I am very pleased to announce that Kathleen McHugh, President of ASTRA, has been voted the 2012 Global Toy News Person of the Year. The Global Toy News Person of the Year award is given each year to an individual who has helped make the greater toy industry a stronger, more enjoyable and far more prosperous place to work.
Kathleen McHugh was an easy choice for this year’s award. Kathleen makes the point, however, that in honoring her we are actually honoring ASTRA (American Specialty Toy Retailing Association) and its members. So, congratulations to Kathleen and ASTRA.
Kathleen has guided ASTRA since 1998. Characterized by her intense focus and warmth, she has helped create an environment in which toy retailers and those who serve them grow and prosper; workers find jobs and consumers have access to innovative toys that surprise and excite.
Kathleen accomplished all of this while guiding ASTRA through the Dot Com crash of 2001, the Global Recession of 2008 and the collapse of key specialty toy retailers Noodle Kidoodle and Zany Brainy as well as two bankruptcy filings by FAO Schwarz. Despite these obstacles, under McHugh, ASTRA has quadrupled its membership; grown its show attendance by 15 to 20% per year over the last five and has added events like the Neighborhood Toy Store Day that showcase local toy retailers.
What makes ASTRA unique is its focus on growing the specialty retail business by providing a highly collaborative environment that promotes growth and cooperation. Attend an “ASTRA Marketplace & Academy” and you may find yourself eating a complimentary lunch with a competitor or enjoying the annual Ice Cream Social with a new friend. Walk from booth to booth and you will feel a sense of warmth as exhibitors, attendees and sales representatives go out of their way to help each other.
It is particularly important and even poignant that we celebrate Kathleen and ASTRA at this time. The New York Times Columnist, Gina Bellafante, in a column entitled “The Great Divide, Now in the Toy Aisle,” decries the absence of a sufficient number of specialty toy retailers in the marketplace. Not because she is against the big mass merchandisers but because the independent retailers are unique in offering toys that do not sell in the quantities demanded by the big box retailers.
Bellanfante notes that these toys that come from smaller companies frequently offer a level of educational content, creativity and design that enrich the lives of those who use them. She points out that specialty toys stores now largely serve more affluent communities. She believes that those who have access to these toys, the affluent, are a step ahead of those who do not.
She calls areas that lack specialty retail stores “toy deserts.” Here is how she puts it:”… we might begin to think, in essence, about toy deserts and the implications of a commercial system in which the least-privileged children are choked off from the recreations most explicitly geared toward creativity and achievement.”
This is a powerful statement as it speaks to the importance of making a wide variety of creative toys available to all children. So, congratulations to Kathleen and ASTRA for not just making the toy industry a better place but for helping children everywhere have access to the best toys available, no matter who makes them. May you grow and prosper.