Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, September 26, 2018
Updated: Thursday, September 20, 2018
The Cremation Logs presents the first in an occasional series featuring guest posts from industry experts. Cody Lopasky is the Associate Dean of Academics and Distance Education Coordinator at Commonwealth Institute of Funeral Service and teaches both face-to-face and online courses. Lopasky enjoys writing and academic research; especially in regard to funeral service. He has published numerous articles, written a continuing education course for funeral service practitioners, and was a contributor for a funeral service education textbook. He is also a licensed funeral director/embalmer and a certified crematory operator.
We may see a time when burial becomes the new cremation – something chosen by only a handful of families. This was the norm for cremation only a few short years ago, and the same could be coming for burial. The trend toward cremation is nothing new, but what are cremation families doing? And what are we offering cremation families to achieve their goals?
Cremation families who keep their loved one’s cremated remains on display at home are willing participants in selecting merchandise, but scattering families (or the undecided) present a situation that can be vexing for both you and the family. Without a firm plan in place, how can you effectively guide them to a decision that makes sense? Should they even buy an urn, and if so, what type and when?
Plastic is a Choice, Not a Default
When an urn is not purchased at time of arrangements, most families receive their loved one’s cremated remains in the plastic “temporary container.” This gray or black plastic box can be presented to a family in a velvet bag, but it is still nothing more than a plastic box. Many cremation families are offered a package that includes a “temporary urn.” They may not be shown an example of a temporary urn and may not realize it is a plastic box, but they know they don’t want an urn from the selection room. Offering a temporary urn in a package is a business decision made by the crematory or funeral home; normally due to cost or necessity. On the other hand, some forward-thinking businesses have chosen to provide a spun bronze or cultured marble base option that can be upgraded or personalized. However, the decision to stick with the bare bones (pun semi-intended) should not be made in haste.
Of course, the funeral home wants the scattering family to get an urn because it can help pay the bills for the month and it’s also a more dignified choice, but choosing an urn is often the best choice for the family, too.
- Before scattering, many families have a service of some kind to memorialize the deceased. If the cremated remains will be present for the service (e.g. a ceremonial scattering or memorial service), then a dull plastic box may not be the best option.
- A family can report that their loved one preferred scattering, but we all know that services and merchandise are for the living. The deceased is no longer here to care. So, when you hear the word “scattering,” do not automatically assume that the family understands what that entails or is choosing a plastic box over an urn. The voice of practicality will say that a simple and disposable plastic box is all that is needed without the knowledge that these can be difficult to open and are not always resealable.
- Remember that there should be some thought that goes into choosing the container that will hold what is left of a family’s loved one. This is especially true for scattering since the exact date and time of that event is normally set much later. In fact, internal industry research has shown that roughly 80% of families that say they will scatter have not done so by 5 years after the death occurred. This means that if the plastic box was chosen, then it will be sitting on a shelf for some time.
Urn Options as Solutions
If we assume that a family has not scattered before (yet is planning to scatter their loved one), then they may not fully grasp what is entailed. So you, the funeral director, are just the expert they need. For the scattering families that desire something a little more, there are actually quite a few options that can be presented, for example:
- Asking a family where the scattering will take place is a great question with which to start. If they plan to do it on the water, then many suppliers and vendors now offer biodegradable urns that will actually float, sink, and/or disintegrate. Using one of these will keep the shore winds from blowing grandpa back onto the deck or into the crowd of family members.
- If the urn is to be opened for scattering, then ease of entry will be of great importance to the family. That $1,200 piano wood urn may look pretty, but the family may not want to remove 6 screws and scratch up the bottom before they are able to scatter. A good rule of thumb is to show scattering families urns that can be opened easily. Screw-top and chest urns are great examples.
- Most funeral homes do offer scattering urns, but they can have an inherent flaw that is unnoticed until the scattering occurs: What does the family do with it after they have scattered the cremated remains? This is an opportunity to present the features and benefits of different styles of urns for scattering.
- A family may not realize it at the time, but the oblong, sliding-top box that they purchased has no purpose to serve after scattering.
- The benefits of chest urns include attractiveness, utility, and (often) reasonable prices. Many chest urns either come with a plastic container already inside or they will fit the one from your crematory. Using these urns will allow the family to have a presentable container until scattering can take place, and then once it is empty, the chest can be used for a variety of other things, such as mementos of the deceased – old childhood photos, mom’s seashells, vacation matchbooks, dad’s army medals, etc.
- Psychologically, the empty container can serve as a quasi-replacement for a grave or niche.
- Obviously the two are quite different, but the positive benefits can be generalized to both. An urn (although empty) that held cremated remains is a tangible and physical reminder of a loved one. It’s an object around which survivors can reminisce and provides that missing link to the cremated remains which are now irretrievable.
