Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, September 11, 2019
Updated: Monday, September 9, 2019
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The future is here, and it's mobile.
In many ways, mobile advertising has transcended print and television ads. You might see an advertisement between watching YouTube videos on your smartphone or between games of Words with Friends. Companies are using mobile marketing to get your attention wherever you look.
Smartphones are the new frontier for digital marketing; here's why that matters for your deathcare industry business:
Mobile Phone Usage
Businesses in all sorts of industries are spending more on mobile marketing, and for good reason. In an increasingly mobile world, mobile marketing has a clear advantage as use grows. If you have a smartphone (as you almost certainly do), the fact that consumers spend more than five hours a day on their mobile device will not come as a surprise.
Think about it like this: You need to advertise where people are looking. If people spend a large portion of their day on their phones, spend accordingly.
Almost 20% of internet users in the United States use a mobile phone only so they can browse the internet, according to a survey by eMarketer. That number will only grow as people continue to move from desktops to smartphones.
Factor in that over 80% of internet users use a smartphone and that half of web traffic was mobile in 2018, and the importance of focusing on mobile advertising for the deathcare industry feels necessary.
And that's just for casual users. Let's consider potential clientele. We know that many people spend a large portion of their time on smartphones. There are now almost 4 billion unique active mobile internet users. That's nearly half of the world's population.
Eighty percent of those active users shop on their smartphones. They don't simply shop for for products, of course. They shop for services, and that includes cremation and related deathcare services.
Perhaps the most important statistic about mobile usage isn't how consumers are using their phones, but rather how tech giants think about it. For instance, Google has maintained a "mobile-first" indexing policy since as early as 2016.
That means Google considers the mobile version of your business website first—over the desktop experience—when determining how to rank it in search results.
Mobile Marketing Strategies
The trend toward mobile has been talked about for many years now. Marketing strategies bend toward what attracts consumers, and mobile-friendly marketing is certainly an inflection point.
Mobile marketing, at its simplest, simply means marketing via smartphones and tablets—including delivery channels such as email, SMS messaging, push notifications, in-app advertising. That's just a small sampling of the options.
Any effective marketing campaign must consider mobile advertising on some level. The top strategies being used by small and large businesses alike include:
- In-app mobile marketing: This is essentially what it sounds like: marketing that takes place inside an application on your mobile device. These advertisements can be deployed through the applications, in the loading screen, or perhaps as a sidebar advertisement.
- SMS mobile marketing: This type of mobile marketing has been around for a while (starting in the early 2000s). The most common use of this type of mobile marketing is to generate inbound marketing leads for your deathcare business or to communicate promotions/events.
- Push notifications: When we think of push notifications, we are generally thinking about Facebook or other social media applications. A message is waiting, so we receive a "push notification" with the app's icon on our smartphone. For marketing purposes, push notifications are great for keeping a conversation going and for client retention.
- QR codes: This might feel a bit dated, but QR codes that can be scanned by a mobile camera are still very much in use. The appeal for advertisers is that it combines physical and digital marketing techniques. Where other mobile marketing strategies are intuitive practices for your average smartphone user, QR codes remain more difficult to deploy.
- Mobile search ads: In many ways, mobile search ads are the gold standard. Users see these advertisements when they search for related products and specific keyword phrases. Location services can also allow for an optimized experience for your potential clients.
Regardless of the strategy you choose to employ, there are a few best practices to consider. Given that mobile marketing is about targeting prospective clients in a personal way, it's vitally important to keep your particular audience in mind.
Precision and optimization matter as well, because limited space translates to a need for nuance, and mobile marketing requires making sure it looks good on a mobile device.
Give clients a reason to engage with you! Strategies are constantly changing, so it's important to benchmark your results to understand if and how your strategies are benefiting your deathcare business.
Welton Hong, is the founder of Ring Ring Marketing® and a leading expert in creating case generation from online to the phone line. He is the author of Making Your Phone Ring for Funeral Homes, 2019 Edition.
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, August 28, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, August 27, 2019
All around the country, cremation rates are continuing to steadily rise. If you are reading this, you will already know that this change is an almost daily conversation for those of us in the industry, and understandably so; in 2016, the national cremation rate hit 50%, a landmark meaning that for the first time, the majority of families going through the funeral process had their loved one returned as cremated remains, while a minority of the deceased were buried in a casket. Since then, this upward trend of the cremation rate has continued, and everyone has been working out how to address this change while keeping their businesses – often businesses that have been in the family for generations – successful.
There are a host of factors encouraging families to find new, creative options for their funerals, and green values are a key influence. People are generally living more eco-conscious lives, and prefer not to contribute to the large environmental footprint left by grave vaults, hardwood caskets, embalming fluids, etc. And, with life moving at internet-fast pace, people value simplicity. To most, the simplest option for a funeral is to get a cremation and have an intimate service, rather than taking the time and going through all the variables that are involved in a traditional funeral.
