The real magical story behind the ‘Elf on the Shelf’

Full disclosure: we have an “Elf on the Shelf” in our family. You don’t own an Elf, you adopt it. Then it becomes part of your family. But how did this tradition – that so many seem to be talking about – begin?

Chirsta Pitts, along with her mom Carol and her sister, Chanda Bell, turned a family tradition that they grew up with into a multi-million dollar business. Pitts’ mother Carol had written the Elf on the Shelf story, but couldn’t get it published. But they were determined not to give up.

“We knew we had a good idea and felt it was something worthwhile to share with other families,” said Pitts.

According to Fox Small Business, they “self-published the book that Pitts’ Mom wrote, and packaged it with an elf. Pooling their own money from retirement accounts, the sale of Pitts’ house, and credit card loans, they were able to produce 5,000 “Elf on the Shelf” sets in 2005.”

As the story goes, once an elf is given a name, he has “magical powers” and he is able to return to the North Pole each night to report a child’s behavior to Santa. Some nights however, there is some mischief along the way, and one never knows where they will find their elf each morning. An elf cannot be touched, or he will lose his magical powers. The magic truly is in the eyes of a child each morning when the first thing said after they wake is, “I wonder where the elf is this morning.”

The report says of the endeavor:

The success of “Elf on the Shelf,” however, was not a result of magic, but rather the focus of three women who strategically built their brand and reinvested in their business. “Elf on the Shelf” experienced steady growth year after year, with annual revenue topping $16 million in 2011. However, “funding a fast growth business can be difficult,” admits Pitts. “Banks don’t necessarily love elves as collateral.”

A huge success, the elf began in a handful of retailers, spreading to Hallmark stores, Barnes and Noble, and just this year, Target. Last year, a Christmas special based on the book debuted on CBS.

“If you think about any great Christmas tradition, they all have one thing in common – a Christmas special,” said Pitts. “The movie allows children to “experience our character in a new way.”

See more about the elf and the entrepreneurial spirit that created it here from Fox Small Business:


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Cheryl Carpenter Klimek

Cheryl Carpenter Klimek

Cheryl Carpenter Klimek has been a political consultant handling public affairs, political campaigns and PAC management for nearly 20 years.
Cheryl Carpenter Klimek


3 thoughts on “The real magical story behind the ‘Elf on the Shelf’

  1. Janeen says:

    My girls were much older when I bought our Elf 2 years ago. We break with the purpose of the Elf on the Shelf. You see, our unnamed Elf sits on a shelf in my office year round. He watches all of us all year. And the day he isn't there, is the day he had something bad to go tell Santa. So far, so good. 🙂

    I just got back from my 5 year old niece's house and she led me straight to her elf to show me where he was sitting when she woke up this morning. It's an extraordinary part of the Christmas magic and my compliments to the Pitts family!

  2. John R says:

    A great example of the joys and successes that came from entrepreneurship….

  3. JUDI HAMPTON says:

    Wow this is the first year I even heard of the Elf on a shelf…. this is awesome … I so enjoyed my bffs granddaughters and this is where I learned about this … What a wonderful concept … i think I will have an Elf in my house … love it

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