PLAYER OF THE WEEK: GILBERT FOCUSES ON 'WOW' TO BOOST SHARPER IMAGE: GADGET RETAILER LOOKS TO LURE YOUNGER CROWD, REINVIGORATE ITS HIP REPUTATION

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Finding the "wow!"

That's the challenge defined by retail veteran Barry Gilbert as he takes on the task of honing the edge of Sharper Image, the San Francisco-based purveyor of high-tech gadgetry.

"We have to have that 'Wow!' that 'Wow, did you see this?' back in the store," said Mr. Gilbert, 45, who last week left his post as senior VP-international operations at Warner Bros. Studio Stores to become the first vice chairman-chief operating officer of Sharper Image's retail and catalog operations.

THINKING YOUNGER

Sharper Image, 20 years old this year, is looking to attract more Generation Xers in a market where competition has been rising.

Mr. Gilbert's responsibilities will range from the day-to-day operations of Sharper Image's stores and catalogs to marketing. That will free up company founder and Chairman Richard Thalheimer to focus on expanding Sharper Image's line of company-developed /branded products, as well as catalog design.

Kurt Barnard, president of Barnard's Retail Marketing Report, applauded the focus on product development and said Sharper Image needs "an array of items you can buy without going broke."

But he warned that Sharper Image ultimately has "to make some major changes to survive and prosper."

Products, however, remain the key.

"This needs to be, and will always be, a product-driven company," Mr. Gilbert said.

The current rebuilding process was under way when Mr. Gilbert arrived, and prospects may already be improving. Beset by losses, including a $1.7 million loss for the quarter ended Oct. 31, Sharper Image appeared to end the year on an up note, with December sales showing as much as a 10% increase in stores open more than one year.

Sharper Image started out as a catalog company and grew into a retail chain of more than 80 stores in the U.S. and a handful of franchised stores internationally.

NOT JUST TOYS FOR MEN

The company has augmented its male toy-store image by experimenting with a new spa catalog. This month, it launched a home furnishings catalog. The company also has developed a successful online shopping business (http://www.sharperimage.com).

Last fall, Sharper Image moved to target a younger audience and regain some hipness. Goodby, Silverstein & Partners' design group revamped the catalog. Humor was added to catalog copy to reflect that in the company's first major media effort. The $2 million print campaign, tagged "Bare essentials for a really weird world," ran in fall issues of men's magazines.

Mr. Gilbert said he likes Goodby's work but still needs to evaluate the retailer's future ad needs.

At Warner Bros., Mr. Gilbert oversaw the opening of four test stores in 1991 and took the company through development of an international franchise operation in Australia, Japan and Singapore.

But Mr. Gilbert didn't always see himself as an international retail executive. His bachelor's degree from the University of California, Berkeley, was in

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