Using Empathy, Woodwork, and eCommerce to Make Incredibly Hard Things A Little Easier

Written by Marina Pape on January 8, 2019 Blog, Customer stories.

When Chris Harvan and his wife – both artists – went through a painful season, losing a number of people close to them in a short space of time, their response was to make art.

Woodwork, sculpture, and creative expression helped them navigate their grief, and they decided to find a way to share this discovery. Today, Memento’s striking cremation urns and commemorative products can be purchased in funeral homes and online.

There’s a rocket-shaped child urn that will stop you in your tracks. It is incomprehensible how someone in a position to need a child urn must feel – yet these are Chris’s customers.

Rocket-shaped urn made from wood for a child.

His mission is “to nourish human need and hopefully ease even the smallest bit of anguish in times of loss.”

Here’s the story of how this empathetic and inspiring deathcare industry business came to be – including learnings, challenges faced, and the power of shared experience.

A Haunting Brand Research Call

I had the privilege of crossing paths with Chris on a WooCommerce brand research call earlier this year. We had been chatting with a number of customers to learn more about what they love (and don’t love) about WooCommerce, and Chris took an hour to talk us through his experience of building his store — he had a decade of experience building websites for clients and was an early adopter of WooCommerce when it was first released in 2011.

When he spoke about his business, I was struck by the beauty of using art to support people who are grieving. The death care industry is not a simple one, yet here was an artist committed to finding a way to serve others in their darkest moments:

This was one of the worst days out our lives and I know the urn made it just a little easier than it would have been without. It’s in our living room now and when friends come over and see it, they comment on the excellent craftsmanship of the urn and how perfect it is.” said one customer.

From Fine Art Graduate to Developer to Artist-Entrepreneur

Chris graduated from college with a concentration in academics and art. He originally assumed he’d be a sci-fi/fantasy illustrator, but soon learned that he was stronger at sculpture than drawing. When he left art school, the web development industry was taking off; he taught himself to code, slice up Photoshop documents, and turn them into websites.

The homepage of mementomemorials.com

In 2003, when a several members of his and his wife’s family members died in quick succession, they turned to art. Why do people make art when they are grieving?

“It’s a middle finger to death and a way to live on, cope, and help the family cope,” he explains.

For Chris, it was mostly woodwork, frames, and exploring ways to display odds and ends from a person’s life to commemorate them. Finding great comfort in the process, he turned to helping others commemorate their loved ones, predominantly through commissions and urns.

The business was officially incorporated in 2012 in the state of Ohio.

Why WooCommerce?

“Hi. I am going to drop a few plugins into WordPress and now I have an eCommerce store.”

This is how Chris describes WooCommerce. He cites ease-of-use, flexibility, and the wide variety of plugins as its biggest assets. Affordability was another key factor in his decision-making. Having worked with everything from from-scratch solutions to Etsy, he believes that “for what you get out of WordPress and WooCommerce for the cost, in most situations, you can’t do better. And can customize within them if you need it.”

An example of a custom solution: a medieval tent urn for a cat.
 An example of some commemorative art: pencil portraits and curios

Being able to hang your sign up and not have to use Etsy, and sell stuff online, is amazing. WooCommerce is affordable, gets regular updates, and keeps up with what is going on on the internet.

“Shopify tries to make things super simple. Etsy is very very easy to use. There is a certain amount of technicality that goes into how a WordPress website all rolls together. Making WooCommerce work requires a little more technical skill, reading, research, and understanding. WooCommerce is like Robin Hood: It gives small businesses a way to compete,” he says.

The process of creating a medieval tent urn.
Behind the scenes of creating a Medieval Tent Feline Urn – another beautiful
 commemorative product.

