Transcript From Our Video Interview with Kyle Sherwood and Don Ferfolia at Save My Ink Forever.
Heather: Hi, everyone, and thanks for checking in with us at Funeral Innovations, Trends, Tips, and Technology, where we chat with the leaders in the profession to discuss marketing trends, business tips, and technology innovation. We also talk about how digital marketing helps you better serve your families. Heather Mierzejewski. I am the Marketing Director here at Funeral Innovations. And this week we have with us two people from Save My Ink Forever. We have Kyle Sherwood. He’s the CEO of Save My Ink Forever. Thanks so much for joining us, Kyle.
Kyle: Absolutely. My pleasure.
Heather: He’s also a licensed funeral director and embalmer. And then we have Don Ferfolia. He is the general counsel for Save My Ink Forever and also a licensed funeral director. Don, thanks so much for joining us.
Don: Thanks for having us.
Heather: Yeah. So can you guys just start off and tell us a little bit about what you do and what Save My Ink Forever is?
Kyle: So in a nutshell, Save My Ink Forever is the process of creating tattoo memorialization for loved ones and family members when they have someone pass away. So what we do is we surgically excised tattoos and go through a preservation process and then present them back to the family as again, a memorial keepsake.
Heather: So how long have has Save My Ink Forever been in business? How long have you been doing this?
Kyle: I think it started roughly 2016 I would say. And we’ve been gaining traction ever since.
Don: And there was work that was even done prior to that to create and perfect the process.
Kyle: It was a two-year kind of learning curve to perfect the process that we now use today.
Heather: How did you get started doing that?
Kyle: Well, my dad should be here for this one, but so he has a wide group of friends, which I think Don here can attest to. And being funeral directors and embalmers, any of the funeral-related questions that our friends might have, of course, we’re the people had to come to. So one of his friends said, “Hey, you know, I’ve got this tattoo that I would really like to have preserved and save for my family. Can you do it?” And we kind of laughed it off at first. But then he was like, “no, I really want to know.” So we looked into it for him and we discovered that there was nobody out there to do it. So we kind of did our research and I have quite a few tattoos myself, so I understood what tattoos can mean to somebody and to the family. And so we started looking into it. We said, you know, “let’s give this a go.” And it kind of stemmed from there.
Heather: Interesting. So, where are you located?
Kyle: Cleveland, Ohio. We say Cleveland, Ohio, because nobody would know our little tiny town.
Heather: Ok, gotcha.
Don: A little bit southeast of the city downtown.
Heather: So you only work regionally with Save My Ink Forever?
Kyle: No, no, we’re actually across the country. So every state in the United States as well as we’ve done work in Canada and we’re working on branching out to the UK.
Heather: And do you fly and do this yourself or can the funeral director do it? Do you teach them a process?
Kyle: So what we do is we have an educational video that walks through kind of step by step how to properly exercise the tissue. And so we work hand in hand with the embalmers in that aspect and then we simply compensate them for their time and effort for assisting us.
Heather: Gotcha. OK, that makes a lot of sense. And so you talked a little bit about where you got the idea for this talk about how for the funeral homes that you work with, what sort of problem does this solve or what sort of impact have you seen Save My Ink Forever have on funeral home’s families?
Kyle: As far as families go? I mean, they’ve been extremely grateful for it. I mean, any director that’s taking care of a family and they’ve been pleased, you know, the the satisfaction that you feel knowing that you did a job well done. So knowing for most families that want this service, this for them is most times more important than the funeral. This is the funeral for them. And so they’re beyond pleased and beyond happy, the gratitude that they show to not only us, but to the funeral home for allowing them to be able to do this and to offer this service. So the response has been overwhelming and that’s what kind of keeps us going and keeps us moving forward.
Don: And I think I think this is just one of those things that as societies kind of evolve, things change and meaningful things change to people. I mean, if you go back to Victorian times, folks used hair and made jewelry from their loved one’s hair. And then we got into different avenues where folks used cremated remains to make pieces of art that were lasting memorials of their loved one. This is just another in that series of evolution that allows families to keep someone’s memory going in a tangible way forever
Heather: Without getting into too many of the details. Tell me how the process looks and how does a family contact you or a funeral home and what do they receive at the end?
