Founder and CEO, of Memories in Crystal. Christine Hoffee understands loss. She lost her Dad, both brothers and her dog recently.
“I know what it feels like to lose someone so close to you. There are no words that can be comforting in this situation. You just wish you had one more opportunity to look into that person’s or animal’s eyes and tell them how much you love them.”
Memories In Crystal is comprised of a talented 3-D graphic design team, professional and caring sales and marketing team and the most sophisticated, unparalleled, state of the art equipment in the industry.
MO: How did you get involved in the crystal etching business?
Christine: I was in the real estate business for over 20 years prior to MIC. The majority of my career I represented home builders. This was a great industry and I had much success during this career, but what I didn’t have was a life or any control of my life. Weekends, holidays, evenings were all part of the job not to mention the other 5 days a week from 8-6pm. This left little time for any type of life or to visit my family in Louisiana. Then in April of 2009 I received a call that my youngest brother was in the hospital. I returned home to be with my family and a few weeks later we had to make the gut wrenching decision to take him off life support. There are no words that I can use to explain how this affected me. It gave me a whole different perspective on life and made me question my own. So I took some needed time off when returning to Albuquerque and spent time with friends and my family, my three dogs. My dogs like so many others are part of my family. At one time I had 5 dogs! I would find stray dogs throughout my career that people abandoned. I would try to find a home for them but would end up taking care of them and falling in love with them.
Six months after my brother Mark passed away my oldest brother Keith was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. I returned home again to help my Mom take care of him, not before I had to put Mulligan, one of my own down, due to old age. So anyway needless to say it was a tough year for me. After six months of helping take care of my brother he lost his battle with cancer and died almost on April 1, 2010, almost a year to the date my youngest brother had passed away. So yet another funeral occurred. My family is Catholic, and if you have ever attending a Catholic funeral, you know they can be extremely sobering events. The funeral home offered a new service for our family this time, a video tribute, which was played during the visitation. It was a nice touch to such an awful event. It was there in the chapel where the birth of MIC was born, a divine intervention so to speak. As I looked at the hundreds and hundreds of flower arrangements sent by friends and family I thought to myself, “what are we gonna do with all these flowers again?” Wouldn’t it be nice if there was something else to show your sympathy that would be a tribute and not die in a few weeks?
MO: It strikes me that your products are targeted towards people who want a keepsake for a person or pet they have lost. However, are you starting to see an increase in people who want a keepsake for those still in their lives?
Christine: No, not really because all of our marketing efforts are geared towards people who have lost a loved one. The applications for crystal engraving are endless, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Graduations, Weddings, Awards, etc. and we have engraved crystals for all these types of occasions, but we are trying to create a niche for our business.
When deciding to go into this industry, the basic model for a success was to open a kiosk in a high traffic area, i.e.; a mall, amusement park, tourist areas, etc. There are several of these types of stores in Las Vegas, but I created an entirely different business model for the product. First of all, I didn’t want the overhead and headaches of keeping a store opened 7 days a week form 9 am- 10pm and also knew Albuquerque would not be an ideal location for such a store. I didn’t want to be all things to everybody so to speak. I wanted to touch people who had lost a loved one. I had some experience through real estate with internet marketing. I knew though that this was the way to go along with face to face marketing to companies that were in related industries that could carry our products. We have two divisions of the company, a wholesale division and a retail division. Our wholesale division currently is comprised of funeral homes and pet crematories. They offer our products in their facilities and also on their websites as well. We are doing a lot of SEO work each month to increase our retail side and also advertise in pet loss publications. This spring we will be attending some Pet Expos throughout the country.
MO: How important is your team to the success of Memories in Crystal?
Christine: Like any company the team is critical. It is currently a small team at this point but each role is vital to our success. Our graphic artists create the 3D image from the customer’s photo. Nothing can happen until this process is done and it is a bit time consuming. We outsource this process overseas to two different graphic artists to ensure we will have the 3D images created in a timely manner.
