Losing a loved one is one of life’s most trying experiences; because the reality is that they aren’t coming back leaving you with nothing more than your memories. But it’s these same memories that can provide an emotional lifeline for someone struggling to come to terms with their grief while struggling to hang on during those darkest of days. Eventually time will start to heal the soul and when the tide of grief begins to turn, those same memories of that special person will be the sustenance of joy and remembrance, rather than harbingers of sadness and despair.
Though death is not something most of us wish to focus on, it’s a very real part of life, the complexities and challenges of which have created entire industries that focus on the harsh fact that none of us are immortal. Traditionally such functions have been relegated to the Funeral Industry, but in recent years new trends have emerged as people have looked for creative ways to keep the positive memories strong. The result has been new opportunities for personalization in the form of memorial products.
If you aren’t familiar with memorial products, you aren’t alone. Without a doubt it’s a business focus that most shy away from, but in reality, the business of death is just that, a business. It might seem awkward and uncomfortable thinking about profiting on someone’s loss, but when you put it into perspective, a properly produced memorial product ultimately brings joy as it ensures that the one that passed is not forgotten while also highlighting “who” they were. Combine that with the fact that there is an average of 1.8 million casketed funerals in the United States each year, at an average cost of $6000 each and you can see the profit potential of memorial products.
So what exactly is a memorial product and how is it produced? Pretty much the name says it all – any item that memorializes someone who has died qualifies. But in regards to our industry, a memorial product is anything “decorated” with information and highlights about the person. And since the ideal product is extremely graphical in nature, it pretty much points to sublimation, as the process is versatile enough to meet the above criteria on a wide range of diverse products.
The most commonly produced items are small enough to be displayed on a mantle, bookshelf, dresser, etc. yet large enough to deliver the appropriate message. This means pretty much any desktop sublimation system can produce good quality memorial products.
Essentially you are creating nothing more than plaques which come in many different formats including wood, hard poly-fiber, metal, and acrylic. However, for memorial products, sublimatable stone is the top seller, with several different products available in the marketplace that can be displayed nicely in many locations throughout the home. But what about outdoors?
In the many countries, families memorialize their loved ones by posting pictures of them on their headstones, a trend that is making its way into the United States. Of course the downfall of the concept is that paper pictures can’t stand up to the glare of the sun and the ravages of weather. Thus, families have been looking at alternatives that are both better quality in terms of a memorial message and able to survive the environment for a longer stretch of time. Enter sublimation.
Initially, the fact that sublimation is not UV resistant would seem to suggest that it’s not a good choice, but when it comes down to graphics that can survive the outdoors, there really isn’t any method that is going to be an eternal solution. What doesn’t fade in sunlight??? In fact, because sublimation will fade over time, it really opens the doors to a simple, but effective monetary concept: “recurring income”.
Be honest with the customer upfront and acknowledge that any memorial product used outdoors is going to fade. How fast it degrades and to what degree will be determined by the conditions of the location. Two years is usually a safe number, with many products going way beyond that. And because fading is expected, you should offer the memorial products in sets of three (or more) so that they can replace them when they feel the need. More convenience for them - more money for you. (Typical desktop memorial products range in price from $35.00 to $65.00.)
Memorial products are typically sold either retail or through a Funeral Home. Interestingly enough, Funeral Homes have not shown a lot of enthusiasm towards desktop style memorial products as they would rather focus on big ticket items like caskets, which have much higher margins. This opens the doors to a different type of memorial product called a casket cap panel.
The lid / door of a casket is referred to as a cap. When a casket is “open” you can clearly see a recessed rectangular panel in the interior of the cap. Though it varies in size with different brands and models, it’s roughly 24” by 30” in dimension.
A traditional casket cap panel is a decorated fabric panel that can be inserted into this recessed rectangular area. It’s created by printing an image on a section of polyester fabric that is wrapped around a piece of cardboard that has been cut to the dimensions of the recessed area. The fabric is taped securely to the backside of the cardboard and double-sided tape is added for securing it in the casket.
