hornsea elf trail blog info post image showing several green and red elf on the shelf characters

Hornsea Elf Trail: All The Details!

The Hornsea Elf Trail is a communal indie small business marketing project for December 2023. It has been designed to highlight Hornsea as a fabulous shopping destination full of unique independent businesses who have gathered together to form The Hornsea Collective. This is intended to be a fun way to market our businesses, whether we have premises, make beautiful things or provide a service.

From a basic idea from a Collective meeting in Spring 2023, I had some ideas of how we could create something that would not only be fun to do BUT which gave several opportunities for local businesses to be discovered, and to market themselves.

This blog post has evolved over time.

Originally it was a way to share all the information (plans and details) with the Collective members. 

Then is was an ongoing document, with details removed once the dates had passed.

And now it is a record of what was done. The beauty of blogging in a nutshell.   

Yes it's quite a long post, mainly because there was a lot going on and a lot of details.

We used our version of Elf On A Shelf as the focus!

By creating a 'treasure hunt' of our specially created Elves, our goals were:

  •  to encourage footfall into our shops and premises. 
  • tie in with The Hornsea Collective Christmas shopping events
  • drive traffic to our online local business profiles (Google Business Profile)
  • provide a fun activity for families that doesn't cost anything
  • and which offers a brilliant range of prizes too.
  • everything about this project was a marketing opportunity.


After some prompting, Collective members created 25 FAB ELVES. Each represented their business in some way. 

What a mischievous lot we created!

We also had 20 FAB VENUES who offered to host an ELF.

Therefore that was an early task.... juggling an 'evolving' list of elves and venues. This was despite there being a well-announced DEADLINE for completion of elves and for offering a venue! 

Some venues therefore hosted 2 elves. I did warn the venue owners it wasn't my fault if the elves caused chaos whilst they weren't there to keep a firm eye on them ...

  • The Elves were distributed amongst the venues.
  • Visitors travelled around the venues, spotting Elves and collecting WORDs.
  • Each ELF was given a label with a QR code on it.
  • That QR code linked back to the elf makers Google Business Profile.
  • On that profile there was a post with an image which contained a WORD.
  • The words were collected on the entry form and formed a phrase.
  • Each VENUE which hosted an elf was also given a printed Elf 'postcard' with a QR code which linked to their Google Business Profile. Again there was a post with an image and a word.

So the Venue got a QR code and the Elf got a QR code.

2 traffic opportunities from 1 elf and the venue.

Venues were encouraged to place their 'hosted elf' somewhere in the shop so that visitors had to go into the shop and look for it - meanwhile whilst getting to see firsthand what delights were in the shop / venue! 

Venues were given an Elf Trail Window Sticker too, featuring our festive HC Elf

This lovely design was created by Hornsea Collective member, fab illustrator and window doodler' Charlotte Eldred.

Some venues also made an elf to represent their business. 

All the elves were mixed up around town, to provide more opportunities for discovery for all businesses.

Visitors collected their words, made their phrase and dropped off their entry form at one of 4 collection boxes.

The Elf Trail ran from 1st December until NOON on the 20th December.

The boxes were collected, and the correct entries gathered together.

At 6pm on Thursday 21st December in Bemora, we had a small social event where we picked the winners, as many as we had prizes. In the end we had 19 fabulous prizes donated, so we had 19 lucky winners!

We went 'live' on social media, and made an event of it, so people could see the winners being picked.

It was defo worth the effort of finding those pesky elves!

Winners had to collect their prize on the 22nd from Bemora before 2pm before it closed for Christmas holidays.


There were a LOT of very important dates which were crucial to this getting off the ground. Everything was dependent upon these dates and tasks being achieved so that the next step could happen.

I've listed, for the record, all the dates & tasks, and put that section at the bottom of this post.

Most of these dates were DEADLINES so I did request that members didn't leave their task or contribution until the very last minute... 'cos we all know that 'life happens'.

We've all got enough to do as the year end and Christmas looms, business and life - and last minute rush and chaos is awful and unnecessary.

We had enough time to get everything done, smoothly, when everyone stuck to these dates..... 

More about this aspect of the project later in this post!

Behind The Scenes

On the surface this may have seemed like a simple activity.

Behind the scenes there was a LOT of work. I spent around 80 hours on this to organise it, prepare all the materials, distribute elves and entry forms, chase up people, chase up elves, chase up prizes and keep it all on track. 

