I do everything from packing to design.
I run the business – designing the products, coming up with the ideas, writing the copy, sourcing the manufacturer. I wouldn’t say I am a toy designer – that’s not my background. I guess I‘m just overseeing the end-to-end running of the business.
Our main product when we first started was the Elf for Christmas and Magical Reward Kit.
It’s a boy elf character with a kit of magical letters from the North Pole, little elf report cards, charts, stickers, and a letter from Santa Claus. Then in the second year we were asked for a girl. We’ve added some new things since then – we’ve got a storybook, a sticker scene play set and our bestselling 24 advent letters.
The products are designed around positive reinforcement.
We’ve designed a reward chart with stickers that parents can put their own tasks in. We used the reward chart for my little girl’s potty training. Every time a child’s recognised for something positive the elf would deliver a sticker.
When my little girl was two, I was writing little notes to her and saying that they were from the fairies.
It was magical and helped develop her imagination. At Christmas time I wanted to start a tradition for her. I was looking for a toy, but I couldn’t find an elf or a Santa that was really lovely. The business all sparked from what I wanted to buy her.
I was on maternity leave with my little boy, and it gave me a little window of opportunity to start the business.
I sketched out the character and worked with a factory over about eight months on prototypes. I wrote the letters, designed all the graphics and got those printed in the UK. When the plush toys were ready, I got them delivered to my home and had to pack everything. I wrapped everything in tissue paper and sent them out.
In the first year when I ordered the stock I said to my friends: ‘I’ll just have to take them to car boot sales.’
I didn’t have a clue it would get so big. We sold out completely in about nine weeks. I’ve sold my marketing agency to do this full time, which is not something I ever imagined doing. This Christmas we’ve distributed to Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand. I’ve just recently taken an order for a shop in Dubai. It’s just rolling on.
It takes all year to do product development.
We’ve learnt that retailers tend to start buying for Christmas in January, so we go to trade fairs throughout the year and we’re constantly back and forth with prototypes. It’s crazy. In March I’ll say I’m busy with work and people say to me: ‘What could you possibly be doing?’ But writing the new book was a huge job and all the content for the website has to be written beforehand, because now I am frantically packing.
The best part of the job is all the feedback we get.
People say, ‘You’ve brought so much magic and our children believe in Santa Claus again.’ This stuff obviously means a lot to families. I just think it’s so rewarding.
It’s obviously a huge learning curve.
This year I found it really challenging dealing with exports. It’s a whole new world – understanding all the terminology, the goals, the logistics of exportation. I do enjoy it, but you can’t only deal with one problem, you’ve got to deal with them all at the same time.
My little girl is really interested in the elves.
She loves her elf and she’s always playing with her. I had to go to London recently and she thought I’d gone to the North Pole to see Santa Claus. She thinks that I work for him.
I’ve written a new book this year called The Christmas Muddle.
You totally personalise it for your child. I read it to my little girl recently. In the story, the children who will have a special Christmas get their name written in the stars. On the last page there’s a big night sky scene. My little girl’s only just learning to read and she spotted her name in the stars. Her hand flew up to her mouth in complete shock and she was so excited I nearly cried.
I like going round National Trust venues like Gibside.
My favourite is probably Wallington. I love it in autumn with all the leaves, and I love the play areas for the children because they’re so imaginative.
I spend Christmas with my family.
I like everybody together. We get up really early – it’s normally me waking the children up because I’m so excited! We play with toys all day and have lots of treats and chocolates.
We haven’t been away this year because we moved house.
Last year we went to Italy. We went to Lake Garda and the Italian lakes, and took the children of course. We had a great time.