Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, April 15, 2020
Updated: Thursday, April 9, 2020
On top of our individual concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic, we are inundated with good and bad information, helpful tips, fake news, political sniping and unfounded scary rumors. We are staying home and doing what the CDC and health officials recommend. And we are afraid.
We crave “leadership of frankness and vigor,” and yet that attribute may seem in short supply today, although there are occasional glimpses. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt expressed that phrase in his first inaugural speech in March 1933 in the depth of the Great Depression:
So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory.
We expect leaders to lead. We will follow leaders who are frank and through vigorous action show that they care about us. We will support those leaders and we will do the right things. We need leaders who communicate reassurance and offer light in an ever-darkening world. As we face unthinkable conditions, that may seem difficult right now. However, it is imperative that leaders speak realistically and frankly, while remembering to be positive and appropriately hopeful.
Whether you are the leader of a family, a community organization, a corporation, a nonprofit or a government, your job is to convey leadership through actions and the words you choose. You need to make hard decisions, be honest in your communications, and all the while “be careful not to scare the hell out of people,” as Dinesh Paliwal, President and CEO of Harman International, told Wall Street Journal.
This is particularly important in the funeral and cremation professions. In a recent webinar coordinated by webCemeteries.com, industry leaders reminded participants about the pivotal societal role that funeral professionals play in serving families. They note that in times of war, terrorist attacks, economic depressions and recessions, and now global pandemic, funeral advisors are called upon to comfort families in what is already an extremely stressful time.
At this time of crisis, funeral profession leaders say it is imperative to adhere to the values and principles of service to families that have always driven the funeral profession. Address your fears and the fears of families. Establish rapport and build the trust that families need at the time of a loved one’s death. Reassure families you will be with them and then live up to that promise, even if you must rely on videoconferencing instead of face-to-face meetings, and photographs and virtual tours of your properties, instead of in-person visits.
Adapt, and demonstrate caring responsibility in the worst of times, they say.
Frank, Vigorous Leaders in History
History’s strongest leaders have led us honestly and communicated their commitment eloquently in times of crisis.
President Abraham Lincoln, who saw seven Southern states secede between November 6, 1860, the day he was elected, and his inauguration March 4, 1861, appealed to Americans’ “better angels,” as he worked to prevent our nation from tearing further apart. Lincoln ended his inaugural address by saying:
I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
President Ronald Reagan spoke directly about the importance of honesty and openness on January 28, 1986, the day the space shuttle Challenger exploded before the eyes of millions worldwide who watched it on TV. He reminded our nation and the world of an undaunted commitment to science. He spoke of hope.
I’ve always had great faith in and respect for our space program, and what happened today does nothing to diminish it. We don't hide our space program. We don't keep secrets and cover things up. We do it all up front and in public. That's the way freedom is, and we wouldn't change it for a minute.
We'll continue our quest in space. There will be more shuttle flights and more shuttle crews and, yes, more volunteers, more civilians, more teachers in space. Nothing ends here; our hopes and our journeys continue.
South African President Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid revolutionary and political prisoner who became the first democratically elected president of South Africa and its first black president, spoke directly of fear.
I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.
Leaders in the funeral and cremation professions can address their own fears, then help fill the emotional tanks of colleagues, families and friends, offering a beacon of hope.
Words that Echo Eerily Today
Perhaps the leadership and words of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing, provide the most apt instruction for today’s COVID-19 pandemic. During the Crimean War, between 1853 to 1856, more soldiers were dying from infections than from battle injuries. Nightingale and her team of nurses reduced the death count by two thirds by improving the unsanitary conditions at a British hospital.
“Wise and humane management of the patient is the best safeguard against infection,” Nightingale said.
Even more illuminating today are these words from this “Lady with the Lamp” who said,
“How very little can be done under the spirit of fear.”
Communications with frankness and vigor, indeed.
Be safe. Help others to move past the fear. Be that inspirational leader.
This post is excerpted from Kathy Schaeffer Consulting, LLC blog post of the same name. You can read the original and more post and leadership, professional development, and public relations on their publicly available blog: http://www.ksapr.com/ksa-blog.
Current circumstances impel us to design creative solutions and offer new options. There is no playbook—only your ongoing commitment to promote connection and healthy grief for the families you serve. Thank you for making the extra effort and please stay safe and healthy.
Some leadership resources to grow your skills:
Kathy Schaeffer, principal of Kathy Schaeffer Consulting, LLC (KSC), has run her own public relations firm for 25 years, helping clients win in the “court of public opinion.” Kathy helps nonprofit, association and corporate clients build public awareness, generate public support, mend reputations and navigate crises. She advises leaders on messaging and communicating in the public arena – whether the environment is positive or fraught with crisis, opposition or political sensitivity. Kathy’s services include strategic communications counsel, messaging, community support-building, writing, and media and presentation training. A lifelong Chicagoan, Kathy founded her firm in downtown Chicago in 1994, advising clients in an array of areas, including health care, economic development, tax policy, education and philanthropy. She and her team earned numerous accolades and awards, including the prestigious Platinum Award from the Publicity Club of Chicago. Kathy now splits her time between Michigan and Illinois..