An Opportunity for Education
In a world where cremation is taking over, we funeral directors need to change our thought process. The revered casket is now being replaced by the once-inglorious urn. Traditionally, picking out a casket was an integral and prominent part of the arrangement conference. This is now transitioning into the selection of an urn, temporary or permanent, for cremated remains. It is essentially the same concept (a vessel that will hold earthly remains) but on a much smaller scale and with nearly endless options. This is where a funeral director’s experienced advice can really be helpful. Scattering families (and those that are undecided but may scatter) often think that they do not need an urn. The passive funeral director will take this as a cue and move on without any more conversation on the topic. The active funeral director will discuss the options available to a scattering family and educate them so that they can make an informed decision.
Some client families may choose cremation because of the price, but that does not mean they want or need a plastic box – even scattering families. A funeral home’s operational success and sustainability will become reliant on the ability to properly offer and promote cremation merchandise and services. One area within the broad umbrella of cremation in which many funeral homes may fall short is with families who intend to scatter. It is easy to dismiss them as simply another family not getting an urn, and then, they in turn are led to that conclusion by the funeral director’s subtle cues and passive approach, but that is a missed opportunity. This is not simply about the bottom line but rather an opportunity to do what you do best – educate your client families and present appropriate options that meet their needs. If done correctly, this can make both sides of the arrangement conference happy.
Yes, some families will still go with the temporary container, but with proper guidance, the curse of the plastic box can be broken.
Cody Lopasky has an M.A. in Psychology and History from the University of Houston-Victoria, a B.A. in Psychology from Texas State University-San Marcos, and he is an A.A.S. graduate with honors and distinction from Commonwealth Institute of Funeral Service. As a student at Commonwealth, Lopasky was a member of the National Funeral Service Honor Society. He is a Texas-licensed funeral director and embalmer as well as a certified crematory operator. Starting in high school, and continuing after licensure, Lopasky worked at Schmidt Funeral Home in Katy, TX. He was employed there as a funeral director and embalmer for several years before joining the education side of funeral service in 2016 when he accepted a full-time faculty position at Commonwealth Institute of Funeral Service. Currently, Lopasky is the Associate Dean of Academics and teaches both face-to-face and online courses. Lopasky enjoys writing and academic research; especially in regard to funeral service. He has published numerous articles, written a continuing education course for funeral service practitioners, and was a contributor for a funeral service education textbook.
tips and tools
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, September 12, 2018
Updated: Wednesday, September 12, 2018
Mitch Rose, CEO of The Woodlawn Cemetery, was inaugurated as President of CANA in July at our 100th Convention. Mitch has many plans for his 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 funeral homes and cemeteries can come together to inform the public on the options and benefits of memorializing cremated remains.
The first thing that I think of with cremation memorialization is the old adage that the consumer who is interested in cremation memorialization doesn’t necessarily know what they want, but they do know what they don’t like, and in order to determine what they don’t like, they need to see it. So it’s important that the cemetery has a wide product offering to be able to show the consumer what those choices are and then to get a sense of what best suits their needs.
Lessons from a Glass-Front Niche Project
To widen our product offerings at The Woodlawn, we started doing some retrofitting. We found corners, interior mausoleums, and blank walls where we could put in niche banks. We added curved, glass-front feature niches. We held an internal sales contest and had the counselors themselves design what would go inside behind the glass front, bringing in memorabilia, picking an urn, etc. We were able to leave one of the sample designs there when the inventory went up, so people could see it, like a pre-furnished condo model. They looked at it and it gave them ideas.
We picked the center, heart-level niches and priced them like we would a heart-level or eye-level mausoleum. This equated to the price of a single crypt, which at first we thought was pretty expensive. But we discovered very quickly, by bringing the consumer to that site, that these niches were what people wanted. They saw other items—niches with lower prices at higher elevations—at a price point that was very inexpensive.
But when they saw the more expensive glass-front, heart-level niches, those sold first. That helped us discover that your expectation of what somebody else is willing to spend is a very dangerous thing. Never put your wallet in somebody else’s hands.
Funeral Home Relations are Key
We developed photographs of the sample glass-front niche I described above, including the memorabilia. These photographs were brought to local funeral homes and we spoke to them about what I think is one of the most important things about the death care industry—the fact that funeral homes and cemeteries are really in this together, especially when it comes to serving the cremation customer.
By offering glass-front niches, what we were able to do is demonstrate the value of memorialization, meaning those cremated remains are going to have a final resting place. Placing them behind glass absolutely changed the rules for the funeral home in terms of the urn. So we essentially took all our urns off the marketplace. We don’t compete with funeral homes on urns.
