"A scrap of fabric, part of my mother's old fur coat, some hair from the kids, a coat hanger, some plaster and paint. The first ones were made with simple things that I had around the house," says Joyce Byers. "I dressed them in plaids and made them cheerfully singing because that reminded me of Christmas."
The first Carolers graced the Byers' dining room table that Christmas, and they received compliments from all of the relatives. On a tight budget, Joyce knew what to make for presents the following year. A neighbor suggested taking some to a local store, where they sold quickly. The store was part of a federation of Woman's Exchanges and introduced the Carolers to other exchanges around the country. Soon a couple of dozen stores around the country were asking Joyce to supply them with Carolers.
Joyce pressed her husband, Bob, and their two sons into services to help produce the figures each autumn. It wasn't long before the Carolers overwhelmed the dining room table, where the family gathered to work together. "Every year the house would be a total wreck, and I'd say that we're never doing this again!" remembers Joyce.
But when a downturn in the economy hurt his construction business, Bob looked around and saw some potential in the Carolers. He decided to devote more of his energies to the fledgling business, and in 1978, the couple hired their first employee and turned the garage into a workshop.
The unique appearance and handcrafted quality of the Carolers quickly gained a following. Each year, Bob and Joyce would work with their crew of trained artisans up until Christmas Eve putting the finishing touches on Carolers.
The two sons joined the company upon graduating from college and have played an important role in the growth of the firm, with Bob working in production and Jeff helping with marketing and design. "We always say that mom's hobby has gotten a little out of control," jokes Jeff.
Together, the family now oversees a team of 180 artisans in Pennsylvania who handcraft those same creations that started out on the dining room table many years ago. And although the Carolers are sold in thousands of fine gift stores around the world, the company still holds to its starting roots: producing a quality product, at an affordable price, and remaining dedicated to serving its customers and the community in the spirit of Christmas.