Jonathan and Patti Becker’s company does not make or sell any toys. But hundreds of products never would have reached the shelves without their help.
Stamford-based Anjar Co., which describes itself as the world’s oldest and largest international product licensing agency for the toy and game markets, is marking this year its 50th anniversary. It has licensed some 800 products, including bestsellers such as Battle Dome and Othello, which have accounted for about $1.5 billion in sales. The Beckers credit the organization’s longevity to their client relationships, a keen understanding of product development and the inspiration of Jonathan Becker’s late father, who was Anjar’s founder.
“We are experts in getting things made,” Jonathan Becker said in an interview earlier this month. “We have the relationships with the makers and with the factories that help us not only working with the licensees, but it gives us an understanding and appreciation of what’s involved.”
Anjar was founded in 1968 by Jim Becker, a toy inventor and marketer who developed hundreds of products, including the Barrel of Monkeys, Breaking Point, Grabbin’ Dragons and Gumby and Pokey. Anjar comprises an acronym of Jim Becker’s four sons, Arto, Neil, Jonathan and Roger.
Jim Becker, who was inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame in Rochester, N.Y., died in 2011, but his legacy still guides the company.
“At heart, he was a salesman,” Jonathan Becker said. “We used to kid around, me and my brothers, he could sell ice to an Eskimo. Whatever business you’re in, you have to sell.”
Among their most promising licenses is a new version of the bead-stacking game Breaking Point, now called Tumball, launched last year in Europe and elsewhere in countries such as South Korea. It is rolling out this year in the U.S., and the rest of the world. French firm Megableu makes Tumball.
“We showed (Megableu) Breaking Point, and they liked it,” Jonathan Becker said. “They found a price they could make it for that would work for them and negotiated with us for a license. It involves paying a royalty. … Licensing has become ubiquitous today.”
The company is constantly looking for new products. Patti Becker, who is CEO of Becker Associates, Anjar’s consulting division, saw the potential of PlayTape, a rollout racetrack for toy cars made by Crofton, Md.-based InRoad Toys.
“It’s a vision you have of where the brand can go,” Patti Becker said. “When I see a great product, I say, ‘Wow, this can be extendable to a lot of different licenses.’”
The Beckers secured the recently agreed global licensing deal for PlayTape, which has sold strongly for the past five years in the U.S.
“We sought out Anjar to help us build that global brand that we knew PlayTape was destined to become,” InRoad Toys CEO Andy Musliner said in an email. “I am very proud to say that last month, Anjar found the right partner for us and we signed an exclusive worldwide license agreement with Irwin Toy. Thanks to Anjar and Irwin Toy, PlayTape is now poised to become the market-leading global brand we have always envisioned.”
Anjar operated in Manhattan, in the erstwhile “Toy Center” at 200 5th Ave., until 2005. The business then relocated to Stamford, where the Beckers have lived for about 35 years. The couple travel frequently to show products at events such as the marquee toy fairs in New York and Nuremberg, Germany.
Jonathan Becker has worked at Anjar since 1987, after previously working as an intellectual-property lawyer. He took over as president after Jim Becker’s retirement in 1998. Patti Becker joined Anjar in 1982, after about five years at other toy companies.
“We are a team,” Patti Becker said. “Our backgrounds are extremely complementary.”
While the liquidation of Toys R Us has rocked the toy industry, the success of products such as Tumball keeps the Beckers optimistic about Anjar’s future.
“Business has been growing nicely over the past couple of years, and we anticipate accelerated growth,” Jonathan Becker said. “Longevity is a good thing. It’s good to have — but hard to come by in our industry.”