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, February 19, 2020
Updated: Friday, February 14, 2020
More than 200 years ago, Benjamin Franklin said, "It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it."
A version of that is still true in today's digital marketing world. It can take many online mentions and a buildup of goodwill to develop a strong reputation. And while a single slip — or even a single negative review — won't bring the metaphorical walls of your deathcare firm down around you, online reputations can be fragile things.
One way cremation providers and other deathcare businesses can safeguard their online reputations is via proactive review management. That means actively encouraging clientele to leave reviews online while also interacting with those reviews in positive ways.
Why Are Online Reviews So Important?
It's no longer an option for any business to ignore the presence of online reviews. Local service providers in any industry are especially beholden to reviews. That's because almost all people (97 percent) read reviews as part of their research when choosing a local company.
Here are some other stats that drive home the message that reviews are must-haves for successful online marketing:
- According to BrightLocal, consumers consider review ratings when choosing a link from local search results.
- Review signals help you rank in Google local pack results, increasing your exposure in search results (aka SERPs).
- More than 90 percent of consumers say online reviews impact their purchasing decisions.
The Role of Online Reviews in Reputation Management
Simply getting seen online isn't always enough. Plenty of celebrities have had their careers derailed by scandals that pushed them into the limelight more than any of their positive achievements did.
You obviously don't want to be the deathcare firm that goes viral because your online reviews are terrible to the point of hilarity. But you also don't want to get fewer calls because a few online reviews make you appear less caring than your competitors.
The first scenario is unlikely; the second is very likely if you're not proactively managing online reviews. Here's why:
- More than 85 percent of consumers say negative reviews impact their buying decisions.
- Reviews are critically important as your target audience moves from Boomer and Gen X to younger generations; people age 18 to 34 trust online reviews as if they were personal recommendations from friends.
- Close to 90 percent of consumers look for and read a business's responses to reviews.
- Consumers want to engage with firms that have a 3.3-star rating or higher.
Improving the Quality and Quantity of Your Online Reviews
The takeaway here is that the overall quality of your reviews matters. And because it's unethical (and also banned by Google) to put measures in place to stop people from leaving negative reviews, cremation service providers and other deathcare firms must take additional actions to protect their online reputations.
The first step is to provide stellar service to all families. I'm sure you're already doing that, so I'll cover the other two steps for proactively managing your online reputation via reviews:
1. Try to get more reviews.
It's a numbers game based on the law of averages. If you need a 3.3-star rating or higher to help ensure people feel comfortable contacting your crematory, a handful of reviews can be dangerous. But if you have a large number of 3-star to 5-star reviews, you can weather several 1-star reviews without your average rating suffering.
A regular stream of reviews also demonstrates that your firm is active and serving plenty of clientele. Around 40 percent of consumers only pay attention to reviews from the last few weeks for exactly this reason.
Other reasons to chase more reviews include:
Most consumers want to read at least 10 reviews before making a final decision about a business
- Having more reviews will help your SEO
- Someone is almost 300 percent more likely to purchase services from you if you have just five reviews, as opposed to no reviews
How do you get these reviews? Simple: You ask for them. BrightLocal notes that close to 70 percent of people will leave reviews if they are asked nicely to do so. And you don't have to ask everyone; hedge your bets by requesting reviews from families that seem satisfied with your services.
2. Interact with your reviews
Leaving the review machine to its own devices isn't an option even after you've achieved a significant number of reviews. People expect to see businesses responding to reviews. Engaging with negative reviews in an effort to correct an issue actually helps increase your brand reputation in many eyes.
Plus, not all reviews are fair or true, and you can take action to report fake reviews or address untrue statements so other consumers are aware of your side of the story.
The conclusion is this: Crematories and other deathcare firms can't be passive about online reviews. They've become a critical part of online reputation, and how consumers view you through the lens of their internet search often determines whether or not they reach out to you for preplanning or at times of need.
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, November 20, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, November 19, 2019
When I started in this profession, in 1991—remember there was less use of the internet then—funeral homes and cemeteries relied on loyalty and location to promote their businesses. Funeral directors and cemeterians were all involved in the local rotary clubs and chambers of commerce to connect with their communities. I’ve known a few funeral directors who even attended services at more than one church each week. That’s my memory of community outreach programs of that era.
