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I started the Elf on the Shelf with my mom and sister. We self-published a book and took on credit-card debt to turn our family tradition into a business.

headshot of Christa PittsChrista Pitts.

Courtesy of the Lumistella Company

  • Christa Pitts is the co-CEO of the Lumistella Company, the manufacturer for the Elf on the Shelf.
  • Her family started the business in 2005 after being inspired by their own Christmas family tradition.
  • Since then, they’ve sold more than 22.5 million elves and expanded into other industries like film.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Christa Pitts, the co-CEO of the Lumistella Company, the manufacturing company for the Elf on the Shelf. It has been edited for length and clarity.

My mom, Carol Aebersold, had a Christmas elf in her home as she was growing up, and it followed her to her own home when she started a family. When my brother, my sister, and I were born, she shared him with us, telling us that he was there to keep an eye on us in the days leading up to Christmas. We named him Fisbee.

When we grew up, my sister, Chanda, was the first to have children of her own, and she wanted to start our elf tradition with her son. There was nothing out there like Fisbee, so, inspired by our own family’s Christmas experiences with this elf visiting from Santa, the idea was born. The Lumistella Company began in 2004.

More than 22.5 million elves have been sold since 2005, we have a presence in 19 countries in more than 26,000 retailers, and we now have more than 100 employees.

First, my mom and sister wrote a book about our elf

elf on the shelfThe Elf on the Shelf.

Facebook / The Elf on the Shelf

In 2005, my mom and Chanda wrote “The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition.” They then submitted the manuscript to traditional publishers, but no one wanted it. Chanda began to research self-publishing, and my mom worked alongside her to perfect the manuscript. That same year, I left my job as a host on QVC to handle the marketing and operational side of launching and developing the business.

We had absolutely no money. Chanda took out credit cards, my parents took money from their small 401(k), and I sold my home in Pennsylvania. Each of us invested personally in the company. From that, 5,000 units of “The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition” were printed. Each book also comes with a keepsake box and a Scout Elf.

We set up our publishing venture, which at the time we named Creatively Classic Activities and Books, and scheduled our first book signing. We continued to branch out, selling books at local trade shows and markets. By the end of 2005, through website sales, book signings, and local stores, we’d sold all 5,000 copies at $24.95 each.

The Elf on the Shelf brand began to quickly grow 

In 2007, a picture of Jennifer Garner holding “The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition” got press attention and accelerated our company’s trajectory. In the same year, the “Today” show featured a package on the Elf on the Shelf and its popularity with young kids. By early 2008, major retailers and toy stores were taking note of the popularity of the book, and our company made its first move into the international marketplace with Scout Elf Adoption Centers, or locations where families can go to adopt an elf for their family. Adoption centers now range from small businesses and specialty stores to larger retailers like Target and Walmart.

The Elf on the Shelf in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day ParadeThe Elf on the Shelf in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Courtesy of Lumistella Company

In 2012, we launched a digital app, premiered the animated special “An Elf’s Story,” and added 14 partners to our licensing division. Brand recognition continued growing as the Elf on the Shelf balloon debuted in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as the largest balloon ever featured.

In 2020, the company rebranded to the Lumistella Company to better reflect our portfolio of products, entertainment, and experiences. In the same year, we partnered with Netflix to bring the company’s animated specials to its streaming platform, along with the production of original series and film projects designed for family audiences. We also started Scout Elf Productions, our own production company, and began developing content around our brands.

We faced the typical challenges of any startup

women jumping in front of a balloonChrista and Chanda standing in front of the balloon.

Courtesy of Lumistella Company

In the beginning, banks didn’t see elf dolls and books as acceptable collateral for a line of credit. We also lacked systems and the resources to get them. Everything was manual — from creation of packing slips and shipping labels to organizing our sales and marketing materials and even the product sales itself. The sales team was made up of myself, my sister, my mom, and some good friends.

During the pandemic, we faced supply-chain crises. The complications that every business faced were exacerbated by us being a company focused on the Christmas season. Failure wasn’t an option — you can’t backorder Christmas. We had to look at creative ways to deliver, and that included air freight, use of train lines, negotiation with retailers for express carriers, and absorbing exorbitant fees, like everyone else, when no other options remained.

With the popularity of the brand growing, we went on to introduce new consumer products, including a girl Scout Elf, darker-tone Scout Elves, a Spanish translation of the book, and branded video games.

My favorite interactions are meeting kids who have an elf 

Kids love their elves, and they want to tell you everything about them — what they named them, where they found them, when they arrived, and what they like to eat. It’s so innocent and magical, you can’t help but smile. When they draw pictures and send them to us, that’s the best.

Our company’s purpose is to create joyful family moments, especially at Christmastime, and I love being a part of that impact.

Read the original article on Business Insider