Kyle: Sure. So the process we try to keep pretty simple, pretty streamlined. Either a, the family will contact us directly via email and we’ll reach out to them or b. The funeral home will give us a call and say, “hey, we’ve got a family here that would like this tattoo preserved.” And either way we reach out to the family and work with them. But the process starts with the necessary forms being filled out. So our authorization forms that keep everything legal and so forth, it goes into a description of the tattoo. We have an anatomical guide so that they can actually circle it on the person where that tattoo would be located, as well as the dimensions of the tattoo so that there’s no mix-ups. Upon receiving those authorization forms, we send out a kit to the funeral home where the tattoos, once excised, would be placed into the kit and then shipped back to us where our preservation process takes place, which takes about three months or so. And then from there, we consult with the family as to their framing preference. We have black, gold, silver, and then even go into custom framing. And then from there it’s either sent back to the family or sent back to the funeral, home to present to the family as kind of a ceremony, if you will.
Heather: Do you have an example you can show us?
Kyle: Yeah, actually, we’ve got a we’ve got a few here. We’ve got this fishing rod that says, Poppa Eddie. And what was actually significant about this tattoo is, believe it or not, this tattoo has three generations worth of significance. So for example, the gentleman who passed away got the tattoo in tribute to his poppa, Eddie, and. His uncle actually did the tattoo. Well, unfortunately, all three of these gentlemen are deceased, and so this is his mother who’s getting this tattoo back that now has a tribute to all three generations in one.
Heather: Wow. That’s lovely.
Kyle: That’s the kind of stories that we’re getting from these families because each tattoo has a story as has a memory behind it, that has such sentimental meaning to the family. Who are we to take that away from them?
Heather: For sure. For sure. Very cool.
Kyle: So this one is getting ready to be sent out and this is how we send them out after framing. And you can see here on the back, all of our framing is done up to archival standards, museum quality. So UV protective glass. And basically, we try to treat them like the fine pieces of art that they are.
Heather: Very cool. Tell me a little bit about how do families connect with you? Like do you do marketing or people searching you out or funeral directors have heard of you?
Kyle: It’s a little bit of both. I mean, anybody that is initially interested in having this done, obviously, is getting on Google and they find us and reach out to us and say, oh,” how cool. You know, I didn’t know this was possible. I’m so happy that it is.” But then we have even the funeral homes reaching out to us because like me, we’ve got embalmers and funeral directors that are tattooed and they go “oh, this is the neatest thing. I’d love to offer this to families,” you know. So word has just kind of slowly but surely gotten around through media. I mean, I think it’s one of the things that you hear it and you can’t help but ask questions about it. And so that’s how people can find us.
Heather: That’s pretty cool. And have you dealt with any naysayers in regards to the service or anybody who is like, how could you do this? And have you had objections from people?
Kyle: I think we’ve had a lot to take.
Don: We’ve had some objections, not only people who have called us or written either via some sort of social media post, something like that. There have been objections that way. And occasionally over the past couple of years, there have been some state board regulatory agencies that have objected a little bit. But when kind of pressed on it, they really haven’t done anything about it. And that what we do and the way we look at this is this is a very respectful excising of tissue. A minimum amount, the absolute minimum that can be excised is excised. There’s there’s nothing taken that is essentially wasted or something that’s not used. Every every part that’s there is used in the final product. And so it is just like I talked about earlier, it’s no different from a family wanting a lock of hair. It’s no different from a family requesting cremated remains, being placed into jewelry or made into jewelry. It’s just it’s a different version of it. And I think sometimes that’s where the objections come from, is people don’t they don’t like what they don’t understand or what they choose not to understand. I think I think that’s where a lot of those objections come from. And then when we explain the process there, there are some people that will say, you know what, I never really thought about it that way.