In 1996 or 1997, I was working for Wilbert Corporate. One of our licensees in Minneapolis called me and said, “Julie, come with me tomorrow night because one of my clients is having their first-ever cremation seminar for consumers.” He and a Batesville representative were planning to talk about burial for cremation. I was so impressed with what I saw. That night, from 6-8pm, McReavy Funeral Home in Minneapolis had about 50 consumers come in, mainly couples, and the Batesville representative talked about cremation in general and the different things that you could do, and the Wilbert representative talked about burial as one of the final placements for cremation. Then, in one of their visitation rooms, they had products set up with coffee and soft drinks, and consumers could roam and talk. I was so impressed, I still talk about it to this day because I’m passionate about education, and to see that back then was wonderful. And that is just one example of effective community outreach.
Now, you all know that we live in a transient society and there are a lot of people who do not currently live in their hometown, so getting your company out there is more important than ever. When CANA asked me to facilitate this presentation, I started doing a little investigating. I was very surprised and happy to see some of the unique, creative community outreach programs that our profession is putting out there. You should all be really proud of yourselves. These events help to educate consumers that never would have known the different things that you do, so they can go, have some fun, learn something, and visit your business in happier times.
I have gathered some examples from CANA members on their successful community outreach activities. We’ll focus on events hosted by companies ranging from smaller firms to larger cemeteries. Our hope is that you don’t sit there and say that you can’t do that because you don’t have the time or the staff, but get sparked by interest and inspiration to do something—even something smaller in scale.
Why is community outreach important for funeral homes, cemeteries, and crematories?
1. Educate the Public
There are so many people who want to be cremated, but they’ve never done it in their family before and they don’t understand. Being able to educate your community—it’s going to help—because when they come in they’re going to be better informed about their options.
A lot of the things we do, because we have so many active senior centers in our neighborhood, is to either visit them or have events at our locations. We have found that, when we get them out of their element, you can have a lot of fun and you can educate them. Afternoon Movies is exactly that. We partner with a senior center, they promote it by email, newsletter and bulletin to their members, and we meet up at the movies about a half hour before the show time. Then, we introduce Mountain View and educate the seniors on the value of preplanning. We keep it fun and they love the chance to see the movie for free, so they’re happy to listen. A lot of the local movie theaters are happy to let groups in on an otherwise slow Tuesday afternoon. We buy the tickets, popcorn, and soda, and they get the movie and information.
– Elisa Krcilek, Mountain View Funeral Home and Cemetery: Mesa, Arizona
2. Promote Volunteer Participation
How many of you in your firms have volunteer participation? I would think there would be a lot of you. Individuals all have their own different causes that they want to be involved in, and encouraging volunteerism means giving back to the community that you live in. I’ve read articles which state that many large corporations now are promoting that their staff do volunteer work and even paying for them to do so because they realize the importance of it. It’s also a stress reliever to have staff do something that they’re passionate about, and you know in our profession there is a lot of stress.
Cremation Society of Illinois has 10 different locations in and around the Chicagoland area. We attend health fairs, street festivals, and other expos near each location. We’ve opened it up to all staff so that, if they see something in their town, they are encouraged to sign up for it and attend. We provide information on pre-arranging and show different items for memorialization, and we really have great conversations with people who are looking to do something. It’s great to get staff out in the community and spend a couple hours outside talking to people.
– Katie Sullivan Frideres, Cremation Society of Illinois: Chicago, Illinois
3. Boost Brand Awareness
This is no surprise.
We’ve been doing Wreaths Across America for several years and it’s a really great opportunity to reach out to the community and get them involved sponsoring wreaths that can be placed in our cemetery. The community member can place the wreaths or a volunteer will do it for them. We have a small service in our chapel where the wreaths for each branch of the military are placed in front of the chapel. It’s very touching service. Everyone processes out as a bagpiper plays and we have someone speak and place the first wreath. Each year it continues to grow.
– Megan Field, Evergreen Memorial Gardens: Vancouver, Washington
Our staff works very closely with many hospices in our area, so every month we choose both a hospice worker and volunteer of the month, which includes presentation of a cash award and a plaque. At the end of the year, we have an annual banquet for the hospice network we work with and we honor a caregiver of the year. This connects our business and staff with hospice and attracts press.
– Jerry Roberts, Flanner Buchanan Funeral Centers & Crematory: Indianapolis, Indiana
People see funeral home at an expo and think “ew, I’m not ready for you” or “I’m not going to die, I don’t want to talk about that.” So we needed to figure out how to attract people to our booths at community expos. We hired a massage therapist who gives a 10 minute massage, and while people are waiting in line, we get to talk to them about what we do.
Similarly, parades are a big deal for us. We never pass an opportunity to get in front of everybody. So we pass out candy and our information as well. At the end of the parade is usually a luncheon that we help sponsor so that we get 5-10 minutes to talk about our business. Our staff sits in the luncheon and answers questions from the community who attends.
