From funeral items to PPE: how a Croydon business reinvented itself

Kylie Sambrooks, owner/operator of 'Your Memories'

Croydon’s ‘Your Memories’ has expanded to sell Personal Protective Equipment to funeral directors, helped along by a Business Support Fund grant.

Losing a loved one is never easy.

And the pandemic only served to compound matters.

This year, countless Victorians have been personally affected by not being able to attend a funeral due to physical distancing requirements.

Simultaneously, our funeral industry has been adapting to a new world of restrictions.

Take Croydon business Your Memories, established in 1995, which supplies memorial keepsake products throughout Australia to funeral directors.

When metropolitan Melbourne restrictions took effect in March the business was turned on its head, experiencing a 90 per cent dip in revenue overnight.

What to do? A revised business strategy was needed. Fast.

“COVID-19 (coronavirus) restrictions limited funeral attendees and how we celebrate the end of life changed instantly: no longer could we hug and stand together to grieve,” reflects owner/operator Kylie Sambrooks, who runs the business with a handful of casuals, after a career working in marketing dealing with major retailers. “Our memorial books, candles and other items were no longer required at funerals as not only were there a small number of people to sign the book, but sharing a pen was also not an option.”

A Victorian Government Business Support Fund grant came to the rescue, which Kylie found out about through her accountant.

The funding helped her business swiftly launch new online company division YMM Solutions in October, selling sanitiser, antibacterial wipes, face shields, isolation gowns, masks, dressings and gloves to funeral directors nationally to keep their staff and the families they serve safe.

Clearly, adding medical protection products to Your Memories regular merchandise was a never-seen-before move, but the idea is taking off.

“YMM is designed to add value by offering a quick way to shop online for products that are in demand and at a competitive price. We’ve been able to establish a reliable, supportive Australian supplier base so that we can work together to provide solutions for the funeral industry,” explains Kylie.

“Thanks to the grant, we’ve employed professionals to complete our YMM online store and design our corporate branding. Without design expertise, this would have taken months and no doubt the result would have not been as professional. It has also allowed us to invest in new product development for our customers in the way of bags and cases that store our products so they can ‘grab and go’ and remain protected.”

Kylie admits she is “amazed” at how quickly YMM got off the ground: “I’m lucky I’ve found supportive companies to work with to make it happen from customers, suppliers, couriers and of course the website designer.”

Kylie is quietly confident about the future. With restrictions now easing, “we hope to launch a stylish range of new keepsake items, Christmas sentiment cards, personalised candles, journals and jewellery. Sending samples, creating concepts, buying stock is expensive and thanks to the grant we’ve been able to begin to invest in the future for Your Memories.”

To apply for a Business Support Fund grant, Kylie suggests having a long, hard think about your current business model and brand. “Ask yourself if you can quickly branch out into relevant but new categories with your existing customer base and if you can, then the grant may give you the funds to employ others to help you,” she says. “Time is of the essence, don’t wait or lose confidence and motivation (keep making phone calls), surround yourself with other companies you can trust and work with them to get the job done so you can all grow together over time. In the past, for example, we’ve manufactured items overseas, however during the pandemic we established a new brand and business model focused on low overheads, low margins, high volume and local supply.”

Kylie Sambrooks

Lessons learnt during the pandemic, a small business owner’s perspective

  • Embrace gracious persistence and gratitude.
    “That has always been our business approach and has been so important during these tough months.”
  • Encourage honest customer communication to establish your point of difference.
    “Don’t lose confidence just because competitors appear more established with a dominant presence. There are many other small businesses who will value your flexibility, creativity and enthusiasm.”
  • Keep in touch.
    “That’s our mantra for our personal and business life throughout these times. Keep ‘checking in’: a simple phone call is so important right now.”

Kylie Sambrooks

Applications for the Business Support Fund grant will remain open until funds are exhausted or until 23 November, whichever is earlier. Visit Business Victoria’s website for all the details.