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Personal stories, wrapped up in a business

By MICHAEL KRUSE
Published March 1, 2007


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Cheryl Thornton of Spring Hill is selling personalized candy bars and water bottle wrappers out of her home because she worked for a while at a company in Brooksville called OccasionOgraphy. OccasionOgraphy is in Brooksville because it's no longer in Louisiana. It's no longer in Louisiana in large part because of Hurricane Katrina.

This is that story.

The company started in 1999 in Mandeville, La., 30 or so miles north of New Orleans, and was called Cherubs-N-Chocolate. It sold candy wrappers personalized for weddings, baby showers, birth announcements, relay races, business promotions, announcements - anything, really, where candy might come in handy. Personalized invitations and announcements called Angels on Occasion came in 2002.

Then came Aug. 29, 2005.

Employees lost their homes. UPS and FedEx were down for almost three months in some areas on the Gulf Coast after the storm. Katrina wasn't the only factor in the decision, but it was the main factor, and the company was sold three months later.

The buyer was a group of investors led by a Brooksville businessman named David Goberville.

The ownership shift happened in December 2005.

The company opened its new offices in the Hernando County seat in January 2006.

OccasionOgraphy is relatively hidden at 306 S Broad St. in the small gray building along with the DeWitts' real estate place and the New Millennia Studio Theatre. The office space is unsigned on the outside and simple on the inside. The warehouse is down the hill a bit in an old auto shop that now is home to tall orange shelves with all sorts of candy wrappers set up in organized bins.

"Here we are," operations manager Heidi Reuther said last week. "UPS knows where we are, and that's what's important."

Reuther is just 25 but has been working for the company for six years. She was the only employee who came with the company from Louisiana. She was born and raised in New Orleans, her house there was flooded and ruined, and most of her family still lives there.

She's getting used to her new home and calls Brooksville "very peaceful" and "very relaxing."

The company, meanwhile, is growing. OccasionOgraphy has added to the inventory waterproof, tear-proof "SplashBands" for bottles and mint-toting matchbooks called MyMintos. There are 4,000 dealers around the world, according to Reuther, who run their solo home businesses with a computer, a printer and merchandise sent from Brooksville to everywhere from Great Britain and the Bahamas to Japan and Australia.

OccasionOgraphy advertises in magazines like Parents, Parenting, Home Business and Small Business Opportunities, and on Web sites like franchisesforsale.com. It's been featured on TV shows on We, Oxygen and the Food Network. It also was named last year the Business Opportunity of the Year by the International Association of Mothers Working at Home.

"It's always dealing with fun, happy events," Reuther said. "And everybody loves to see their name on something."

Dealers place their orders by fax or phone or on the Internet. UPS picks up the packages at the end of the day. It goes all over the globe.

Or just to Spring Hill.

To Cheryl Thornton.

Thornton, 32, moved to Hernando from Knoxville, Tenn., in 2001, and as the daughter of a free-spirit sort of entrepreneur has done things in sales, bookkeeping and office work, and has had her own sewing business. But she answered an ad in the paper when OccasionOgraphy first moved here and was hired as an assistant to the operations manager.

Starting last month, though, she changed to make a go on her own. She's an independent dealer. This allows her to work from home and spend more time with her 9-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son.

She just joined the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce.

"I don't think there's an occasion that candy can't be bought for," Thornton said, "and if you're going to have it, why not have your name on it?"

So this is that story. Everyone has it, really, and it's everywhere, every day, in that butterfly-flaps-its-wings sort of way. It's a little tiny piece of the ongoing story of Katrina, and of Heidi Reuther, who tries to visit her family back in New Orleans every few months, and of Cheryl Thornton, whose house off Spring Hill Drive is filled with Hershey bars waiting to get their special wrappers, and of her kids, too, who now get to see mom more of the day more of the time.

Michael Kruse can be reached at mkruse@sptimes.com or 352 848-1434.

[Last modified February 28, 2007, 23:46:20]


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