  • plan the details of how it would all work, the logistics of making it happen, and the critical dates to keep it all on track. 
  • maintain spreadsheet of VENUES and ELF MAKERS along with gathering their contact details. People were asked to email with the details... not everyone did - hence more chasing up!
  • check the status of all participants Google Business Profile. Turns out that several businesses didn't have an active profile, or hadn't claimed theirs (for a variety of reasons). This all needed chasing up and a solution creating. 
  • maintain the list of prizes. This was an important aspect of marketing to highlight the fab prizes AND the kind business owners who had donated. More chasing up required here too.

Ready to create 'the phrase'!

  • once venues and elf numbers were known, and 'proof of life' for each elf confirmed  (!) I then created a relevant 45 word phrase that emphasised the unique local shopping experience that Hornsea offers. I remember waking up at 3am one morning with the idea for phrase rattling about in my head, scratting about for a pen and paper - I scribbled it in the back of a book I was reading! True Story! (The phrase was actually structured to the tune of Jingle Bells)
  • once the phrase was created, then on to design the entry form card in conjunction with Scott at HMP Hull print shop. We started with an a4 paper sheet and came up with a folded a5 card, 'cos it was going to get dragged about 20 venues and we didn't want all the families' hard work getting lost if the form disintegrated. 
  • then sort out a price and get it printed and delivered. We ordered a 1000 (50 x 20 venues) which in hindsight was too many. That was a large and heavy box-full.
creating the hornsea elf trail phrase (susan weeks)
  • meanwhile....allocate a numbered word to each venue and elf
  • collect up all the elves (most had been left at Bemora) and do a photoshoot. Had to chase up 'stragglers' after the deadline. Without all the finished elves, I couldn't progress with any of the tasks, and November was destined to be a very busy month. I photographed and videoed each elf, then all of them together. 
  • design the printed 'postcard' that would be displayed with each elf.  As well as the image of the elf, this either contained a QR code that went to the correct Google Business Profile to collect the numbered word OR just the numbered word printed
  • design the printed 'postcard' that was displayed within each venue. I added a different 'cartoon' elf image to these, to differentiate from the elf postcards. These also had the venue's GBP qr code or a printed word.
  • create each postcard with it's unique details and qr code, then print and test each one. Create and repeat 45 times. 
  • create each unique 'word image' that would be shared on the relevant Google Business Profile.
  • Design, print & laminate a A4 window poster for each Collection Box venue (4)

Marketing Materials

The whole point of this was to drive local footfall into the shops AND drive some internet traffic for all the businesses taking part.

Therefore lots of local marketing was required, with a variety of marketing materials.

  • I wrote an article for the local Hornsea Community News (thanks Andrea Kirk)
  • a Collective member put us in contact with our local radio BBC Radio Humberside  journalist, and we recorded 3 different segments for broadcasting later. We talked about Black Friday Shop Local campaign, The Hornsea Elf Trail and also a segment to start 2024 with a peep at what projects the Collective are hatching! An amusing experience with Collective founders Sher King & Hayley Ramsdale, and journalist Amanda White. A couple of hours for a couple of minutes!

Lots of Videos

  • I shot and edited 2 videos showing all of the elves together. One was a 'fly past' as all the elves were sitting nicely behaving themselves. One was a 'stop motion' starting from one elf and bringing each one on until they were all sat together again. These were for all HC members to share.
  • A quick video for each elf seemed a good idea! Therefore I shot and edited a quick video for each elf popping into view asking where was it hiding. This was for each elf maker to share. x 25 elves!
  • It's always handy to use video to show HOW to do or use something. Cue another couple of videos to be filmed and edited, which highlighted how easy it was to take part, showing the entry forms, and finding an elf etc. One for everyone to share and one specifically for me to share about where my elf was hiding (Baron Hartley Wines actually)
  • Made a series of images which showcased all the fantastic prizes that were donated by HC members. These could be shared as a group of images on Facebook, or a carousel on Instagram. Also made one summary image listing all the prizes. Made a video too from these images.
  • Since I had also made an elf, and I have a creative audience, I also shared my elf making process as it evolved, making videos and posts around that too.
  • Kept encouraging HC members to share and talk about the Elf Trail to keep interest high and encourage people to come and take part. 
virtualityworks susan weeks handmade elf hiding in baron hartley wines hornsea elf trail

By The Way... do you want to make simple videos on your phone to market your business faster & easier?