– Elisa Krcilek, Mountain View Funeral Home and Cemetery: Mesa, Arizona
4. Provide a Non-Death Experience
A lot of people haven’t been to a funeral home or cemetery in a long time, and they don’t want to go. You’ve experienced this: they consider it to be gloomy and depressing. By providing community outreach events in our profession, what we’re doing is bringing the community in in happier times. That way, when they see you, they’re not only going to think that this is where you go only when there’s been a death. You keep a connection with them throughout the whole year besides just when there’s a death of a loved one.
Some of the establishments are embracing celebration events that are not death related such as weddings or other family gatherings hosted in their venues. These are bringing people in for a non-death situation — it says you can have fun here too.
When we opened our pet crematory, we wanted to do something that would get the word out besides advertising and social media. So we decided to do this Doggie Wash at our facility in front of the funeral home and pet crematory. With my staff’s help, we had over 200 people attend and we washed over 75 dogs. I personally got to wash a 180-pound mastiff and learned quickly that there are places you don’t want to touch him. We invited some vets, we had a groomer there, someone micro-chipped the dogs, and it was a really fun event and a way to know more about our business. We served hot dogs (we thought that was appropriate) and ice cream and it was a great time.
– Rick Snider, Baker Hazel & Snider Funeral Home & Crematory (Snider Pet Crematory)
Of our locations, we have one in an artistic and trendy area, so we choose an artist and let them bring in their works and display them throughout the funeral home. We put the art in our event rooms, the lobby, and throughout the building and then host an evening event, typically a Friday from 6-10pm, with live music, in-house catering and beverages, and the artist present to discuss the art. The art hangs for a month and we will sell the art for the artist. We have new artists several times a year and attract 400 people to these events.
– Jerry Roberts, Flanner Buchanan Funeral Centers & Crematory: Indianapolis, Indiana
Spring Grove Cemetery hosts Chocolate in the Chapel, an event that continues to grow year after year. We open the property and provide chocolate and coffee on a Sunday. Staff go out into the community and ask the local bake shops and confectioners to come and set up their tables with samples. People can taste and buy sweets. The vendors are assigned a famous individual buried at Spring Grove, called a Sweet Connection. It’s primarily women who attend the event, and they receive a handout about the famous person and the location of their grave, all branded with Spring Grove information. We attract about 350 people to a historic chapel which they can also rent for private events like weddings.
Moonlight Tours came about because there were quite a few incidents where security guards had a hard time getting people out of the cemetery at sunset. So we said, “Why not make an event out of this?” Tours are held between 9-11pm on full moon nights in July and we use a lot of volunteers because we organize twelve different tour groups, each with flashlights on different paths.
– Julie Burn on behalf of Gary Freytag, Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum: Cincinnati, Ohio
5. Enhance the Well-Being of the Community
Almost every facility has some type of remembrance program: Valentine’s Day, Winter Holidays, Thanksgiving, etc.
All of Roberts Funeral Homes locations are small combos, and for Memorial Day we partner with the boy scouts every year. About 15-20 kids come out on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend and place flags in the cemetery. We teach them to properly fold and raise the United States flag to provide a lesson on respect and the standards for the flag. They earn a badge and a good experience. Where staff would take days to place the flags, the kids accomplish in a few hours, running through the cemetery and getting hugs from the old ladies laying flowers. Their parents come out and we feed everyone pizza and pop.
Memorial Day Services take a bit more time because we put a program together. We have a pastor, a speaker who’s served in the military, and a couple high school students do a reading. It’s a great program that we’ve kept up for 60 years, which pre-dates the age of our cemetery. It’s a fun event, made more entertaining with families who come back on a celebration day when they’re not grieving. The widows come back to give us hugs and we build stronger relationships between the community and the cemetery. It offers an opportunity to showcase our cremation options – not a sales pitch, but to touch them with a service.
We’ve been doing an Easter Service about the same length of time. There are a lot of people who don’t go to church anymore, who don’t want to do church, but they come out to our Easter Sunrise Service because it’s not in a church. We’ll have a different pastor come out every year and do a little program about Easter on Easter morning. We’ve had as many as a couple hundred people, and as few as 75 depending on the weather. We have an inside/outside service. People are very picky about it – some people want to come out and watch the sunrise (and we’re in Cleveland and it’s often cold) so half sit outside and others sit inside the chapel. We have a piano player and singer and it’s over in about 30 minutes with coffee and donuts.
Our Luminary display is new. Our local Lions Club started a luminary project, and, when I heard about it, I said that we would co-sponsor and host it at the cemetery. We’d talked about having something like this at the cemetery but it’s difficult to get it started. The Lions Club put together the sales program and promoted it to the community, we included an order form in our Fall letter with options on placement at their loved one’s grave, on the path, or at our discretion. Many people would buy several, some to take home and some to keep at the cemetery. We had about 60 dozen, and it really only took our staff 30 minutes to light. People drove through the cemetery on Christmas Eve to enjoy them. It was difficult to get staff to volunteer because it’s on Christmas Eve so it requires more staff commitment. Some of our staff took ownership of it, bring their families out to make it a new tradition – light the luminaries on behalf of the families together.
