectly, while at other times not so much, but the sense of being in this together cultivated a genuine pride of being associated with such a fun, well-managed organization. We worked hard, played hard, respected each other, laughed, struggled and always enjoyed the reaction when you told someone you worked at The Sharper Image. “I LOVE THAT STORE!”…was a common response and we soaked it up!

In August 2018, Richard hosted a Sharper Image 10-year post-bankruptcy reunion and 100+ former co-workers came from all over the world to once again share each other’s company and regale the many stories of The Sharper Image past.

Today, while the brand lives on, the “Richard Thalheimer years”, and the many folks that collaborated in the journey made for a wonderful and meaningful chapter in so many of our lives.

Andrew Parker

Director, Product Development
SVP, Sharper Image Design
SVP, Engineering and Technology
1999 - 2008

Get an internal view of the extraordinarily visually appealing place to work from a member of Sharper Image’s marketing team.

I was very lucky to be part of the “skunkworks” Sharper Image Design team in Novato. Every product designer wants to work on exciting new things, and Richard always brought us fun and challenging ideas. He was unmatched at identifying the risks worth taking. Not every idea made it into production, and not every new product sold a million pieces. But, in baseball terms, we got to swing at a lot of pitches, we had lots of base hits, and we enjoyed some amazing home runs! Our team of creative, fun people inspired one another to do our best work. Together we generated a portfolio of hundreds of innovative products, covered by hundreds of patents, and drove huge growth in sales and margins.

Richard understood his customers and their delight in discovering new items. He made sure that every new catalog cover compelled customers to look inside, visit the website, or enter a store. Many of those cover products were extravagant but they drew customers in, where they’d discover fun gifts and practical items that anyone could buy.

Sadly, after Richard left the new management team did not understand the company or what had made it successful. They were terrified of risk – and didn’t have any ideas – so they stopped us from developing our own new items. Their cover products like Trump Steaks or Zero-Gravity Flights fell flat and did not inspire potential customers to look further. To tick the boxes they brought in a catalog guy, a luxury goods guy, a store guy; none of them understood how the different channels worked together. They led us in a slow, sad, march to Chapter 11.

Today, Andrew continues to develop all kinds of innovative products as a consultant in product design and manufacturing. He can be reached at andrew@andrewparkerllc.com.

Xavier Estrada

Art Director
1999-2008

For most, The Sharper Image was an exciting and inspiring place to work. For me, it was much more than that. It was the beginning of my career as a designer and a lifelong friendship with Richard!

I was 21 years old when I started working at The Sharper Image. I was finishing my senior year in design school when I was hired by Joseph Tsang, the Creative Director at the time, who was later promoted to VP. He was one of the greatest bosses and still a very close friend today.

There I was, working at my dream job, straight out of school. I couldn’t believe it!

The Sharper Image stores were full of such cool stuff. We were like kids in a candy store! In the Creative Department, we were lucky to see the latest and greatest products before the public ever did. It was a life of “sneak peeks.” In fact, I distinctly remember when the Segway was first introduced to the world. Yep, we played with it first at the office.

The headquarters office, where I worked was was so visually over the top. It was like nothing like I had ever seen, other than in the movies. It was truly an extraordinary and surreal place to experience and work in, even the simple walk through the building from department to department.

I met so many great people working there. I learned so much from all of these talented artists, which I’m eternally grateful to this day. Each person seemed to be handpicked, and we shared a feeling of family-focused fun with a greater vision for everyone.

One of the great highlights for me was my first interaction with Richard, which grew into a relationship where we worked side by side. I remembered being terrified of him especially when he came into the Creative Department. I would try to be as invisible as I could. Until one day…I was working through the lunch hour and I was the only one in the department. I was working on a new concept ad for the Ionic Breeze. The concept was routed to Richard for review and as usual, it was filtered back through Tony Farrel to me with all edits and comments so I could prepare the next draft.

Well, not that day! He came straight into the Creative Department, directly to my desk, where I was “plugged in” listening to music on my headphones and working on the ads. When I looked up, I thought, “Holy cow, he is looking right over me at the screen.” I completely froze… Very politely, he asked if he could make some changes to the copy.

I was terrified. I told him that all ad copy needed to be approved by Tony. He gently and firmly replied, “Don’t worry about it, I’m telling you to change it.”

And then he chuckled with an intense look that communicated, “Please, do what I want now.” I was so nervous. I made all the edits he requested. I printed it out for him as quickly as I could. He was impressed with the speed I was able to generate in order to complete it for him. He thanked me and he left happily with his new edited version. After he left and I gathered my thoughts, I said to myself…” oh, wow, my first Richard encounter, so exciting, and nerve-wracking, what the heck just happened, that was awesome!”

From that day on I was on his radar and he knew my name. He continued to drop by my desk and ask to make edits on the fly all the time after that day. And so it began…a closer relationship with Richard.

He has been an inspiration to me through the years. He was the driving force in pushing my limits to his higher standards, whether working on the catalogs, filming product videos or creating unique packaging for Sharper Image Design as well as RichardSolo Products. We also share the same creative aspirations and tastes, which makes working with him a designer’s dream.

Most of all, I am so proud of the great things we accomplished together at The Sharper Image. We created a body of work that was revolutionary at the time. We pushed the limits of the technology available to us then. We pioneered a lot of the design work seen today in major brand advertising.

My journey continued, I have had the pleasure to work with Richard, present day, in his venture RichardSolo as well as participate in the creative process for this website. Through all of these years, we have worked together and formed a lifelong friendship. Working with Richard, the RichardSolo team and the Legend of Sharper Image team has been an adventure and experience I treasure. It’s like a family for me. It continues to be a pleasure to experience Richard’s pull of excellence coupled with his incredible. genius.

Jake Weary
Jake Weary

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Diane Ameter
Dianne Ameter

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Hugh Saturation
Hugh Saturation

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Sed ut dapibus turpis. Aliquam sit amet hendrerit nisl, fringilla luctus quam. Vestibulum tincidunt nisi eu odio ornare, sit amet tempor turpis mollis. Vivamus rutrum fermentum dolor vitae pretium.

Duis dui risus, accumsan ut fringilla a, eleifend sed sem. Etiam id elit non sem tristique pharetra. Suspendisse quam mi, feugiat sit amet urna at, dapibus laoreet tellus. Sed varius tempor neque a molestie. Fusce ex mi, fermentum quis dignissim vel, convallis quis enim. Phasellus vel massa varius, ultricies magna et, semper risus.

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Fusce rhoncus mattis nisl commodo lacinia. Nulla nec nibh tincidunt, sodales arcu vitae, efficitur est. Nulla porta elit felis, id scelerisque dolor pellentesque eu. Nam eget ligula viverra, malesuada arcu quis, cursus. Nulla porta elit felis, id scelerisque dolor pellentesque eu. Nam eget ligula viverra, malesuada arcu quis, cursus. Fusce rhoncus mattis nisl commodo lacinia.

Hilary Uose
Hilary Ouse

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Duis dui risus, accumsan ut fringilla a, eleifend sed sem. Etiam id elit non sem tristique pharetra. Suspendisse quam mi, feugiat sit amet urna at, dapibus laoreet tellus. Sed varius tempor neque a molestie. Fusce ex mi, fermentum quis dignissim vel, convallis quis enim. Phasellus vel massa varius, ultricies magna et, semper risus.

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