Emily Beckloff is the Founder & Chief Elf at International Elf Service, a brand that is passionate about creating a small window of make-believe time, which young children are able to believe in. Formed in 2010 when Emily used to write Elf notes to her children, the company has gone on to spread copious amounts of joy and magic ever since.
The international Elf Service is the kind of positivity we all need in our lives right now and so we spent some time with Emily to find out more…
Tell us about the journey that led you to launching the International Elf Service…
I first started writing the International Elf Service letters when our eldest child was 3, back in 2009. In 2014, after enjoying the letters as a family ourselves, I launched International Elf Service online for other families and children – anyone really aged 3 to 99! – to enjoy. I love seeing so many families enjoy our Christmas Elf Letters year on year and seeing the children’s’ names on their personalised letters each year, brings a smile to my face every time. It’s a real honour to be a part of their growing-up.
I was curled up in front of our fire reading ‘Letters from Father Christmas’ by JR Tolkein, where he wrote notes to his children from the North Pole. I suddenly thought … I could leave our two very young children a note each day from the North Pole in their wooden Advent House. It would be such a lovely, experience-rich and chocolate-free Advent Calendar idea. They were teeny tiny notes at first: things like, ‘Father Christmas lost one of the buttons off his jacket! He ate nine helpings of Cherry Pie, and it pinged off and flew somewhere behind the Giant Lollipops in the Elves’ Workshop!’.
Then as the children grew, the letters got more substantial … until they turned into one long Christmas story with a new ‘bit’ being published each day, just like the pages of a book. And there, International Elf Service was born!
I grew up in the countryside, and would spend all my time submerged in books, crafts, music and nature. I’ve always been so Christmas-mad that I drove my parents potty! I constantly wanted to be making or doing something ‘Christmassy’, and I wanted more than anything, to know what life up in the North Pole was really like! I’ve never really warmed to the big brother concept that ‘Father Christmas and the Elves are watching you’, because to me Christmas magic is for everyone, no matter what. It isn’t related to behaviour in any way, and it’s there to be enjoyed and experienced by all. I’ve always been an avid reader, devouring piles and piles of books as a child – often reading several at once! I loved being inside the different worlds and the riches that reading can give. I’ve always wanted to pass that love on to others, and write stories that children really want to read and immerse themselves in.
You’re passionate about Children’s’ wellbeing, why is this important to you?
Children’s mental health and them having a sense of wellbeing and ‘belonging’ is so important and something I am deeply passionate about. Sometimes children find their ‘big’ feelings can be a little difficult to understand or manage, which in turn can affect their relationships with others. This is where we hope our magical personalised Fairy letters and Tooth Fairy letters can help. I’m a firm believer in talking things through as a really helpful way to process thoughts. Talking with and listening to our children does all sorts of wonderful things. It improves our bond with them, which ultimately helps them to form relationships and to build self-esteem. Our Fairy & Tooth Fairy personalised letters are designed to support children’s emotional health & development, and to make brilliant conversation starters between parent and child. We have a range of letters addressing a variety of normal childhood worries and feelings, where our Fairies do their best to help reassure and teach children a little bit about them. Big messages in little letters.
As a mother of three, how do you juggle being present for the children and also building a brand?
Having three school-aged children, I’ve found I need to be very organised with my time, both for work and family time. I’m so lucky to be able to work from home, which means I get more time with my children than I would otherwise. I make sure I protect the blocks of time before and after school to spend time with them, and we all eat together as a family too … which I think is so important to do if you can. This is the one part of the day we’re 100% focused on the kids and they love it. It’s such a precious time, which I’ll miss so much when they’ve grown up and left home.
I start work in the morning as soon as our children have gone to school. I go for a run three mornings a week and then I answer emails and do any urgent ‘task based’ jobs first. Once I’m on top of things for the day, I put my creative hat on and get creating!
I’m always frantically finishing off emails as I walk up to collect my youngest from school. I also work every evening, often until 1am on the run up to Christmas … replying to customers, sorting out orders and making sure I have enough materials and stock. It’s very busy!
Christmas is most likely your busiest time, how do keep the business flowing throughout the rest of the year?