By working together, the funeral home and the cemetery reinforce the idea of memorialization. This is critical in the era of cremation, where many cremated remains end up at home. You build relationships with the funeral director so the funeral home and the cemetery realize they’re in it together, and an interesting thing happens. By talking about memorialization, the funeral director is also able to promote the idea of ritual and services. If you’re going to place cremated remains in a chosen urn, the probability that there will be a ceremony—of any kind—is increased, because you’ve created value to permanence. Permanence in memorialization infers the same thing as what happens in a funeral service. You create permanent memories of a final tribute to somebody who has passed. I think those interlocking relationships are critical as we continue to move into the era of cremation-minded families.
If you’re going to open a cremation garden, you want to make sure you have buy-in from your staff. Nothing is worse than investing in a particular inventory of additional niches or a mausoleum, and then your staff isn’t enthusiastic about it or isn’t showing it at the level of frequency that you want them to.
People are creatures of habit, so if your sales agents are more oriented to selling the top level of the mausoleum, or they always seem to show a particular ground burial area, it’s important to break that up a little bit. For The Woodlawn staff, doing this exercise of filling the glass-front niches with memorabilia was fun, it was interesting—it was amazing what we ended up seeing. And it gave them buy-in into representing that product to the families.
We do a lot of in-house training with our staff. Some of them have participated in coming to programs like the CANA cremation symposium, where they’re exposed to great speakers who can recharge them and create more enthusiasm. Even more important is the access to networking with their peers, because the challenges we face are pretty similar across the board.
Careful Planning and Thoughtful Design
The amount of space you need to develop cremation inurnment rites is probably the best news about cremation. It’s so small, and the amount of volume you can get into a relatively small area provides a great opportunity. That said, I have seen many cemetery sections for cremation that, unfortunately, over-capitalized on that density. The rites themselves were relatively restricted in overall size, but the proximity of each and every one of them was so close that the end effect, once burials were made and inscriptions were added, was a very condensed, almost cluttered look.
I think it’s important to make sure that you don’t overpopulate the size of your cremation garden – it’s a small area that will accommodate a large amount of cremated remains. That can be a very dangerous mistake and one that you have to watch out for before you get excited about how many cremation rites you can get in. The return on investment of an inventory development is certainly driven by the amount of units you’re getting into the confining space you’re developing – “If you want to maximize your return, put more units in! – but this can create a much denser environment. Aesthetically, that may not be as pleasing to the eye as it may appear to be on your financials. Be careful not to clutter the design. Be cognizant about how it will end up looking.
A good way to do that is through renditions. Today, most of the major suppliers will readily offer prospective renditions. They’ll take a picture of a particular area, then they’ll take it back to their office and bring you back a Photoshopped design with these particular items in these particular places. Other vendors are using 3-D renditions such as SketchUp, where you’re actually able to move in a three-dimensional sense, where you can actually walk through the design—a virtual tour.
There are many elements to consider with any construction, but in cremation memorialization they’re more important than ever. Certainly you have a manufacturer or supplier, many of which have design and build companies. There are benefits in using a design-build company in relation to one-stop-shop, cost, etc. You may also use an engineering consultant, because what looks good on paper may not necessarily translate physically into the known factors of your physical environment or your regulatory environment. But I think that often a final piece of that three-pronged approach to internal development is missed, and that’s an architect.
In the cemetery world, an architect might not come to your mind right away because you’re tending to use design- build, and perhaps an engineer or construction company. But the architects who we’ve found the most success with are those who don’t come from the cemetery industry, they come from the landscaping and building construction industry. What they bring to the table is a high level of awareness of space and spatial dimension to assess what it will feel like when people walk into this space. Is it going to feel like we put something in there that wasn’t there before? Or is it going to feel like what we have added was there all the time, and it’s a natural fit? I think it goes back to development of long-range planning strategies that will allow for the backfilling of interior portions of your construction. To be developed in the future, but with a retrofitted sensibility.
The tendency is, “I’ve been here x number of years, I know where these spaces are, let’s put up a niche bank, let’s get a design-build company, let’s just do it.” And I would advise everyone to really step back and realize that with long-term cemetery design— especially when it comes to cremation-minded families—creating an overly dense offering can really backfire. The independent-minded cremation consumer, who is questioning the need for a funeral home or wondering how to minimize the use of the funeral home in many cases, is not even assessing that a cemetery has to fit into this equation at all.
The Value of Ritual
These independent-minded consumers won’t come to the cemetery because they don’t see the need.
Eighty percent of these cremated remains are not coming to the cemetery. But 100% of the families are using a funeral service provider. So the funeral home environment is always going to be there to serve those who have lost someone.
In the cemetery world, we have a bigger challenge to even get them to think that the cemetery is something they might even want to think about. To do that, funeral home relations are going to become increasingly important. The value of memorialization at a cemetery really does interlock with the value of some kind of ritual.
Ritual is a pretty broad word. It doesn’t have to be religious, it doesn’t have to be ceremonial, but the ritual of paying respect to the loss of life with the survivors is important. How that plays out is, of course, pretty wide open. It can be tough for the funeral service provider to explore new trends in this very traditional industry—an industry, very much like the church, that is bound by past conventions. With more and more unchurched families, we find that they bypass the whole piece. They can do everything online.