Cremation as an Opportunity
While any change in customer demands can be frightening, the way our industry is evolving opens up new avenues for businesses that previously did not exist. 10% of funeral homes may have closed between 2005 and 2015 (the recession in 2008 can be given a good part of the blame for that), but the number of deaths in the USA rose nearly 11%, from 2.45 million in 2005 to 2.71 million in 2015. For lack of a better way to put it, the customer base in the funeral industry is rising, but what they are buying has changed. Even with the rising popularity of non-traditional options, funeral homes and crematories are still the experts that we go to when a loved one passes away, and the drop in traditional burials leaves a massive opportunity to offer people something new and different.
Now, let’s look at the environmental reasoning behind non-traditional options. The world is becoming more eco-conscious, and people are taking steps to reduce their personal carbon footprint wherever they can. Electric cars and green energy sources are more popular than ever, many stores now charge for plastic bags to reduce waste, and even single-use utensils and plastic straws are being removed or replaced with biodegradable options. The entire City of Malibu recently banned all plastic straws and utensils to reduce waste from the thousands of visitors passing through every day.
If people are taking this much care in reducing their carbon footprint, why wouldn’t they also want to leave a minimal impact after life? Cremation is perceived as the greener alternative to burial, because it does not require the cement, toxic fluids, hardwoods, or physical space of a burial, and this opens up another opportunity to generate business from families. Plastic temporary containers can be replaced with biodegradable options at a very low cost, and will leave green-minded families satisfied. More importantly, while these families would not consider a marble or metal urn, there are many Earth-friendly urn options in the same price range as more expensive permanent options, which can be presented to families.
A beautiful urn hand-made from a natural gourd or carved from salt may be the best option for families that don’t want to purchase a permanent urn, but still want to place their loved one’s remains into something special. And, using unique biodegradable urns can open the door to some amazing services. We once had a family perform a ceremony at sea with one of our Turtle Urns, and they were joined by real sea turtles, resulting in an unforgettable experience for all involved. We have found that most members of the public didn’t know that these better options even exist, so by suggesting these options to families that see little or no value in a permanent urn, you can create a new revenue stream and provide unparalleled value to your families.
Through my work at Passages, I’ve come to learn many reasons that people choose to cremate and scatter instead of a traditional burial. More than ever, people are moving to new cities for work or family, and it has become rarer for a family to remain in the same place for generations. This means that visiting grave sites of parents or grandparents is harder. Often, people who are moving would rather not add an urn to their already heavy load, viewing it as “just another thing to carry.” Non-traditional options make more sense for these families, who may choose to get together once to scatter and celebrate a life, before going their separate ways. Offering higher-end biodegradable urns can help families make this a proper, memorable experience, whether they choose to scatter at sea or on land.
Green options don’t have to be low-tech or cheap; at Passages, we recently released a contemporary new urn that allows families to keep a loved one’s remains inside their home while they begin the healing process, but will be buried and grow a memorial tree. The family plants a memorial tree in the top half, with the remains in the bottom, and after some time the outer shell of the urn begins to crack. We like to see as the loved one telling the family it is time to bury the urn that holds their remains. The design of the urn neutralizes the pH of remains to allow healthy root growth, and it includes a unique geotag to mark the final planting location of the remains and memorial tree, with an online platform for families to create a memorial.
The final major reason cited for the shift to cremation and non-traditional funeral options is that people are attracted to the simplest option or whatever is the least amount of work and worry during an already difficult time. This is becoming truer in all aspects of life: ordering a rideshare service has become hugely popular due to the simplicity over a traditional taxi, and people have become used to shopping online with their purchases being delivered to their doors. So, when going through the funeral process, people expect a similar level of ease. If you improve your basic cremation package with natural, sustainable cremation containers and dignified temporary urns, families will feel taken care of. Those families that need something cheaper can ask for cardboard, but by offering something more in your “base” package, the simplest option that families can choose will also be a more profitable, more meaningful package.
If Someone Wants to Buy a Bike, You Won’t be Able to Sell Them a Car.
In our rapidly-changing funeral environment, it’s more important than ever to really understand how families are thinking and what it will take to provide them with a personal funeral experience. Many families today simply are not looking for the traditional funeral services that have been offered for generations, and we have to understand that those customers won’t be convinced to go that route due to a lack of other options.
Does your selection room reflect what over 50% of your cremation families are planning to do? Scattering is what over half of cremation families intend, a recent report from NFDA states. And most urn selection rooms offer a very small selection of urns intended for scattering of remains or burial in the earth or sea. If a family declines a permanent urn, it’s up to you to offer a non-traditional urn that they will see value in. If not, the opportunity for a sale will be lost, along with the opportunity to provide the best in the eyes of the family.
Passages International has partnered with CANA to host the first-ever Green Funeral Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico, because we want to take a deeper dive into where the industry is heading. Green funeral practices are being driven by consumer demand and, for the most part, progressive funeral homes, cemeteries, and crematories are finding a way to say yes to greening funeral arrangements. Participants in this Conference will learn current green funeral practices and, through interactive sessions, apply innovative ideas to their businesses. This isn’t just lecture, it’s interactive solution-sharing with colleagues from across the profession and around the world.
