Startup celebrates lives while doing something good for the planet

The idea for their company came from their desire to honor in a new and ongoing way a friend who had passed away. Elizabeth and Brian Schenk founded TREEBUTE with the mission to create a convenient and accessible way to honor loved ones while doing good for the planet. We spoke with Elizabeth Schenk about TREEBUTE.

How did you get the idea for TREEBUTE?

Schenk: In 2020, a friend of ours passed away. You can imagine what that time was like for everyone. We wanted to do something to show our love and support for his family but they were in another state. So I thought of the memorial trees that our family has planted as a family tradition over the years. Since our friend was very free spirited, it seemed like a perfectly appropriate way to honor him.

I set out to find a 1-800-flowers of memorial trees. I wanted something that was easy and convenient. I ended up spending an extensive amount of time trying to find this. I wanted something that would handle larger trees, not just saplings, and it just didn’t exist. So I looked at my husband, who is perfectly suited for this work, and he agreed we should start our own service.

How does the service work?

Schenk: So we’re tech enabled in that we have a crowdfunding campaign platform integrated to our site. You can either purchase a tree through the normal ecommerce shopping experience or start a campaign as a group gift. You submit information about the person that you’re remembering or honoring or celebrating–these could also be celebratory gifts for a wedding, birth, a new home. You fill out some basic information about who’s ordering, who you’re ordering for, and what you’re ordering it in celebration of. And we send you back a private URL link you can share via text or email posts on your social media or on obituary sites.

Most funeral services have a floral ordering service on their sites. Are you approaching them?

Schenk: We are learning a lot about the funeral industry. I attended the National Funeral Directors Association convention in Nashville last October. I knew nothing about the industry but I wanted to learn and talk to people and see if this is something that the funeral directors would even be interested in. One of the first meetings I had was with, who would be a perfect partner, and they were very excited about the tribute.

What did they ask you?

Schenk: The first question was, what markets are you in? We’re only in St. Louis at this time, establishing and perfecting our model. We’ve had about 50 orders since our inception, and we want to get to about 150 trees before we start scaling nationally. We had our first out-of-state order fulfilled last Friday in Colorado. Our second out-of-state order is in Michigan. So people are finding us and we’re just figuring it out one client at a time.

Do you partner with landscape companies?

Schenk: Yes, we choose our strategic landscape partners in that market to ensure that their tree quality is up to our standards. But we also want them to be able to provide the memorial experience when they are installing a tree. This tree represents something very important. It’s not one of the 25 that they may be planting that day. It needs to be treated with reverence and respect, especially when family wants to be a part of the installation. Ensuring that is critical.

Who does the upkeep on the tree?

Schenk: We ship them our branded watering bag. So a 20-gallon watering bag is included with each order. And that way just makes it easy for people to take care of a tree–they just fill it with a hose one time per week. Our service includes the tree, its delivery and installation. It’s a full service, full high-end service. Sometimes loved ones want to wait six months because they’re processing so much with an estate or a funeral, and that’s totally fine. But when they’re ready, they’re ready. Ready for the process of moving on and moving forward with their grief. That’s been really rewarding.

What help have you gotten from the city of St. Louis in this venture?

Schenk: We’re currently in a pre-accelerator called Velocity Saint Louis that is helping us solidify our business model and connect us to local startup resources, funding, and mentors. It’s a 90-day program and has been extremely valuable.

My husband and I are both from St. Louis. Our roots are deep here–no pun intended. My 18+ year career has been in commercial real estate. So I’ve been helping businesses grow themselves and it’s fun being on the other side of it.