by KIMBERLY MOSLEY, president, American Specialty Toy Retailing Association
When toy industry veterans share memories of the late Beau James (1943-2019) — recipient of this year’s American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) Lifetime Achievement Award — you hear the same warm words over and over: legend, mentor, friend, big-hearted, larger than life, passionate, sparkling personality, ethical, knowledgeable, and of course, champagne.
“Beau was one of a kind,” says toy industry consultant Linda Breler, who worked closely with James for more than 35 years. “He combined his razor-sharp business acumen with an enduring commitment to quality toys and to living life to the fullest.”
A MASTER BRAND BUILDER
For many, James was the “doll guy” — a reputation that started in his early days with International Playthings, then as the distributor of Sasha dolls by Trendon Ltd., and continued during his tenures with Madame Alexander Doll Co., Gotz, and Corolle. More recently, he was the managing director of KidSource, a distribution company that brings quality European products to the U.S. market.
“Beau had a terrific eye for product and an innate love for toys,” says retired industry veteran Ted Kiesewetter. “He came along when specialty started to blossom — that moment when part of the industry moved away from toy guns and ovens sold ‘as seen on TV’ to higher quality toys that support healthy development for kids. Beau was a master brand builder, fueled by his great imagination, strong marketing skills, and unwavering support of sales representatives and specialty retailers.”
Perhaps early play experiences contributed to James’ talent for spotting great product. He recognized the power of play and the need for manufacturers and specialty retailers to bring high-quality, well-designed, and developmentally appropriate toys to children everywhere.
“When it comes to what makes specialty special, and why that’s so important for kids, Beau understood that connection deeply,” says Dee Farrell, vice president of marketing at Hape International and chair of the ASTRA board of directors. “We were so lucky to have him as a colleague who shared the vision ASTRA embraces for playful, healthy childhoods full of happy memories for all kids.”
BRINGING PEOPLE TOGETHER
James also had a deep understanding of channel relationships and skill in balancing competing interests so a brand could get the marketing support it needed. “He knew that all three parties — manufacturers, sales representatives, and specialty retailers — needed to be at the table so everyone would understand their role in making a brand successful,” says Thomas Kaeppeler, president of Ravensburger North America. “Beau navigated this to perfection, leaving every party feeling their concerns were heard and their interests were represented.”
“He always had a smile on his face,” says Christine Blumberg, sales representative at Roberts Blumberg Giacobbe,“and he was always happy to see you whether you were a friend, a business associate, or a neighbor in the next booth.”
LOVE OF LIFE, ARTS, AND CULTURE
No story about James would be complete without mentioning his love for traveling, lingering meals with friends, and popping a bottle of champagne.
“One life lesson I learned from Beau, in addition to what he taught me about the toy business, is that champagne is not just for special occasions,” Breler says.
James was known for serving champagne in his Corolle booth to support the French brand. “I was always modeling after Beau, so I tried serving beer and pretzels to support my German brand,” Kaeppeler says. “It didn’t last long. Apparently, my menu and style did not have the panache that Beau brought to the idea.”
A LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT HONOREE
James’ involvement in ASTRA traces back to its earliest days. From the beginning, he embraced ASTRA as a way to help specialty retailers prosper in a competitive environment. Over the years, he served on the board of directors and was consistently supportive as a corporate sponsor.
Breler and David Hesel, owners of the Toy Shop of Concord in Concord, Massachusetts, presented the ASTRA Lifetime Achievement Award to James shortly before his death on April 9. “Beau was so honored,” Hesel says. “He was absolutely thrilled and amazed to receive this award, but probably he was the only ASTRA member who was surprised. It was so well deserved and long overdue. The impact Beau had on all of us in the industry will never be replicated.”
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2019 issue of the Toy Book.