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Wonnell celebrates 25 years in speciality advertising business

by Dennis SharkeyMcLouth native Cheryl Wonnell has a lot to celebrate. Twenty-five years worth.In May Wonnell, who owns and operates her own business out of her Lawrence home, celebrated the 25th anniversary of her first day owning her own business.

McLouth native Cheryl Wonnell

McLouth native Cheryl Wonnell

“I just decided this is what I want to do,” she said.

Wonnell operates a promotional materials business. She provides businesses with products that are used to promote their business such as pens, mugs and other gift items.

Wonnell spent six years working as an advertising agent where she learned how to sell. One day in 1986 while at the office Wonnell followed a man named Bob Benson out of the Independent offices. Benson owned a promotional materials business. She asked Benson if he needed any part-time help. He told her he did not but that he was contemplating retirement soon.

Benson told Wonnell that a man was interested in his business but had not given him a commitment. Wonnell told Benson that if he had not sold the business by Jan. 1, 1987, that she wanted to buy it.

“I never forgot that,” she said.

Wonnell left the Independent to work for KLZR radio but remembered what Benson had said. On New Year’s Day Wonnell showed up at Benson’s door.

Although Wonnell knew what she wanted to do she didn’t know how to do it. She had no college and little training in the field.

“What do I do now?” Wonnell said she remembered feeling the first time her sales catalogs arrived at her house. “It was mass confusion.”

Wonnell also had a financial hurdle to jump. At the time she had no money saved and had only seven heads of cattle for collateral.

Somehow she managed to talk a local banker into loaning her half of the $12,000 she needed for the business despite telling him that she could make no payments for 18 months.

For the rest of the money Wonnell turned to friends who wanted her to succeed. In a few years she had paid all the money back.

Wonnell could have taken an easier route and just asked her parents for help. She decided to do it on her own.

“I really wanted to do this on my own,” she said. “I remember calling them and them telling me how proud they were of me to do this.

“It was really important to me that these people believed in me,” she added.

Although there were many fears along the way, Wonnell believes her spirituality pushed her to success.

“I was just very determined,” she said. “I really thought this was God’s plan and I realize that even more now.”

When Wonnell began her business 25 years ago it was an industry dominated by men. Today it is just the opposite but nevertheless it was a struggle.

“The men wouldn’t talk to you,” she said. “It was their industry.”

In 2007 Wonnell expanded her business and purchased another distributorship in Wichita. About once a month she commutes and stays with the woman she bought the business from.

Wonnell has no plans to retire and isn’t looking to work in more free time. When she is not busy with work she is a caretaker for her 91-year-old mother.

Wonnell can be found at KU baseball games in the spring and keeps busy during football and basketball seasons working the games.

Whether she is in her office or out and about she is doing what she wants to do.

“I get to do something every day that I love,” she said.

Wonnell still serves many of the same customers she picked up from Benson 25 years ago. Benson died less than a year after she bought the business. She thinks he must be looking down with a smile.

“I know he is so proud of me,” she said. “He sees that I love what I do and he knows I love his customers.”

Wonnell does not know when or even if she will ever retire. Right now she’s having too much fun to think about that.

“I just enjoy life,” she said.

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Posted by on Jul 23 2012. Filed under Featured, The Independent. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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