Obviously you must carefully engineer the panel to fit the specific casket (including the printing) but like any other sublimation product, you can template the production process and develop recipes based on casket model and brand.
For this type product you will need larger equipment in terms of a printer and heat press. A 25” sublimation printer such as the VJ628 usually works quite well. But considering that the retail price of a casket cap panel ranges from $350 to $500 with the materials coming in under $10, there is some profit to be made for you and the Funeral Home. Plus, you can package it with miniature versions sublimated onto smaller items.
An alternative method for creating a sublimated casket cap panel is to use a metal photo panel, rather than fabric. Fabric panels need to be the same dimensions as the recessed area of the cap, so that when they are pushed into place, it hides any wrinkles and puckers that are present along the edges of the panel. But with a metal panel the edges are “clean and sharp” such that there is no need to hide any flaws. Thus you can focus on standard metal panel sizes that are actually smaller than the recessed area of the cap. This makes it possible to have a one-size-fits-all type of product. Plus the metal panels will yield a higher level of photo quality when sublimated than the fabric ones.
Regardless of the physical item, it’s the graphical details that define a high quality memorial product as this is personalization at the highest level of emotional connection. Thus it’s important to keep things simple, while still delivering a customized product that will accomplish the goal of preserving an eternal memory.
A typical memorial product will have four major components:
The person’s name.
The person’s picture.
A graphical background.
Text that makes a defining statement.
Though its sounds simple, this is not a case of simply slapping some text and images together to make a sale. You must work with the family in a caring way in order to create the right solution for their needs.
It all starts with the name, which though seemingly a straight forward thing, it’s not! Think about how many names the typical person really has. As an example my legal name is James Manchester Lamb. But most people call me Jimmy and I also go by Dad, Brother, Uncle, Husband, Dude…whatever. So it’s imperative that the name on the product is appropriate for how the loved one is best remembered. In my case I would HOPE that my full name was NOT used…
The next area of focus hinges on capturing pleasant memories that define who the person was. For a very active individual, that could be a daunting task that might seem better relegated to a mural on the side of an office building. Thus, the family must choose one or two key things that will honor the deceased in the right way. Golf, gardening, fishing, hunting, music, etc. are popular examples. Occupations also may work out, with some of the top choices being firefighter, policeman, and soldier (military). Patriotic themes are also very commonly used. Bottom line the graphic not only needs to make the right statement, but also must be able to convey the right message in a graphical format.
Once the background has been defined and an appropriate image selected, the next step is to choose text that defines the person or speaks to the beliefs of the person. Examples include poetry, quotes, bible verses, motto’s etc. Special attention must be given to the amount of space available and even font styles, in order to blend into the background instead of clashing with it.
The final step of memorial product creation is to add in a photo of the person being memorialized, which is typically just a headshot. Sometimes it’s a recent photo, sometimes one from an earlier time. Again, it all comes down to how the family wants to remember their love one, so take the time to get it right.
Once you have all the elements in place, it’s up to you to bring the honored person back to life in terms of the final piece that you create. The first time out it may be challenging, but once you get comfortable with the process you will quickly see that you can template the artwork to make future jobs easier to design. And in reality, you really want to keep choices to a minimum in order to make the task easier on the customer who is probably going through one of the most stressful times in their life.
If you are looking for new opportunities, memorial products can easily fit into your portfolio of products and services provided you are willing to handle the emotional aspects that come with it. You will probably see a lot of tears, but at the same time many smiles and moments of joy. And you aren’t just limited to human loved ones. Pet memorial products are just as popular, if not more so. With Americans spending over $50 billion annually on their pets, there is a lot of opportunity to help them cope with the loss of what essentially is a close family member through lovingly created memorial products.
Regardless of whether you are dealing with humans or pets, memorial products can help to preserve wonderful memories for all eternity so that Death Doesn’t Do Us Part…
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