Sunday, May 27, 2018

Is your image sharp?

Sharper Image Catalog, Holiday 1983

Back in 1977 Star Wars hit the big screen. Also in 1977 the original Sharper Image catalog dropped. Do you remember getting the catalog in the mail?

Almost nothing in the catalog was a necessity. But the "cool" factor, the "wow" factor of the products featured in the catalog was impossible to ignore. There was a special feeling about ordering something from Sharper Image. "Where the heck did you find THAT thing?" would be the most popular response to showing off your newly delivered next-gen gadgets to friends and family.

In the 80's I was deep into my gadget years. I admit to spending thousands of dollars on things that I did not need but things that I simply wanted. I remember when the first Sharper Image stores opened. A trip to the local shopping mall always included a tour of the Sharper Image.

Unlike Star Wars that grew and thrived over the past four decades, Sharper Image fell on hard times. The stores closed. The catalog stopped shipping.

And then it happened. I received a new Sharper Image catalog in the mail. It was sent to an old mailing address. It was a mailing address that has not been used in many years. But our friends at the Post Office figured it out, and they forwarded it along.

I was intrigued. After so many years, it was like a younger, impulsive and fiscally foolish version of my personality was coming home for a visit. I wanted to learn more about the how and "the why" Sharper Image was brought back to life.

I connected with the parent company. I just wanted to ask the question: Why? What did they see? What was the big idea of bringing Sharper Image catalog back from the dead?

Here is what anyone with access to Google can learn on their own:

Camelot Venture Group is a private investment group that invests primarily in direct to consumer companies including online, disruptive businesses, catalog, retail, technology and financial services, and sports management. 

Here is what most people will never learn: 

The leadership of Camelot is amazing. If you take a peek at their portfolio of their holdings, you will see many brands that will make you smile. 

I emailed them and told my story - about how I would spend thousands of dollars with Sharper Image in my 20's. And now in my 50's deep feelings of nostalgia made me reach out via email.

I did not expect a phone call from the managing partner, nor did I expect to spend over an hour on the phone. Just this month, I was invited to meet with them during an upcoming visit to New York. They are intrigued by our business model. Stay tuned! 

Now, the big lesson that I learned from all of this was as follows: the REAL money, the REAL value from the Sharper Image legacy was the data. The mailing list. The purchasing history of people like me. The master Sharper Image file of people who would spend money on things that they did not need, but things that they simply wanted. Bragging rights.

The Sharper Image was doing the Amazon business model, long before Amazon ever existed. 

Thanks to the generosity of the folks at Camelot, I received a free "Master Class" in best practices in direct to consumer marketing including online, disruptive businesses, catalog, retail, technology and financial services, and sports management.

Many people from the past received a Sharper Image catalog in their mailbox, after many years of silence. Since they said "hello" after all of these years, I thought it was only proper to say hello via email in return. After all, I am not even sure I was using email in the 80's.

In business, image is important. Your brand (personal or otherwise) is important. What was cool and hot and admirable in the past, might not be cool and hot and admirable in the future. Make sure that you always do your best keep your own image (your brand) as sharp as possible.

If your current brand "died" (ala Sharper Image) would very smart people pay good money to bring it back to life? 

What did you spend money on in the 80's?

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