Spotlight: Elf on the Shelf Helps Families Create Holiday Traditions

elf on the shelf

The holiday season is upon us. That means that kids around the world are trying to remain on Santa’s “nice” list. But how can they prove to Santa that they’ve been good this year? That’s what The Elf on the Shelf is here for.

The Elf on the Shelf is a family business that operates with the goal of helping families create holiday memories. The company creates products and stories based on their own family tradition. Read more about how this small company is marketing products to create new holiday traditions around the world in this week’s Small Business Spotlight.

What the Business Does:

Sells books, toys and other products to help families create holiday memories.

The company’s main box set includes an elf that parents can display around their home during the holiday season along with a children’s book that tells the elf’s story. The elves are meant to be Santa’s eyes and ears at children’s homes around the world.

Business Niche:

Offering a tradition in a box.

Christa Pitts, co-CEO of The Elf on the Shelf explains:

“Before The Elf on the Shelf, there weren’t many — if any — other companies that were offering a tradition in a box. I think that’s important to understand about this box set — it’s not just a book, it’s not a toy. This is a real scout elf from the North Pole and it fulfills an important mission — bringing together kids and parents to spend time at the holidays. That family focus is at the core of everything we do.”

elf on the shelf

How the Business Got Started:

Because of an old family tradition.

Pitts explains:

“When my siblings and I were growing up, our parents introduced us to an elf we named Fisbee who would appear at Thanksgiving and stay with us until Christmas Eve. Each night, Fisbee flew to the North Pole to report to Santa about our family — that’s how Santa knew whether we’d been naughty or nice. Each morning after Fisbee had visited the North Pole, he would perch in a new place and my brother, sister and I would race around the house to try to spot where he had landed.”

Years later, Pitts worked with her mom, Carol Aebersold, and sister, Chanda Bell, to come up with a business idea to share their tradition with the world.

Biggest Risk:

Transitioning the business from specialty retail to mass retail.

Pitts says:

“Our specialty clients are very important to us so we worked very hard to find a balance that worked for them and which also allowed us to continue to grow. If we hadn’t moved into the mass retail market to grow the business, I am afraid our brand would have been lost to history.”

Biggest Win:

Having The Elf on the Shelf featured as a balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Pitts says:

“Santa’s finest (and largest) scout elf was being seen by millions around the world! Our brand was being placed on par with Buzz Light Year, Spiderman, Hello Kitty and Snoopy — some of the most recognized brands in the world.”

elf on the shelf


60 full time employees.

What Makes Their Workplace Different:

It’s filled with holiday spirit year-round.

Pitts explains:

“Since we do work at the North Pole, we have Christmas trees up all year and all of our employees have elf names. When an employee completes their 90-day initiation period, they can hang their personalized ornament that contains their picture on the Christmas tree in the foyer.”

How They’d Spend an Extra $100,000:

Hiring more “elves.”

If the Business Were a Book:

“Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” by Dr. Seuss

Favorite Quote:

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

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Images: The Elf on the Shelf

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Annie Pilon Annie Pilon is a Senior Staff Writer for Small Business Trends, covering entrepreneur profiles, interviews, feature stories, community news and in-depth, expert-based guides. When she’s not writing she can be found exploring all that her home state of Michigan has to offer.

7 Reactions
  1. I love the idea of a “tradition in a box.” So many people struggle to define and determine what their own traditions will be, so it’s refreshing to see such an accessible opportunity. I personally haven’t had an elf on the shelf in my home, but who knows what next year will bring.

  2. So glad to see people start to take a more critical look at this “tradition in a box”, as witnessed by the number of parents and families who have changed the rules of the game to better reflect a less creepy and more personally-motivated concept of doing good (at Christmas, and throughout the entire year).Is it true the corporation has also created classroom lessons that correspond to the Common Core curriculum? That would be reason enough for me to avoid this toy that my daughter pronounced “terrifying” when she discovered it in a friend’s house last year. That other parents have talked about how their kids have been completely stressed-out by a toy that might construe their mistakes–like knocking over a glass of milk–as an act of naughtiness that would be reported to Santa, clinched it for me. Thanks but no thanks: we’ll focus on our own holiday traditions, think outside the box, and leave the creepy elf out of it.

    • I’m sure it’s not for everyone. But it’s great that people have been able to take the idea and sort of make it their own, or just start their own traditions from scratch.

  3. It is foolish marketing schemes like this that make it clear that Christmas should be hog tied, dragged into a field and a bullet put through its head.

  4. It was tough to go for mass retail on this one. It may lose its special value that makes it appeal to its existing users to begin with.

    • I don’t know if making it available in mass markets would make it less special for some people, but I suppose it’s possible.