Adapting and Engaging
I’m optimistic because in the history of business and America if you aren’t willing to change and meet that consumer need or consumer preference, that’s okay. Someone else will. And they will take the market. So I’m not overly concerned about what people are changing or how quickly they’re changing. My real concern is how do I adapt my entrenched methodologies, restricted by my long, thirty-year career? How do I get out of the box and reintegrate tools that I personally may not even use, like social media? I have to recognize that others use it so it makes sense.
The overhead of maintaining a cemetery is certainly difficult for an operator. But the value of a cemetery and its upkeep is really a reflection on the community. Your engagement with the community, especially now through social media, is really your only solution to keeping people engaged with the cemetery and keeping them open-minded about what you’re doing and what you’re offering.
At The Woodlawn, we’ve seen a gradual increase in memorialization, and, probably, a more dramatic increase in the average per sale. Because cremation-minded families mostly do not go to the cemetery and choose a memorialization, that’s even more reason to make sure that you have a wide range of offerings for the people who do come.
The full article appears in The Cremationist Vol. 51, Issue 1 as "Cemetery Memorialization in the Cemetery" — CANA Members can log in to see this and more articles from our quarterly publication. Not a member? Consider joining your business to access tools, techniques, statistics, and advice to help you understand how to grow the range of services and products you can offer, ensuring your business is a good fit for every member of your community – only $470!
Mitch Rose is currently Chief Executive Officer & President of The Woodlawn Cemetery in Bronx, New York and President of CANA. During his 30-year career in death care he has actively managed medium to large cemeteries, funeral homes, and crematories in the South, Midwest, and Mid-Atlantic regions for Service Corporation International for 9 years and Carriage Services for 11 years. Mitch joined the executive team of The Woodlawn Cemetery, a National Historic Landmark, as Vice President in 2010. Mitch was a professor at the ICCFA University in Memphis for 8 years, and is also a proud member of the Historical Cemetery Alliance & the Cemetery Council.
tips and tools
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, August 22, 2018
Updated: Wednesday, August 22, 2018
Everybody knows some of the challenges we have in the industry right now, and that 2016 marked the first time there were more cremations than casket burials. Now, as we approach 2020, the cremation rate in the US is expected to be about 56%. This is one of the biggest challenges we face every day. Additionally, studies show that the percentage of people who feel a religious component is necessary to their service is declining rapidly. Five years ago it was about 50%, this year it’s about 40% -- a loss of about 10% of people who feel a need for a traditional religious component to their service.
Some more challenges: 70% of baby boomers do not want the same type of service that their parents or grandparents did and 62% want a much more personalized approach. Many of us, even some reading this, still only offer the very traditional services that we offered several years ago: 90% of cemeteries and funeral homes only offer very traditional things. So though consumers say they want something different, we offer them the same. We have a traditionalist mentality and the statistics mentioned above support that.
This one is probably our fault: 68% of families want an organized gathering of some sort, but only 16% know that they are able to have one. We’re the ones that said “Hey, let’s call this direct cremation and we can sell this for $495, $595, $695, $795 – cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap!” Finally, about 70% of families know they have an ability to be in a cemetery. I grew up in cemeteries, I’ve been in the cemetery business for 30 years – that statistic drives me absolutely nuts. We need to evaluate all of these challenges and find strategies to overcome them.
Strategy: Relevant Offerings
When we talk about relevant offerings, we need to give people a reason to see us other than visiting a loved one. In order to do this, you need to produce some relevant offerings at your location.
In cemeteries, I suggest having multiple products in one area: in-ground, above-ground; multiple price points – 6 or 7 is a good number (less and you look like a tightwad, more and you’ll confuse not only your families, but your staff as well); personal and private. Picture a planned community with some private homes, clusters of quad homes, and then a high-rise condominium that houses 800 people. You have a couple options as you flow through the space. But again, you have to make sure that you are giving people a reason to come visit you without visiting their loved ones. And it can be done.
Many businesses in our industry are opening their doors to other events. The right space can be used for a field trip, a wedding, and other community events. Relevancy is something we need and lack in this industry and we have to get out of our own way sometimes.
Offering food and beverage is one of the hottest trends in this industry. We’re trying to find ways, especially with our cremation consumer, to create value in what we do. Remember only 16% of families know they are able to have a gathering but 68% want one. How can we bridge that gap? It’s simple, folks: when a death occurs, between the death and when the service or cremation occurs, people eat an average of 7-9 times. That means we have 7-9 times to serve a family other than “Hey, how about a direct cremation today? Great, hand me your $695 and let’s go home.” Valuation consultants estimate that if you were to add just 12 hospitality services a year, it could bump the value of your business up $400k. With 12 a year at $600, that increases your sales and the value of your funeral home or cemetery.
