Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, June 12, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, June 11, 2019
Many funeral directors are facing more and more direct cremations with no services. They are at a loss as to how to overcome that trend. There are many ideas, theories, notions and educated guesses as to why families choose cremation. Cost. Environmental footprint. Control. Convenience. Lack of information. Religious affiliation, or lack thereof. All of those certainly are factors and can play a part in any one person’s decision. So we are going to look at the three Big C’s in Cremation.
I would like to go back in time to the early ‘60s when cremation first came on the profession’s radar, and find that first funeral director who said, “Well, I guess I shouldn’t charge as much for this since I’m not embalming or casketing” and take him out. I’m not a violent person by nature, but really?? That idea got started somewhere and we all just went along with it. Sure, let’s charge less for something that takes just as much time to accomplish, has much more liability, and requires just as much staff involvement. That makes perfect business sense.
Within that nonsense also was created the message to families that they were somehow lesser-thans or 2nd class funeral customers. I actually worked for an owner who said to families, “We bury our dead, we burn our trash.”
Because we didn’t take these families seriously and did not take their needs for a meaningful funeral service to heart, they left. Why would I pay $8,000 to someone who thinks I’m not as important as the people who buy the box? I can be ignored at the $695 box-and-burn immediate disposer who is more than willing to take my money and do nothing else for me.
Families are hiring us to perform a service. If I hire an orthopedist to perform surgery on my shoulder, his price is for the surgery. He doesn’t talk about which instruments he might have to use or the amount of time it might take or how many nurses will have to be in the room. He says, “This is my price to fix your shoulder.” Why can’t we have a price for body preparation? Yes, we’d have to figure out the correct GPL language but we could certainly have more productive conversations with our client families if we didn’t have an if/then/or approach to pricing.
Yes, for a small group of people the cremation choice is made based upon cost. But the large majority are choosing cremation based upon control. These people have attended bad services in their past and are determined that they are not going to go to another one. If I have a burial, then I’m beholden to the funeral director to get the casket from point A to point B and so I’m stuck with whatever service is offered to me. I can’t throw the casket in the back of my car and drive off and arrange a service that fits me. But I can walk out with an urn in my hand and have control over the type of service that I hold.
We’ve all been to “bad” services. The cookie-cutter, insert name here, hope someone says the name correctly, impersonal ritual that offers nothing about the person and what his death will mean to those mourning his loss. Every time one of these boring, hurtful or meaningless services occurs, another immediate disposition/no service is created. People say “When I die, don’t do that!”
Cremation offers a choice, a sense of control over what happens in a memorial service. Does that mean that most are held at someone’s house or at a bar or a restaurant with toasts and stories? Probably. Does that mean that the value of having a gathering that celebrates the life and explores the grief and provides a guidepost for mourning the loss is lost? Definitely.
Once I served as a Celebrant for an 80 year-old-man who died of suicide. It was a difficult service, but we honored his life and talked about the depression over health issues that caused him to make such a choice. We discussed what the grief journey was going to look like for those who were trying to make sense of the death. We encouraged the standing room only crowd to be an integral part of the family’s next steps as they turned tears into memories. It was a pretty good service.
That afternoon I received an email from a woman who was in attendance begging me for a copy of the service. This lady tracked me down and said she needed a copy of my words. So, I asked the family for permission and I sent her a copy.
Her backstory was this—her son died of a heroin overdose and her daughter, his twin, died of suicide four years before. They did not have funerals either time. They cremated, then met at a restaurant and told stories. They did not trust that someone could handle such delicate and hard situations, so they just avoided. She needed those words to help her on her own grief journey. This happens hundreds of times across the country to our Celebrants.
Because the celebrant is a ceremony expert, focused solely on the ceremony and often devoting much more time to the ceremony than funeral directors and clergy can, the celebrant can be a tremendous resource. What celebrants offer can even be attractive to those who initially think they don’t want a ceremony at all.
