Self-proclaimed head elf Leanne de Smet, 60, is working through her 40th festive season at the Bredbo Christmas Barn with husband Neville.
The pair had two permanent locations and several pop-up Christmas stores across Canberra before moving their business to Bredbo, a tiny village south of Canberra on the Monaro Highway in 2005.
Thousands step through the red and green striped walls of their ‘Christmas Barn’ each festive season and Leanne and Neville must prepare for a festive assault on the senses with thousands of different ornaments, Christmas trees in every shade and hundreds of cheery Santas.
Leanne, 60, says the success of the business comes from having a large range of great quality stock; a large majority that they import themselves and some she has personally designed and made, as well as their very personal service.
“I have a growing number of elves who work with us in store, assisting our customers and Neville and I are in the shop pretty much every day we are open,” she adds.
“We love meeting every customer, so many have become true Christmas friends over the years some dating back to when we first opened.
“We have their children and even some of their grandchildren shopping with us now.”
Leanne says return customers, new customers finding out about the barn by word of mouth, through Facebook and Instagram, or simply by driving past keep the business growing.
Unlike many retail establishments during this time Leanne says all their customers are extremely positive, the negative ones don’t come as it’s a trip to see the store wherever customers live and they travel from all over Australia.
The Bredbo Christmas Barn specialises in internal displays rather than outdoor and sells everything you could imagine for the season, stocking more than 10,000 different tree ornaments each year.
“We have all price points, but I like to carry beautiful pieces that will be passed on over the years, and become family heirlooms,” says Leanne.
The barn stocks several limited-edition collections such as Katherine’s an American designer with an exquisite attention to detail in their life-sized Santas that can retail up to $3000. This compares to some 45cm tall Santas Leanne designs herself and which sell for $49.95.
Christmas is increasingly commercialised but Leanne says she doesn’t think this has warped the meaning of the holiday at all.
“Yes, I want our customers to buy our fabulous pieces, that way I can continue to buy more every year too but I’m encouraging my customers to replicate that magical feeling in their homes, to start family traditions, and make wonderful memories for their children, their family and friends, to share and reminisce about over the years,” she adds.
“Christmas doesn’t have to be about the presents, although the odd sparkly bit of compressed coal, is always something nice to find at the bottom of my stocking.
“It’s about surrounding yourselves with loved ones, and if the house happens to look amazing, decorated to the 9’s and 10’s, that is a jolly good bonus.”
Leanne says Christmas is all about celebrating family, for some that may be the Holy family and for others their own family both relatives and chosen.
The de Smets plan to spend a casual day with family, a feast of food, bubbles and good conversation while FaceTiming their daughter and two grandchildren who are holidaying in America.