Recession Lazarus: Sharper Image finds a second life in Best Buy

In February 2008, as pundits and analysts were arguing about whether our economy was really headed into a recession, Sharper Image filed for bankruptcy. The high-end gadget stores, which had come of age in the gleefully self-indulgent eighties, suddenly found themselves unable to convince penny-pinching consumers that reconditioned jukeboxes and ionizing air filters were absolute necessities.

While the world might not have needed a store that specialized in high-priced, high-tech doohickies, Sharper Image's demise left a pretty serious hole in the retail pantheon. Consequently, when HoMedics, a major manufacturer of personal health and wellness machines, ponied up $540 million for a five-year option for the licensing rights to Sharper Image, fans of the moribund brand rejoiced.

In addition to the Sharper Image name, HoMedics also got full rights to the company's intellectual property, which gave it the option of re-issuing popular Sharper Image items, even as it developed its own Sharper Image products. In January 2009, HoMedics introduced its first line of Sharper Image-branded merchandise.

Unfortunately, while HoMedics had the infrastructure to develop and produce nifty gadgets, it didn't really have a venue for selling them. The brand's products show up in a variety of stores, but it doesn't have a well-known brand identity, nor is it associated with any particular retailer.

Enter Best Buy (BBY).

At a recent holiday product preview in New York, the consumer electronics behemoth announced that it will sell many Sharper Image branded products through its 1,400 stores in the United States. The chain is instituting a "Gifts and Gadgets" section, where customers will be able to choose several items from the resurgent brand. It isn't yet clear if the Best Buy/Sharper Image partnership will last beyond the holiday season; for this year, however, gadget junkies will get to party like it's 1989!

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