By Barbara Thau
Who says there are no second acts? Tell that to the defunct retailers staging comebacks as wholesale brands.
The Sharper Image and Bombay furniture, both of which liquidated in 2008, will be reborn as home goods brands this year.
Portico, the upscale home furnishings chain that shuttered the last of its 13 stores in 2007, will reincarnate this year as a green home brand with a tony twist.
These brands have names with built-in followings. They also have the potential to broaden their reach by penetrating far more retail doors than they could ever have when they were merchants, and by stretching into more product categories, sources said.
Bombay Brands LLC is a licensing company formed in February 2008 by Hilco Consumer Capital and Gordon Brothers, which acquired the brand last year.
“The brand was struggling at the end of its life,” said John Collins, president of Bombay Brands LLC. “The quality of the product was suspect.”
But market research proved that consumers didn’t view it that way, he said. “A lot of customers see Bombay as a world-inspired brand of premium quality,” which signaled to its new owners that there was still equity in the Bombay name, Collins said.
“We went back and repositioned this brand: It’s a modern take on [its core] British Colonial style,” enriched with global accents, Collins said. “There’s this exotic piece to this brand.”
The brand will be positioned as “better” in the good-better-best equation when it relaunches in department stores as two collections: Bombay Heritage and World Goods in furniture, accessories and home decor.
There are also plans to take the brand overseas, Collins said.
And Bombay, which had been 52 percent furniture and 48 percent home accessories, “can now live in other categories.” The brand will expand to textiles in the latter part of 2009.
“We shared 11 new category [ideas] with retailers, and they collectively endorsed a minimum of seven new categories,” from outdoor furniture to wallpaper and paints.
What’s more, The Sharper Image, which, like Bombay, was also purchased by Hilco and Gordon Brothers in 2008. The retailer, synonymous with home toys for grownups like vibrating massage chairs, grew dated, analysts said.
The brand has several new licensing partners, including HoMedics, which will manufacture Sharper Image-branded personal care and home environment products. As a wholesale brand, The Sharper Image “can have a much broader reach,” said Federico de Bellegarde, vice president of licensing for The Sharper Image.
Although The Sharper Image dabbled in licensed products when it was operating its 192 stores, “now you can be in thousands of doors,” Bellegarde said.
The brand will relaunch at department stores, specialty stores and office supply stores.
The Sharper Image, which Bellegarde said stands for quality, innovation and design for early adopters, recently inked a deal with London Luxury to roll out performance-driven specialty bedding, such as allergen-barrier blankets and inflatable air mattresses. “It’s not a value proposition: It’s a content-rich proposition,” Bellegarde said.
Sharper Image is also in the “final stages” of sealing a deal to bring kitchen electrics and digital frames to market. And cookware “is definitely a possibility.”
So why should The Sharper Image succeed as a wholesale brand when it didn’t as a retailer? “I don’t see any direct competitors,” Bellegarde said. “The Sharper Image is unique. Once we aggregate a sufficient number of categories, we will relaunch sharperimage.com.”
At its peak, Portico operated 13 stores in chic neighborhoods in cities such as New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Boston.
Gregg Haft, president, and Charles Schlang, chief executive officer, acquired Portico in June 2007. Haft said Portico’s demise at retail was largely tied to a sales drop off after Sept. 11, 2001. “A large part of its revenue was driven out of three Manhattan stores.”
The brand has since been sold in hotels, but will make its debut in the consumer market this year in select department stores and fine linen boutiques.
The brand’s sophisticated, luxury essence remains unchanged, according to Haft. “The most material change is that the old Portico did not have a focus on environmental responsibility and did not comply to the strictest organic and green standards,” he said.
Portico has gone to great pains to produce merchandise that is 100-percent certified organic “with differentiated manufacturing techniques that, to date, have not been achieved by brands that are also focused on being organic.”
The brand will reappear this year in home textiles and personal care with candles, home fragrance, lotions and conditioners.
By 2010, it expects to expand to furniture, eco-friendly mattresses that are either soy, maize or foam-based and organic kitchen textiles. A Portico baby line is also on tap.
But Portico still has not given up on the retail channel. “We are in the throes of not only launching the brand in North America, but have taken steps to market it to over 12 global territories,” Haft said. “We feel that as part of that strategy, having a flagship store makes a lot of sense.”