Keep in mind that hospitality is a strategy. You’re not selling food, you’re not selling beverages, you’re not selling your room rental. We have to stop thinking like that. You’re selling experience and convenience. A widow who just lost her husband of 60 years has family coming in but the last thing she wants to worry about is how she’ll feed them. It’s an added stressor, so offer food trays and include it with the service or with the opening/closing fee. It becomes an automatic add-on – provide a nice platter to the family every time they come in. Stacie Schubert corporate catering for SCI, and she says “catering is for the busy, not the affluent.” Change your mindset. We think, “Catering? That’s going to be really expensive,” but it’s for people who are too busy to worry about eating the 7-9 times after a death occurs and before a service happens.
How can we plug in hospitality as part of what we’re doing? We don’t have to, but I can promise you somebody is. It may be your local hotel, country club, banquet halls, and restaurants. Every one of them is in the funeral home and cemetery space getting $1,500 for the ballroom plus food and we have the same facilities and can do the Same. Darn. Thing.
We need to create a space to hold a non-traditional funeral service. Today’s consumers are telling us repeatedly that the days of having a visitation from 6-8pm, a service at 8pm, and a graveside the next morning are done. We’ve got to find a way to meet the needs of the consumer instead of always saying “Here’s how I’ve always done it, I’m going to continue to do it this way.” I heard a joke recently,
How many cemeterians does it take change a lightbulb?
My granddaddy put that lightbulb in 40 years ago, why would I need to change it?
Provide a full catering package, and think past the funeral luncheon. A lot of people are following the family home with food after the arrangement conference because food is the last thing they’re thinking about after they just signed the authorization to cremate Dad. But they need to eat – they physically need to eat. So, people are following them home.
Give people what they want. I’m not saying you need to go out and build a huge facility, most people are retrofitting what they have.
None of this really matters unless you’re able to get the word out effectively. If only 16% of families know they can memorialize somewhere, we’re not doing a good job educating people about what their options are and about what we have to offer. We do a great job saying “direct cremation: $495,” but we don’t do a good job everywhere else. We have to be able to show we’re the experts, but more than that we have to be able to humanize ourselves to them. We’re not just creepy funeral directors, crematory operators, or gravediggers.
Did you know that YouTube is the second biggest search engine after Google? People are going to YouTube for information, 3 billion searches a month, but how many of us have an active YouTube channel? And how many people have an active email campaign? What about tying to a social cause? Giving a percentage to a charity or foundation – how hard would that be to do? You say “it’s not really relevant, John. These Boomers don’t care about that.” But guess what happens when a death occurs? They sit down with their kids or their grandkids and say “what are we going to do with Dad now?” And one of the kids, one of the 25- or 30-year-olds, googles “cremation” and sees a direct cremation for $495. So it’s not just the 80 year old person that we are serving anymore, it’s a whole lot of layers underneath that 80 year old person. And the younger generations do care about those kinds of things.
One idea is to get a cremation “genius” on your funeral home or cemetery staff – someone who specializes in cremation. Roll with me here – it’s not just how the crematory works, it’s “Oh, you want to wait and do this 6 months later? Okay. We’ll cremate Mom now, hold her here. Here’s a list of hotels, caterers, cemeteries and we’ll put this together and in 6 months we’ll have a service.” It’s similar to how you walk into an Apple Store and you talk to a “genius” and they know everything there is to know about their product. But in our funeral homes or cemeteries, we have one person who does a lot and they have to know everything. Yet with cremation we're generalists – we’re not focused on knowing everything there is to know about the process, what drives the cremation consumer, what they look like, or what pushes their buttons. But it’s what people expect.
Everyone knows the old adage that value has to equal price, but I’ll take it a little further: the perceived value has to equal the price. Sales 101 in two paragraphs:
People buy for two reasons: to get rid of a problem they don’t want or to create a result that they want but don’t have. It’s that simple. Think of your position in your marketplace with your pricing just based on that. Now let’s break that down a little bit more. You’re selling utility, the value of your product. You don’t buy a can opener to sit and be pretty, you buy it to open cans. Consumers don’t pay for products, they pay for what the product does. We have got to define our added value. We have to create something significant for people we serve. A lot of cremation is low-cost, cheap and easy. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be that way, but you can still create value for “cheap and easy.”
People buy from you for two reasons: they like you and they trust you. If they like you and trust you, they’re going to buy from you. If they don’t, they won’t (or they might, but not much). Once they see the utility behind what you’re doing, they want to see the credibility. Once they think you can deliver what they want you to deliver, they want to make sure it’s relevant to them. This is often the most crucial stage in closing the deal. To successfully get through this phase of the sale, two key skills are required: the ability to question skillfully, the ability to listen carefully. Part of our biggest problem in dealing with the consumer is not listening. We already know. We’re programmed with what we’re supposed to say. When they skew, we try to bring them back.
