The world has gone elf crazy, Durham entrepreneur Sarah Greenwell included. She tells Hazel Davis how she keeps her toy business nice and elfy.
Sarah Greenwell’s Elf for Christmas toy comes on a special mission from the North Pole and is instructed by Santa Claus to keep an eye on behaviour. Elves arrive with a complete Christmas Elf Magical Reward kit, including stickers and certificates, to help children create fun, magic and kindness.
So when did you first come up with the idea of Elf for Christmas?
I was on maternity leave with my son, who was born in October 2014, when I first had the idea. I was thinking about magical Christmas traditions to start with my young family (I also have a daughter, who was two at the time).
It took me almost a year to get the idea out of my head and into a good prototype form, that really looked like the quality and style I was aiming to achieve. We were ready to launch in September 2015, just in time for Christmas.
How does it work?
Elf for Christmas is an elf that comes with a magical reward kit. The parent, teacher (or whoever is in charge) uses the Magical Reward Kit throughout December to bring the magic of the Christmas elf to life in a fun way.
Elf brings mini report cards that promote kindness, sharing and good behaviour. There are letters, Nice List certificates, reward charts and stickers. While Elf is staying with you, they can get up to all kinds of fun, from baking, playing with toys, reading books or causing some mischief.
“Stick with your gut feelings and stay true to your idea. It can be hard to stay focused when people get involved, but think about what you want to achieve and don’t lose your way.”
The elves usually move around in the night and they go back to the North Pole to report to Santa who is heading for the Nice List. We also have personalised emails from Santa Claus back to the families, which keeps the children up to date with what is happening at the North Pole and lets the children know that Elf really is reporting back to Santa. Or else how would Santa know so much?
What were you doing when you came up with the idea?
Sitting awake in the middle of the night feeding my newborn son, my mind was ticking. There were no distractions and I think the quiet hours of sitting with a newborn falling asleep let my mind wander to new ideas.
What was your background before this?
Previous to developing Elf, I’d never worked on designing or marketing any toys at all. I’ve worked in marketing since I graduated and I’ve run my own marketing agency for almost 10 years. Creating meaningful brands and creative marketing is a passion and to be able to combine this with my love of Christmas and creating magical memories for children is a dream come true.
How did you get noticed by the toy industry and was this a hard slog?
I was approached by a couple of retailers who were interested in stocking the products, so I decided to look for a distributor to work with to allow me to explore the toy industry.
I’ve worked really hard this last year to get the product into retail packaging and I’ve expanded the range to include a girl elf. I’ve also written a book which focuses on the magic of Christmas elves and their love of kindness. We’re now stocked with many national independent toy and gift retailers as well as some larger chains such as John Lewis, Selfridges, Waterstones, Fenwick and Toymaster.
Any hard knocks or huge surprises along the way?
The size of the container I had to unload was a surprise when the stock arrived. I hadn’t quite visualised what it would look like and how much work unloading the stock by hand would be. When you are handling everything, from designing the products, to processing the orders, marketing and even warehousing, there’s a surprise almost every day.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
Stick with your gut feelings and stay true to your idea. It can be hard to stay focused when people get involved, but think back to why you started, think about what you want to achieve and don’t lose your way.
What growth plans do you have?
We are increasing our product range for 2017 and have some exciting new pieces in development at the moment. We are also now dabbling in the export market and we have sold into Australia this year, with plans for more exports in 2017.
How many staff do you have?
It’s just me at the moment. The pressure and workload this year has been immense. I am more than aware that I need support in many areas of the business. Once we get Christmas out of the way I plan to reflect and look at how we can grow a small team to ensure the business has the resources it needs to be able to grow sustainably.
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Hazel Davis is a freelance writer from West Yorkshire. She has two tiny children but the majority of her hours are taken up with thinking about Alec Baldwin singing sea shanties and the time someone once called her "moreishly interesting".