This event will include presentations and panels with experts in the non-traditional field, and will help funeral professionals understand how to market and offer green and non-traditional options to families successfully. You can find more information and register at the CANA website or the Passages International website. The event will coincide with the world-famous Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, and participants will be invited to take a tour of the Passages International facility in Albuquerque, to learn more about biodegradable urns and eco-friendly caskets.
Kilian takes the stage at the first-ever Green Funeral Conference this October 2-4. See other eco-experts coming for this unique opportunity to discuss green funeral practices on our website. Register soon, because this is an event you won't want to miss!
Kilian Rempen is the Marketing Manager at Passages International, leaders in the green funeral sector for 20 years. Kilian has been published in multiple major funeral industry publications and helps spread the word of greener alternatives in funerals and other areas.
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, August 14, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, August 14, 2019
As the rate of cremation in North America continues to grow, the amount of traditional burials is dropping. This trend affects many sectors of the death care industry, and cemeteries are no exception. Cemetery operators, designers, service providers, and suppliers are working to meet the inevitable challenges.
Elisa Krcilek, Vice President and General Manager of Mountain View Funeral Homes & Cemetery, was inaugurated as President of CANA in July at our 101st Convention. Elisa has many plans for her term as president, primarily focusing on cremation memorialization and the ways our industry can work together, learn, and share what we know.
The following is an excerpt from a past issue of The Cremationist about the ways that instilling a culture of memorialization to staff training in funeral homes and cemeteries to educate the public on the options and benefits of memorializing cremated remains.
Mountain View Funeral Home and Cemetery in Mesa, Arizona is, in my opinion, the most beautiful cemetery in the East Valley of Arizona. We have 52 acres, but only 24 are developed. So we have space for 150-200 years to come.
Like most cemeteries, originally all the spaces were for traditional burial. The sections for cremation were added in later. The cremation rate in Arizona, both by percentage and total number of cremations, is near the highest in the United States and predicted to surpass 70% by 2023. Cremation has changed the way people look at permanent memorialization on both sides of the arrangement table.
Changing the Mindset
I am not at all embarrassed or ashamed to say that we are a for-profit cemetery. We’re always looking for new ways to generate income and to give our families what they’re looking for and what they want. You know that if they don’t see what they want, they—in many cases—do nothing.
Because of the growth in the demand for cremation, a lot of what we’re doing at Mountain View is first working to change the mindset of our funeral directors and our cemetery staff to do a better job feeding into our cemetery. The first thing we did to work more efficiently is set up a two-up system, very similar to what you see in a lot of other combo businesses. This means that we have a cemetery professional go into the arrangement conference with the funeral director. When the funeral director steps out to make the final contract for the cremation, we make sure that that family is not left alone during the arrangement. Instead, the family service counselors take the family out to the cemetery to see what we have available.
It starts very simply, because right inside our funeral home we have a glass-front niche. It’s a matter of coming out of the building, taking four steps to the left, and introducing the families to the idea of memorialization.
From there, we direct them to our golf cart up front and we immediately take them to the cemetery. We don’t do a lot of talking. The beauty of the majestic cemetery speaks for itself. What we will do is point out areas in the cemetery that specialize in housing cremated remains.
Showcasing Cremation Options
At that first niche, just to the left, most of our cremation families will say, “Oh, no, no. We don’t need any of this. We’re taking Mom back to Iowa where she’s from.” We tell them, “We understand that that’s what you’re planning to do. However, it’s not fair to you if we don’t take you through the options we have available.”
Many times people tell us they’re taking the remains with them, but in the end that’s not what actually happens. Sometimes they realize that because they’re here, this is Mom’s new home. This is where Mom retired, this is where she wanted to be for the duration of her life.
What are people looking for? A lot of the families we serve have chosen cremation because they don’t want to spend thousands and thousands of dollars. So we want to give them something that’s affordable. We’re finding ways to expand our cremation garden. We have added in a green cremation area because a lot of people say, “Oh, we just want to scatter Dad,” so we offer them the option to do this in the cemetery.
We’re doing a memory vase memorialization package. The memory vase is just for vased flowers right above a bio-degradable urn that goes directly in the ground. They don’t need an urn vault, just a 12-by-12, 3-inch-thick granite base. These memory vases are affordable, and they do not take space out of our inventory because they’re spacers that weren’t in our inventory to begin with. We identified little nooks and crannies of space where there’s nothing, and now we can beautify our cemetery with flower vases.
Engaging Cemetery Visitors
The memory vases provide a way for us to generate more income, but, more importantly, they’re a way to get the families to come back. When they come back, when they visit, it gives them a reason to come in. It keeps us in touch with them. That way, when we have a Memorial Day service or a Veteran’s Day service, we have a way to be able to get in contact with these people to invite them to these events we have and then talk to them about, “Well, what about yourself? Have you preplanned your funeral? Have you preplanned your cremation?”
