By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Richard Thalheimer had been gone from The Sharper Image for all of about a month before he decided he didn't want to be retired.
"I tried to retire, and that lasted about a month," Thalheimer laughed in a recent telephone interview with TWICE. "And then I got antsy to do what I love doing, which is finding products and creating marketing and advertising for products."
After spending about eight months researching what it would take to launch an Internet company, RichardSolo.com went live May 2007 as a Monster Commerce store online package.
The site, which was officially announced this month, offers a mix of products that will probably seem familiar to former Sharper Image consumers: watches and slot machines, grooming products and iPod sounds systems.
Late last month, the company sent out a release for its "first creation" — the Smart Backup battery for the iPhone. (All of the other products offered through the site are OEM projects that Thalheimer put his name on.) About 40 products are currently available, although the count is subject to change because Thalheimer removes and adds products based on their availability through other Web sites.
The battery is designed to provide approximately double the usage time of an iPhone. Although no exact talktime figure is provided on the Web site — Thalheimer estimated it was about six hours — this is done intentionally, he said, because an iPhone's battery life depends on the manner in which the device is used. For example, said Thalheimer, using the phone where there is a poor signal drains the battery more quickly.
The battery doubles as a charger and retails for $49.95. Reported to weigh 1.76 ounces, it is compatible with the iPhone and all iPod models, except for the Shuffle.
Although RichardSolo.com is currently the only place where consumers can purchase his products, Thalheimer said he's negotiating with distributors now and believes retail distribution will happen "within the next few months."
While there has not much advertising done for the Web site — the battery release was the company's first — Thalheimer said there are plans for a two-page spread, featuring eight products, in SkyMall in July, with ads planned in MacWorld and MacLife in July as well.
Employing just three full-time people, not including Thalheimer, RichardSolo.com is certainly smaller than Shaper Image, the last company he created. Everything not done by those four people is outsourced, he said.
"A lot of people say to me, 'How do you feel having this little tiny start-up?' And I say, 'I feel great.' I have enough money to be comfortable, so I can do exactly what I want to do at the pace I want to do it. Whether it's small or big isn't really my concern," he said.
Sharper Image, which Thalheimer created in the 1970s, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in February of this year. When asked about his former company, Thalheimer spoke candidly. "Wow!" he said. "What a disappointment they went into bankruptcy."
Ousted from his position as CEO in September 2006, Thalheimer was forced out by "activist shareholders" who, according to Thalheimer, were told by chairman Jerry Levin that they could double the stock if Thalheimer was removed.
"Levin convinced the members they would double the stock if they got rid of Richard. I had a 30-year proven track record of creating product, but they made up their minds, and they said, 'Either quit or we'll terminate you.' So I said, 'Terminate me.' So they did," Thalheimer told TWICE.
"Looking back on it, why did they go bankrupt? Because they eliminated the source of the product — me. They can blame it on anything they want because they don't want to admit they made a bad decision because that would bring shareholder lawsuits. So they can't admit they made a dumb mistake.
"Or maybe I'm wrong," said Thalheimer. "Maybe there were external factors."
When asked if he would consider rejoining Sharper Image in some role, Thalheimer said he would.
"I haven't talked to the people who may end up being in control, but I do hope to talk to them in the future and discuss what alternatives there are. I would consider joining in some capacity. I don't think I'm qualified to become the CEO. I don't think I want the responsibility of being the CEO. I'm sure the people who are leading it now are tremendously qualified to do the operational parts."
This TWICE webinar, hosted by senior editor Alan Wolf, will take a look at what may be the hottest CE products at retail that will be sold during the all-important fourth quarter. Top technologies, market strategies and industry trends will be discussed with industry analysts and executives.