Sharper Image's Bankruptcy Mirrors Hillary's Losses

by francine Hardaway on February 20, 2008

First let me tell you that I know nothing about retail. And then let me tell you that I used to be a customer of Sharper Image, but haven’t been there in years.

That says it all about change, and about the way technology has come to pervade modern life. I know a lot about change. This week my foster kid Josh had his entire face reconstructed because he was beaten by a robber with a baseball bat. He has metal plates inserted in his eye sockets, and every bone in his face has been moved around. Yet when I saw him in the hospital after the surgery, he didn’t even have a visible incision. The surgeon went in through his lip and up through his nose using imaging, robotics, lasers, and microsurgical techniques. Five years ago, that surgery probably didn’t exist. He will not even have a scar.

Today it was announced that Sharper Image has filed Chapter 11 reorganization, and that it would close a bunch of stores.

Of course it will. Sharper Image is failing like Hillary Clinton is failing. Failing to keep up with the pace of change. By definition, nothing can be “progressive” or “fashion forward” forever if it doesn’t change its model or its views. Everyone who wants an Ionic Breeze has one. And everyone knows we need health insurance for our citizens. It’s no longer an inspiring subject for a speech.

When everyone on the planet didn’t have a cell phone, Sharper Image was the place to go. But once cell phones bcame availalbe on the streets of Delhi and in the villages of Africa, who would go to Sharper Image to buy a gadget? Perceiving this, Sharper Image began inventing gadgets — most of them of the Ionic Breeze variety. The last thing I bought in Sharper Image was a negative ion brush for my dog. I thought it was clever at the time, but I’ve passed on to a new trend: outsourcing the grooming of my dog.

I think you know where I’m going with this. When your platform is futuristic and Progressive, the future eventually catches up with you and you find yourself in the mainstream and then gradually falling behind. This morning, I feel what way about Hillary Clinton. I feel the same way about Sharper Image.

An analyst once told me that every three years, there’s a change in the way kids respond to technology. This generation of kids is native to social media the way Gen X is native to email. Do you realize how fast the pace of change has become? In five years, we won’t have incandescent light bulbs anymore. We may not even know yet what else we won’t have.

This is not easy to fathom, or to adjust to. Change has displaced Sharper Image and Hillary Clinton — two staples o the 90s. In retail and in politics, there are still people who don’t understand the breakneck pace of change the way technology companies have to.

In technology, people cannibalize their own businesses and products or die. In retail, that doesn’t often happen. In politics, it NEVER happens, although perhaps at this moment in history, it should. If what you think you are selling is the future, as Sharper Image and Hillary both think, you should probably be doing more study of innovation theory.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Allan February 20, 2008 at 12:45 pm

I agree. Hillary’s talking points are all about what she’s done in the past. To stand a chance of pulling off a great comeback, she needs to focus on what she’ll do in the future.

I will miss the grossly overpriced junk from Sharper Image. What do you think it could have done better?

francine hardaway February 20, 2008 at 1:26 pm

Adapted to the changing retail environment by having more of an online presence.

Larry Cummings February 21, 2008 at 12:46 am

Nice article. Sharper Image lacked focused leadership to be sure. I’m not sure I follow the jump to why (or if) Senator Clinton’s campaign is failing. I guess I see her campaign as being a reflection of her career, and I feel she’s still to divisive to lead the country. Which is not to say that she’s more divisive than the present administration, but then, they are not up for reelection.

The pace of change related to communications channels is definitely stunning these days. I really like passing this video around when people don’t appreciate it.

What’s really interesting about the change is that it’s not really “technology” it’s communications medium. You say this in your article too, but it’s worth highlighting I think.

The video does a better job than I could in show how fast the change is happening, but one thing that doesn’t get discussed enough is how much more potential there is in online communications efficiencies.

The internet is the slowest network that can be given away, which is stunning to consider. Given away between proprietary networks like telcos and universities, r&d contractors and government agencies. Sure we pay high fees for broadband, but without the agreements between these network infrastructure entities to share the network, the internet stops being useful.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: