The crowd wasn't sure what to expect Thursday when Mary Norton took the microphone at the Small Business Lunch at Halls Chophouse.

It was, as she told the group, the first time she had spoken in Charleston since the company Mary Norton went bankrupt in 2009.

What they got was a candid, heartfelt talk covering the ups and downs of her Moo Roo and Mary Norton brands; the Frosting handbags that she markets on the Home Shopping Network; her personal journey, but also her next big thing, which doesn't involve handbags at all, at least not hers.

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“True entrepreneurs will go through a number of businesses in a lifetime; they're creative people,” said S.C. Women's Business Center Program Director Christie MacConnell.

The average client at the business center may not go through that many companies, but she may try several before finding a good fit.

Norton has launched three companies so far, and is about to launch a fourth, she revealed Thursday to great interest.

Her new business, ReCreation, starts Feb. 1. As Norton put it, “I want to work with people on their lives and their closets.”

Soul searching

Norton's newest venture is focused on what she calls the six steps for repurposing nearly anything in life.

She got to this point the way MacConnell recommended any prospective entrepreneurs should proceed, by figuring out what she liked and what she doesn't like. Norton realized that what she liked best about Moo Roo was working with the people who bought her handbags.

After the bankruptcy, which was part of some dark days and some soul searching, as well as some speaking engagements at the Wharton School of Business and some networking, she emerged with her current line of handbags, Frosting, which debuted on the Home Shopping Network in November 2010.

She praised the work-life balance that her role with HSN gives her to be home with her family. “It's not a huge moneymaker,” she said, but it gave her time for a transition.

Planning to succeed

Not everybody will be lucky enough to sell handbags to the stars.

But local women who are ready to take the entrepreneurial leap will soon be able to take advantage of an intensive class on writing a business plan through the S.C. Women's Business Center, MacConnell said.

Dates have not been set yet, but it will be announced on the center's website, There also is a link on the center's website to a small business readiness assessment tool.

“The thing about a business plan is there's nothing scary about it,” MacConnell said. “You have a lot of the basics in your head; it's a matter of putting the information on paper. Explain what you're doing, how you're doing it and how it's going to be successful.”

That's what Norton did, and if Thursday's reaction was any indication, she should have another success on her hands.