We do a lot of things to find out what people want. We do a lot of “park-rangering” – we just go up to people in the cemetery, give them a bottled water, and start a conversation. You would be amazed how many people will say, “I’ve been visiting my husband for twelve years and you’re the first person that’s ever come up and talked to me.” So it’s just a matter of being friendly and saying hello. I’ve never had somebody say, “Leave me alone.” Of course, you have to use some discretion, too.
You also start to see patterns of people who come in on a regular basis. Sometimes you’ll see a family come in on the weekend and it might be a special occasion, such as a birthday, so we don’t approach them right when they first arrive. We wait maybe a half an hour or an hour. When you see them wandering around, looking at other graves, that might be a good time to walk up.
I do a monthly training with my team and include “Best Practices” for park-rangering: these are the things you want to do, these are the things you don’t want to do. For example, if you’re doing a graveside service you are not to be out there handing out your business cards to everybody. You can keep your business cards with you, and if somebody approaches you and says, ‘Hey, I’d like to get some information’— and that, believe it or not, happens a lot—then you’re allowed to give out your card.
Most of that conversation comes at the end of an interment, where people are standing around. They like to see the vault lowered into the ground, they like to see the urn placed. We talk to them and make sure to say hello because they’ve already met us at the arrangement.
I start all of my weekly staff meetings with a victory story. We go around and every person has to tell a success story about something that’s worked for them. The people around think, “Oh, maybe that does work!” because when you hear a real-life story, with a real name attached to it, suddenly it becomes contagious. I want each one of them to have buy-in with their victory stories because they’ll have a passion for the things they were able to sell.
Nobody wants to be sold and nobody wants to be pushed into something they’re not interested in. But they will buy when they see value and they see something they like. But they’re never going to know that if you don’t take them on a tour and show it to them.
When you do a tour, it’s not always about the person who died. It’s about showing the family the possibilities. If you’re not taking them on a tour, you’re doing that family an injustice. More people will make a decision when they see how beautiful your cremation waterfall is in person. They can’t visualize it on their own.
If you say to a family, “Were you thinking of being buried in the cemetery?” they’ll say, “No, that’s why we chose cremation.” Instead, you can say, “Take a quick ride with me, let me show you something you might be interested in. We’ve developed things specifically for families like you,” They won’t refuse, they’ll follow you because they don’t do this every day. They don’t know what they don’t know.
We’re developing a very specific cremation tour, not showing our gardens that are all burials, but taking them to key cremation places. “Have you ever heard of a cremation boulder? This is what it looks like. We have areas where we can place it,” and then taking them to show them where the areas are.
The family they’re meeting with on the funeral home side may or may not buy in the cemetery, but they may have a relative who will. We keep saying, “In our business, it’s not about the family you’re serving today. It’s about all their friends and relatives that you should be thinking about serving tomorrow.”
On meeting the opportunities and challenges of an expanding demand for cremation:
- Plan for the future. Be prepared for what is coming, do not wait for it to get here. If you run out of space because you have not planned ahead you are not serving your cemetery or the people that want to be there.
- Continue to make cremation interments an EVENT for families. Do not minimize the interment process simply because it is easier to inter cremated remains compared to a casket.
- Be open to suggestions from families, have a policy IN WRITING —and STICK TO IT—regarding the disposition of cremated remains.
- Diversify as much as possible and promote the value of the experience at least as much as the goods and services.
- Offer everything. When a family says they want to take dad home, ask “Why?” and why they do not want a permanent placement?
- Always ask the family to take a tour of the cemetery before they make a final decision about what they are going to do with Mom or Dad.
- Provide as many options as possible
- Listen to the changing needs of your customers and adapt by providing solutions that are important to them. Provide more choice and options for people.
- Price it to make money. We in the industry have made cremation inexpensive, not consumers. And they do not mind paying for service and quality.
Elisa discussed cremation growth at CANA’s 101st Annual Cremation Innovation Convention. Missed it? Soon, you can catch up with the on-demand event recording providing the latest CANA Statistics Report and how to use it to benefit your business: gocana.org/CANA19
CANA Members have access to the complete CANA's Annual Cremation Statistics Report, but you can see the highlights for yourself on our website. Members — don't know your password? Contact CANA for your login credentials and make full use of the benefits of CANA Membership!
Elisa Krcilek is VP of Sales and Marketing at Mountain View Funeral Home, Cemetery and Crematory in Mesa, Arizona. Elisa has been a licensed funeral director and embalmer for 25 years, is a certified cremationist, and is licensed to sell pre-need life insurance and cemetery real estate. Prior to joining the Mountain View team she was the Market Manager over Pre-Planning Advisors for Dignity Memorial in Phoenix. She was Director of Cremation Development for Stewart Enterprises until they sold to SCI. Elisa spent seven years as the District Manager of the West for Matthews Intl. bronze division. Her career started in Illinois in 1990 working for the Cremation Society of Illinois, where she was the VP of Sales & Marketing until relocating to Arizona.
Elisa was elected as President of CANA in 2019, the fifth woman to lead the association.
