Battle Creek family turned heartbreak into personalized gifts business

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — Christy Cooper will never forget how devastated she felt when her son left for the Navy. He graduated from high school on June 20, 2015. Five days later, he was gone.

The family was crushed, she said. 

“When you’re use to being with them 24-7, you know, we were just such a cohesive group that it was definitely kind of broken,” said Cooper, general manager of Totally Memories. 

They didn’t hear from him much either while he was away at boot camp, she said. Sometimes he’d be too exhausted to reach out, which was difficult for her. She missed her oldest child terribly.

“Specifically my daughter and I were really missing him a lot,” Cooper said. “So us being crafty, we decided we wanted to come up with something we can kind of keep tangible with us.”

In September of that year, they created a special military dog tag with his picture on it, she said. They gave one to every member of the family to remember him. 

“Being a bragging mom that I am I uploaded them to Facebook, a Navy Mom group, and was like ‘hey look what I made,’” Cooper remembered.  “Suddenly we were getting a bunch of orders.”

People asked Cooper if she could make them a dog tag or something similar, she said. So, she started making personalized mugs, t-shirts, keychains, pillows, shoes and  other items. 

That’s when the family business Totally Memories was born. 

“Oh it was ridiculous,” Cooper said about the orders. “I had to turn my phone off. There was just so much activity I was very overwhelmed.”

Cooper said there were so many comments on their  Facebook page that admins had to turn it off. Her son has since returned home. However the family business continued. The Coopers have made hundreds of items and they create them on the spot.

“One time we had this brand new engaged couple. They came in and we snapped a picture right here,” said owner Richard Cooper. “And then we were able to immediately turn around and put it on a T-shirt.”

Richard Cooper said he remembers them walking away happy. He believes it's the family’s ability to churn out a product so quickly is why people continue to come back.

“When we were going from one venue to the other they were making sure that we would still be able to help them out,” he said. “(They)  followed us from B.C. Cargo to (Lake View Square) Mall.”

In the beginning, they made $500, Christy Cooper recalled. Since then, they’re brought in revenue around $10,000. 

She said they never did this to turn a profit. However,  they’re grateful to give people lasting memories. 

“When they come back and they go ‘oh, we gave this and that you made to so and so and they cried,” Christy Cooper said. “Normally you’re like ‘oh no.’ And this time we’re like 'yeah' because you know it was a good cry.”

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