– Alex Roberts, Roberts Funeral Home: Wooster, Ohio
The Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery is often considered too far to visit by our families, so we decided to host a bus tour to get our families out there to see the beautiful cemetery. We started with a local senior center, and we work with a local veterans group, and we filled the bus. We sponsor the entire event, coordinate with the cemetery to arrange a tour guide, and fill the bus every time we host it. The guide introduces them to the cemetery, explains benefits veterans receive from the government, and it provides an opportunity to get their name out there.
We do a luncheon every year around Veterans Day (not on the holiday – we found we competed with local restaurants offering free meals to veterans). We’ve done it for more than 7 years. We used to hold it at our funeral home, but it’s gotten so large that we have to rent a local church’s hall to hold everyone – around 150 people. We host the event ourselves, but invite local hospice centers and veterans groups to speak and explain their resources. We hire performers to sing and entertain at the event.
– Katie Sullivan Frideres, Cremation Society of Illinois: Chicago, Illinois
Promoting the Outreach Programs
To many, traditional media means an ad in the local paper or a direct mail piece, but this is not where you’re going to get the most impact. Email newsletters are good, but only reach the people who already know you. I always opt for websites and social media, and you’ll all agree, these are the avenues that we should use to promote our events. Some funeral homes and cemeteries will include “events” or “community” in their main navigation to place these activities front and center.
With social media, you can reach the community and let them know what you’re doing—and it’s less expensive than traditional media. Plus, it offers the opportunity to talk to the community – to thank them for participating in an event, for supporting you, etc.
In closing, a lot of these programs might be intimidating. You may think you don’t have the resources, you’re not big enough, etc. You have to start by thinking that you can try just a piece of it, just a small component at a time. As Tony Robbins says:
Stop being afraid of what could go wrong and start being excited about what could go right.
…with your community outreach program.
Looking for tips and trends on planning your next event? Check out our Accidental Event Planner posts for resources to bring your next community outreach event, or your next service, to the next level.
This post is excerpted from Julie A. Burn’s facilitated discussion on Utilizing Community Outreach as a Communication & PR Tool at CANA’s 2017 Cremation Symposium. CANA Members can get even more ideas to inspire their community outreach programs from our Technical Paper Library, compiled from their colleagues at the 2017 Cremation Symposium.
See what we have planned for CANA's 2020 Cremation Symposium and join us in Las Vegas February 26-28, 2020.
Julie A. Burn is a cremation specialist with over 28 years of experience in the funeral profession. She has served as the director of cremation services for StoneMor Partners and the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association and as the manager of cremation services for Wilbert Funeral Services. Burn served on the board of directors for the Cremation Association of North America from 2000-2003, and currently serves as a consultant to CANA on their educational online training program. Julie holds the designation of Certified Cremation Executive and Certified Supplier Executive and is a Certified Celebrant.
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, August 14, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, August 14, 2019
As the rate of cremation in North America continues to grow, the amount of traditional burials is dropping. This trend affects many sectors of the death care industry, and cemeteries are no exception. Cemetery operators, designers, service providers, and suppliers are working to meet the inevitable challenges.
Elisa Krcilek, Vice President and General Manager of Mountain View Funeral Homes & Cemetery, was inaugurated as President of CANA in July at our 101st Convention. Elisa has many plans for her term as president, primarily focusing on cremation memorialization and the ways our industry can work together, learn, and share what we know.
The following is an excerpt from a past issue of The Cremationist about the ways that instilling a culture of memorialization to staff training in funeral homes and cemeteries to educate the public on the options and benefits of memorializing cremated remains.
Mountain View Funeral Home and Cemetery in Mesa, Arizona is, in my opinion, the most beautiful cemetery in the East Valley of Arizona. We have 52 acres, but only 24 are developed. So we have space for 150-200 years to come.
Like most cemeteries, originally all the spaces were for traditional burial. The sections for cremation were added in later. The cremation rate in Arizona, both by percentage and total number of cremations, is near the highest in the United States and predicted to surpass 70% by 2023. Cremation has changed the way people look at permanent memorialization on both sides of the arrangement table.
Changing the Mindset
I am not at all embarrassed or ashamed to say that we are a for-profit cemetery. We’re always looking for new ways to generate income and to give our families what they’re looking for and what they want. You know that if they don’t see what they want, they—in many cases—do nothing.
Because of the growth in the demand for cremation, a lot of what we’re doing at Mountain View is first working to change the mindset of our funeral directors and our cemetery staff to do a better job feeding into our cemetery. The first thing we did to work more efficiently is set up a two-up system, very similar to what you see in a lot of other combo businesses. This means that we have a cemetery professional go into the arrangement conference with the funeral director. When the funeral director steps out to make the final contract for the cremation, we make sure that that family is not left alone during the arrangement. Instead, the family service counselors take the family out to the cemetery to see what we have available.
