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While checking out other funeral-related sites (In Repose, Life in the Garden, Embalmed to the Max) I often read about products or people I haven’t seen or met yet.

One of those people is Nancy Brown of Louisville, Kentucky.  Nancy creates interesting pet urns, with most designs based upon specific attributes of the animal being commemorated.

After browsing the website for her company, Spirit Remains, I knew I had to chat with this woman.  here’s the interview I conducted:

FINAL EMBRACE:  A lot of businesspeople start selling a product because they have a specific need. Can you share with our readers the life event that started Spirit Remains?

NANCY:  The idea to create custom pet urns evolved after the death of my yellow Lab, Suzie, in August of ’05.  Her ashes came from the vet in a very nice, black, wooden urn that had a tassel on the top.  I kept the urn in a room out of sight, but that didn’t seem right.  I decided to make an urn for her ashes that was more uplifting and more about the way I wanted to remember her.  I wanted something whimsical and light-hearted that wouldn’t depress me to look at.  Then when I lost my job and had a lot of free time, I started making other urns, thinking that other pet lovers might appreciate something similar.  Then I built a website to show people what I was making.

FE:  What has been the reaction from customers?

NANCY:  From what they’ve said to me, my customers have been delighted with what I’ve created for their pets.  Several have offered to help me market them; and I know some who have passed along information to other pet lovers and pet service organizations.  One woman in Phoenix seems determined to get me as much business as she can.  I’ve received e-mails with some really nice comments from my customers which I’ve posted on the Quotes page of my website.

FE:  What is your most popular creation?

NANCY:  I have software that allows me to see what pages people gravitate to, and the ones most viewed are the Cat looking at a cardinal in tree, the Dog with tennis balls, and the Dog in bed.  There seem to be more requests for dogs in beds than anything else.

FE:  How do you find customers?

NANCY:  I’ve been working on optimizing my website lately to try to get more business from the Internet.  And I’ve gone to veterinarians and left binders with photos and information for them to show their customers. I’ve donated urns to animal organization fund raisers and I was in a local arts and crafts show. 

I wrote to a journalist for the business section of our local newspaper and asked him to check out my website.  He did and then set up an interview which produced a very nice article and brought me some good local business.

I also heard from some non-profit places after that article and several people wanted to help me and asked for nothing in return.  I was also offered a place to display urns at an animal shelter.  And a funeral director bought an urn to display in her establishment; she has since gotten an order for me, too.  I hand out business cards when I feel it’s appropriate. 

I’ve advertised in the New York Dog and the Hollywood Dog and have gotten a few customers that way.  My brother is in the sign business and he made me two signs to advertise the business on the sides of my car.  I’m in the process of getting brochures designed and printed.

FE:  What is the most important concern you try to address when designing an urn?

NANCY:  I like for it to be balanced as far as the placement of the items, and I want it to be as close to what the person has requested as is possible.  And I like to add personal touches, such as taking a photo they’ve e-mailed me and shrinking it to fit in a tiny, tiny picture frame which I put on a table on the urn.  You almost need a magnifying glass to see the animal in the photo, but they’re very cute. 

When the customer requests it, I paint the figurine to resemble their pet.  I recently had to take a figurine of a greyhound and enlarge the head and change the ears and paint it to look like a mixed breed dog that looked like a Staffordshire bull terrier with long legs.

FE:  Do you sell through funeral homes or veterinarians?

NANCY:  Yes, I do sell through funeral homes and veterinarians, as well as through other websites.

FE:  How can funeral professionals and veterinary professionals better serve your customers?

NANCY:  I don’t think a lot of people know that some funeral homes handle pet cremations, urns, and burials.  And it might be worthwhile to start handling them if they don’t already.  I’m not sure how to get the word out there, but with all the pet lovers out there, they ought find a way to tell people. 

And I get lots of people coming to my website by doing searches on putting a pet to sleep or cremation or how to put the pet’s ashes in the urn. I think there’s a lot of ignorance about cremation and that sometimes brings fear.  Educating people would help a lot.

FE:  Anything to add that our readers (funeral professionals) should know?

NANCY:  Part of the problem that I have is timing.  I don’t want to tell someone about my urns right after their pet has died.  I’ve gone through that myself many times and I wasn’t thinking about what to do with the ashes and I didn’t want to think about that either. 

Telling people while they’re out with their healthy pets is not received very well either.  No one wants to think about losing their pet.  So one thing they can do is make people aware that Spirit Remains offers custom pet urns when they’re ready to deal with it.  From experience I’ve found that when the customer helps with designing the urn it actually helps the grieving process and also helps them focus on doing something positive. 

The other thing funeral directors can do is ask for a binder to show customers, or buy an urn to display. 😉

FE:  Nancy, thanks for letting us interview you on Final Embrace!

NANCY:  Thanks for the chat!

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