Adversity socked Ed and Mary Purkiss in their collective gut and launched the local couple into a new career that has challenged her creative talents and his business acumen.
And it has helped fill coffers at the Scottsdale-based nonprofit Arizona Institute for Breast Health, an organization that arranges free second opinion consultations for women diagnosed with breast cancer to help them sort out treatment options.
"We were alone when I was diagnosed," Mary Purkiss said.
Beaux Ties, her one-time hobby of designing and making bolo ties, is now a full-time Internet retail business selling hundreds of items from jewelry to silk ties to picture frames.
Many of the items feature the signature pink ribbon that symbolizes breast cancer awareness.
Most of them have been designed by Mary Purkiss.
All of the items — even those that are neither pink nor have symbolic representation of the disease that changed Mary Purkiss’ life in 1999 — come with a price tag that includes a 15 percent donation to the Scottsdale-based nonprofit.
Besides the flourishing Internet sales at www.beauxties.com — Ed Purkiss said the company does an average 1,000 to 2,000 online transactions a month — several Scottsdale doctors allow the couple to set up kiosks in their lobbies to show Beaux Ties wares.
The couple owned and operated a couple of call centers — one in the Valley and one in Virginia — when Mary Purkiss discovered she had breast cancer.
After dealing with debilitating treatments, the couple decided to sell their call center businesses in 2000.
In 2001, they started up their e-business with passion for the cause and an unusual business model. When a customer buys something, instead of Beaux Ties donating a portion of their profits, the company charges a 15 percent donation for the Arizona Institute for Breast Health separately. That way the donation is made in the customer’s name and with the appropriate tax deduction documentation.
Beaux Ties Designs has other unusual business practices, too.
Among them, all the packing materials from bubble wrap to popcorn are pink.
And a stamped, selfaddressed envelope with a note asking how the service was goes out with every order. About 75 percent come back, Mary Purkiss said, and she reads and acknowledges every one.
"Sometimes the personal touch is lost through the Internet," she said. "We want people to know we are here."
Usually in October, which is designated Breast Cancer Awareness Month, business booms because the topic is on people’s minds.
This year it didn’t, she said.
"People were glued to their television sets watching the hurricanes and all the devastation in New Orleans," she said. "It’s almost like they unplugged the Internet."
But the Purkisses aren’t worried. Their business has grown an average 250 percent per year in the four years since they launched it.