Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, October 9, 2019
Updated: Friday, September 27, 2019
Nobody likes paperwork. It’s a pain in the rear and a nuisance. Filling out forms and checking off boxes is a waste of valuable time for the crematory operator, am I right? That statement is as wrong as saying the earth is flat.
I like paperwork – I'm a weirdo – and documentation and record keeping policies, and following them consistently, are just as important as any other task performed in the crematory. This includes the safe and efficient operation of the cremation equipment. I have seen first-hand the effect of poor operating procedures on a business and on the community. I am on a mission to change this, but I am only one guy.
So, if you understand the reasoning behind all of this paperwork and documentation, you can better appreciate its importance. Even more important is understanding the impact of not following your company record-keeping and documentations policy consistently.
The Point of Paperwork
State laws dictate what paperwork is required for the cremation of the deceased, and it is important that you comply with these regulations. Because cremation is irreversible, it is crucial that you document each and every step of the process. Proper and consistent paperwork reduces the risk of litigation in the event you are accused of doing something wrong. When you make a mistake, it’s easy to deal with. Admit your error, make good on it, take your medicine and move on with your life. The hard part is when you are accused of doing something wrong that you did not do. Without proper documentation it can be difficult to prove your innocence.
So what’s the key to a successful cremation business? There are countless books about strategy, procedures, and processes, but this is one of my favorite quotes:
Strong businesses have strong policies.
– Vicente Falconi, management guru
Crematory Management Program
So my company and CANA have partnered to create the Crematory Management Program to develop a framework – a table of contents if you will – for standard operating procedures that can be customized to each business. This is a resource for CANA Members to help them develop their own SOP Manual -- with samples and examples (and a free consultation with me) to get your existing policies and procedures in one place, in order, and identify what your company is missing.
We based it on four overview categories that we will introduce here, with a focus just on the paperwork:
Core Policies and Procedures
These are the things that are at the 30,000-foot view, meaning the overarching and guiding policies for your business. On the paperwork side, Document Retention Policies and filing procedures are important. These are determined in part by your state/provincial regulators, and part your business practices. If you can’t find something, even if it was filled out perfectly, it doesn’t exist. No one likes to file paperwork, but an organized file system could save your job someday. I often recommend, when I’m helping firms who use electronic file systems, to keep records forever. Why not? A lot of cremation professionals are used to the paper, but electronic files are not only responsible environmentally, but easier to store and locate.
Equipment Operations Procedures
Equipment is my favorite part since I built them for so many years. Here, you need to document your equipment and how to run it and maintain it. You need written procedures for how cases move through your operation. Your firm should have a comprehensive written procedure guide outlining the steps in the process from receipt of the deceased to return of the cremated remains, and it should include the associated forms, verification, and documentation required. In the crematory, there are forms for the operator to fill out and forms that are already complete. The operator is responsible for verifying the presence, accuracy and validity of these already completed forms prior to each next step in the process.
Maintenance and inspection is one section that's completely populated in the CANA Member resource of the Crematory Management Program. Basically, your schedules and logs, maintenance records, outside/third-part inspection records are all there. I love the idea of the outside/third-party inspection -- that means if someone -- like a regulator or one of your families -- asks, you can pull that report that shows what an inspector found, how you addressed it, and what you're doing right. Plus, your maintenance records keep a clear list of your investment in your existing equipment and prepare for a future capital investment.
Forms and Authorizations
You likely know the necessary forms and authorizations to keep your business running, but all of the paperwork in the world is worthless without compliance and consistency. Be thorough and complete with every entry every time. If you leave a field blank it will raise a red flag. Was that field forgotten? Or was it really not applicable? If there is a space to record information, and you either do not have that information or it doesn’t apply to this individual, mark that fact down in the space. An incomplete form is worse than not having a form in the first place, when it comes to covering your backside.
Write legibly when filling out forms. A document that you cannot read is worthless. Never use whiteout if you make a mistake filling in a field. It’s better to cross out the mistake with a single line and put the correct information in next to the error. Initial and date the correction. Whiteout can make someone think you changed the document entry after the fact, to cover your mistake. Keeping a mistake transparent is always better when defending your actions.
What’s the importance of human resources? Your business can’t do anything without staff to run it. So think about roles-based operational procedures. The procedures should dictate what the results are – not the people doing them. The people doing them should fit the skill set and do them per your policy and procedures. Doing it the same way every time helps assure that mistakes are not made. If you never do it differently, you will do it right every time. Knowing and being able to say you do it right every time is a powerful statement to make.