Our sales staff is small but growing and their responsibility is to increase awareness and create corporate accounts. The sales staff are commissioned based positions so finding highly motivated individuals that can self- manage themselves for the most part and meet my expectations can be a challenge.
MO: What was the most challenging aspect of your company? What were the biggest obstacles and what have been the biggest rewards?
Christine: Equally important to our success is the equipment and raw product. It took over a year to make sure everything was going to meet my standards. The magic of our product comes from the laser itself. It is my most important employee. I spent month and months researching to find the right equipment. There are manufactures all over the world that have this type of equipment, but like most things in life, you get what you pay for. Our equipment is German engineered and unlike much lesser priced China lasers, the results speak for themselves. But once the laser was purchased, it took almost another year to import the crystal keepsakes, light bases, and packaging. I received samples and samples from companies all around the globe and spent hours and hours each night from 12am till 6am on the computer because of the time difference. The language barrier was also somewhat of an obstacle at times, too. Besides the keepsakes and the light bases, I invented two unique urns, one for people and ones for pets. Both of them are illuminated to display the crystal in a soft and elegant manner. I could write an entire book on the challenges of this process.
This most rewarding part of the company and what keeps me going each day are the testimonials and feedback. I receive personal calls and unsolicited emails from people all the time telling me how touched they are by the product. I got a call recently from a woman in Dallas that had ordered a keepsake of her friend’s dog that had recently passed away. She needed it in two days because they were having dinner together during the holidays. After she received it she called me on the phone crying. I thought something went wrong with the shipping or something. They were simply tears of joy she said, and it wasn’t even her dog!
This is a copy of the testimonial she also sent in: “Memories in Crystal processed my rush order within 48 hours and I was truly amazed at how beautifully the photo appeared on the crystal, considering the photo I provided wasn’t at high resolution. Their Customer Service is beyond excellent. I highly recommend Memories in Crystal to everyone, their service is unsurpassed!”
Awilda Geschwill – Dallas, TX
Another huge challenge because we are an online company is capturing through photography and video how amazing life-like the 3D image of the keepsake actually appears. Our photographer and web designer did a great job but I still get comments all the time once a customer receives the product. They can’t believe how it looks just like their loved one. They say the website photos do not give justice to the product.
Here’s another comment I received. “Christine, a special thanks for the crystal memory of Don. I talk to him every day. I love walking into the room and seeing his face. It’s almost as if he could talk to me. I could not have received anything that I could cherish more. Thank you!” Mrs. Nasser
MO: How has Memories in Crystal evolved since you first founded it?
Christine: Because it is such a new company it evolves daily. Over fifty percent of my time daily involves marketing. Our goal is to have a solid wholesale base and steadily increase the retail side. It is a very unique product. There are people that have never seen or heard of such a product before, so people don’t wake up and say,” I think I will buy a 3D engraved photo crystal today”. So we work very hard to get the word out by submitting the products for reviews, contacting wholesalers and vendors. We are currently working on adding an affiliate program to the company so bloggers in our niche will also be able to promote the product online. We are also working on a partnership with FuneralOne to be included on over 600 of their funeral home websites.
MO: What advice you give to someone looking to start their own business?
Christine: I don’t know if I am really qualified yet to be giving out advice. I have read MO.com’s article on individuals that are incredibly successful. They have written books, owned and sold multi-million dollar companies and done things I will probably never achieve in my lifetime, but my advice would be if you are lucky enough to have the ability and assets to start your own business than you should GO FOR IT! Whatever amount of time and money you estimate it will take you to get up and running, triple that figure. If you are going to do something, don’t try to be everything to everybody, create a niche and do it better than anyone else. There are no get rich quick programs, no guarantees, and a tremendous amount of hard work and sleepless nights. Everything rest on your shoulders but the beauty of owning your own business is that it is yours. Don’t do it for the money, do it because you love it and you feel like you are making a difference. Life is too short, so do something you love.
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