So, dig a little deeper. Ask questions and listen to their answers: “Tell me about yourself and your family.” Push the papers, the contract away and ask them to tell you about them. Even with a direct cremation, do this and build value.
“If you could design the perfect way to remember your loved one after they are cremated, what would it look like?” Don’t just show them the 14 urns in the catalog or on the shelf, ask them to describe what the urn, the service, the keepsake would look like. Then make relevant suggestions and create value.
What do you do?
Make a plan.
Understand where you are, create a baseline. Take the key points from this post and create a strategic plan to get where you want to be. Decide what changes you would like to make and how you are going to make them. Focus on something you could implement immediately, then focus on the short term. “When I’m at the CANA convention next year, where do I want to be?” Set a target or improvement goal. Make the beginning something easy to create value. But then set the long-term goals and figure out what you need to do in a year to make it happen. Then, make it happen.
This post was transcribed and edited for length and clarity from John Bolton's presentation at CANA's 100th Annual Cremation Innovation Convention on July 27, 2018 at the Fort Lauderdale Marriott Harbor Beach Resort & Spa in Session 7 • Beyond the Niche: Creating an Effective Cremation Development Strategy, to lead us past the “If we build it, they will come” philosophy and break down the ins and outs of developing a true cremation strategy to effectively meet the needs of today’s non-traditional cremation consumer.
With a wide range of valuable networking and educational opportunities, the CANA Convention featured sessions that examined the last 100 years of CANA conventions and growth in cremation, evaluated where businesses are today, and focused on the next 100 years by providing strategic and practical information for long-term success. Missed it? You can access John's full presentation recording and all other speakers' wisdom on our Learning Management System. View session descriptions and pricing here: gocana.org/CANA18.
Save the Date for CANA's 101st Annual Cremation Innovation Convention in Louisville, Kentucky July 31-August 2, 2019.
John Bolton is President of Blackstone Cemetery Development, which specializes in the planning, development, construction and marketing of cremation garden areas and digital mapping. With over 15 years of cemetery development experience and 30 years in the death care business, John has designed and/or implemented over 500 cremation development projects across the United States. During his 30-year career, he has served in almost every facet of the industry. He has actively managed and owned medium to large cemeteries, and funeral home/cemetery combo’s in East Tennessee, and Southwest Virginia.
tips and tools
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, August 8, 2018
Now that we are entering the final quarter of the year, most companies in the funeral service are working on next year’s marketing plans. As you move through this process, it’s a great time to ask (and answer) some key questions about your company and its operations.
A solid marketing plan assembles all of a company’s marketing objectives into one comprehensive plan. While each company has a unique set of goals, the overreaching aims for most firms are to increase business and, in doing so, grow revenues, profits and market share. Here are a number of questions to ponder as part of the marketing plan development process.
- Have your analyzed your competition?
You can learn a lot by taking an objective look at your competitors, their operations and their marketing efforts. Now would be a great time to take a long, hard look at what your competition is offering. You might be very surprised at what you find.
- What is your customer’s experience?
Happy families are loyal customers. Make the customer experience easy, enjoyable and convenient. When you do that successfully, they will use your firm and promote your company to others in the community. Evaluate every step of the customer’s journey once they contact your firm and work toward creating a customer experience that is unparalleled in your market. Remember, the little difference makes all the difference.
- How is your firm perceived in the community?
Discover what your reputation is and whether your “brand” matches your intention and perception. Talk to customers and prospects. You might discover a shortcoming that needs to be addressed or better yet, learn about a strength that you were not aware of.
- What, if any, changes or trends have emerged in your marketplace?
Research the CANA trends and make sure your services are still meaningful and relevant. Assess current customer needs and pain points, and make a plan to address them in your marketing messages. Look for growth opportunities in new marketplaces when appropriate.
- What did you do well last year, and where do you need to improve?
Some marketing plans are left on the shelf and not followed. In addition, even when implemented, some programs do not generate the expected results. In that case, it’s important to evaluate the components of each campaign, including the messaging, medium and the delivery. Ask for input from all team members to get a better understanding of what needs to change in the future.
- What strengths do you need to leverage and protect as well as what weaknesses must you address?
Figure out what you are doing well and make plans to make them even stronger. At the same time, take an honest look at where you and your staff fall short. Outline a plan to make this shortcoming a strength.
- What opportunities can you exploit and what threats should you plan to mitigate?
If you are in contact with other CANA members, find out what new services or products they offer and have had success with. Conversely, find out what regulations they are faced with in their states and communities – as it’s only a matter of time until they may find their way into your market.
- Is your vision and mission clearly acknowledged and understood throughout your company?
Without a succinct and easily expressed mission, it is unlikely that everyone will be united and be able to work together in a collaborative way to reach the outlined company’s goals. Find ways to remind the staff (and inform your families) about the vision through things like signage throughout the firm.
