GUEST BLOG: Mr Twinkletoes, Elf, Franchisee of Santa's Elves Ltd

People think us elves are all cutesy and tiny, but we're real grafters. We work hard all year round, and it's a mix of hard physical labour and precision handicraft. But it's important to keep the blood, sweat and tears behind the scenes. We embrace our smiley, easygoing image because it keeps things professional. After all, who wants a toy made by an exhausted, sweaty elf?

We need to keep the magic alive.

A lot of folk think us elves all work out of Santa's grotto - but that would be ridiculous! FC's grotto is roomy, but it would take a palace plus a few barracks, plus probably a small village to house us lot. Think about it: all the children in all the world (minus a few who are on the naughty list), and all the gifts they receive - that takes a lot of elves.

I'm a senior manager for Santa's Elves, Hollyberry Branch, which is in south-west Lapland. I say senior manager, but really it's more of a toy-making franchise that I own.

I've known I wanted to be a toymaker for as long as I can remember. Both my parents were toymakers, and all my grandparents, and all my siblings are, and all my friends - actually, it's the only trade us elves really go in for, other than the ones who head to Hollywood (for films like Lord of the Rings). But they have to undergo a lot of plastic surgery - and I mean a LOT. That never appealed to me. You know that Orlando Bloom? When I knew that guy he was three feet tall, the colour of seaweed from head to toe, and he had ears the size of turtle doves.

Anyhows, I'm kind of ambitious too. I didn't want to end up as just another elf on the production line, like all my teachers thought I would. So I started saving from a young age - from 150, maybe 160 years old. I worked evening shifts for this poet Spenser, helping him out with some of the detail on the lives of fairies and satyrs and the like, providing inspiration from time to time. Apparently 'The Faerie Queen' did pretty well when it was finished.

I'd scrimped and saved and had around a third of the magic gold I needed to buy a franchise, but it dawned on me it would take the best part of a millennium to save the full amount. I decided to take a risk. I started trading in a new kind of leather elf shoes, imported all the way from Morocco (for some reason the human realm had really taken to pointed shoes).

The business took off! Sure, there were challenges. I had to learn some basic Arabic, a little French. There were the currency fluctuations - magic gold is fairly volatile against human currencies. I had to make a lot of trips to set up deals, to haggle. But it was worth it. Before I knew it I had enough gold to buy the new Hollyberry Division franchise of Santa's Elves. But more importantly, I'd gained a good amount of business knowledge, which nothing in elf school even comes close to teaching you.

Running a franchise gives you a good amount of freedom compared with running your own business, but you have to stick to certain guidelines. I have to stick to Santa's quality and safety standards, which are more stringent than just the legal requirements. If one franchise makes an error, his whole brand is tarnished - and then what would the world do come December?

Of course, I have to give a little slice of my profits to Santa Central. But at the same time, FC gives all his franchisees heaps of support. I got training before I started and can sign up for free courses once a year, and there are organised meetups with other franchisees so we can swap notes. I go to more informal networking bashes too. Talking to other business owners over a couple of eggnogs rather than just in a formal setting helps us share our tougher experiences more candidly.

The most difficult thing is motivating my elves in the January period. The next Christmas seems so far away, and they're all so exhausted from the Christmas rush. I take them out for a decent social half-way through the month, a little reindeer-flying session usually, and I have a performance-based bonus for all my staff, even the junior ones. A few nuggets of magic gold can really bring a smile to their faces during the bleakest time of the year. Plus it helps incentivise them to work hard for the year ahead. The little things make a difference too - treating them to snow cones on Fridays, for example.

All in all, we're doing pretty jolly. I just have to manage my timelines carefully, keep my team of elves happy, and focus our efforts on a good mix of toys: high-earners like rocking horses, which sell infrequently but for good margins, then a wide range of low-margin stocking fillers to sell in bulk, like Slinkys and toy soldiers. And I have to keep working the hardest out of all the elves in my business to set the precedent.

Speaking of which, I should probably get back to it now. Bye for now, and Merry Christmas!

Check out Smarta's advice section on franchising and read our guide on starting a toy shop.

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