Sharper Image Puts Futuristic Focus on Father's Day

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The Sharper Image, San Francisco, this week finished its nationwide drop of a 75-page catalog built around Father's Day. Featured on the cover is a man wearing a hi-tech device around his neck that says as much about the end of the millennium as it does about the economy: an electronic Personal Cooling System 2.0 made from a die-cast aluminum alloy for a genuinely modest $49.

A customer service representative at the company's call center said the cooling system is looking to be a fast-moving item for Father's Day, as is the Ionic Breeze Silent Air Purifying device, which cleans and circulates air electronically, for $229.

"Father's Day is our second largest season after the holiday months," said marketing manager Jonathan White. "I don't know if I would necessarily tie it to the economy, but we are certainly increasing our circulation over previous years."

White wouldn't divulge how many catalogs The Sharper Image is mailing, but conceded it is in the millions. He also noted brisk activity online during the past two years. The company announced last week that catalog sales decreased 16 percent, to $4 million, for the month of May, compared with last year's $4.7 million; but online sales were up 554 percent, to $1.3 million from last year's $194,000. Total company sales increased 14 percent, to $18.9 million for the month.

"Were seeing a large number of new customers via the Web," White said, "and we're expecting it to continue growing wildly."

The 22-year-old special retailer and catalog merchandiser of distinctive, ultra-modern products sends out a book each month, but it only places a theme on the May and June drops and those books mailed during the holiday season. White said the company's house file is "slightly majority male, although that is changing with the focus of our product mix, which now has more personal care and nongender-specific items." However, he acknowledged that its hi-tech, gadgetry-focused products tend to capture a natural affinity on Father's Day.

Indeed, The Sharper Image has made a brand name for itself that is nearly synonymous with the words innovation and entertainment, and many of its product offerings are designed inhouse through the company's Sharper Image Design & Trade division. Its retail product line has ranged from as little as $15 for personal travel items and as high as $8,000 for Italian motorcycles.

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