- Do you have well-defined strategies to drive your marketing initiatives?
Take a look at what products and services you plan to offer, how they will be priced, where you will interact with family and what you will communicate with them. Each of these is crucial in providing the backbone for the tactics and activities included in the marketing plan.
- Is your messaging customer-centric?
Today’s savvy families can spot a marketing pitch a mile away. Personalize messages to customers based on their pain points, needs and interests, and deliver them in a way they like. Successful companies create tailored, relevant communications based on customer preferences that highlights a key point of difference.
- Is your marketing plan written, known and supported throughout the organization?
While the vision, mission, goals, strategies and tactics are important components of any solid marketing plan, they are not enough. Make sure your plan includes a budget, schedule, assignment of responsibilities and a method of monitoring and evaluating plan performance. Share the plan and get buy-in and then fine-tune the plan throughout the year.
As you answer these questions, your marketing plan will begin to unfold. Start by focusing on the big picture and then define the specific strategies and tactics necessary to accomplish your goals. When strategy and tactics in your marketing plan work in tandem as they are executed, your company can efficiently and effectively reach its goals and enjoy success.
Joe Weigel put attendees though their paces at CANA's 100th Annual Cremation Innovation Convention on July 26, 2018 at the Fort Lauderdale Marriott Harbor Beach Resort & Spa in Session 2 • Marketing Boot Camp 101: You Must Start with the Basics, to acquire the core skills of a marketer to improve your firm’s overall competitiveness and increase revenues, receive a solid grounding in the tools, techniques and approaches used in a plan.
This article appears in The Cremationist Vol. 54, Issue 3 — CANA Members can log in to see this and more articles from our quarterly publication. Not a member? Consider joining your business to access tools, techniques, statistics, and advice to help you understand how to grow the range of services and products you can offer, ensuring your business is a good fit for every member of your community – only $470!
With a wide range of valuable networking and educational opportunities, the CANA Convention featured sessions that examined the last 100 years of CANA conventions and growth in cremation, evaluated where businesses are today, and focused on the next 100 years by providing strategic and practical information for long-term success. Missed it? You can access Joe's full presentation recording and all other speakers' wisdom on our Learning Management System. View session descriptions and pricing here: gocana.org/CANA18.
Save the Date for CANA's 101st Annual Cremation Innovation Convention in Louisville, Kentucky July 31-August 2, 2019.
Joe Weigel is currently principal and owner of Weigel Strategic Marketing. a communications firm focused on cremation and the funeral profession that delivers expertise and results across three interrelated marketing disciplines: strategy, branding and communications. You can visit his website at weigelstrategicmarketing.webs.com. He also can be reached at 317-608-8914 or email@example.com.
tips and tools
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, July 25, 2018
Updated: Wednesday, July 11, 2018
The funeral industry has a challenge on its hands: consumers are choosing cremation, but they know little about it. They don’t know the process, the possibilities for memorialization, and they don’t understand cremation’s history. Worse, because America’s cremation story has largely been untold, misconceptions about the industry fill the gaps.
Cremation in the United States is the new tradition. In 2016, cremation reached a major milestone when it eclipsed casketed burial as the most popular form of disposition—and it shows no signs of slowing. In 1960, only 3.6% of Americans chose cremation. In 2016, 50.1% did. But even as cremation has soared in popularity, a significant lack of understanding about the process and possibilities of cremation exists. That’s why the History of Cremation Exhibit is so important.
On September 16, the National Museum of Funeral History (NMFH) celebrates the opening of The History of Cremation Exhibit, a joint project developed with CANA to tell the full-circle story of cremation in America: from chronicling its birth in Pennsylvania to demonstrating a step-by-step modern cremation process and illuminating the seemingly endless possibilities for memorialization. Visitors will walk away with a new respect and appreciation for this widely misunderstood industry.
What does Cremation have to do with Funeral History?
The National Museum of Funeral History was founded in 1992 to realize Robert L. Waltrip’s 25-year dream of establishing an institution to educate the public and preserve the heritage of death care. The Museum provides a place to collect and preserve the history of the industry, including how it began and how it has evolved over time. Permanent exhibits feature vintage hearses, international funerary practices, and tributes to notable figures, but no exhibit had touched on the fastest growing method of disposition in the Western world – cremation.
Like its history in America, the global story of cremation is marked by wide-swinging societal shifts. From its ancient use in Roman and Greek culture to purify and honor souls through fire, to its Christian condemnation as a pagan ritual, cremation’s road has been long and conflicted. And people were curious about this story – museum visitors left comments about cremation’s glaring absence from the museum when it’s so present in society.
How did cremation make such a giant leap forward in American society?: The First US Cremation (an exhibit sneak-peek!)
