Stones of Glass

Stones of Glass
by Jennifer LB Leese

Finding memorials for loved ones isn't hard at all. But what if your loved one is a pet?
Lee Guttentag, a computer engineer and programmer, is the founder of Stones of Glass, a small company that makes stone and glass works of art to memorialize beloved pets or your favorite subjects, may it be friends, kids, or family members.
September 11, 2001 was a career-turning day for Lee. While working at her desk on the 80th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center, Lee suddenly caught glimpse of a jet that crashed into the building 11 floors above her. She and nine co-workers made it out of the building a few minutes before it collapsed. Her company was gone and the collapse of the Dot.com boom was in full swing. Since then, Lee has been working on and off as a computer consultant for various companies. She decided never to work in New York City again and knew immediately that she needed and wanted to find a new way to earn a living.
"I, like many people, am tired of the rat race," said Lee Guttentag. "While I like my work in computer programming, I find myself very unhappy with the corporate world, its impersonal nature, and all the politics involved in large business."
Stones of Glass began about three years ago when she was approached by a friend who wanted her to make a memorial for a pet he had just lost. Lee studied what was available in the marketplace and realized that most of what was out there were granite monuments similar to what you might see at a cemetery. As a pet lover this was not how Lee felt a pet should be remembered. She then got a photo of her friend's pet and experimented with stained glass and concrete. She used a stepping stone format with stained glass inlay to make her first product. Now she has designs not only for memorials but also decorative artistic elements that can be used in many locations and for just about any body.
Stones of Glass was now off the ground. "I know how hard it is to start a new business, but it will be worth it when I have the freedom of running my own business. That's the motivation for beginning this personal adventure."
The first samples of her work were so well received that Lee started to produce AKC standard dog stones and showed them at local dog shows. The results were nothing short of terrific. People purchased them and recommended them to friends. People started asking for non AKC and special color designs. Requests came for animals and subjects other than dogs. She realized that not everyone had a place for a large stepping stone, yet they still wanted decorative objects of their pets and favorite subjects. With indoor application and smaller size as the criteria, Lee's team designed hand-etched glass plaques and sun-catchers as additions to the line. They have even made plaques that are exact reproductions etched in glass of wedding invitations to be given as remembrance to brides and grooms. It was clear to Lee that people wanted custom decorative artistic designs of their pets and favorite subjects.
Lee graduated from OSU in 1996 with a BS in computer engineering and a minor in art. She has been interested in these two subjects since she was a child. Her experience helped build Stones of Glass and her experience will keep Stones of Glass in the marketplace. However, finding the right marketing techniques has been a challenge. She couldn't possibly travel to dog shows all over the country. She absolutely did not want to do business with large pet stores because "they don't have the respect for pet owners" that is required to sell her products. They demand extremely high markups. Now what?
Since the beginning, Lee has been working on a business plan. Her business plan will allow her to increase production very rapidly, she said. "there are two elements to the plan-technology and skilled employees!" Lee has done the legwork in researching proper laser glass cutting equipment that can increase production by as much as 30 times as fast as their current equipment. "This plus other production technologies will make physical manufacturing possible," she said. "We just need the volume to justify investment in this very expensive equipment."
Each design is custom made. Lee has a plan in place to train art students, under her supervision, at the local college to support her process. "They will be able to work part time under my direction and maintain our quality standards. This is a win-win for everybody. They get to make a few dollars at school and at the same time they are honing their artistic and business skills."
Lee hopes to be in business for a very long time. Her husband, Jeffrey Berg, supports her 100%. He does her packing and shipping and does most of the heavy lifting, as well as maintaining the mechanical equipment. "This is a real family business," said Guttentag.
As an artist, and not a high volume mass market producer, Lee has been visiting Veterinarian's offices. Local offices include: Park Circle Animal Hospital, 362 Virginia Ave, Hagerstown (301-791-2180) and Smithsburg Veterinary Clinic, 22949 Jefferson Blvd, Smithsburg (301-416-0888).
Recognizing the importance of remembering our cherished pets, the International Association of Pet Cemeteries (IAPC) has designated the second Sunday in September as National Pet Memorial Day. This year that day is September 11, 2005.
Lee would like our readers to know "that pet owners and people in the pet industry are very special. They do what they do first because of their affection for pets and secondarily for economic reasons. I feel lucky to be able to apply my training and talents in this wonderful industry. Our products make people happy. We offer an unconditional guarantee of satisfaction. With all the products we have shipped, never has anyone taken us up on this offer to get their money back. We are always going to h old ourselves to the highest standards of quality and artistic skill. So far the customers seem to feel we are succeeding."
If you are interested in checking out more of what Lee does, visit her website at www.stonesofglass.com. There you can find a list of stores where you can purchase your own stone of glass.