Why We Do It
The most important reason to consistently follow all documentation and record keeping policies and procedures is the fact that doing so will virtually eliminate doing the wrong thing. It’s not just about the risk and the money. It’s the obligation to the families. A crematory operator is a vital part of the overall process of turning a dead body into a living memory for a family. It is absurd to think that any good operator would want to do anything less than a perfect job for the family of the deceased. After all, it’s more about the family than anything else, right?
A well-developed SOP Manual wrapped in a pretty bow is not the end-game. Once completed, it will not do you any good on the bookshelf, no matter how great the processes are. The final document, a customized and complete SOP Manual must be a continuous, living, breathing part of your day to day business. CANA's Crematory Management Program is a benefit to our members to help you ensure your policies and procedures are comprehensive, implemented and enforced.
Developed with Cremation Strategies & Consulting, this program provides step-by-step instructions to build a Standard Operating Procedures Manual to reduce liability, improve employee on-boarding and training, and ensure that operations are done correctly, efficiently, and consistently.
See more and get started: goCANA.org/crematorymanagement
This article is excerpted from "All Systems Go: The Importance of Paperwork and Record Keeping" by Larry Stuart, Jr. which first appeared in The Cremationist Vol. 54, Issue 1 — CANA Members can log in to see this and more articles from our quarterly publication. This is part of the recurring column All Systems Go! written specifically for the crematory operator and featuring an assortment of practical knowledge regarding operations, maintenance, and best practices for running an efficient, safe, and cost-effective crematory.
Larry Stuart, Jr. is a graduate of Kent State University and is a past member of the Board of Directors of the Cremation Association of North America (CANA) as Supplier Liaison. Through his experience Larry has seen first-hand the negative impact that poor crematory maintenance and improper operating procedures can bring about. Larry has spoken at numerous industry events and has conducted crematory operator training classes across North America with a mission to advance the safety of cremation facilities and their employees and to more positively impact our community and our environment. For more information please visit larrystuartjr.com/about
processes and procedures
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, September 25, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, September 25, 2019
John Cassavetes once said “Film is, to me, just unimportant. But people are very important.” Gail Rubin’s article, first appearing in The Cremationist in 2015, shows us how we can use movies to get a glimpse into the human experience in all of its variety. The chance to see peoples’ journeys and the many ways they express grief provides us all useful perspective long before they sit at an arrangement table.
Lights! Camera! Action! Movies are a great way to teach, learn and tell stories that people remember. Studies indicate most humans are visual learners, so movies are a powerful medium to make a memorable educational impression – especially on touchy topics like death and grief.
Movies can be a great way to introduce funeral directors and cremationists, especially those new to the industry, to the diverse reactions that families may exhibit after a loved one dies.
When you look at examples from movies, coupled with background information from thanatology – the study of death, dying and bereavement – you can learn about the different ways people express or repress their grief. You can better understand grief responses without fear of offending a client family.
Consider these movie scenes and the types of grief they illustrate.
Elizabethtown — Instrumental Grief
Drew, a young man who lives in Oregon (Top 5 in cremation rate), has come to his father’s home town of Elizabethtown, Kentucky (Bottom 5 in cremation rate). Dad had unexpectedly died of a heart attack while visiting family there. Mom instructs Drew to have Dad’s body cremated and return with the remains to Oregon. The family in Kentucky wants to bury Dad in the centuries-old family plot.
In one scene, he’s having a phone conversation with Mom in Oregon about the cremation choice. She says, “Honey, I don’t know when I’m going to crash, but as of right now, we are learning about the car, and I’m learning organic cooking, I’m going to tap dance, and later on today, I am going to fix the toilet. It is five minutes at a time.”
Drew says, “Mom, I think you need to slow down.” She replies, “Look, everybody tells me that I should take sedatives, but hey, I am out here and I am making things happen. All forward motion counts.”
The instrumental grieving style focuses on practical matters and problem solving.
Mom is busy, busy, busy – that’s her way to deal with grief. This reaction is not determined by gender, as reported in the book Grieving Beyond Gender: Understanding the Ways Men and Women Mourn by Kenneth Doka and Terry Martin (2010).
