PITTSFIELD, Mass. — In her final days, Matthew Kudlate's grandmother mentioned that she regretted not getting to the cemetery to clean up the family plot.
She was dying of cancer, one of five losses for Kudlate in recent years, and he and his cousin went the very next day to do it. And that is when a new business idea set in.
"It was kind of a heartbreaking thing to hear your grandmother say. We went up there to clean it the next day and started joking that it would be a good business idea," Kudlate said.
Somebody visiting the grave of a loved one had asked the two if they did it professionally and Kudlate thought it might be a way to make some extra money for his family. He is a retired firefighter with a significant back injury and cleaning a few graves a little bit at a time worked for him.
He and his significant other, Jessica Schrump, started Berkshire Gravesite Services in 2015, developed a logo and started advertising.
"Usually we do a gentle restoration. We don't like to use power washers or anything like that. We'll go up there three or four times and scrape the stuff off, use a biocide to get rid of the plankton and mold. We can do that over three and four visits, it takes about a month and we don't have a lot of wear and tear on it. But, we can do things fast if we need to," Kudlate said.
He went to classes to learn how to repair monuments and headstones. And seemingly every time he'd be at a cemetery doing that work, somebody would ask about it.
"A lot of our customers saw us out cleaning and asked 'do you have a business card?'" Schrump said.
It was so successful that Schrump quit her job in order to work full time on the business.
"A lot of people asked us if we sold funeral baskets or other funeral products. At the time it was just doing the monuments so we thought we should offer flowers," Schrump said, and flowers were the next piece the couple added to the business.
It was in 2015 when the business was just beginning that Scrump and Kudlate had lost their infant son. Both of Kudlate's parents and both of his grandparents all died around the same time. The couple learned their unfortunate way around a funeral parlor.
They recognized that they could find caskets, urns, and keepsakes at a lower price than currently offered locally. For the last two years, Schrump and Kudlate have been planning an expansion into that market. And last month they launched the next phase.
"Dealing with so many funerals, we know how much things cost. We started doing some research on that and realized we could do it cheaper," Kudlate said. "We've expanded. Now we do all funeral products, caskets, urns, keepsakes."
They opened a storefront on West Housatonic Street -- though it is only by appointment only -- and are adding more and more products. Eventually, they envision offering entire funeral packages -- from the casket to flowers to the headstone. They currently have some two dozen caskets in stock but have a catalog with hundreds more that can be ordered. And the same goes for some 1,600 different urns.
"We're going to have everything so people can come in and get basically funeral product package. You can get the casket, headstone, funeral flowers, pretty much everything," Kudlate said.
Customers can call to set up an appointment or can order online, or the couple will even go to where the family is to talk.
"We're really flexible and can fit whatever situation," Kudlate said.
The cleaning and restoration work during the summer has kept them busy and has grown through word of mouth. Now with a storefront and products to sell, the couple looks to grow the business every further.
Berkshire Gravesite Services can be reached at 413-347-6766 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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