LAKEVIEW — For one little ornament, Oliver is creating a lot of buzz.
The children's book "Oliver the Ornament" debuted last summer after Lakeview author Todd Zimmermann saw an untapped holiday market he hoped would grow as popular as Elf on the Shelf.
After raising $50,000 on Kickstarter to publish the book and selling to about 15 retailers last year, "the growth has been kind of crazy" for the 2016 holiday season, Zimmermann said.
Zimmermann has spent the last year expanding his reach, bringing the book to 175 retailers nationwide — five in Chicago — and partnering with the Chicago Blackhawks to drive some proceeds to charity: Enter BLACKHAWKS as a promotional code on the Oliver the Ornament website to donate 16 percent to charity. You'll also find Oliver at the Blackhawks stores in the United Center and Downtown.
But it's just the start for Zimmermann and his do-good gang of decorations. Slowly, he'll be releasing sequels to his first book over the next five years, with the story of how Oliver met his friend Belle (who is, fittingly, an actual bell) up next.
"Oliver the Ornament" is the story of a group of friendly ornaments preparing for the Christmas season. Despite being broken and bullied, cheerful Oliver shares the story of each ornament on his family's tree with the help of a little Christmas magic.
"Everyone who celebrates Christmas has stories of their own ornaments, so when you start talking about this story, you get this resounding nodding of their heads," Zimmermann said. "People have told me stories of their own ornament collections with tears in their eyes. It's wonderful."
After a year of success, "Oliver the Ornament" now has a full suite of tree-hanging pals. [Provided/Todd Zimmermann]
This year, all 10 of Oliver's friends have been released, meaning children can hang their own Crystal the snowflake or Merry the wreath. Other products include puzzles, musical snow globes and a book to log Christmas memories.
Zimmermann, a longtime marketing executive, has added several elements to his blossoming franchise to help spread holiday cheer.
Families have been invited to share examples of the "kindness of Christmas" on the Oliver the Ornament website. The initiative will continue into the new year with weekly suggestions of acts of kindness.
Todd Zimmermann. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]
"In today's world, in Chicago, in our country, if there's one thing that everyone can agree upon, it's that we certainly could use more kindness in the world," Zimmerman said. "It's my way to walk the walk."
Customers also can buy a copy of "Oliver the Ornament" for hospitalized children.
Zimmermann has taken some of the work upon himself, surprising families dining at Crosby's Kitchen with copies of his book and giving away gifts to children chosen for the daily Kindness of Christmas examples.
Part of it is Zimmermann's attempt to keep a local aspect to his burgeoning business.
"Chicago is where Oliver was born, and Chicago is where he'll stay," he said. "But you can't grow a brand into a viable, long-term business by just being focused in the Chicago area."
What has surprised Zimmerman about his book's success is the connection it has not only with children, but with their parents, as well.
"My beginning thought was to create a children's brand, but it's really a family brand," Zimmermann said. "Families identify with this book."
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