We chat to Sarah Greenwell, founder of ‘An Elf for Christmas’
Find out how she built a global business from her kitchen table with her cute and cuddly elves that reward good behaviour...
Tell us about An Elf for Christmas…
It took about a year of product development to get my little elves exactly how I wanted them – high-quality, cute and cuddly little friends for children in the run-up to Christmas.
Families choose to adopt light or dark-skinned boy or girl elves – this year we have also introduced baby elves to complete the family. The tradition is that the elf arrives in children’s homes on 01 December, sent on a mission from the North Pole to keep an eye on behaviour in the build-up to Christmas.
Each night, whoever is in charge of the elf (parent, grandparent or carer) can set up either mischievous activities – such as wrapping the tree in loo roll – or a kindness activity like donating a Christmas present to charity. We keep it really easy with support from the magical reward kit that’s included.
The thing about An Elf for Christmas is that it really rewards good behaviour in a personalised way. The elf arrives in a box with a welcome letter, a behaviour chart, a sheet of stickers, Elf Report Cards and two Nice List Certificates. There are also two blank letters to Santa and a Goodbye Letter when the elf has to go back to the North Pole until next year.
We also register the elves so that if guardians of the elf submit information throughout the month, children will receive personalised emails from Santa Claus mentioning what the elf has reported back.
It’s incredible that you started the business from your kitchen table – what it was like in the beginning?
I set up the business in 2015. My daughter Holly was two and I’d just had my son Finlay. I love Christmas and really wanted to start a magical family tradition that we could enjoy each year. I looked around for a while but couldn’t quite find what I was looking for. I just thought ‘I’m going to create something myself’. So I put pen to paper and started to design our first elf.
Everything was completely new to me. I had to research how to get a product made and started to liaise with suppliers overseas. It took a year to get the product right. Once I was happy with it, the minimum order was 3,000. I thought I would manage to sell the rest at local markets so put the order in – I had no idea of the volume. When they arrived the house was literally bursting with elves – we couldn’t get in the dishwasher or through the front door!
My husband and I posted an advert on Facebook during a commercial break on X-Factor that Christmas and we were overwhelmed by how much people loved them. We sold those 3,000 elves in just 10 weeks.
What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve faced?
Managing the supply chain, especially as we now have more than 20 products available in 10 countries. When we got big enough to use a distribution centre instead of sending the elves from my home I was really worried about giving that element away – I wanted them to be packed with as much care and love as they had been with me. But the distribution centre we found have been brilliant and really care in the way that we do about our customers. We kill our customers with kindness – we treat them in the way we would want to be treated ourselves.
and the main highlight?
Without a doubt is reading the feedback from families who are enjoying the elves every year. It’s great having social media to be able to see what all of the elves are getting up to! I’ve had some lovely letters from families sharing how their children read the letters out to grandparents over the phone. It’s that magical excitement that I was really trying to achieve and it’s amazing seeing that come to life in other families as well as my own.
Another highlight was the elves being on This Morning – watching Phillip Schofield read out one of my letters was surreal!
Your children are young and obviously still believe – how do you manage that when they see you working with the elves all year?
They think I work for Santa! They absolutely love it and are often involved with photoshoots and preparation in the evenings. I went to a Christmas in July media event earlier this year and managed to get a selfie with Santa so they could see that I was working hard on my business trip with the boss!