It’s Christmas all year-round at International Elf Service! We make personalised Birthday, Fairy & Tooth Fairy letters all year round, but I start writing the new Christmas letters each year from January to March, working closely with my fabulous Editor who lives in Italy. Then my amazing illustrator, who lives in France, works away at creating the bespoke designs and illustrations for each individual letter – so each one is different every year. We then ‘tweak and perfect’ and then the boring tech-side kicks in; stitching everything together and putting it all into the backend of the website, ready to have the children’s individual names added to every personalised letter and envelope. We make fun and magical new videos and take new photos each year – one featuring our adorable, obliging and much-loved Christmas mouse! Then it’s time to source our recyclable, eco-friendly materials, wood spirals and twines, making sure we have enough materials for the orders. The orders usually start coming in from around June/July when the new annual Edition becomes available. Then it ramps up to dizzying heights in November ready for International Elf Service Elfie’s Christmas Advent Letters Ultimate Story Bundle Advent Calendar to make it into people’s houses on time for the first letter to arrive on 1st December!
Do you plan on expanding the brand in the future, if so, how?
International Elf Service is all about taking children on unforgettable, magical literary journeys to both the North Pole and Fairyland – all through handcrafted, personalised letters. We offer a range of magical letters for all children including giggle-inducing Birthday letters; themed fairy letters covering a range of big feelings or experiences that help support children’s emotional wellbeing and development; and enchanting letter bundles from the Tooth Fairy. We’ve already launched our new International Elf Service Personalised Christmas Memory Box Tradition and International Elf Service Personalised Baby’s First Christmas Memory Box Tradition boxes. They enable you to preserve 20 years of special Christmas Day family memories, by recording key events on 20 beautiful personalised pages.
We have a lot more to come too – our Elves and Fairies are very busy right now!
We have some very exciting 2021 plans, but unfortunately Mother Christmas made Elfie, Father Christmas, me and the team swallow a bright-yellow-fizzy-not-giving-secrets-away-drop (so delicious I wanted another!)
But I can tell you that our product range is expanding (much like Father Christmas’ waistline during lockdown!) and we have some really exciting new literary options coming for older children and newborns.
We are constantly evolving our products and listening to our consumers, asking our Elves and Fairies what they think too! We’ve had huge demand for more family keepsake traditions, which is why last year we launched our Personalised Christmas Memory Box Tradition and Personalised Baby’s First Christmas Memory Box Tradition boxes for families.
There’s so much more to come and all designed to encourage children’s literacy and support their overall wellbeing and development through reading. Mother Christmas also suggested that lots of elderly people (much like herself) also love to read the news from the North Pole. So, we are working closely with her to help spread Christmas magic and cheer … not just to our younger audience, but to everyone who loves to transport themselves to magical worlds and immerse themselves in the magic of literary journeys.
Looking back since launching, is there anything you would do differently?
Starting your own business is both exciting and utterly terrifying. In hindsight, after the enormous interest shown and the natural growth of the business, I would have scaled faster. I would also have totally ignored any signs of Imposter Syndrome (the feeling that you’re totally inadequate compared to everyone else) and just got on with it. It really is the most unhelpful feeling and doesn’t actually change anything, except make a nuisance of itself and make you more cautious.
Our readers love to travel, what destination is at the top of your bucket list?
I really love travelling and have been lucky enough to go to all sorts of places, including the Ice Hotel in Swedish Lapland, which is north of the Arctic Circle (mind blowing), Egypt, Peru, Ecuador, The Galapagos, Africa, Asia … but I’d really love to go to Northern Greenland. It looks and sounds so incredible and there’s something so very special about being in the arctic – the air, the light and the sheer enormity and beauty of all that nature around you. It’s an indescribable feeling.
For any aspiring entrepreneurs, what advice would you offer?
Be passionate about your business and be you. You are your brand, and no-one can be you as well as you can. Keep moving forward, taking one step at a time, and don’t be afraid to ask for help, advice and feedback. If there’s a problem, there will be always be a solution … it’s just a case of finding it.
What has been your proudest moment since launching the brand?
My proudest moment came the first year I launched. A mum wrote to me to tell me that her eldest daughter (who has autism) never really engaged with her siblings, but since receiving Elfie’s Christmas Advent Calendar Letters, she’d been reading them out to her siblings each day through December and it was really helping them to connect. I hadn’t anticipated that my letters could have such a positive impact on family life in this way and I found it incredibly heartwarming.
When lacking motivation, what quote do you like to read?
It Always Seems Impossible Until It’s Done – by Nelson Mandela.
This quote is so, so true! Just keep at it and suddenly everything will slot into place and you’ll feel really happy with what you’ve done.
Where can people find out more?
Grab a hot chocolate, get cosy and join us at https://internationalelfservice.com/ (or @internationalelfservice on insta) to escape with us into a world of magic, adventure and the perfect literary gift for any occasion!
Photos by Petra Gatek @petras_gatto