A SAVVY mum has turned her fun festive side hustle inspired by her daughter into a lucrative £200,000 a year business. 

Sarah Greenwell, 40, from Durham, came up with the idea for a personal elf pack when trying to entertain her toddler daughter Holly, now nine.

The creative mum called it ‘Elf for Christmas’, with a magical reward pack containing daily elf letters, an elf name generator and stickers to reward good behaviour.

The kit was a hit with little Holly, and Sarah had a brainwave – why not recreate the same for other children as a side hustle? 

With the help of her kids and husband Ian, Sarah started her Elf business as a ‘fun side-hustle’ in 2015.

Seven years later, Sarah’s company Big Little Toys sends its personalised Elf packs to all four corners of the world, with over 10,000 children set to open their special daily Elf Letters this December. 


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“It’s mad to look at the scale of this all now, how I’ve created such a successful business from the starting point of just wanting to make Christmas special for Holly,” Sarah tells The Sun.

£200K a year

With an annual turnover now in excess of £200,000, her concept has been so successful she has even successfully taken B&M to court over IP infringement.

In 2017, the mum-of-two noticed near identical elf kits online, belonging to parents who had bought them at the retailer. 

She said at the time: "I was on Facebook and someone shared a picture of an elf and I got all excited as I thought people were talking about it really early.

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"But when I clicked I was so shocked as I realised it wasn't ours.

"I went into my local shop the next day and they had loads of them out on display.

"It's very, very similar in terms of the design and the language they use in some cases is almost identical."

At first the shop denied copying Sarah’s designs, but the company was forced to pay £25,000 in damages and legal costs after she took them to court.

“It was literally outrageous, so I got lawyers involved," she says.

It was literally outrageous, so I got lawyers involved… I knew I was onto something when one of the biggest retailers in the country wanted to copy me

"B&M took their copies off sale and paid all our costs. That was probably when I knew I was onto something, when one of the biggest retailers in the country wanted to copy me.”

Sarah sold the marketing agency she’d set up in 2007 to throw all her energies into the new venture.

She built a website and e-commerce store, which included an elf name generator so each child could name their own elf.

She said: “The first Christmas I ordered 3,000 units and seriously thought I’d over-ordered so much I’d end up selling them at car boot sales.

“We ended up selling them all in 10 weeks – it was absolute chaos, with my husband, mam, dad and mother-in-law all working flat-out to get the orders out on time.”

She says the key ‘sell’ was how easy it was for parents – you just open the pack of stickers and letters, and the children take over. 

“Crucially, it keeps kids believing in Santa that little bit longer, which I love,” she adds.

Interest from major retailers was swift, though Sarah didn’t have the expertise or resources to go down that route – but a trip to London Toy Fair in January 2016 helped her Elf business really make its mark.

She secured a distributor and further developed the concept, adding a girl elf to the range and wrote a book, Elf’s First Adventure.

Manufacturing was upped to 30,000 units, securing shelf space at Selfridges, Lakeland, John Lewis, Waterstones and a range of independent toy and gift shops, as well as continuing to drive sales through the website.

“It just went crazy,” Sarah recalls. “I have to pinch myself now that I effectively work for Santa, spreading Christmas magic all over the world!”

It is a far cry from the 40-year-old’s early career. Having graduated from the University of Central Lancashire, she followed partner – now husband – Ian to Australia after he secured a job with a water company.

“I arrived in Sydney without a work permit and did some backpacker jobs, including driving the children’s train in the Botanical gardens,” she says.

“I then got my first job in marketing with a paper company and was promoted to marketing manager.”

I have to pinch myself now that I effectively work for Santa, spreading Christmas magic all over the world

Family circumstances meant a return to Durham in 2007, and Sarah had gained enough confidence at 25 to start her first business.

Glow Creative effectively acted as a marketing department for small and medium sized businesses which didn’t have one. The first client was the company she worked for in Australia, and it took off from there.

“When I had the children, running the business became more challenging, especially as the Elf idea took off,” she says. “I felt I couldn’t run both while doing justice to either the business or being a mum.

"It was a difficult decision – I loved Glow Creative as it was very much my baby, but I decided to focus full time on the toy sector.

“From then on, I have been working for Santa Claus! What a job!”

One of her best-selling elf products is a set of 12 or 24 Elf Letters that are delivered as an advent calendar alternative each day of December – the daily letters can even be personalised to add extra magic to the experience.

Each envelope is numbered and are read in order to tell the story of what is happening at the North Pole as the elves get ready for Christmas. 

There is now a personalised book featuring the child’s name on the front cover, with personal details threaded through the Christmas Muddle story.

'If you're kind to others, they'll be kind to you'

Sarah says: "I invest so much time all year round developing these new products so that we have something different to offer our customers each Christmas. 

"For 2022 we’ve launched a daily Elf Challenge with 24 puzzles.

“My kids love the elves and the stories. It is amazing when Holly picks my book up even in the middle of summer."

Sales have continued to increase significantly with work going on at trade fairs, through the website and agents for the elves to travel to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. 

“We’ve gone from kitchen table to a global operation,” she says. 

“I started by working around the kids being in bed at night packing the boxes, labelling them and posting to the customer."

The elf and its values is also increasingly used in schools and nurseries throughout the country. 

My kids love the elves and the stories. It is amazing when Holly picks my book up even in the middle of summer

Again, the business has reacted to demand by creating worksheets and resources for the classroom.

Sarah credits the support of her sales engineer husband Ian, all her family and friends for getting Big Little Toys to where it is today, and her old boss in Australia for helping her make the most of her creative talents.

She says: “Getting outside your comfort zone is the only way you can move forward – If I had kept Glow Creative the elves wouldn’t be in international markets.

“I am always saying to Holly if there is only one thing in life to remember it is to be kind.

"If you’re kind to others they’ll be kind to you is the motto of the books. It is simple – it is not about preaching to be good, it is more about traditional values.

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"It is light-hearted so parents can dip into it as much as they want.”

Find out more at www.elfforchristmas.co.uk

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