—Diane Gansauer, Director of Celebrant Services, SCI Colorado Funeral Services in Metro Denver
Until we change the service experience for those families, they will continue to walk away. Our pricing, our lovely chapels, our offers of assistance—they’ve been there and done that and don’t trust us to be able to do something that is meaningful.
Which brings us to the final C:
My bedrock message is “Celebrants can change your business, Celebrants can change your families, Celebrants can bring your cremation families back to your firm.”
The religious landscape of our country is changing. The percentage of people who identify as a “None”—not religiously affiliated, not engaged with a church—is rapidly growing. Statistics from the Pew Research report show that almost 25% of the overall population now considers themselves “nones” and over 35% of millennials are disenfranchised with religious experiences.
This has incredible implications for funeral service. Some funerals homes have stained glass windows, Bibles in the foyer, hymns on the speakers and scriptures on their websites. There is nothing wrong with having an ability to serve your religious families, but today anywhere from 25% to 80% of your community does not identify or resonate with those representations. If all you have to offer is a minister and a religious experience, they are going elsewhere.
High “nones” equal high cremation rates. It’s just that simple.
The greatest impact a Celebrant can have with a family is the one on one interview time, an opportunity to sit down and become part of the decedent’s family, by hearing and learning first-hand about the life of their loved one, and sharing a personal glimpse into the life of the decedent with friends and family at the funeral service. That is one of the greatest gifts you can ever give to the family. Out of that experience comes the most gracious of compliments that you will ever receive, which is to hear at the conclusion of the service how well you knew the loved one. The Celebrant experience gives you that opportunity to serve the family in ways you may have never dreamed possible.
—Kevin Hull, Vice President and Location Manager, Cook-Walden Davis Funeral Home
Celebrants are the answer for a majority of your cremation families. So many of them are not offered any options by their funeral professional. So, they either opt for the rent-a-minister or do nothing. Another immediate disposition walks out of the door.
When someone attends a service where every word of the service is focused on the life, on the family, and on the grief experience, their decisions can change significantly. “Oh. . .we can have this kind of service? Then I’m willing to talk to the funeral director about paying for THAT” Over 50% of the services I perform through referrals from funeral homes in my city come from someone who attended another service and came back and asked for that Celebrant. People pay for value. People pay for meaning. People pay for gatherings that heal.
My friend, Ernie Heffner from York, PA, ran numbers on his Celebrant services and found that cremation families who used a Celebrant spent 36% more on other goods and services. It’s not about the money. It’s about the value, the experience, the assurance that someone is going to hear their stories, to honor the life and work with them to put together a service that fits them. People pay for meaning.
I did a service for a man in his 40’s who drank himself to death. He left an estranged wife, a 19 year old daughter, 18 year old son, and a brother who was a recovering alcoholic himself. This meant two hours of slogging through a lot of baggage and feelings to get to the stories and to give them permission to say what was needed. But we put together a service that honored his life while being honest about his struggles and his demons.
After the service, the brother handed me a thank you card with $300 in it. The funeral home had already given me a check for my Celebrant fee of $400. I said, “Oh, you’ve already paid me.” He said, “Please just take it.” The card read “Thank you for performing J’s service and I especially thank you for the time you spent with us Sunday evening. I’m hoping it provided as much healing to the others as it did for me. Thank you.” People pay for healing gatherings.
In today’s world, the most crucial element in helping a family lies in the ability of the Celebrant to actively listen and recreate what they have heard into something with meaning and value. Celebrant Training is funeral service’s best option to develop the skills to become an outstanding funeral professional. At our firm, all of our funeral directors must go through the Celebrant Training so they can understand the importance and value of working with our Celebrants to help the families have a truly outstanding experience. This is especially important for cremation families that are looking for something other than traditional services. Celebrant Services play a major role in making Krause Funeral Homes a place of exceptional funerals.