It starts very simply, because right inside our funeral home we have a glass-front niche. It’s a matter of coming out of the building, taking four steps to the left, and introducing the families to the idea of memorialization.
From there, we direct them to our golf cart up front and we immediately take them to the cemetery. We don’t do a lot of talking. The beauty of the majestic cemetery speaks for itself. What we will do is point out areas in the cemetery that specialize in housing cremated remains.
Showcasing Cremation Options
At that first niche, just to the left, most of our cremation families will say, “Oh, no, no. We don’t need any of this. We’re taking Mom back to Iowa where she’s from.” We tell them, “We understand that that’s what you’re planning to do. However, it’s not fair to you if we don’t take you through the options we have available.”
Many times people tell us they’re taking the remains with them, but in the end that’s not what actually happens. Sometimes they realize that because they’re here, this is Mom’s new home. This is where Mom retired, this is where she wanted to be for the duration of her life.
What are people looking for? A lot of the families we serve have chosen cremation because they don’t want to spend thousands and thousands of dollars. So we want to give them something that’s affordable. We’re finding ways to expand our cremation garden. We have added in a green cremation area because a lot of people say, “Oh, we just want to scatter Dad,” so we offer them the option to do this in the cemetery.
We’re doing a memory vase memorialization package. The memory vase is just for vased flowers right above a bio-degradable urn that goes directly in the ground. They don’t need an urn vault, just a 12-by-12, 3-inch-thick granite base. These memory vases are affordable, and they do not take space out of our inventory because they’re spacers that weren’t in our inventory to begin with. We identified little nooks and crannies of space where there’s nothing, and now we can beautify our cemetery with flower vases.
Engaging Cemetery Visitors
The memory vases provide a way for us to generate more income, but, more importantly, they’re a way to get the families to come back. When they come back, when they visit, it gives them a reason to come in. It keeps us in touch with them. That way, when we have a Memorial Day service or a Veteran’s Day service, we have a way to be able to get in contact with these people to invite them to these events we have and then talk to them about, “Well, what about yourself? Have you preplanned your funeral? Have you preplanned your cremation?”
We do a lot of things to find out what people want. We do a lot of “park-rangering” – we just go up to people in the cemetery, give them a bottled water, and start a conversation. You would be amazed how many people will say, “I’ve been visiting my husband for twelve years and you’re the first person that’s ever come up and talked to me.” So it’s just a matter of being friendly and saying hello. I’ve never had somebody say, “Leave me alone.” Of course, you have to use some discretion, too.
You also start to see patterns of people who come in on a regular basis. Sometimes you’ll see a family come in on the weekend and it might be a special occasion, such as a birthday, so we don’t approach them right when they first arrive. We wait maybe a half an hour or an hour. When you see them wandering around, looking at other graves, that might be a good time to walk up.
I do a monthly training with my team and include “Best Practices” for park-rangering: these are the things you want to do, these are the things you don’t want to do. For example, if you’re doing a graveside service you are not to be out there handing out your business cards to everybody. You can keep your business cards with you, and if somebody approaches you and says, ‘Hey, I’d like to get some information’— and that, believe it or not, happens a lot—then you’re allowed to give out your card.
Most of that conversation comes at the end of an interment, where people are standing around. They like to see the vault lowered into the ground, they like to see the urn placed. We talk to them and make sure to say hello because they’ve already met us at the arrangement.
I start all of my weekly staff meetings with a victory story. We go around and every person has to tell a success story about something that’s worked for them. The people around think, “Oh, maybe that does work!” because when you hear a real-life story, with a real name attached to it, suddenly it becomes contagious. I want each one of them to have buy-in with their victory stories because they’ll have a passion for the things they were able to sell.
Nobody wants to be sold and nobody wants to be pushed into something they’re not interested in. But they will buy when they see value and they see something they like. But they’re never going to know that if you don’t take them on a tour and show it to them.
When you do a tour, it’s not always about the person who died. It’s about showing the family the possibilities. If you’re not taking them on a tour, you’re doing that family an injustice. More people will make a decision when they see how beautiful your cremation waterfall is in person. They can’t visualize it on their own.
If you say to a family, “Were you thinking of being buried in the cemetery?” they’ll say, “No, that’s why we chose cremation.” Instead, you can say, “Take a quick ride with me, let me show you something you might be interested in. We’ve developed things specifically for families like you,” They won’t refuse, they’ll follow you because they don’t do this every day. They don’t know what they don’t know.
We’re developing a very specific cremation tour, not showing our gardens that are all burials, but taking them to key cremation places. “Have you ever heard of a cremation boulder? This is what it looks like. We have areas where we can place it,” and then taking them to show them where the areas are.
The family they’re meeting with on the funeral home side may or may not buy in the cemetery, but they may have a relative who will. We keep saying, “In our business, it’s not about the family you’re serving today. It’s about all their friends and relatives that you should be thinking about serving tomorrow.”
