WHAT started as Christmas wish has burgeoned into a globe-spanning business for a North East mother of two.
Like Santa on Christmas Eve, Sarah Greenwell delivers her beautifully-designed “Elf for Christmas” from Peterlee to Perth, Consett to Capetown.
Thanks to Department for International Trade North East ERDF support, her Elf is now set to visit a whole new set of countries, the organisation having part-funded a trade mission to Nuremberg Toy Fair, where Sarah made new contacts with international distributors.
One of Europe’s largest toy fairs represented a far cry from the kitchen table of the Durham home, where Sarah’s festive friend first appeared and her firm, Big Little Toys, was created.
Sarah, 34, came up with the concept of 'An Elf for Christmas' after a frustrating search for something to create a Christmas tradition with her two young children, Holly, 4 and Fin, 2. Sarah said,
I was on maternity leave after having Fin and I really wanted to find something that we could build a family tradition around for years to come. I searched, but just couldn’t find something that I felt really captured what I wanted for my kids.
“After a while, I thought “I’m going to do this myself”. I had an image in my head of exactly what I wanted, so I started to sketch and eventually An Elf for Christmas was born.”
The long-legged, cute-faced Elf, bedecked in a traditional red and green outfit was designed by Sarah and, following a great deal of research and investment, she commissioned 3,000 to be made.
We had no packaging, just my husband and I wrapping the elves in tissue paper on that same kitchen table. But we sold out that first Christmas of 2015 and we had started to get interest from retailers…unfortunately, we had none left to send them.
2016 saw Big Little Toys, capitalise on interest from retailers and the Elf for Christmas is now sold in Selfridges, John Lewis, Argos, Tesco and a host of other well-known stores.
Sarah, who quit her marketing job as Elf-interest began to grow, added: “It was fantastic to capture the attention of the large stores, but what is just as exciting is the number of independent retailers who stock the product because this is something I’m really passionate about.
“We were selling all over England, Scotland, then Ireland, then we suddenly started picking up sales in Australia and we realised the huge potential of the product.”
It was at this point Sarah made contact with the Department for International Trade North East, which supported her efforts to create new relationships across the industry overseas.
Last year, Elf for Christmas set up “elf.au” and Big Little Toys is already looking to build markets in English-speaking countries like New Zealand, South Africa and further inroads in Australia.
The Department for International Trade is planning to work with Sarah to internationalise her website, which she hopes will increase sales by £40,000 this year, creating one new job.
Big Little Toys also plans to launch at least two new toys in the coming year, although details are being kept strictly under wraps for now.
International Trade Director, Julie Underwood, said:
Sarah’s creativity and drive has helped her create something that will capture the imagination of children the world over and bring magic to many family Christmases.
Her success is not only well-deserved, but a real inspiration for others. If you have that spark of an idea and the drive to see it through, the world is your marketplace and we are here to help you break into these global markets.