—Mark Krause, President
Krause Funeral Homes & Cremation Service
We’ve been saying this since 1999: Families need a service to begin their grief journey in a healthy and honest way. Unless we are willing to provide the professionals and the services that they are looking for, they are going to walk away. When families have options, funeral homes are going to lose every time unless their option is better, more appealing and soul touching.
Looking at everything we do when it comes to serving the cremation family—pricing, style of service, presentation of choices, availability to Celebrants who can do exactly what the family wants and needs – is the only way that full-service funeral professionals are going to stay in business. How we deal with all of the C words will determine how much farther down the road we get to travel.
CANA is partnering with Glenda Stansbury and the InSight Institute for the second time this July to offer Celebrant Training. Limited to 40 attendees, this course packs a lot of information, emotion, and training into three days but is increasingly considered a must for the most successful businesses in the US.
Learn more about this class coming to Louisville, Kentucky from July 29-31 and register online.
Glenda Stansbury joined InSight in 1996 as Marketing & Development Director. She has worked as an educator, teacher trainer, and seminar developer. She is a practicing Celebrant, adjunct professor at the University of Central Oklahoma Funeral Department and is a licensed funeral director/embalmer. Glenda is available for speaking to funeral professionals at state and national conventions or for private staff training. For more information, contact Glenda at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, October 24, 2018
One of the best parts of an industry event is the opportunity to hear from your peers. We are a network of industry leaders who have seen it all, tried it, and know what works best. Fortunately, we’re almost as verbose in print as we are in person with hundreds of blogs from funeral director fashion to meticulous legal interpretation. So we decided to collect some of our favorite blog posts – the ones we recommend to others – into one list. No two voices are the same, and all offer a valuable perspective on our industry and some food for thought long after you’re done reading.
This post is tagged "business" and "cremation" and that's an apt description. Tom Anderson admits that updated pricing is not a cure-all for falling revenue, but he explains how a deliberate and thoughtful evaluation of your policies can lead to careful reasoning that will support your cremation families and encourage memorialization. There are ways to add value to even direct cremation packages without significant cost, which in the end often pays off as additional revenue.
The Bottom Line: Do you make it easy for families to plan with you? Do you educate while you assist in the arrangement room?
Short answer: sort of. Nathan Nardi post's stuck out to us because his look at social trends in US CDC data aligns with some of CANA's own research into the demographics of cremation families. Cremation families are typically highly educated and higher income while casketed burial families are typically homeowners who have lived in their communities for multiple generations.
The Bottom Line: What community are you serving and how does understanding them help you meet their needs?
Larry Stuart, Jr. knows exactly what the details of his service will be and, no surprise, he’s not shopping for the low-cost cremation provider. Like one of CANA’s most popular posts, Just Cremate Me, Larry reminds us that we can’t lessen the pain of those we leave behind, especially not through cremation-and-landfill method.
The Bottom Line: How can you show your cremation families that they are valuable and worth remembering?
You've heard it a million times, you have to educate cremation families. Whether it's because death is too sanitized, we're not trusted, general fear of mortality, or something else, as a society, we don't like to think about death. To many, cremation seems like the simplest way to avoid it but it can't be avoided. So Mark Allen of the Order of the Golden Rule provides a script to help.
The imagined conversation with John Q. Public (fully-bearded and chest out, no less) is as informative as it is funny.
The Bottom Line: What has worked best for you to tell cremation families why they matter?
Family protectiveness meets "professional empathy" in this post where Matthew Morian of the Millennial Directors, reminds us that it's the little things that make a difference to our families – even the direct cremation ones. The little details surrounding the arrangements become second nature to funeral directors and we often forget to discuss them with the family. But it's all those little details that the family craves, and often misunderstand or misconstrue when we gloss over them. Taking time to explain them is one way to set yourself apart from the competition when it comes to exceptional service.
The Bottom Line: You know that a typical work day for you is far from the typical day for the families you serve. How can you keep the boring part of your work fresh for the experience of your families?
