Search for the cure is in the bag

Style Observations, October 2009
Style Observations By Vicki Bernie

Jean and Todd Bettman at Occasionally Yours at The Greene

A few weeks ago, I spent a delightful morning sitting with Jean and Todd Bettman at a beautiful, European-style table in their shop. Sinatra, Streisand and other classic standards set the mood in the background. We were surrounded by Mediterranean-inspired furnishings, toile wallpaper and fabrics in a room appointed with goodies from Vera Bradley, MacKenzie-Childs, Brighton, and Pandora.

For the Bettmans, it’s all in a day’s work at Occasionally Yours at The Greene.

Occasionally Yours is Jean and Todd’s signature Vera Bradley store and one of their four stores overall: two in the Dayton area, one at the Easton Shopping Center in Columbus and one at the Hamilton Towne Center in Indianapolis with a fifth, also at the Easton Shopping Center, in the works.

Jean and Todd met in 1983 during their junior year of high school. “Bernardo and Bettman sat next to each other in Spanish class and eventually went to the prom together,” Todd says smiling. The rest was history.

“We were friends first,” Jean says. “That’s why we work so well together. We’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished and very grateful.”

“We usually agree,” Todd adds. “If we don’t, she wins!”

Todd grew up in retail. His first job was in his parent’s pharmacy. He then worked with his mother, Elaine, in the early years of his business. Jean wears two career hats: one as Todd’s business partner, and the other as a pharmacist in her father-in-law Joe’s pharmacy.

The Bettmans have two sons and Todd says proudly, “My boys can quote every pattern and piece in this store.”

Occasionally Yours is the top Ohio retailer of Vera Bradley, a company primarily known for handbags and luggage crafted of beautifully patterned fabrics. In the fall of 2002, the Bettmans opened the first Vera Bradley signature store in the nation. “We collaborated with the company to present this lifestyle to the customer in vignette form,” Todd notes. “Our gallery became the prototype for 3,500 retailers. It all pioneered here in Dayton.”

The love story between Vera Bradley and Occasionally Yours began in May 2002 after a fund-raiser that Todd and Jean held for the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer.

Barbara Backgaard and Pat Miller, two best friends, started the company after noticing the primarily “blah” brown and black luggage that prevailed at the airports. They decided that travelers needed prettier accessories. They set up their prototype in a basement and named the company after Barbara’s mother.

The foundation has now raised $8.5 million since its inception 10 years ago. It has established two major endowments at the Indiana University School of Medicine: to support the Vera Bradley Chair in Oncology and the Vera Bradley Center for Breast Cancer Research. Dr. Linda Malkas and her team focus on a revolutionary biomarker technology that reveals crucial genetic information that could lead to earlier breast cancer diagnosis and more effective treatments and therapies.

When Jean and Todd took their check to the Vera Bradley headquarters in Fort Wayne Ind., they brought a “crew of girls with them,” Jean says. “We wanted them to be as inspired as we were with the whole Vera Bradley lifestyle. It was like walking into a beautifully appointed home with gorgeous fabrics, wallpaper, paint, custom floors, rugs, furniture, art and every detail, which was just to provide a certain ambiance.”

Todd called the headquarters on the ride back to Dayton and asked if he could use Vera Bradley decorations to design their store in the Mall at Fairfield Commons.

“Barbara Backgaard is like Martha Stewart—the one that people want to emulate,” Todd says. “She is defining the gift industry at the moment. The influence Vera Bradley has had on other retailers is astounding.”

There are always fresh new patterns in the Vera Bradley line and each year one is designated as the Breast Cancer Awareness Pattern, with 10 percent of the proceeds from that pattern going to the foundation. Each pattern has a name containing the word “hope” and a story behind it about a survivor.

“Our stores alone are responsible for over $10,000 to the foundation for that particular pattern,” Jean says.

The Bettmans eventually approached Vera Bradley with the idea of a whole store, which became the first Vera Bradley co-branded store. It allowed them to sell other brands as well, that complimented the Vera Bradley style.

“Most of our lines do research for breast cancer,” Jean adds.

“It used to be just a bunch of handbags on a shelf,” Todd says. Now it’s not just a handbag, but a lifestyle. I am very passionate about what I do. I love purses,” he says with a grin. “There is a wonderful men’s accessory line with ties and leather goods. Every tie I own is Vera Bradley and I have a large collection.”

When the Bettmans are not working, they read and research about other retailers and travel to see them. “We are always making sure that we are on top of our game,” Todd says. “And we are always looking for lines that inspire us, like Vera Bradley. No one is immune to the economy right now, but we’ve survived better than many. I am very thankful for what we have.”

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