Retail's Latest Revival: Sharper Image

Gadget brand returns to retail with a holiday pop-up in Times Square, highlighting a growing trend toward temporary retail activations. 

NORTH AMERICA–With the tagline “Sharper Than Ever” emblazoned in neon on its front entrance, high-tech gadget retailer Sharper Image has opened its first physical storefront in almost a decade in New York City’s Times Square.

A beloved mall mainstay in the U.S. for almost 30 years, Sharper Image filed for bankruptcy and shuttered all its stores in 2008 during the economic downturn. In the intervening years, the brand has lived on though through a catalog, e-commerce and branded products sold at third-party retailers such as Target, Kohl’s and Bed, Bath & Beyond. Now, Sharper Image is dipping its toe back into the retail waters with a holiday pop-up located at the heart of Times Square.

The pop-up is part of new owner ThreeSixty Group’s strategy to reinvigorate the popular brand, which they bought from Iconix Brand Group less than a year ago in December 2016 for $100 million.

Interestingly, ThreeSixty, which was the largest licensee of the Sharper Image brand before they became its owner, also owns another challenged retail brand, FAO Schwarz, which it is also revitalizing through e-commerce and third-party retail.   

The Sharper Image Times Square pop-up store, which soft launched a few weeks ago and held its official opening last Thursday, features the same types of innovative and fun products the brand was known for in its heyday–everything from drones and remote-control dinosaurs to massage chairs and phone chargers.  

“Sharper Image has always invited discovery and hands-on experiences with the best in tech-enabled gear for fun and home at accessible prices and exceptional value,” says David Conn, chief executive officer, ThreeSixty Group. “Our holiday selection … showcases what Shaper Image is all about today, and that’s having fun.”

ThreeSixty has taken great care to bring back the experiential elements that made Sharper Image stores so popular, creating an “interactive playground” that encourages shoppers to try before they buy. 

While the majority of Sharper Image products are made in-house, the brand does have a slate of about 10 licensees for key categories including Southern Telecom for massage products and electronics, Argento for men’s and women’s personal care items, Ginsey for bath, décor and accessories and Atomi for charging. Janet Keane, director of licensing at ThreeSixty, says that the goal with all Sharper Image products, whether licensed or in-house, is to “elevate the brand” and stay true to the core attributes that made the Sharper Image name–innovation, feature-rich, unique and high-quality but at a good price point.  

There are no plans for permanent storefronts at the moment (at least not that ThreeSixty is will to talk about, anyway). But the pop-up retail format is increasingly becoming a go-to option for challenged retailers who want to take advantage of seasonal foot traffic without taking on the burden of year-round rent. In fact, the Sharper Image pop-up is located just across the street from Toys ‘R’ Us’ own Times Square holiday pop-up, which they launched earlier this year after giving up their permanent Times Square location in 2015.

The New York City Fire and Police Departments and actor Sean Astin (Goonies, The Lord of the Rings) race Sharper Image radio-controlled flip stunt rally vehicles at the pop-up shop's official opening Thursday.

(c) Stuart Ramson/AP Images

 

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