Richard Thalheimer does not own one of the bullet-proof vests that he sells through his catalog for $249. Nor, when he goes for his daily eight-mile jog, does he wear one of the computerized runner’s wrist-watches offered in his catalog at $49.95.
For the most part, though, the 34-year-old Thalheimer’s mail-order marketing philosophy is remarkably consistent: He sells things he would like to buy himself.
As a youngster in Little Rock, Ark., he wanted a suit of armor. So he now offers one through his catalog at $2,450 – and owns one himself. The major difference between men and boys, the saying goes, is in the price of their toys.
Thalheimer might well engrave that saying on his office door, for he is the founder, president and prime mover of a company called The Sharper Image, a trendy, San Francisco-based catalog sales operation that in the past year sold $33 million worth of “toys for the executive.”
Some of those toys, and their prices, including a crossbow with telescopic sights at $298; a hand-machined brass kaleidoscope at $145; a light switch that comes on when you talk to it at $34; meters that test the amount of salt in your food (“Protect yourself against killer salt”) at $99; and a home Geiger counter that will snoop out leaks from nuclear power plants or “secret atomic testing.”
Besides an apparent ability to coax into the open the freckle-faced kid hiding inside every well-heeled executive, Thalheimer appears to be a skilled practitioner in the growing ranks of catalog salesmen.
In the past four years, Thalheimer says his sales have risen from $500,000 to $3 million to $9 million to $14 million to this year’s $33 million.