It’s the most wonderful time of the year — unless the eggnog runs short.
Heidi Fausel, the chief elf officer of Christmas Milk Brands, found out in late October that the holidays might not be quite as cheerful as she had hoped this year. One of the dairies she uses had a power outage, and her specialty eggnog happened to be in the mixer at the time. About 5 percent of Fausel’s perishable holiday drink literally went down the drain.
No number of elves could save the situation. There was no use making more, since eggnog is only sold in November and December. “We’re on shelves for about 60 days and that’s it.” When you run a seasonal business — especially one with such a short season — the fact is there is just not much margin for error.
“I had to short a lot of purchase orders, unfortunately,” Fausel says, which was especially painful news to have to deliver to newly won grocery-store clients. “I hope it doesn’t damage any relationships with retailers.” All she could do, she says, was notify them quickly and try to explain. “Our clients handled it well — things happen — but many stores sold out earlier than expected due to the shortage of product.”
Thankfully, 2016 will still be record-setting for Christmas Milk, following a great 2015, Fausel says. “This year, we expect a 160% increase in sales. We feel like it’s actually happening, so that’s really exciting.” The Frisco, Texas, company this year shipped bottles to more than 400 stores in the U.S., coast to coast.
Now in its sixth year in business, the company has a loyal customer base, thanks in part to its heartwarming origin story. In 2008, Fausel and her husband adopted a 9-year-old boy from the Texas foster care system. As Christmas approached, he asked them for a drink he couldn’t name that “tastes like Christmas.” They gave him an array of drinks to taste, but it wasn’t until he tried eggnog that he exclaimed: “That is the drink I have been talking about! It’s Christmas Milk!”
When Fausel started the company and had her first selling season in 2011, she had been laid off from her job of almost 9 years. Christmas Milk, she thought, would help her generate happiness and find a better balance between family and work. The previous year, she and her husband had adopted three more children from foster care — two girls and a boy, then ages 5, 7 and 10, who are siblings.
Not only is she now a mother of four, her family has five dogs, four of which are rescues. “We just have lots of love to give,” she says.
At the end of every holiday season, Fausel gives a portion of Christmas Milk’s profits to help “more children in foster care find forever homes,” she says, with a donation to Gladney Center for Adoption in Fort Worth, Texas. “This year, we’re excited. We know we’ll be able to make more of an impact because of the increase in sales.”
Much of the credit for the sales gains go to the company’s newest elf. For the first time, Fausel, whose only other helper is her husband, hired a broker to manage all her sales, “and he really knocked it out of the park for us,” she says.
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Christmas Milk was already being sold in stores operated by the big grocery chains Kroger and Fry’s, and she has kept most of her clientele over the years. But this year the company won an important new account with Ralphs, a big California chain. Next year, she plans to look east.
Fausel oversees Christmas Milk’s sales and everything else — operations, design, customer service, social media. The economic realities of running small, very seasonal business means she does it mainly on evenings and weekends, including during the off-season when she presents to buyers, hits the food shows and otherwise prepares for the next winter. All year, Fausel also holds down a full-time job as a recruiter for Wollborg Michelson Recruiting.
Unsurprisingly, Christmas Milk’s feel-good story has always played a big part in its success. But that doesn’t mean it comes easy. Though Christmas Milk’s prices are higher than those of mass-market eggnogs made by big dairy companies, its cost-per-bottle is far higher, which keeps a lid on margins.
“It’s tough,” she says. But the adoption-family network is big and devoted, and its members come knocking every year. “I’ve had people say to me: ‘I will only buy your product.’”