There is no avoiding making videos to market your local business. And to help you make fun, quick and easy videos like I did for the elf trail, I have a great online course to teach you what to do in simple step by step short videos.


Distributing The Elves

30th November was 'D' Day... well Elf Day actually!

The original idea had been that every venue would go to Bemora to collect their elf and entry forms, and 'postcards'.

But by this point I realised that not every venue was actually 'on board' and ready to take an active part. I also realised that, frankly, there was a high probability of failure to collect elves on time. The elves were still at my house, since I had been photographing them, and making videos with them. So it was still work for me to take them all back to Bemora, with the entry cards, and postcards too. 

Therefore, I had to load bags and boxes full of elves, the large box of entry cards, and all the postcards, window stickers and collection venue postcards into my car just after noon on the 30th... in the sleet and freezing rain. NICE!

And started to visit each of the 20 venues

And at pretty much every one, I spent at least 15 minutes re-explaining how it worked, and what to do.  

This being despite all the information being clearly explained in this blog post (it is obviously totally different now this is reporting in the past). 

Honestly, I was feeling frustrated and let down at this point. Feeling that very few people who were taking part, and for whom this was for THEIR benefit, had bothered to follow the details, read a blog post and take notice of what they were required to do as volunteer participants, and WHEN.

By the time I had got towards the end of the venues, they were starting to close (3pm onwards) AAARRGH - the trail was due to start on the 1st and not everyone had their elves! 

Guess what I was doing the next day? Yup! Visiting the last of the venues, repeating myself yet again. 20 venues, at least 15 mins in each one, plus getting everything organised for each venue, travelling between each one, parking, walking. Another 7 hours.

It would have been better perhaps to distribute the elves and their stuff, on the 29th. BUT, I had a longstanding event to attend that day, plus another long-standing commitment on the Tuesday so, it HAD to be the 30th.

The evening of the 30th November.

Next job.

Email each participant elf maker and venue with their unique numbered word 'image'  plus instructions on how to load it onto their Google Business Profile. Bearing in mind, they were asked to at least practice doing this if they don't keep their profile updated with images, and weren't confident what to do. 

Guess what... a flurry of questions, and a misunderstanding of how their own GBP's actually work with images. More unexpected time spent. And annoyingly, this spread into Friday too. It was literally a 2 minute job for those participants. And I didn't want to send out stuff via email too early lest it sank into oblivion in the inboxes! 

Still had to check each profile to check they had loaded up their image. Annoyingly, also still had to chase people via messaging too to get this done.  Even more wasted time...

Ongoing Marketing

Then it was down to all HC members and particularly elf makers and participant venues to keep talking about it, sharing the materials, images and videos I had created PLUS encourage them to also make their own. They were of course, marketing their own business, attracting people into their venue, or encouraging people to visit their google profile, perhaps check out further information and maybe updates or offers, and hopefully click through to their website. 

Again being honest, some did nothing, some did a bit, a few did plenty.

For the record, you can't determine the order in which GBP will display your uploaded images. Creating an UPDATE, like a mini blog post does help to get around that. And it was also the reason why I created vibrant images that would quickly standout in amongst the typical photos on the typical profiles. 

Bringing The Elf Trail To A Close

Even closing it down has taken several hours!
Visiting the Collection Box venues and collecting the submitted entry forms.
Checking them.

And chasing up prizes.... did we have all that were promised? Where are they?

Then writing out a note for each one, folding it up and collecting into a bag so we can pull out a prize then a winning entry form. There's 30 mins of my life I'll never get again!

Sod's Law and I had a dreadful cold so sorting all of that out was honestly bloody grim. I should have been in bed resting, but, stuff needed doing and I had to do it.

closing day tasks for hornsea elf trail

Initial Feedback

  • Initial feedback is that shop owners have seen new people visiting their shops for the first time ever and excited about what lovely places we have in Hornsea that they hadn't bothered to visit previously.
  • Kids have had fun finding the elves.
  • Business owners with or without premises have also seen an increase in online traffic through their Google Business Profile which was also one of the objectives of this.

Do It Again?

Hmmmm. Honestly, I'm not sure.

It was a massive amount of work for me, made worse by participants unwillingness to follow simple instructions, read emails, stick to clear deadlines and do what they agreed to do. Lots of lessons learned that's for sure. In fact, I was quite shocked, because, these are local business people - not primary school kids! 

If it were to run again, there would be quite a lot of 'rules of engagement' to be agreed upon, and possibly a participation fee. 

