Diana Nelson, Denver’s Toy Queen

A former account manager and marketing manager at Fortune 500 companies, Diana Nelson had never run a business prior to 1998, when she purchased specialty toy store Kazoo & Company in Denver, Colorado. As a mother with two young sons, Nelson wanted to find a company that let her spend time with her kids while earning an income. According to her, she looked at “an assortment of companies,” from coffee shops to franchises and box and tape companies; however, nothing was a good fit. She then approached the owners of Kazoo & Company, where she often shopped, and offered to buy the company. Though initially uninterested, the owners later accepted her proposal.

Nelson knew that the future of the store was online and not with additional locations, so a year after acquiring it, she launched KazooToys.com. In 2007, she landed a contract with the Army & Air Force Exchange Service, making Kazoo the US military’s exclusive online toy retailer, the only vendor allowed to offer toys through the Armed Forces website.

Over the years, Kazoo has received several accolades, including being named the number one toy store in Denver by 5280 Magazine for eight years in a row and one of the top five specialty retail stores in North America by the Toy Industry Association for six years in a row.

In 2011, Nelson won the Colorado Ethics in Business Alliance’s Bill Daniels Business Ethics Award. According to her, Kazoo’s longevity in business is due to it being an ethical company. “I think when you meet with people and you tell them you’re going to do something, you do it.” Operations manager Sandy Vechazone, who describes Nelson as “the smartest businesswoman I know,” nominated her for the award. “She’s gotten to where she is not only because she is smart, but I also consider her a very ethical person, a very fair person.”

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