Christa Pitts left her job at QVC to help her mother and sister create a book and toy that have become a holiday tradition.
In 2005, Christa Pitts left her job as a QVC host to help her mother, Carol Aebersold, and twin sister, Chanda Bell, launch Elf on the Shelf. The Marietta, Georgia-based company makes books and toys based on the family's Christmas tradition, which includes a toy elf who monitors naughty and nice behavior for Santa. Their tradition is quickly spreading. Elf on the Shelf has annual sales of $10 million and earned a spot (No. 1,322) on the 2011 Inc. 5000.
I don't remember a Christmas growing up without our elf, Fisbee. He would arrive every Thanksgiving. Each morning until Christmas Eve, my siblings and I would race out of bed to see where he was hiding. It wasn't until I got older that I realized no other families had that tradition.
In 2004, my mom was suffering from empty-nest syndrome, and my sister, Chanda, suggested that the two of them write a book together about Fisbee. Every publisher turned them down.
I decided to quit my job and move back to Georgia to help them self-publish the book, which we planned to package with a toy elf. I was sure that other families would fall in love with the tradition, too.
To promote our first 5,000 units, we sent letters to every single person any of us had ever known.
A big tipping point came during the 2007 holiday season, when actress Jennifer Garner was photographed carrying an Elf on the Shelf box. Then the Today show ran a segment on us. That helped open doors with retailers like Barnes & Noble. Our products are now in more than 10,000 stores. We also have an animated Christmas special this year on CBS.
My mother, sister, and I are equal partners. We don't always agree, but we've spent our entire lives learning how to work through things together.
DARREN DAHL is a contributing editor at Inc. Magazine, which he has written for since 2004. He also works as a collaborative writer and editor and has partnered with several high-profile authors. Dahl lives in Asheville, NC.