The brutal truth is that people who pay nothing towards something, often do nothing. They don't value it. 

If they have to pay something, they've got 'skin in the game' and more likely to actually do the small tasks that they were supposed to do, on time.

We are in the process of collecting feedback, but here is a lovely comment from one of the prize winners. So although this often felt like an uphill battle, there are lots of positives to come out of it.

All in all the Hornsea Elf Trail was a great success.

hornsea elf trail prize winners review of taking part

The Project Dates & Deadlines (For Reference)

31st October

  • DEADLINE for taking your ELF to Bemora - WeiWei is chief elf controller!
  • DEADLINE for venues saying they want to host an elf - check WeiWei has you on her list.
  • ACTION Sher to give Scott at HMP Hull print shop a 'heads up' that we want order forms printing. Details will be provided on 20th November and the printed forms will be needed by 28th November.

    4th November

    • DEADLINE for offering a PRIZE, and taking it to Bemora for safe-keeping.
    • Please check Sara has you and your prize details on her list.

    Anytime up to 10th November

    • DEADLINE for ELF MAKERS and ELF VENUES to EMAIL your details to Sue so she can make the QR codes, print labels, print venue elf postcards etc

    17th November

    • ACTION Sue to send via email, to each ELF MAKER and each ELF VENUE their WORD IMAGE which they will use to create a post on their Google Business Profile, nearer the launch date.
    • This didn't happen by the 17th November 'cos I was still chasing up basic details from elf makers and elf venues

    20th November

  • Sue to finish creation of the ENTRY FORM
  • 22nd November
    December edition of Hornsea Community News comes out.
    It would be great if everyone started making social media posts from this point onwards about looking forward to the Elf Trail, your involvement etc.

    27th November
    ACTION Sue to take QR codes, labels, postcards to Bemora

    As noted above, I decided not to do this - I distributed the elves and stuff myself on the 30th.

    29th November
    DEADLINE for COLLECTION VENUES to prepare a collection box

    • a sealed box with a slot in the top
    • decorated as you want.
    • Sue will drop off an a4 laminated poster to display in your window that you are an elf trail entry form collection point. (on the 30th)

    Bemora, Cafe EdenGreen Owl, Hopfrog (at Hornsea Freeport)

    30th November

    I decided it was easier for me to visit each venue and deliver their Elf to ensure everything was provided, and answer any questions. 

    So each VENUE received:

  • their allocated ELF - some are hosting two (haha good luck with that!)
  • the ELF's QR code 'postcard' 
  • their VENUE  QR code 'postcard'
  • PLUS an Elf Trail Window Sticker too!

  • 30th November

    Sue will also EMAIL the elf and word images for the ELF MAKERS & ELF VENUES to create their WORD IMAGE post on their Google Business Profile. A few have organised to use their Instagram profile instead, those word posts MUST BE PINNED TO THE TOP OF THEIR PROFILES so they are easily found.

    You might also want to create an OFFER post too, to highlight your offers, promos etc?

    1st December

    LAUNCH DAY the Elf Trail is LIVE

    1st to 20th December
    ACTION EVERYONE keep posting to encourage visitors into your venues,
    or to go find your elf if you are an elf maker.

    20th December
    ACTION at NOON the trail CLOSES.
    Sue visited each COLLECTION VENUE to collect the boxes of entry forms

    There was some last minute chasing around for forms as some families missed the closure deadline and therefore had no collection box to deposit their completed forms.  

    21st December
    Sue checked the entries and collated the correct ones, ready for the prize draw. 

    Sue also prepared small notes with the prize details, folded and into a sealed bag ready to be drawn out.

    Annoyingly, even at this very late stage, there were still several prizes that hadn't been dropped off at Bemora ready for the prize draw and collection by the winners. This was incredibly frustrating at this point to STILL be chasing these.

    21st December 6pm
    ACTION At Bemora - time to draw the prize winners.
    We went live on Instagram, and made the prize draw into a small social event for HC members. Sher kindly notified the prize winners.

    22nd December

    ACTION prize winners collect their prize from Bemora.

    In January 2024

    After the holidays... all participants to check your analytics on your google pages, your website, your social media profiles.

    • Did you see an increase in online traffic,
    • increase in social engagement & reach, 
    • did you see an increase in venue footfall and business, 
    • was it worth doing, 
    • thoughts and feedback requested in a form shared in the HC WhatsApp group.

    PHEW! we did it! 

    Time for a massive glass of wine and collapse into an exhausted heap!