WENATCHEE — May and Ernie Krull founded M&E Memorial Markers in the 1960s. Since then, the business has switched hands twice, but the name and place remains the same.
M&E Memorial Markers creates, engraves, sandblasts and sometimes customizes headstones. The business serves all of North Central Washington from the Wenatchee Valley, Leavenworth, Columbia Basin all the way to the Canadian border.
Working with customers who have recently gone through a loss of a loved one can be tricky for new owner and floor foreman Miguel Cuevas and his customer-facing employees Juan Cuevas and Josh Silva.
“We have families that come in or people who call in. Every day is different and it really depends,” Silva said of the day-to-day operations. “If a family comes in, we can walk them outside and show them displays that we have. We show them the options that we have and ask if they would like to do anything custom on their marker.”
“I lost my mom in 2013, so I’ve been on the other end of this,” Juan Cuevas added. “When you’ve been on the other side of this desk, you know what this is. Especially for families that it’s their first time doing this, you really know what they’re going through.
“When I was on the other side and (previous owner) Jerry (Zerr) helped us out, it’s hard stuff. They just made it the easiest thing in the world. To me, it made it feel like a friend or family member was helping us out, even though it was business. That’s what we try to do with every person we come in contact with.”
Zerr said that although he sold the business to Miguel Cuevas in 2014, he understands what it’s like to walk the line between empathetic friend and businessman.
“If you are ambitious in sales and your sales pitches, people are going to look down at you like you may be taking advantage of their bad situation,” Zerr said. “You have to be careful about how you run this business. Each individual who walks through those doors lost a loved one and everyone is different how they handle that. You have to be careful not to hurt anybody’s feelings.”
Silva is M&E Memorial Service’s designer. He provides a printout and outline of the soon-to-be-created stone and offers it to the customer before production begins. He cuts and crafts every stone, and as an artist, Silva can customize designs on request.
“We had a family come in that wanted to get this guy’s tattoo on the stone,” Silva said. “So we made that happen. No one else is going to have that tattoo.”
M&E Memorial Markers works closely with funeral homes in the surrounding area and even goes as far as running the plot check to the cemetery on their customers’ behalf.
“The last thing you want to do after picking up a headstone is to drive over to the cemetery, find the groundsman, and hand him a check,” Juan Cuevas said. “We offer to do that for all of our customers, and I’d say 99.9 percent of them take us up on that offer. It’s the little things.”
Since Miguel Cuevas took over from Zerr in 2014, M&E Memorial Markers has expanded its services to address and business stones.
“We have the equipment to do more than just headstones, and we’ve really started taking on more projects,” Juan Cuevas said. “Address rocks nowadays use the same process as headstones. All those bricks engraved in the ground down at Pybus (Public Market) we did, we’ve done some churches. There’s a lot more we can do with what we have and I think the response has been good.”
M&E Memorial Markers was nearly bought out by a Seattle-based company, but Zerr opted to sell the business to Miguel Cuevas, his good friend and employee of 18 years.
“I wanted to let those people I worked with for so long keep their jobs,” Zerr said. “The key thing for me though was to keep this place in the valley. M&E has been around for a long time and I didn’t want to throw that reputation away. Miguel was a great employee and I think he deserved a chance to see what he could make of it. If I would have sold it to Seattle, they would have just used it as a retail shop and outsourced production to the west side, I didn’t want that to happen.”
Zerr cited more competition on the west side, the rising costs of funerals and an uptick in cremation as potential problems for M&E Memorial Marker’s future, but said he hopes the business can run for another 70 years.
For Juan Cuevas, the job is more about just improving the bottom line.
“When we get the job done right and people come back and just say, ‘We’re very thankful, thanks for making it easy,’ that really hits home … for me at least. When it’s a business but we can make a positive contribution to someone in a time of grief, that goes a long way for me.”