Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Cremation is no less important

Ethan Darby,
Director of Business
This article originally appeared in the March issue of Funeral Business Advisor.

Imagine you are with a family that has just lost their father. You listen to their stories and learn about his life. During the conversation, they mention that he wanted to be cremated because he was a simple man, and didn’t want to make his death a “big production.” So do you flip your presentation book to the direct cremation section and grumble to yourself about how no one appreciates good funeral service anymore? Or do you start to think creatively about how you might display the urn during the visitation?

A family who chooses cremation is no less important than a family who chooses a traditional burial. No matter what form of disposition they choose, the family has still lost a loved one and is healing from their loss. Their loved one was important, and their life mattered.

As a fourth generation member of a business in the funeral industry, I have seen many different celebrations of life, including traditional services with the body present and cremation services where an urn or photograph was displayed at the front of the room. And, do you know the difference between them? Just two things: the way the body was presented and how the family chose to memorialize their loved one. At both kinds of services, friends and family gathered to share their condolences and grieve their loss. Each included music, prayers, kind words and plenty of tears. Each honored a life well lived.

It seems to me that cremation has most of us in the funeral industry nervous about the future of our industry. We worry that when people choose to cremate their loved one, they are choosing not to use the services that we offer in either our funeral homes or cemeteries. But, that does not have to be the case. Instead of assuming the worst, we have to educate families on the importance of honoring their loved one’s life and creating a permanent place of memorialization to honor them.

Cremation offers funeral homes, cemeteries and memorial parks a lot of opportunity to increase and expand the variety of their product selection. At each national convention I attend, I see new products designed to help families memorialize their loved ones. 

But remember, when families come to you for a cremation, they may not know anything about their options. Just like we educate families about the importance of a burial vault and the different casket options, we need to educate them about the importance of a ceremony when cremation is chosen and the many unique memorialization options that cremation allows.

We need to make sure families know that when they choose cremation, they have just as many, if not more, memorialization options available to honor their loved one. Show them a custom bronze urn with photographs of a loved one or a piece of beautiful cremation jewelry. Tell them about how a memorial rock can hold cremated remains. Explain the benefits of having a space in a niche tower. Talk about in-ground interment options. Show them a memorial bench in a cemetery or a bronze plaque on a memorial wall.

No matter what form of disposition a family chooses for a loved one, they need to have peace of mind in knowing that their loved one’s life mattered. As long as the families we serve understand that cremation is no less important than that of a traditional burial, we can focus on what really matters – helping the family begin to heal.

Value in the eyes of a Baby Boomer

Rich Darby,
Chief Operating Officer
This article originally appeared in September issue of The Cremationist.

Why do you think cremation is gaining popularity? Shifting demographics, incomes and religious beliefs have all played a role one time or another in the increase of the cremation rate. I think a lot of families who choose cremation would say that they are looking for the best value for their money. But what do they really mean by “value?”

In my experience, they are either focused on the price or on what the price will get them. They are either searching for the cheapest, fastest solution, or they want a special blend of traditional and unique created just for them.

These are both hallmark characteristics of Baby Boomers, people born during the World War II era from 1946 to 1964, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. They are independent, challenge the norm and want things their way. They not only forced our industry to change our perspective on cremation, but they also constantly challenge the status quo. They make up an ever-increasing portion of the families we serve. To remain viable, it’s important to understand how they see value.

Cheap and fast or breaking the norm: How to talk to them…
This could prove to be a difficult task if you try to play master to both segments. As the owner of several funeral homes and a cemetery, I can tell you the way we have found success is to stay true to the type of business you have built over the years. Instead of being the lowest priced option, demonstrate that you are the best value for their money.

If you’re working with a family who equates value with the lowest price, you could say they have a “Wal-Mart mentality.” They believe cheaper is better. But, what do you really get with the lower price? They get lower quality products. They ignore how great service makes them feel. They forget that they only have one chance to honor their loved one’s life.

When you work with a family like this, it is the most important time to stand firm in who you are and what you do. You need to explain to them the emotional and healing benefits of having a service. You need to listen to their concerns and find creative solutions. And sometimes, you have to stop spending energy creating special deals for those who aren’t looking for the quality of care you have worked so hard to provide your community.

If you’re working with a family who understands real value – or who comes around when you explain the value of your services– help them design the unique experience they want. Reinforce the value that they receive beyond the price tag. Give them something truly memorable.

If the Baby Boomer generation has taught us anything, it is to stay true to who we are and constantly challenge the norm. With the ever-changing funeral market, we can’t waste our time on things that don’t matter. We have to stick to our guns and give the best service possible. The families we serve deserve it.

So, what’s it mean to be a “Boomer?”
According to the Cremation Association of North America’s cremation statistics, up until about 1965, the cremation rate was flat at around four percent, and since then it has dramatically increased to an average of about 44 percent. If you do the math, it isn’t hard to explain the increase in cremation. In the early to mid-70s, the first Baby Boomers were entering their thirties and were beginning to make funeral arrangements for their parents. The cremation rate at this time was between four-and-a-half and six-and-a-half percent. By 2005, over half of the Baby Boomers were 50 years old or older, and beginning to pre-plan their own final wishes. By this time, the cremation rate had escalated to approximately 32 percent. The Baby Boomers interest in cremation and their constant desire to go against the norm has proven to increase interest in cremation as a way for final disposition.

Beat the winter heat

Patrick Lewis,
Grounds Manager,
Sunset Memorial Park
Here in Illinois, when we have an average temperature of 50 degrees in December, we don’t tend to be too upset about the mild weather. However, when Mother Nature has her months confused, it changes the daily routine of our cemetery grounds crew.