Kyle: The knee-jerk reaction, you have
Don: A knee-jerk reaction. That’s exactly what the objections that we see.
Heather: And once they understand the process and the respect that goes into it in the value that people have, then they that kind of calms down for them.
Don: I think so. Yeah, I think so. For a large group of them. I think so, yeah.
Heather: Would you say that it’s more families that are asking you to do this or that after someone has passed, or is it sometimes the person who may know that they have a terminal illness or, and they want it done themselves?
Kyle: Both. It’s been both. We have people that just like funerals, will preplan their tattoo preservations, which is why we have the life insurance policies that offer for tattoo preservation. So it’s been both. And generally, if that person wants it done, it’s important to their family as well. Of course, the rate goes hand in hand.
Heather: All right, so those are super interesting questions to have answered. Let me ask you a little bit about trends and predictions so you can talk about specifically around and Aave My Ink Forever, or just in general. What are some of the things you’ve noticed happening in funeral home business in the past year or so? I know that covid really impacted everybody so you can speak about that or just maybe even we’re kind of coming out of that now. So recent trends you’ve seen,
Don: I’m going to actually try to avoid covid as much as possible because we really turned us upside down and and very quickly. And it took a long time. I mean, I think we’re still kind of recovering on how we do things. I think one of the trends and this is what I’ve seen this hotly debated in the last couple of weeks, kind of an overall trend is the notion or the use of exactly what we’re doing now, some sort of Zoom conference. I mean, we very quickly had to learn how to make arrangements using something like Zoom or FaceTime or Skype or Teams or whatever software you want to talk about. And at this point in the game, for me, it’s kind of old hat. It’s like, OK, a family wants to make Zoom arrangements? I’ve got the process in place now.
I think that was an interesting thing during covid is there were a lot of things that happened where in the beginning we said, how do we make this happen? And it was just a matter of getting it done right? And now as we’re getting better and more used to the process, we’re trying to make the process better. So I think the use of the Internet, live streaming services, that’s enabling families to participate when they may not be able to travel. I know I’m working with the family this week. A daughter can come in and she can come in for funeral services, but we’ve made live streaming available to them so that she can effectively participate with the rest of her family in real-time, not have to watch a recording later on. She can see it in real-time.
Kyle: So then I’ll speak kind of I guess then to the trends of the tattoos, of course. So I feel it’s there are 50 million people in the United States that have tattoos currently. And it’s my generation that is kind of breaking down the stigma of the taboo of having a tattoo. We’re trying to make it where it’s become more socially accepted within society. And so with that, you’re saying all walks of life getting tattoos anywhere from doctors and lawyers, it’s not just military or you went to jail or prison there. So it’s respectable people getting tattoos. And along with that, not only are more and more people getting tattoos, it is becoming more socially acceptable. The quality of tattoos is getting incredible. You know, you’re looking at modern-day Picasso’s in remembrance of tattooing, and we feel a lot of people discount them for the fact that it’s ink and skin and not canvas and paint. But so you kind of look at what would happen if Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo never got the chance to put their work on canvas. Where would you be? And so that’s where we are with these. You wouldn’t barrier or burn a Picasso, so along with the memorial of it. You have the artistry behind it.
Heather: Yeah, that’s a really good point. I hadn’t thought about that. And you’re totally right that in my generation it was not really acceptable to get a tattoo. And now my kids are like, “oh yeah, I’m getting a tattoo. And as soon as I turned 18,” So yeah, super interesting points.
Kyle: Business is picking up. Like I said, we took in thirteen tattoos this week. It’s been a journey and like you kind of touch based on where we’re happy that we’re kind of working through this whole Covid thing.
Heather: Yeah. So how about predictions for the next few months or the rest of the year. What do you see coming down the road?
Kyle: You know, I only see numbers going up, you know, as we go. I think we started off ahead of the curve, which is good. And we’re only getting those things in place in perfecting and making it more streamlined to make this as easily accessible to people as we possibly can.
Heather: Anything you want to add, Don?
