SMALL BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT CENTER
AN ELF’S SUCCESS UGA’s Small Business Development Center helped catapult “Elf on the Shelf” to stardom. By Lori Johnston
Carol Aebersold, middle, and twin daughters Christa Pitts and Chanda Bell, created the bestselling holiday book.
“THE ELF ON THE SHELF” story is told in homes every holiday season. An elf is sent to children’s homes to monitor who is naughty or nice. The elf hides in various spots each night and may get into some mischief, depending on the home. Ten years after helping Carol Aebersold and her twins, Christa Pitts and Chanda Bell launch the best-selling holiday book, the UGA Small Business Development Center is still providing support and guidance to the Kennesaw-based company. A family member told Aebersold and her daughters about the SBDC’s free, confidential consulting. When they contacted the SBDC office located at Kennesaw State University—one of 17 UGA SBDC offices across the state—they met area director Drew Tonsmeire. “It was very encouraging and motivating for us to hear from someone other than family and friends that our product had great potential. Drew asked us challenging questions and really helped us take a good, hard look at what it was going to take to make this business succeed,” said Pitts, now CEO. The family needed money to produce their part-book/part-toy product, but several lenders had turned them down. The SBDC connected the company, CCA and B (formed by their initials and standing for Creatively Classic Activities and Books), with an alternative lender. Although it was an expensive option, requiring them to cash in retirement accounts and sell one of their homes, it was the only resource that helped them get started. “Without that one connection to that loan source, they recognized it would have never happened,” Tonsmeire said. “It was that one pivotal move.” The company now is a multi-million dollar business with national recognition on numerous levels, such as making the Inc. magazine’s list of fast-growing companies three times, having a balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and an animated TV special. Over the years, Tonsmeire has served as an unbiased adviser for “The Elf on the Shelf” creators, providing knowledge and a look at the pros and cons related to expanding staff, facilities and product lines. The SBDC offers knowledge and resources that business owners can’t find on their own, as well as doses of encouragement in successes and dark hours, said Tonsmeire, whose office won the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Excellence and Innovation Award for the Southeast in 2014. “Their only goal is to help you be successful,” Pitts said. n
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