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Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, July 24, 2019
Updated: Friday, July 19, 2019
The 21st century is changing North American life. There are more of us, and more different kinds of us, than ever before. Our traditions are numerous and varied, and, in many ways, the marketplace shifts to address this new reality. No facet of our culture is immune to this transformation—and certainly not the way we memorialize loved ones who have passed on. In 2015, CANA Second Vice President and Funeral Director Archer Harmon told the cremation symposium audience how Fairfax Memorial Funeral Home responded to changing demographics.
Know Your Data
Fairfax Memorial Funeral Home and Crematory is located in Fairfax County, a suburb just eleven miles from the border of the District of Columbia. Washington, D.C. is a very, very diverse community. Government jobs bring people there, embassies bring people there, a booming economy brings people there. In a very short time, in the ten years between 2000 to 2010, the non-Hispanic white population decreased in Northern Virginia by 10% percent to be replaced by an Asian population of 12.5% and a Hispanic population of 4.8%. In just ten years, that population change is incredibly rapid.
I got these data off of websites from Fairfax County, the federal government, and the media. This information is free, it’s readily available to you, and it’s a road map for you to understand what’s going on and why your business is changing. You can look at these data and see where your business is going to go. At our funeral home the software we use tracks everything. Our directors and apprentices are trained that there are specific things that are entered into our computer program. I can tell you where our deaths come from, the ZIP code, the average age, I can tell you the race—I can tell you all of this with just a few requests through the software program.
If you don’t know your past or your present, your future can be uncertain. Fairfax Memorial Funeral Home opened in 2003, within a couple of miles of well-established funeral homes in Northern Virginia that have been there 60, 70, 80 years. So it was a pretty big risk for the Doherty family to open a funeral home in 2003 when cremation rates were skyrocketing. But their risk paid off, and we served almost 900 families last year.
A lot of you have cremation rates of 60-80%, but there are many populations out there who want ceremonies. If you try to discuss direct cremation with them, they just don’t get it. How do you locate, serve, and track these groups for whom direct cremation is not an option?
The Importance of Outreach
When we first opened, I met with the funeral preparer for a local Buddhist temple. She came to us to inquire about using our funeral home because it’s close to where the population served by her temple lives. She helped me get set up with all of our Buddhist equipment and helped me to tailor a package to accommodate the needs of her families. What all this means for our industry, with our shrinking profits, growing cremation rates, and how diverse we’re becoming as a population in North America, we learned to reach out to specific groups. Now, Fairfax Memorial has created packages tailored to a specific temple that uses our services.
You have to have an outreach program for various groups so you can have a dialogue with them. You need to have a way to tell people what you can do for them. Our website is a great way we reach out to a particular population. The populations we are talking about are very savvy with technology, so we include specific religious and cultural keywords to help people find us. That way, when someone in Northern Virginia Googles “Buddhist funeral,” “Hindu funeral,” whatever the case may be, our information pops up. We are in the number one position with this.
If you look at a map that shows an overview of what your area looks like by the fastest growing religions, you can see where to put your efforts. Looking at the information on the national map, if I owned a funeral home or crematory in Washington State, Nevada, Arizona, and California, I would be knocking on the doors of these temples saying, “I have a funeral home and we’re here to help.”
The Laotian Buddhist Funeral
I think most of the directors at my funeral home agree with me that the Laotian funeral is one of the most interesting funerals we do. When we first opened in August of 2003, I was at the funeral home and we had a Laotian family walk in. They wanted to have a funeral. They liked our chapel because it was big and could accommodate 200 people. It was our first Laotian funeral and we didn’t know anything about a Laotian funeral. They helped us and they were very kind. To this day, we still have Laotian funerals and I still see some of the same people who were there for the original funeral service. We did something right the first time, and it has paid off.
Laos is a Southeast Asian country bordering Thailand and Vietnam. In a traditional service, relatives of the deceased serve in Laotian funerals as novice monks, or “monks for the day,” and this is a great honor – but one they have to shave their heads and their eyebrows for. In addition to the novice monks, full Laotian monks from the local temples are the ones who do the chanting for the deceased during the ceremony. Services are very beautiful. The Laotians bring in their own Buddha. It’s a Thai Buddha and it’s very thin. It doesn’t have the Chinese characteristics to it.
After the funeral has ended, the monks from the temple hold a rope. The rope is tied to the casket, and they lead the casket out our chapel door, through our front door, and throughout our entire funeral home. They make their route to the crematory where they witness the cremation.
As part of the procession, there’s a family member behind the casket with a bowl of money that’s wrapped in foil. The packets are thrown up in the air, and if you are the funeral director or funeral assistant or apprentice on that casket, you will get pelted with money. The family throws the money to distract the attention of the evil spirits away from the deceased so the loved one can be cremated and move on to the next world. The rope signifies the monks pulling, and the indirect route taken to the crematory is meant to confuse the spirits.