You might think men are more inclined toward the practical approach, but Doka and Martin found it’s a pretty even split for men and women to experience an instrumental grief reaction. If you see a family member working a list of things to do prior to the funeral, understand that person is likely an instrumental griever.
A Single Man — Intuitive Grief
At the opening of A Single Man, George, a gay man mired in grief over the death of his partner, wakes up and gets ready for his day. He gets out of bed, showers, shaves, gets dressed, and goes into the kitchen. He narrates his thoughts in this monologue:
For the past eight months, waking up has actually hurt. The cold realization that I’m still here sets in. I was never terribly fond of waking up. I was never one to jump out of bed and greet the day with a smile like Jim was…. It takes time in the morning for me to become George…. Looking in the mirror, staring back at me, isn’t so much a face as the expression of a predicament. (Aloud) ‘Just get through the goddamn day.’ A bit melodramatic I guess. But then again, my heart has been broken. I feel as if I’m sinking, drowning, can’t breathe.
An intuitive grieving style emphasizes experiencing and expressing emotion. Rather than getting busy with activities that may distract or channel emotional pain and sadness, the intuitive griever is immersed in mourning. While we may think of women as emotional, men are just as likely to embrace this style of grieving, although they may retreat to the privacy of a “man cave” to mourn.
Overt sadness, tears and withdrawal in the arrangement conference or at the funeral/memorial service are signs of an intuitive griever.
In the film, George is experiencing profound sadness eight months after his partner’s death. While there is no timeline for grieving, at this point, he may be experiencing complicated grief – when deep mourning is unremitting. Addressing complicated grief is best handled by working with a trained grief therapist.
Because A Single Man illustrates mourning for a partner in a homosexual relationship, it’s the perfect segue to discuss disenfranchised grief. Disenfranchised grief is “the grief that persons experience when they incur a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, publicly mourned, or socially supported.” (Kenneth Doka, 1989)
While people may be more understanding of mourning the death of a same sex partner now, A Single Man is set in 1962, well before homosexual relationships gained acceptance. Other examples of disenfranchised grief: a mistress unable to publicly mourn the death of or breakup with an illicit lover, mourning other losses, such as jobs, health or friends, or pet owners who are devastated by the loss of a beloved companion animal.
The Jane Austen Book Club — Disenfranchised Grief
At the opening of the film, friends gather for a graveside funeral, complete with a celebrant, flowers and a photo of the deceased. It turns out the funeral is for a woman’s dog. One attendee checks her watch. Others roll their eyes.
At the reception afterward, a man says, “Let’s get some perspective here. I mean, do you think if Jocelyn was married with kids she’d be giving her dog a state funeral? This whole thing is warped.”
The love of a pet is intense, and with the loss, there is intense grief. Yet, grief over the loss of a pet often does not get the same level of public recognition given for the loss of a person. Mourners may turn to social media sites like Facebook to receive supportive comments from friends.
Savvy funeral homes are expanding their services to include sensitive death care to help pet parents. Such services can provide an opening and connection with families that leads to human death care business later on.
Other films cover the many faces of grief, including Grief and Past Trauma (The Big Lebowski), Grief and Talking and Repressed Grief (This Is Where I Leave You), Processing Grief (Walk The Line), You Can’t Tell Someone How To Grieve (Six Feet Under), Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ Five Stages (All That Jazz), and Moving Beyond Grief (Gravity). I have a presentation called The Many Faces of Grief: Mourning in the Movies which offers two CEUs through the Academy of Professional Funeral Service Practice and looks into all of these films in-depth to help funeral professionals see different forms of grief on display.
Join Gail and CANA in Albuquerque on October 2-4, 2019 to discuss consumer insights she’s gleaned from the increasingly popular Death Cafes and consumer oriented Before I Die Festivals at the first-ever Green Funeral Conference. Learn more and register: goCANA.org/gfc2019
Gail Rubin is a Certified Thanatologist (a death educator) who teaches about pre-need funeral planning and end-of-life issues, using humor and funny films to reduce resistance to discussing death. An award-winning speaker, she “knocked ‘em dead” with A Good Goodbye, a TEDxABQ talk which provides a compelling online video supporting pre-need funeral planning. She’s the author of three books on end-of-life issues, one of the first people to hold a Death Café in the United States, and the coordinator of the Before I Die New Mexico Festival. Her website is www.AGoodGoodbye.com.
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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