Many people have theorized that our society experiences many "little deaths": moving away, our own or a loved one's divorce, changing jobs, and, in this case, the donation of a favorite stuffed animal. The CANA Historian, Jason Engler, is particularly suited to reflecting on how quickly things can change and encourages us to make each goodbye count for the families we serve.
The Bottom Line: No one wants to say goodbye, so what can we do to make that goodbye just a tiny bit easier?
Like most funeral directors, Glenda Standsbury hadn't preplanned. And that's surprising -- funeral directors advocate for preplanning, see too often the questions that pile up without a plan, and are reminded of mortality daily. After walking away from a major accident, Glenda felt that she'd escaped death once and reminds us all that "none of us should assume that we'll be here tomorrow to take care of the details."
The Bottom Line: It's not just your funeral to pre-plan, but your business and estate. Do you have a succession plan?
One of biggest values of choosing cremation is the time it gives the grieving to make decisions. ASD's Public Relations Specialist, Jessica Farren, shares her deeply personal story of grief and remembering her father for who he was. Her honest reflection and her descriptive style makes this story vivid and relatable.
The Bottom Line: Cremation is not just a cost consideration -- it's an immediate answer to a question of "what now?" that allows for services months, years, or a decade, after a death. How can you support cremation families throughout their grief journey?
This blog post from the Corporation des thanatologues du Québec (CTQ) addresses a problem we’re all too aware of: cremated remains going home. The post highlights a creative ad campaign run by Athos asking “Is this your last wish?” and encouraging people to contact a cemetery (in this case an Athos one, of course) to find a “placement of dignity and respect.”
The Bottom Line: We know from several recent headlines that risks of keeping the urn at home can lead to dramatic and depressing indignities — and that too many consumers don’t know their options for placement. How can you help your cremation families connect with the urn and educate about memorialization?
This new podcast from Wake Forest Law Professor Tanya Marsh is a new favorite among CANA staff. We couldn’t single out just one — simply take a look at the guests and you’ll see why. Tanya does a great job of surveying the wide range of death care movements and activities and providing balanced attention. Best of all, she doesn’t accept the press release story – she pushes for more, for statistics, and asks questions we all have. There have been just 13 episodes when we wrote this so choose whichever sounds most interesting or listen to them all – you can’t go wrong! (PS – Stay tuned and you may get to hear CANA’s Executive Director Barbara Kemmis soon! 😉 )
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, October 10, 2018
Updated: Monday, October 8, 2018
The triumphant opening of The History of Cremation exhibit culminates more than three years of work under the guidance of several dedicated people, including CANA Historian Jason Engler, Genevieve Keeney, President and COO of the National Museum of Funeral History, and CANA’s own Executive Director, Barbara Kemmis. On September 17, 2018, the National Museum of Funeral History recognized their achievement with an opening celebration and ribbon-cutting. For many, the cremation exhibit represents the newest addition to the funeral story. For others, it is an event more than 100 years in the making.
Much of the collection on display embodies the lifelong passion of Jason Engler. A cremation enthusiast since he purchased his first urn at the age of 14, Jason has assembled an array of books, photos, urns, and pamphlets—and even the cremated remains of Baron DePalm—to tell the complete story of cremation in the United States. From DePalm’s cremation in 1876—the nation’s first—to a look at present day products, services, and statistics, the items comprising the exhibit span nearly 150 years.
As he developed the exhibit, Jason discovered that much of cremation’s history is intertwined with CANA’s history. The leaders of the national cremation movement also came together to share knowledge about best practices as this new technique grew. These men and women laid the sturdy foundation of the cremation profession, rooting it firmly beside the idea of memorialization.
The exhibition presents the work of our industry as a whole, from the care of the funeral director to the artistry of the suppliers. By showcasing the work of these dedicated cremationists throughout history, it tells the story of the past and provides a guide for the future. The visiting public will walk away knowing more about cremation, understanding that it isn’t a mere means of disposition, but the beginning of memorialization.
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.
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.
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.
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