There are wreaths carried by family members with money attached to them. The family folds paper money into triangles and affixes it to the wreaths. This is for the temple monks. At the end of the ceremony, there’s a wreath for each monk as alms, or an offering to the monks, thanking them for their participation in the journey of the loved one from this life into the next life. The last Laotian funeral I had, there were ten wreaths. I counted one wreath and it had over a thousand dollars in twenties folded in triangles. Each of the ten wreaths was presented to the monks, so that is their form of payment, thanking the monks for what they have done for the family.
If you ever have the honor to serve a Buddhist family and they give you a tip, take it. If you don’t take the tip, you’ve insulted the deceased and you’ve insulted the family. It’s the same as the alms for the monks. The family is thankful for everything that you do for them.
Learning to Listen
It’s interesting to talk to people about their different cultures and religious traditions. It’s similar to the way people share food recipes. They want to share these things with you, and the more interest you have, the more they will tell you. And that’s how we’ve all become experts in this. Listening to the families we serve and putting it back together for them and giving them everything that they want. When we hire a new director, especially if they’ve come from another area, it can take a while for them to acclimate. I see them sometimes, just standing there wondering, “What’s going on here?” But in six months to a year, they’re fully immersed.
In Northern Virginia, we have a huge Asian population. In many of these cultures, cremation is a practice that’s been done for thousands of years. Sometimes they choose burial, sometimes they choose cremation. We can accommodate them, and anyone else in our community, with whatever their needs are, by being willing to listen to their needs and learn.
The data referenced in this post is based on the most recent US Census in 2010. The 2020 Census will provide even more perspective on how our communities are changing. CANA will continue creating innovative content about how change can work for traditional funeral homes facing new and different clientele.
This post excerpted from Archer Harmon’s presentation at CANA’s 2015 Cremation Symposium titled Meeting the Cremation Needs of a Growing and Diverse Population in North America, as transcribed in The Cremationist magazine Vol. 51, Iss. 2 titled “Know Your Community: Build Your Business” which includes more photos and traditions from services of many different cultures. The Cremationist is an exclusive benefit to CANA members — explore our website to learn about the other resources CANA provides to members.
Archer Harmon is a licensed funeral director and embalmer and the General Manager of Fairfax Memorial Funeral Home. With over 30 years of experience, Archer is well versed in many funeral traditions, including military funerals and state funerals for dignitaries. He has attained a vast amount of invaluable knowledge regarding the funeral customs of highly diverse populations. Archer serves on CANA’s Board of Directors as Second Vice President.
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, July 10, 2019
Updated: Monday, July 8, 2019
“Gina was a rescue beagle, shuffled between three or more households before finding her permanent home with our family and becoming the bereavement dog at the cemetery. Because she is so calm, affectionate, and well-behaved, we thought Gina would be a perfect addition to our staff. I found a trainer in the local community who worked to train me and Gina together on site at the cemetery. Over time, the demand for Gina’s services has grown among the bereaved seeking comfort. She’s trained to help people who come to make arrangements for memorial services and purchases of niches and urns. Gina helps lift families’ hearts, because no one can resist a warm, willing bit of affection.” — J.P. DiTroia, Fresh Pond Crematory
The use of therapy dogs is becoming more common, and there can be wonderful benefits to your business for having one in-house – after all, cute puppies are a great way to engage families! But as J.P. DiTroia, Lindsey Ballard, and Robert Hunsaker discovered, it’s not enough to just pick up a random pooch. The trio got together at CANA’s Cremation Symposium to tell attendees about their experiences integrating canines into the workplace. Their presentation illuminated several key points about therapy animals and the ways to incorporate the support and comfort dogs can provide to grieving families.
Dog Service—Definitions and Requirements
First, it’s important to understand the difference between therapy, service, and emotional support dogs. Therapy dogs are trained to provide affection and comfort to people in various settings, such as disaster areas, hospice, schools, nursing homes, and, of course, funeral homes. These pets have a special aptitude for interacting with members of the public and they enjoy doing so. Typically, emotional support dogs provide benefits to their owners through simple companionship as prescribed by a mental health professional. Service dogs are trained specifically to help people with disabilities such as mental illness, visual impairment, seizure disorder, etc. Due to the nature of their work, the latter two are permitted to travel with their human partners, but therapy dogs are not afforded special rights to enter a business unless they’re officially going to work there.
Not all dogs will make good therapy pets. The work—and, yes, it is work— can be tiring and stressful for the dog and requires the right personality. There are many characteristics to look for in a suitable therapy dog, including a deep love for all people (strangers included), emotional and physical calmness, and an affinity for being hugged and petted (sometimes by surprise or roughly). People have found success with rescue dogs, but caution that these animals can be particularly sensitive to certain situations and people and that may impact their training and work. Some breeds are more suited to guarding or protecting, but not emotional support.
Bella, a black Labradoodle, is the beloved Hunsaker family pet, but Robert soon identified that she would make a great addition to his funeral home staff. Not only is her temperament well-suited to working with people, but she’s also hypoallergenic so she doesn’t shed and most people aren’t allergic. This is important since she’s interacting with the public.
