In 1974 a pixie elf named Fisbee, who was sent from Santa to Carol Aebersold as a child, came to live in the home of Carol and her husband, Bob. Fisbee would watch over their children: Chanda, Christa and Brandon, and report back to Santa if they had been naughty or nice. No one had any idea that this family tradition would eventually change the face of the Christmas season forever.
It wasn't until 30 years after Fisbee's first flight to and from the Aebersold home that Chanda Bell (formerly Aebersold) proposed the idea of immortalizing the family tradition in print while having a cup of tea with her mother. For months, Carol and Chanda brainstormed and recounted their own personal memories of Fisbee before pouring them out on paper in a draft that would eventually become The Elf on the Shelf®: A Christmas Tradition. Next, the pair sought out a literary agent. Although they quickly garnered the attention of an agent, she could not convince established publishers to take a chance on the project, and one-by-one the story of their long-standing family tradition was turned down. Many publishers suggested that someone else should write the book and another even noted that the book was “destined for the damaged goods bin.” Undeterred, the family members turned their efforts towards self-publishing and enlisted the help of local watercolor artist Coë Steinwart. Without any business or manufacturing experience to rely on, and not a single extra penny in the bank, it would take sheer determination and a lot of faith to launch what would eventually become a national best seller.
With the story of their family scout elf complete, Chanda and Carol found themselves with no money or know-how to get their family tradition into print. Chanda poured over self-publishing information, designed packaging and prototypes, developed a website and continued to work alongside Carol to perfect their manuscript. Meanwhile, Bob provided some initial office space in his small engineering and fabrication firm to the project. Chanda’s sister, Christa Pitts, left her job at QVC to lend marketing and operational expertise to the business, and the trio set out to share their story with the world. However, the women would have to take enormous risk to fund the endeavor. Chanda maxed out personal credit cards, Christa put forth the proceeds from the sale of her house and Bob and Carol cleaned out a small retirement account. With the money, 5,000 units of The Elf on the Shelf®: A Christmas Tradition were made by the women’s newly created publishing house, Creatively Classic Activities and Books, LLC. In their first attempt to market and sell the book, Carol, Christa and Chanda held a book signing for their family and friends at the Marietta Museum of History. Then, they branched out and sold books one-by-one at local shows and markets: the Junior League of Cobb-Marietta’s Mistletoe Market and The 12 Days of Christmas trade show in Charlotte, NC. Through website sales, impromptu book signings, and the help of 18 stores that were now selling the book, all 5,000 copies of The Elf on the Shelf had been sold by the end of the year.
With the launch of The Elf on the Shelf® behind them, Carol, Chanda and Christa turned their attention to promotion. At first, they utilized trade shows as a way to push into “adoption centers,” otherwise known as retail stores. They also worked to garner the attention of trade publications, gift guides and local media, and when the Christmas season arrived, the women took turns traveling to local craft and gift shows. Aided by dedicated friends and family, they used the opportunity to talk with parents personally and to explain one-on-one what their product was and how it worked. Eventually, this personal touch would prove to be a key strategy for their sales efforts and helped to spark an ardent word-of-mouth campaign.
Parents’ strong identification with The Elf on the Shelf® tradition fueled the quick takeoff of the brand, and The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Activity Book was introduced. However, it was a picture snapped of Jennifer Garner in late 2007 carrying The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition that set off a wave of popularity previously unseen. As Carol, Chanda and Christa continued to attend gift shows and conduct book signings in local adoption centers, their efforts were amplified by Garner’s chance run in with the paparazzi, and in late December, unbeknownst to the trio, the Today show ran a segment on The Elf on the Shelf, changing the brand’s trajectory forever.
By early 2008, major retailers and toy stores were taking note of The Elf on the Shelf®’s popularity, leading to awards and recognitions from Learning Express, iParenting Media, USA Book News and Creative Child. They also captured the attention of New York-based book store chains, and Barnes & Noble became the first major retailer to carry the product. Bigger trade shows were targeted and the company made its first move into the international marketplace when stores in Canada opened scout elf adoption centers.
With a national audience now engaged with Santa's beloved scout elves, CCA and B began to focus on meeting the demand for more products. In 2009 the company introduced a darker-skinned boy scout elf, Plushee Pals®-huggable scout elf toys-and the first piece of Claus Couture Collection® clothing. Even with the new products introduced under The Elf on the Shelf® brand, the traditional box set continued to soar in popularity. By the end of 2009, The Elf on the Shelf was in 8,000 stores in the US and Canada and had sold nearly 1 million copies. The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition also debuted on the USA Today Best-Selling Books list for the fist time, peaking at number 12. A larger office building on Chastain Road in Kennesaw, GA, was built to help house the quickly expanding operation. As the company grew, accolades came pouring in, including a Stevie Award acknowledging elfontheshelf.com for Best Web Animation and recognition from the Cobb County Chamber of Commerce, which named the company a Top 25 Small Business.
