Cheeriodicals is in the smiles business and business is good.
The Alabama company born from frustration has become the source of comfort and joy to thousands upon thousands in all 50 states and some foreign countries.
When Mary Martha Parisher wanted to send a gift more personalized than flowers and more useful than balloons to a family member in a hospital in Texas, she couldn’t find a way to do it. The hospital gift shop didn’t have the fishing magazines Uncle Burk would like and even if they did, they couldn’t deliver to patients’ rooms.
That led to Cheeriodicals, which Parisher founded and now serves as its chief operating officer. Her husband, Gary, is president and CEO.
“Most guys wouldn’t want flowers, they wouldn’t want balloons, they wouldn’t want cookie cake,” Gary Parisher said.
The same is true for children (OK, maybe children would like cookie cake) and many others who face long stays in the hospital.
“Maybe we should have a company that delivers magazines and other cheer-up items to folks in the hospital,” Parisher said.
The initial thought was magazines and activity books favored by family or friends staying in a hospital. The name came from a combination of “cheer” and “periodicals.”
Parisher said he and his wife knew they were starting something new because they had to figure out much of it themselves.
“There isn’t a guide book when you start a business like there would be if you started a franchise,” he said.
The initial plan was to sell one box at a time through individual orders and that’s how Cheeriodicals got started. They were getting the smiles and joy they were aiming for with every delivery, and they soon realized more people should get to experience the rewards of those reactions.
That’s how Cheeriodicals got into corporate team-building events in which employees and volunteers get to pack and deliver the boxes themselves through programs Cheeriodicals started.
This week, Cheeriodicals is working with volunteers from the Alabama Power Service Organization chapters in the state. APSO chapters are nonprofit volunteer organizations from Alabama Power, Southern Nuclear, Southern LINC and Southern Company Services employees and their families who want to serve their communities beyond providing electricity.
More than 100 APSO volunteers are packing 500 Cheeriodicals boxes that APSO chapters across the state will deliver to 11 different hospitals, veterans homes and organizations. Two Men and a Truck will transport the 500 boxes.
“A lot of people who live here may not necessarily appreciate all that happens on the philanthropic side for a company like Alabama Power,” Parisher said. “To have a service organization like APSO come in and do their work in individual markets” extends the reach.
Parisher said Cheeriodicals is growing as a brand beyond the sick.
“It’s really taken some pretty broad steps beyond hospitals,” Parisher said. “It’s a personalized cheer-up gift or congratulations gift or really any reason that you want to send something unique to show that you cared enough to think of something different.”
Parisher said Cheeriodicals benefited by being an early winner in the Alabama Launchpad startup competition headed by the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama. While winning provided Cheeriodicals with some funding as it got started, Parisher said the real value was in the advice and the process.
“By being part of the Alabama Launchpad process, we really had to dig into our business plan and our strategy and figure out how we could take this to be a national and even an international business because now we ship to Canada,” Parisher said. “Launchpad helped us understand what it took to get there.”
He said feedback from the judges and others helped Cheeriodicals focus its business plan and avoid some early mistakes. Now, Cheeriodicals feels a sense of obligation to do the same for other startups and Parisher said he regularly offers advice and reaches out to startup companies.
One area Parisher would like to see grow is in veterans hospitals.
“We have probably delivered to upwards of 100 children’s hospitals in the U.S and Canada, which is a lot, but we’ve delivered to maybe 10 veterans hospitals,” he said. “One of the things we want to do is we want to be able to bring veterans into our mix so that we walk in with a gift box for every veteran in the hospital.”
But the heart of what Cheeriodicals does is generate those smiles.
“I personally want to see them walk away with that smile,” he said. “That’s what we do and it’s really important to do that perfect.”