Fletcher, an Australian Labradoodle, was destined to be the funeral home therapy dog first, and a happy addition to Lindsey’s household second. Lindsey researched what breeds were most appropriate to the work, prioritizing that the animal be hypoallergenic, too. She chose a breed, located a breeder, and, since he would also be the household pet, made sure to identify the perfect pup for her family.
The three presenters emphasized that once you find the right dog, both the animal and the humans who work with the dog have to be properly trained. The dog needs to learn good manners and to be able to respond appropriately in various situations. The people need to learn to interpret the dog’s body language and communicate effectively with the dog. There are many organizations that can provide therapy dog certification, including the American Kennel Club, Delta Pet Partners, and Therapy Dogs International.
Unlike J.P.’s Gina, Bella wasn’t trained on site at the workplace. Because the Hunsakers hadn’t originally intended for her to be a therapy dog, she didn’t start her training until she was a little over two years old.
It’s a common misconception that therapy dogs have to be adopted as puppies and trained from the beginning. Most trainers will help determine whether you have a prospective therapy dog or not by doing a needs assessment. Bella was put through her paces by her trainers before they committed to taking her on. Robert emphasizes that it is best to make sure you have someone who’s qualified to train your animal in what you want her to do before you add the dog to your staff.
Bella was trained by Lorenzo’s Dog Training Team, a national organization based out of Ohio. Robert did his research, talked to the vet and other community members, and decided on Lorenzo’s because they’re a nation-wide organization with trainers throughout the US. Bella was enrolled in their four-week off-site training program. Lorenzo’s would bring her back to the funeral home on the weekend to train Robert in the commands Bella learned off-site that week. Having her gone for a month was rough, but the results were amazing. The follow-up training 30- and 60-days after she came home ensured that Bella maintained the skills she learned, and added a couple of new skills each time.
Lindsey brought Fletcher home on a Monday. Tuesday was his first time in the funeral home. And Wednesday was his first puppy obedience class. She had already mapped out their long-term training schedule to follow a two-pronged approach: 1. Socialization, and 2. Obedience.
Long before Fletcher was old enough to start working with the public, Lindsey emphasized his socialization with as many types of people as possible – diversity of appearance, size, and age as well as people with wheelchairs, beards, hats, etc. That way, he’d be ready for the broad range of people he’d meet at the funeral home. She took Fletcher to all of her business locations so he’d become familiar with the each different environment, including the floors, staircases, elevators, and future human colleagues. Lastly, she worked on exposing him to the diversity of experiences he might encounter: thunderstorms, interactions near caskets and during bath and meal times to make sure he would be comfortable with anything that might come his way.
Fletcher attended, and passed with flying colors, many types of obedience training at every level of difficulty. Then, beyond standard obedience, he was also trained in tricks, therapy classes, and agility classes. Once this basic work was accomplished, it was time to pick out a specific therapy group to work with. From the beginning, Lindsey knew she wanted to be part of his training every step of the way. So she chose Pet Partners, a non-profit that hosts a national registry of trainers.
Rather than certifying only the dog, both the human trainer and the pet are registered as a therapy team. Lindsey and Fletcher were trained equally as a dog and trainer to support each other, with a special concentration on teaching the human half how to read the dog’s body language and advocate for him. Once Fletcher was a year old, the duo was able to take the in-person evaluation for certification. Once certified, they’ll still need to be re-evaluated every two years to ensure continued training.
On the Job
Bella comes to work every morning, about 5:30am. She has a set area in the funeral home where she comes in, gets brushed every morning, gets her vest on, and, with that, it’s an immediate transformation from an active, three-year-old pet to working therapy dog.
She’s very visible. When a family comes in, the staff can tell immediately whether they want to engage Bella. Probably 80-85% of family members acknowledge her and want to have some type of interaction. Due to her training, Bella won’t interact until commanded to do so as some people are afraid of dogs or dislike them. She’s been well trained to stay.
If engaged, Bella will attend arrangement conferences and aftercare appointments, funeral services, and visitations. She’s active in the grief support group at Robert’s funeral home on the third Thursday of every month. She attends most of cemetery gravesite services, and some pre-planning presentations at area nursing homes and care centers. She’s very busy.
Robert is sensitive to her needs. Working dogs are constantly thinking about what they need to be doing. It’s emotionally draining for the animal. So, in the afternoons, Bella has a special place in Robert’s office that’s become her area to decompress. She’ll take a break there for an hour or two. And when she gets home after work, she’s tired just like any of us. Even if it’s not particularly physically draining, it’s a lot of emotional work.
Like Bella and Gina, Fletcher attends community events, greets families, and sits in on visitations and arrangements. For Lindsey, the biggest value of the therapy dog is greeting families. While funeral professionals are very comfortable walking into a funeral home, crematory, or cemetery, it’s often a hard step for families to take. Fletcher welcomes the families at the front door and helps to keep people at ease.