On meeting the opportunities and challenges of an expanding demand for cremation:
- Plan for the future. Be prepared for what is coming, do not wait for it to get here. If you run out of space because you have not planned ahead you are not serving your cemetery or the people that want to be there.
- Continue to make cremation interments an EVENT for families. Do not minimize the interment process simply because it is easier to inter cremated remains compared to a casket.
- Be open to suggestions from families, have a policy IN WRITING —and STICK TO IT—regarding the disposition of cremated remains.
- Diversify as much as possible and promote the value of the experience at least as much as the goods and services.
- Offer everything. When a family says they want to take dad home, ask “Why?” and why they do not want a permanent placement?
- Always ask the family to take a tour of the cemetery before they make a final decision about what they are going to do with Mom or Dad.
- Provide as many options as possible
- Listen to the changing needs of your customers and adapt by providing solutions that are important to them. Provide more choice and options for people.
- Price it to make money. We in the industry have made cremation inexpensive, not consumers. And they do not mind paying for service and quality.
Elisa discussed cremation growth at CANA’s 101st Annual Cremation Innovation Convention. Missed it? Soon, you can catch up with the on-demand event recording providing the latest CANA Statistics Report and how to use it to benefit your business: gocana.org/CANA19
CANA Members have access to the complete CANA's Annual Cremation Statistics Report, but you can see the highlights for yourself on our website. Members — don't know your password? Contact CANA for your login credentials and make full use of the benefits of CANA Membership!
Elisa Krcilek is VP of Sales and Marketing at Mountain View Funeral Home, Cemetery and Crematory in Mesa, Arizona. Elisa has been a licensed funeral director and embalmer for 25 years, is a certified cremationist, and is licensed to sell pre-need life insurance and cemetery real estate. Prior to joining the Mountain View team she was the Market Manager over Pre-Planning Advisors for Dignity Memorial in Phoenix. She was Director of Cremation Development for Stewart Enterprises until they sold to SCI. Elisa spent seven years as the District Manager of the West for Matthews Intl. bronze division. Her career started in Illinois in 1990 working for the Cremation Society of Illinois, where she was the VP of Sales & Marketing until relocating to Arizona.
Elisa was elected as President of CANA in 2019, the fifth woman to lead the association.
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Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, July 24, 2019
Updated: Friday, July 19, 2019
The 21st century is changing North American life. There are more of us, and more different kinds of us, than ever before. Our traditions are numerous and varied, and, in many ways, the marketplace shifts to address this new reality. No facet of our culture is immune to this transformation—and certainly not the way we memorialize loved ones who have passed on. In 2015, CANA Second Vice President and Funeral Director Archer Harmon told the cremation symposium audience how Fairfax Memorial Funeral Home responded to changing demographics.
Know Your Data
Fairfax Memorial Funeral Home and Crematory is located in Fairfax County, a suburb just eleven miles from the border of the District of Columbia. Washington, D.C. is a very, very diverse community. Government jobs bring people there, embassies bring people there, a booming economy brings people there. In a very short time, in the ten years between 2000 to 2010, the non-Hispanic white population decreased in Northern Virginia by 10% percent to be replaced by an Asian population of 12.5% and a Hispanic population of 4.8%. In just ten years, that population change is incredibly rapid.
I got these data off of websites from Fairfax County, the federal government, and the media. This information is free, it’s readily available to you, and it’s a road map for you to understand what’s going on and why your business is changing. You can look at these data and see where your business is going to go. At our funeral home the software we use tracks everything. Our directors and apprentices are trained that there are specific things that are entered into our computer program. I can tell you where our deaths come from, the ZIP code, the average age, I can tell you the race—I can tell you all of this with just a few requests through the software program.
If you don’t know your past or your present, your future can be uncertain. Fairfax Memorial Funeral Home opened in 2003, within a couple of miles of well-established funeral homes in Northern Virginia that have been there 60, 70, 80 years. So it was a pretty big risk for the Doherty family to open a funeral home in 2003 when cremation rates were skyrocketing. But their risk paid off, and we served almost 900 families last year.
A lot of you have cremation rates of 60-80%, but there are many populations out there who want ceremonies. If you try to discuss direct cremation with them, they just don’t get it. How do you locate, serve, and track these groups for whom direct cremation is not an option?
The Importance of Outreach
When we first opened, I met with the funeral preparer for a local Buddhist temple. She came to us to inquire about using our funeral home because it’s close to where the population served by her temple lives. She helped me get set up with all of our Buddhist equipment and helped me to tailor a package to accommodate the needs of her families. What all this means for our industry, with our shrinking profits, growing cremation rates, and how diverse we’re becoming as a population in North America, we learned to reach out to specific groups. Now, Fairfax Memorial has created packages tailored to a specific temple that uses our services.