The Elf on the Shelf®: A Christmas Tradition continued to soar off of store shelves and by year's end, more than 10,000 rooftops carried the brand. The book continued to climb US best-seller lists, including those of the Wall Street Journal, Publishers Weekly, and USA Today, where it peaked at number three. CCA and B continued to receive recognition, too, and landed a coveted spot on Inc. Magazine's list of the country's fastest growing private companies; a distinction it also garnered for the next two years. In turn, Christa, Carol and Chanda were recognized as Georgia Small Business Persons of the Year by the US Small Business Administration, granting them the opportunity to attend an awards ceremony in Washington, DC hosted by the State Department, the president and the Small Business Administration. To facilitate additional expansion, a building and acreage were purchased in Marietta, GA, that provided a better warehouse and more office space. Product expansion continued, too, and the company debuted A Light in the Night, a book that tackles children's fear of the dark. CCA and B reached another exciting milestone when it inked its first licensing deal to offer ornaments and other holiday décor. Behind the scenes, Carol, Christa and Chanda began work on the brand's next great adventure, an animated special called An Elf's Story™. Once again, the trio self-funded this endeavor to see their dream come true. Using their own proceeds, they founded Big Canoe Entertainment along with four other partners. The three went to work assisting with the story's script, composing songs and serving as executive producers.
If 2005 marked the year of The Elf on the Shelf®, 2011 would be known as the year of An Elf's Story™. Debuting on CBS in late 2011, the half-hour animated special marked the next big step for The Elf on the Shelf brand. As An Elf's Story garnered fans' praise, Carol and Chanda were already looking ahead to their next project as they began writing their first sequel- The Elf on the Shelf: A Birthday Tradition. By the end of 2011, The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition had sold more than 2 million copies, and the company had added another licensing partner.
2012 was a year of new faces, as The Elf on the Shelf® added a girl scout elf and a Spanish translation to its mix of product. The company also launched its first apps for smartphones, debuted An Elf's Story™ merchandise, and grew its licensing division by 700% when they added fourteen partners. However, continued appearances on the best-seller lists of the Wall Street Journal, Publishers Weekly, and USA Today paled in comparison to The Elf on the Shelf appearing as a balloon in the 86th Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade®. As long as eight bicycles laid end to end and as tall as five stories, the scout elf was embraced by the media, as well as the fans lining the parade route-eventually becoming a fan favorite. At its debut, The Elf on the Shelf balloon was the largest balloon ever featured in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and was only the second self-published book character to ever be highlighted as a balloon.
After eight years in business, the company was ready to release a sequel to The Elf on the Shelf®: A Christmas Tradition. This new book, The Elf on the Shelf: A Birthday Tradition, struck a chord with children who had written to Santa hoping to see their beloved scout elf more than once a year. After the book was created, CCA and B entered into its first corporate philanthropy partnership. One dollar for every birthday book sold was given by CCA and B to help charity: water bring clean drinking water to underprivileged communities across the globe. For the first time, The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition hit the number one spot on USA Today's Best-Selling Books list-another milestone signifying the company's growing popularity. Space at the warehouse and office facility in Marietta, GA, had run out and the warehouse would now have to be housed in a separate facility from the office space, leading to the birth of a new corporate headquarters on Riverwood Parkway in Atlanta, GA. The variety of products being made by CCA and B continued to expand, as did its footprint in the trade show space, with CCA and B moving into its first permanent showroom space in Las Vegas. The company expanded its licensing program even further, working with a total of twenty-five dynamic partners in 2013. As with all things at the North Pole, production continued at a quick pace, and Chanda was already hard at work on the brand's next book and brand extension: Elf Pets®: A Reindeer Tradition.
After nine years in business and more than 8 million box sets sold, The Elf on the Shelf® truly became a household name, with nearly 30,000 followers on Twitter, close to 1.2 million fans on Facebook and about 60,000 Instagram followers. The title continued to sit atop best-seller lists and was a fixture in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade®. This year saw the launch of the company’s first literary brand extension outside of The Elf on the Shelf in November when Elf Pets®: A Reindeer Tradition was introduced. Given the strong visibility and popularity of The Elf on the Shelf brand, the words “Elf Pets” received a registered trademark from the US Patent and Trademark Office shortly after the book was released, ensuring its protection and setting the would-be series up to be a perennial favorite. CCA and B also made a push into international territories by creating distribution partnerships for The Elf on the Shelf in Mexico, the UK and Ireland, while back in North America, intense promotional efforts for all three core Elf on the Shelf traditions took the US and Canadian markets by storm. Three new television ads aired, and an aggressive PR campaign were launched. With more products than ever before, and more than 40 licensing partners across all key categories and channels of distribution, CCA and B looked to its digital program to also keep pace; so, the company invested in a much needed face-lift for elfontheshelf.com. The goal was to provide the content and user experience the consumers were looking for. As part of the improvements, the website’s games were revamped and two new apps were introduced as well. By year’s end, the company had 60 people working directly for Santa and was positioned for another aggressive push toward international expansion with its concentrated line of products focused on creating meaningful family moments for children of all ages.