If you are also experiencing unseasonably warm weather, you know what I mean. The roads might not need plowing, but the ground becomes very soft. The warmer temperatures mean we’re seeing dandelions sprout – in December!

So what are we doing at Sunset Memorial Park to beat the winter heat?
  • Be patient and grateful. The weather won’t last forever, and it was so much easier for families to visit their loved ones’ graves this holiday season.  
  • Use different resources. Our snow plows and snow throwers are still parked in the garage, but we’re using a lot of plywood to protect the grass as we move our heavy cemetery equipment. Just like during a wet spring, the plywood helps prevent the equipment from sinking or causing ruts in the grass. 
  • Plan for spring. Grave blankets are usually nestled in the snow above the frozen ground. But this year, the grass hasn’t yet gone dormant, and we’re seeing signs of it dying underneath the evergreen. We’re already planning to do more reseeding as soon as they are removed in the spring.
We all know that the weather can be unpredictable, but it takes just a few small changes in your daily maintenance routine to adjust.

This article originally appeared in Modern Memorialization, Trigard Memorials' weekly electronic newsletter featuring information for the funeral industry. Sign up for your free subscription at http://www.trigard.com/thursdays.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Honoring a loved one year round

Karen Darby-Ritz,
Advance Planning Manager,
Camino del Sol Funeral
Chapel and Cremation
The holidays are a time of celebration, seeing loved ones, making memories and remembering those who are no longer with us. Some people only honor their loved ones during special holidays, and that is okay. But, some people enjoy honoring their loved ones all year round, and one family in Sun City West, Arizona, has done just that.

The daughter of a vintage car buff and a member of the Automotive Restoration Club (ARC) in Sun City West wanted to do something unique to honor her father’s legacy. A few months ago, the ARC began construction on a new building for their organization. Since her father was a founding member of the club, it was only fitting to dedicate their new building in his honor. And, to showcase this dedication, she asked Trigard Memorials to handcraft a beautiful bronze plaque with a picture of her father to be displayed at the new building.

Now his legacy will live on, and people will be reminded of his many contributions to not only the ARC but to the Sun City West community. The plaque will be a constant reminder of happy times and it will show everyone who walks through the auto club’s doors the great respect and love she has for her father. It might be a small gesture, but it carries a huge impact.

We love hearing stories like this. Do you have a story about a special plaque a family you have served placed somewhere special? Tell us about it by emailing marketing@trigard.com.

This article originally appeared in Modern Memorialization, Trigard Memorials' weekly electronic newsletter featuring information for the funeral industry. Sign up for your free subscription at http://www.trigard.com/thursdays.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Taking a journey through time

Ethan Darby,
Director of Business
For those of you who are loyal readers of this newsletter, you can probably remember us talking about the importance of a memorial a time or two. You might even recall us discussing how a memorial tells a story about a family’s loved one. And, there is a good reason for it.

I’m lucky enough to live fairly close to our family-owned cemetery, Sunset Memorial Park. My wife and I spend a lot of time walking our dogs, exercising, and giving our friends and family tours of the cemetery grounds. As many of you know, if you spend enough time in a cemetery, you start to notice certain things. And, one thing I have noticed are “the roamers.” These are the people that explore the cemetery. Their cemetery adventure began while they were visiting a loved one and then became curious. Or maybe they came to the cemetery for the sole purpose of exploring. I am guilty of being a roamer, and something I have noticed about “our breed” is we seem to be looking for something unique. We want to be told a story about our history, and the cemetery provides a very valuable tool for just that.

Walking into a cemetery is like opening up a history book about your community. It tells the tales of all the people who have come before us. Each page of this book represents a memorial, no matter if it is full of color or simple and delicate, their story had meaning. This is what is so interesting to the roamers of a cemetery. It is the journey through time as they walk through the sections of the cemetery that matters. So, I want to continue to encourage you to educate families on the importance of memorializing their loved ones. It not only gives me a great hobby, but it also provides a great historical resource for your community.

This article originally appeared in Modern Memorialization, Trigard Memorials' weekly electronic newsletter featuring information for the funeral industry. Sign up for your free subscription at http://www.trigard.com/thursdays.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Is there value in setting goals?

Jason Murphy,
Director of Family Services,
Sunset Memorial Park
With the new year quickly approaching, it is a great time to start setting goals for 2016. As a manager, setting goals for your sales team is one of the most important things you can do, but many don’t understand the best way to utilize them. In my experience, I have found that meeting with each counselor individually to develop their goals has been most beneficial. A few things we focus on during our annual meetings include:
  1. Setting attainable, motivating goals. This may be the most important aspect to creating successful to goals. We begin by comparing the numbers from the past couple of years. These numbers will help us identify sales trends which in turn help us figure out our annual, quarterly and weekly goals for the next year. We typically set the goal a little higher than the year before but don’t make it too far out of reach. We don’t want our sales staff to feel discouraged. 
  2. Developing an action plan together. What has worked best for you and your team in the past? What are the areas that need the most improvement and possibly more training? How many group presentations, expos and other events will we need to attend in order to reach our new goals? These are the types of questions to ask when developing a functional plan of action. Without a solid plan, your goals are just numbers. Having a plan allows you to keep better track of your sales team’s activity, but it also gives them some structure or focus heading into the new year. 
  3. Setting goals outside the office. I believe if you encourage your sales team to set goals outside the office, in other aspects of their life, it will motivate them more. Improving on their personal habits may in turn improve on other negative habits. Goal setting should go beyond the workplace. I feel that if we all took some time to look at what we can improve in our own lives, we will develop into a better individual and a better employee.

This article originally appeared in Modern Memorialization, Trigard Memorials' weekly electronic newsletter featuring information for the funeral industry. Sign up for your free subscription at http://www.trigard.com/thursdays.