In 1876, the LeMoyne Crematory in Pennsylvania became the first crematory in the United States. That same year, a man named Baron De Palm was the first person cremated there. The inaugural cremation was an event. Local Board of Health members and physicians were invited. Crowds gathered outside the crematory hoping to get a glimpse of the mystical method of disposition by fire.
A handful of honored guests received a small, clear apothecary jar filled with a portion of De Palm’s cremated remains. Those jars signify the birth of cremation in America, and one of them will be on display at the unveiling. Visitors will experience the transition from 1876 to today, from a replica of the LeMoyne Crematory to a modern cremation chamber.
The exhibit is a first-of-its kind undertaking, not merely displaying interesting artifacts, but telling a visual story of cremation in America through historical urns, pamphlets, replicas of original equipment and other artifacts, while educating on the technology and memorialization possibilities of modern cremation. Like the witnesses to Baron de Palm’s cremation, the exhibition will allow people to go behind the scenes—seeing cremation containers, the process, how we recycle, and how we memorialize.
More than getting America’s cremation story in one place, The History of Cremation Exhibit delivers well-deserved clarity to an industry shrouded in mystery. The exhibit will demystify cremation for the public, particularly that cremation memorialization means more than an urn on a mantle. The exhibit will showcase cremation history, but also help the public understand memorialization options and open their eyes to things they never knew about cremation.
While cremation continues to rise in the United States—more than half of Americans are choosing it—too often, people stop at “just cremate me.” Moving beyond direct disposal, the exhibit will showcase meaningful ways to memoralize whether adhering to tradition or creating a personalized experience. This exhibit provides an understanding of the complete cremation process, including the role of the funeral director and cemeterian when exploring options for cremation and permanent placement of their cremated remains.
By the Industry, For the Industry
The idea for an exhibit began long ago when Jason Engler, a funeral director who has been involved in funeral service for most of his life, began collecting facts and artifacts at 12 years old. When he joined CANA as its official historian, he began exploring ways to communicate the fascinating beginning of the American Cremation Movement to a wider audience. This exhibit features much of Engler’s own extensive collection as well as other CANA members’ donated time, resources, and artifacts. Together, they tell the story of cremation and the possibilities for memorialization.
But it’s not simply about educating the public. The exhibit will demystify cremation for funeral service professionals as well. Even seasoned funeral directors and cemeterians struggle with presenting all the options and effectively educating consumers on cremation. Some in the industry may even personally dislike cremation, but they are not alone. Twenty-first century funeral service professionals are the latest in a long line of professionals who struggled with and succeeded in meeting the needs of cremation families.
For a long time, cremation was taboo and certain religions and people within the funeral industry didn’t accept it. But the cremation rate shows that opinions have changed and this exhibit takes a large step toward acknowledging cremation’s history in our profession—and we should take a great deal of pride in it. Understanding the historical context of cremation allows you to learn from the past and embrace the future.
What to Expect at the History of Cremation Exhibit
A driving force behind The History of Cremation Exhibit is Jason Engler, CANA’s official historian. Engler donated approximately 90 percent of his personal collection of historical cremation items to the exhibit, including:
- 140 books, pamphlets, and brochures about historic cremation facilities
- 120 urns, some dating back to the late-1890s
60 postcards depicting various crematories
20 urn catalogues printed from the 1890s to the 1990s
20 original articles, documents, certificates, and images about different aspects of cremation
Outside of Engler’s collection, the exhibit will feature some extraordinary items from the LeMoyne Crematory, which opened in 1876 as America’s first crematory:
A notebook listing all who were cremated at LeMoyne Crematory, which was kept by the designer, builder, and operator of the crematory
A book written by Dr. Francis Julius LeMoyne, LeMoyne Crematory’s founder
A copy of the exclusive invitation for the cremation of Baron De Palm, the first modern cremation in the United States
The casket plate from De Palm’s casket
An apothecary jar containing a portion of De Palm’s remains
The exhibit will also showcase the casket lid of the first woman cremated in America—Jane Pitman, who died in 1878. Visitors will also see a letter written by her husband, Benjamin Pitman, requesting her cremation.
Throughout the exhibit, visitors will see how cremation has evolved over time—the changes in societal views, equipment, and memorialization options.
How to Donate to the History of Cremation Exhibit
Financial or artifact contributions are what make the History of Cremation Exhibit possible. Please consider donating to the History of Cremation Exhibit today.
Read on to learn more about the history of cremation starting with the role of women in the Cremation Movement and how the Memorial Idea has changed since the first cremation. This post was excerpted from The Cremationist, Vol 54, Issue 2: “Preview of the History of Cremation Exhibit” by Kelly Rehan.
Jason will present on the history of cremation and our association at CANA’s 100th Annual Cremation Innovation Convention tomorrow! Do you know what cremation innovation will look like in 100 years? Share it with us for our time capsule to be opened in 2118!