Don: You know what I think? I think we’re just kind of looking to return to some sort of normal. And I’m going to say some sort of normal, because I think, you know, there are certain things that are going to stick around from Covid in terms of potentially distancing, potentially things like during the fall and winter, masking up and stuff like that. But I think families are ready to kind of get back in to essentially get back into the normalcy of a funeral service. Because a funeral service is about support and it’s about love and it’s about caring. And when we were here, I think both of us, as funeral directors struggled when in Ohio we could only have 10 people in the funeral home at a time. We struggled with that because we know how important support is to a family. And when a family can’t have that support, they turn around and they struggle for a long, long time.
Kyle: And having to tell people no.
Don: Yeah, yeah.
Heather: I’ve heard that so many times that directors are not used to telling families, “no.”
Kyle: We’re not we’re in the service industry; we’re gonna take care of you.
Don: Our answer is to look at you and say “yes” and then walk in the other room and look at our coworkers and say, “how the heck are we going to figure this out?” And then we figure it out.
Heather: So I think that’s a great insight. I know that I just happened to lose somebody that first week of the pandemic in last March and we never had a service. And I’m still like I don’t I still kind of have to wrap my head around that. And then I, unfortunately, lost someone last weekend and there’s going to be a huge service on Saturday. And I’m just so grateful that I get to come together with people.
Don: Yeah, that’s a good thing. That’s a good thing.
Heather: I agree. So we ask everyone this question. It’s our last question. And since you’ve been in this profession and maybe this is the only career that you’ve had, but and I was new to funeral service. So what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned while serving in the profession?
Kyle: Oh, boy,
Don: Do you want to take this one first or do you want me to?
Kyle: I gotta think on this one.
Don: I think the biggest lesson is acceptance. OK, and I think this goes in a number of ways. The way I look at it and, I’m a fourth-generation funeral director, Kyle’s a third-generation funeral director. The way I was raised, I’ve got this hard box. As long as something is legal, moral, and ethical. It’s not for me to tell a family what’s right or wrong, right? I may not choose with my family to celebrate someone’s life in a particular way. I may not choose. I may not choose to exercise a tattoo. I may not think that’s something that I would want to do for my family. But because it fits inside that box, I have to do my best to accept that and make it work for a family and just to accept kind of like the acceptance of all people, you know, because we all come to our daily life with certain thoughts, attitudes, stereotypes or whatever, if you will. But we can’t bring those in the front door of the funeral because every family is different, every family’s unique, every family’s got something special they want to do to celebrate someone’s life. And I have got to be the person to make that happen.
Heather: What a great framework for making your decisions within. Great. That’s great.
Kyle: Yeah. Kind of piggyback off of that one. I mean.
Kyle: Right. Pretty much. But no, I think the kind of what he said acceptance because you know, this is an industry that does not segregate. You have all walks of life and you learn to deal with that. And so I guess for me, my biggest life experience has been how humbled I am by working in this profession, how you learn not to take things for granted because tomorrow is not guaranteed. And I think especially being younger, a lot of people have that mentality of being indestructible and whereas us we get slapped in the face daily by it and we get to see it daily. So for me, that was the big thing, is not to take things for granted, don’t go to bed, don’t go to bed mad at your wife or your dad or parents because you may not get to apologize tomorrow. So that was the kind of the big thing that I took into this is life lesson is live life to the fullest because tomorrow is not guaranteed.
Heather: I love it. Well Don and Kyle, thank you so much for being on Trends, Tips, and Technology this week. And if people want to find you, where do they go?
Kyle: Well they can visit our website www.savemyink.tattoo. We’ve got social media, but the website is where they can find any information about becoming preferred providers and information on how we complete our process.
Don: And we’ll help them navigate however, they need help navigating whatever they need in their state.
Heather: So awesome. OK, great. That’s good to know. So thanks again for joining us. We’ll be posting this video on our blog on our YouTube channel and everybody will be able to access this on Facebook and to all the folks watching, thanks for watching. If you have any ideas for topics or people that you want to see interviewed, just reach out to us at funeralinnovations.com. So thanks again so much. I appreciate it.