Under the Hood of Mementomemorials.com

Here are a few of the extensions Chris uses to power his store:

Three Lessons from Building WooCommerce Sites

1. Know when to build it yourself and when to partner.

“There is never an end to the things you will need to learn to be in business. You will always be growing and occasionally have your hide handed to you. WordPress is one of the better tools to have in your belt. If you use it once, you will likely use it again. There are enough resources online to teach yourself. I did.”

2. It’s worth doing your research on pricing.

“Pricing on ‘hunch’ rather than research is risky. If you can center pricing around your business’s mission you will have no reason to doubt your decisions when they are called into question (and they will).”

Leaving room for additional discounts might be important for your industry. If you’re interested, learn more about eCommerce profitability.

3. Commissions versus easily repeatable products

“Commissioned works have taken a back seat to our product lines, for now. We suspect that there is a high possibility of a sustainable and maybe even very profitable business doing custom work in our industry, but not without massive media exposure and/or as a compliment to set production lines.”

The Power of Starting with Why

Chris and his wife have found a way to use arts, design, and craft to support those who are grieving, and build a sustainable business at the same time. At every turn, you can feel the power of the why driving their efforts:

“People talk about the source of creativity: does it come from a higher being or the universe? Why are people given gifts to do something or the energy to master a craft? I’ve spent a lifetime trying to get good at woodworking and making things and designing things and channeling my creativity in usable products. Having someone write a review and tell me how meaningful an object that I made with my hands and designed helped them deal with one of the most difficult points of their life. That’s why.”

This is a pretty compelling raison d’être. We’re inspired by the Harvans and proud they’ve chosen WooCommerce.

13 Responses

  1. jk39853
    January 8, 2019 at 6:08 pm #

    I hope that this article will help me with my new e-commerce website that I am going to start by reading your this wonderful information

  2. Henry Cooper
    January 10, 2019 at 1:08 pm #

    Hello Marinaaa! DEAR LORD. . .! I usually don’t comment on blogs like this but you have shared very useful information in a simple and easily understandable way. I am all inspired by the amazing story you have shared. It has moved me from the bottom of my heart. I have learnt a lot from the challenges and experiences that are shared in your story. I am an academic writer and will keep this post as helping material for my future writing. It will help me a lot to be honest and I would looooooooooove to recommend this blog post to people who are interested in e-commerce. Coz I know they will be thanking me a lot later 😉

    • Marina Pape
      January 14, 2019 at 11:58 am #

      Thanks for taking the time to leave some feedback. Chris has an inspiring story and it was my privilege to share it 🙂

  3. Relevance 360
    January 10, 2019 at 8:07 pm #

    How do you subscribe to this blog? What url is the opt-in at?

  4. Aurelien
    January 10, 2019 at 11:55 pm #

    The website got a very good UX, I’ll like to know the budget for that project.

  5. Sara
    January 12, 2019 at 5:49 pm #

    Making it close and personal is always a good idea. With some photos of “skilled labour activities”.

    BTW. If I would try to make any of these wooden figures, I would definitely have to sacrifice a couple of fingers for them. I am WAY too clumsy to not cut myself.

  6. Henry Cooper
    January 13, 2019 at 10:49 am #

    Quality comes at a price. It’s an idea which is refined with the price of hard work and innovation.

    This post is an example of utilizing a small BUT intelligent idea and converting into a huge success.

  7. technicalgeek69
    January 17, 2019 at 7:14 pm #

    congratulations on a highly successful project

  8. max
    January 24, 2019 at 1:22 am #

    great stuff thanks a lot

  9. sarah
    January 24, 2019 at 1:25 am #

    excellent project well done

  10. luke
    January 24, 2019 at 1:27 am #

    WooCommerce is amazing

  11. hayat aziri
    January 24, 2019 at 1:30 am #

    Hi Marina,

    Many thanks for your post – Chris’s story is wonderful!

    All the best

  12. Alex Stephen
    February 5, 2019 at 6:03 am #

    Thank you for the thought-provoking information. Without any doubt, E-commerce has brought a revolution and now the world became a true global village.

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