You have to have an outreach program for various groups so you can have a dialogue with them. You need to have a way to tell people what you can do for them. Our website is a great way we reach out to a particular population. The populations we are talking about are very savvy with technology, so we include specific religious and cultural keywords to help people find us. That way, when someone in Northern Virginia Googles “Buddhist funeral,” “Hindu funeral,” whatever the case may be, our information pops up. We are in the number one position with this.
If you look at a map that shows an overview of what your area looks like by the fastest growing religions, you can see where to put your efforts. Looking at the information on the national map, if I owned a funeral home or crematory in Washington State, Nevada, Arizona, and California, I would be knocking on the doors of these temples saying, “I have a funeral home and we’re here to help.”
The Laotian Buddhist Funeral
I think most of the directors at my funeral home agree with me that the Laotian funeral is one of the most interesting funerals we do. When we first opened in August of 2003, I was at the funeral home and we had a Laotian family walk in. They wanted to have a funeral. They liked our chapel because it was big and could accommodate 200 people. It was our first Laotian funeral and we didn’t know anything about a Laotian funeral. They helped us and they were very kind. To this day, we still have Laotian funerals and I still see some of the same people who were there for the original funeral service. We did something right the first time, and it has paid off.
Laos is a Southeast Asian country bordering Thailand and Vietnam. In a traditional service, relatives of the deceased serve in Laotian funerals as novice monks, or “monks for the day,” and this is a great honor – but one they have to shave their heads and their eyebrows for. In addition to the novice monks, full Laotian monks from the local temples are the ones who do the chanting for the deceased during the ceremony. Services are very beautiful. The Laotians bring in their own Buddha. It’s a Thai Buddha and it’s very thin. It doesn’t have the Chinese characteristics to it.
After the funeral has ended, the monks from the temple hold a rope. The rope is tied to the casket, and they lead the casket out our chapel door, through our front door, and throughout our entire funeral home. They make their route to the crematory where they witness the cremation.
As part of the procession, there’s a family member behind the casket with a bowl of money that’s wrapped in foil. The packets are thrown up in the air, and if you are the funeral director or funeral assistant or apprentice on that casket, you will get pelted with money. The family throws the money to distract the attention of the evil spirits away from the deceased so the loved one can be cremated and move on to the next world. The rope signifies the monks pulling, and the indirect route taken to the crematory is meant to confuse the spirits.
There are wreaths carried by family members with money attached to them. The family folds paper money into triangles and affixes it to the wreaths. This is for the temple monks. At the end of the ceremony, there’s a wreath for each monk as alms, or an offering to the monks, thanking them for their participation in the journey of the loved one from this life into the next life. The last Laotian funeral I had, there were ten wreaths. I counted one wreath and it had over a thousand dollars in twenties folded in triangles. Each of the ten wreaths was presented to the monks, so that is their form of payment, thanking the monks for what they have done for the family.
If you ever have the honor to serve a Buddhist family and they give you a tip, take it. If you don’t take the tip, you’ve insulted the deceased and you’ve insulted the family. It’s the same as the alms for the monks. The family is thankful for everything that you do for them.
Learning to Listen
It’s interesting to talk to people about their different cultures and religious traditions. It’s similar to the way people share food recipes. They want to share these things with you, and the more interest you have, the more they will tell you. And that’s how we’ve all become experts in this. Listening to the families we serve and putting it back together for them and giving them everything that they want. When we hire a new director, especially if they’ve come from another area, it can take a while for them to acclimate. I see them sometimes, just standing there wondering, “What’s going on here?” But in six months to a year, they’re fully immersed.
In Northern Virginia, we have a huge Asian population. In many of these cultures, cremation is a practice that’s been done for thousands of years. Sometimes they choose burial, sometimes they choose cremation. We can accommodate them, and anyone else in our community, with whatever their needs are, by being willing to listen to their needs and learn.
The data referenced in this post is based on the most recent US Census in 2010. The 2020 Census will provide even more perspective on how our communities are changing. CANA will continue creating innovative content about how change can work for traditional funeral homes facing new and different clientele.
This post excerpted from Archer Harmon’s presentation at CANA’s 2015 Cremation Symposium titled Meeting the Cremation Needs of a Growing and Diverse Population in North America, as transcribed in The Cremationist magazine Vol. 51, Iss. 2 titled “Know Your Community: Build Your Business” which includes more photos and traditions from services of many different cultures. The Cremationist is an exclusive benefit to CANA members — explore our website to learn about the other resources CANA provides to members.
Archer Harmon is a licensed funeral director and embalmer and the General Manager of Fairfax Memorial Funeral Home. With over 30 years of experience, Archer is well versed in many funeral traditions, including military funerals and state funerals for dignitaries. He has attained a vast amount of invaluable knowledge regarding the funeral customs of highly diverse populations. Archer serves on CANA’s Board of Directors as Second Vice President.