Lindsey also finds that families linger longer with Fletcher there. When a devastated husband and daughter dropped by to pick up their loved one’s urn, their visit lasted for twenty minutes. When the daughter saw Fletcher, they stayed to play with him, pet him, take selfies, and derive comfort. The dog clearly made an impression: the next day, another family member came back to pick up information on cremation jewelry and asked about the dog.
Things to Consider
There is more to the process than just finding the right dog and going through training. You will need to consider all of the costs involved (purchasing the dog, training, vet bills, food, etc.), how much time and commitment will be required for both training and daily care, the logistics of when and how the animal will interact with people at the business, and more.
Robert estimates that they’ve invested about $2,000 in Bella-- $1,600 in training and $400 in equipment (vest, collar, leash, and other needs). Then there was the initial cost of getting Bella (around $500) and monthly expenses (between $150-$200 for food, grooming, and the vet). The dog has a standing groomer’s appointment every other Thursday to stay presentable; she goes to the vet every six months to ensure she stays healthy.
Liability for having a pet on site also needs to be considered. Check in with your insurance provider to see if they offer coverage for therapy dogs. Additionally, the professional training service you use may offer some form of coverage.
Besides the monetary expenses, a substantial amount of time is invested therapy dogs as well. Robert estimated that reinforcing Bella’s training took 30-60 hours over the first three months--about an hour a day. And he still spends 30-45 minutes to get her ready every morning and reinforce things she’ll need to do that day, particularly if she doesn’t do it frequently.
Similarly, Lindsey and Fletcher maintained a continuous training schedule for more than two years of in-person and online classes. And considering that Lindsey was also completing her MBA, moving, orchestrating the remodel of one of the businesses’ locations, managing staff turn-over, and running the family business, there were some days that made prioritizing Fletcher’s training a challenge.
Robert involved two of his staff in Bella’s training to handle her when he’s absent. They know her schedule, her needs, and her commands so she can still work. He emphasized that you can’t take on this work by yourself – you’re serving families and you’re running a business, so you need buy-in from your staff to make it work.
Lindsey agrees that managing staff is key, but never thought about the great impact it would have on them. Funeral directors are often up at all hours, working extended days, and emotionally drained. For Lindsey’s staff, being able to take a moment to pet the dog and play fetch or tug with her has been great.
They’re Still Dogs
One of the most valuable lessons for Lindsey was the need to advocate for Fletcher. His afternoon breaks are key to his well-being, as are mental and physical exercise in the morning to make sure he’s focused for the day. She also stresses that you have to be ready for anything. These dogs might be staff, but they are still animals who tend to sniff people in embarrassing places, lick or scratch themselves without regard to proper etiquette, and must relieve themselves when necessary, so be prepared.
J.P., Lindsey, and Robert agree that this experience is only for those who really love animals, especially dogs. It’s a commitment for the trainer and the entire funeral home. Despite this, everyone concurred that the benefit to their businesses and the families they serve made all the effort worthwhile.
One interesting aspect of the presentation at the symposium was that it moved attendees and panelists to discuss how to memorialize the therapy dog itself after death. These animals have a big impact in the community and bring people in to the funeral home. Robert recommended having a plan to begin training a new dog for continuum of care for the community. Lindsey mentioned how a professional colleague who has maintained several therapy animals holds services and invites other bereft pet owners to come in to memorialize together. J.P. emphasized the service, the memorial, and the final placement.
This post is excerpted from Robert Hunsaker, Lindsey Ballard and J.P. DiTroia’s Therapy Animal panel at CANA’s 2018 Cremation Symposium. Save the Date for CANA’s 2019 Cremation Symposium: February 26-28, 2020 at the Paris Las Vegas Resort and Casino.
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Robert Hunsaker, co-founder of Hunsaker Partners, has been involved in the funeral industry his entire life, as his father was a funeral director and they were living in a funeral home when he was born. From an early age, he has worked for a memorial park and a group of funeral homes. He finds great satisfaction in helping families during a very difficult time of their lives and enjoys establishing relationships with all those he is honored to serve. Robert has a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Weber State University and has worked in sales and executive positions for several companies that serve the funeral industry, including: Batesville Casket Company, Great Western Insurance Company, Service Corporation International and SinoSource International, Inc. Robert serves on the Cremation Association of North America board of directors.
Lindsey Ballard is a third-generation funeral director and owner of Ballard-Sunder Funeral & Cremation in Minnesota. She loves her work and is passionate about creating personalized and meaningful services for the families she works with. Lindsey is always looking for new and inventive ways to serve her community, including the work she does with her dog, Fletcher. Lindsey serves on the Cremation Association of North America board of directors.
J.P. DiTroia serves as President of the U.S. Columbarium Co. at Fresh Pond Crematory in Middle Village, NY and has worked there since 1967. He served on the Board of the Metropolitan Cemetery Association for 9 years and is now co-chair of the Cremation Committee. He presently serving on the Board of the New York State Association of Cemeteries. He has been a committee member of the Metropolitan Funeral Directors Association since 1979. His therapy dog’s name is Gina.J.P. serves on the Cremation Association of North America Membership Advisory Group.