A History of Invention

November 5, 2019

A History of Invention

Anjar is an American toy invention, development and licensing unit famed for bringing some of the biggest titles to the US and UK toy space. Among them, the likes of Othello and Fireball Island which has undergone a Kickstarter reboot for the 21st century. Robert Hutchins talks to Anjar’s Jonathan Becker about half a century of inventing and how the toy space is a very different landscape today.

Patti Becker, CEO of Becker Associates LLC, and Jonathan Becker, President of Anjar Co. LLC

It was only this year that the company Restoration Games secured nearly $3 million via a Kickstarter project to reboot the '80s classic Fireball Island. While, given the rising popularity of both retro and board gaming, it comes as little surprise that the project quickly shot to success on the crowdfunding site, it also speaks volumes of the heritage that the game's Licensor, Anjar, left behind it over 30 years ago. Now celebrating its 50th anniversary in the toy inventing space,Anjar is ready to look back over those years and wonder and muse on where the industry is heading next. Wechat with Anjar's Jonathan Becker.

Could you tell us the history of Anjar? How did it all come to be?

Anjar  was  founded  by  my  father,  Jim Becker,  the  71st  inductee  into  the  Toy Industry Hall of Fame. Anjar is an acronym for Jim’s four sons: Arto, Neil, Jonathan and Roger, and his daughter Nancy.

The company was founded in 1968, after Jim departed Lakeside Toys (subsequently purchased by MB), which he ran for several years. Lakeside was a great place for Jim, where he could bring his talents for developing products, as well as tapping into the talents of other professional inventors and designers that he had come to know over his years in the toy business.

Jim began in the toy industry shortly after WWII when he left the army and started as a salesman with the toy jobber Schranz and Bieber. Jobbers were the equivalent of a wholesaler/distributor today, and an important part of the supply chain through the 1950’s and early 1960’s. As a salesman, Jim used a very interesting and unique method of showcasing his products: he converted a trailer into his travelling showroom and, travelling with the trailer towed behind his car, sold toys to the State Parks (big cus- tomers in those days) and retailers through the region.

What was the first big hit to emerge from the company? How did this put you on the map?

One of Jim’s earliest, and probably his best- known product, was Othello. Anjar represented the Japanese company, Tsukuda Original, for licensing Othello around the world outside of Japan. The game emerged within a few years of its introduction as one of the most successful licensed games and, with over 50 million pieces now sold in every conceivable format in over 70 different countries, is the most successful licensed abstract strategy game in history.

Among Jim’s most notable products: Gumby & Pokey Bendy’s, Barrel of Mon- keys, The Betsy McCall Fashion Designer... and hundreds of others that he developed and marketed at Lakeside Toys and, earlier, at Amsco. Other notable products created and licensed by Anjar include Fireball Island, Nerf Ping Pong, Grabbin' Dragons, Flipsiders and Breaking Point, all of which sold over one million pieces.

It’s an expansive portfolio, what successes took you by surprise?

With over 75 years of toy experience between us, we think we know a potential ‘hit’ when we see one. However, since so many factors contribute to whether an item is ultimately successful, it’s impossible to predict which items will succeed and which won’t. Our role at Anjar is to bring our experience in product development, as well as our respective expertise’s, to maximize the chances for a product’s success.

"(Othello) The game emerged within a few years of its introduction as one of the most successful licensed games and, with over 50 million pieces now sold in every conceivable format in over 70 different countries, is the most successful licensed abstract strategy game in history."

How has the world of toy invention evolved over your career history?

Over our 50-year history, we’ve witnessed dramatic changes in the marketplace, and in our industry, including the globalization of the toy business.

As it has affected nearly every aspect of our lives, the electronic/digital revolution has also transformed the toy industry. In fact, electronic toys have been an important part of Anjar from our earliest days. One of the earliest handheld games was Gabriel’s electronic Othello, and Othello was one of the titles released for the Atari 2600.

One of the earliest electronic strategy games, The Generals, designed by Jim, was released by Ideal Toy in 1980. Today, many of our products have  electronic compo- nents and comprise patented technology. Patents and other Intellectual Property have become increasing important to toy companies, as it gives them the competitive edge they need to be successful.

What about the breadth of famed toy inventors you have worked with?

Anjar has always been a place for profes- sional inventors. Over the past 50 years we’ve worked with hundreds of inventors, as well as manufacturers seeking markets for their products outside their current channels and territories of distribution. At any given time, we represent dozens of inventors for licensing, and who seek our help in developing, marketing and protect- ing their product ideas.

About half of the products licensed by Anjar are developed in-house by our staff of designers. I am a tenured professor at the State University of New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, where I developed the curriculum and have taught Business Practices in the Toy Design Degree Program since its inception in1989.

We’ve been fortunate at Anjar to have had several talented graduates of F.I.T. (The Program was started by Hall of Fame inductee Judy Ellis) come work for us over the past 28 years where they’ve helped develop several successful products.

Jim's relationship with Japanese toy companies defined a significant part of his early career in the toy business. Follow- ing WWII (Jim served in the Army in the Pacific), he began travelling extensively, including Japan, learning the language and developing lasting relationshipsthere.

One of his earliest licenses to Japan was the Newton Game, licensed in 1973 to Takara (now Tumball worldwide). Today, Anjar is very well known in Japan, as well as Europe, as an important source of new ideas for toys and games.

What do you make of the current health of innovation in the toy space?

The retail marketplace is very receptive to new ideas, especially those that can amuse and entertain for a reasonable price. Consumers are always looking for products that will improve their lives, and toys and games certainly fit that need.

Compensating inventors, typically in the form of royalties, for both new and improved products, motivates and incen- tivizes inventing, ensuring that the retail market sees a steady flow of new ideas, is one of the biggest challenges for inventors at the moment.

Most toy companies in recent years have developed good, if somewhat complex, systems for working with the inventor community. Many toy companies rely heavily on the inventing community to supply them with new product ideas and brand extensions to existinglines.

This symbiotic relationship has been great for both inventors and manufacturers, with many of the biggest successes in the toy industry originating with inventors and licensors. The long history of success that manufacturers have had with ‘inventor products’ encourages independent creativity and licensing.

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