I am a funeral director and embalmer with a 20 year career that has allowed me to experience many different cultures and trends within our industry. I have been the guy rising at 2:00 A.M. to go on that all important first call and the leader that was charged with growing and expanding struggling businesses. Through all my experiences, one in particular stands out to me as my proudest achievement.
From 2007 – 2010, I was Managing Partner at a premier location in the Western U.S. This was a big business, serving over 500 families a year, and while the business was big, our cremation rate was really big at 55%. Of that 55%, 80% were direct cremation families, and our cremation contract average was minimal, at $1800.00. One of the first initiatives I was given was to curtail the direct cremation rate and increase our cremation average. I knew this was a large task with a lot of moving parts. But it quickly became clear to me that there was one underlying and obvious fact that perpetuated the trend toward direct cremation – that over the years there has been a gradual but steady change in tradition amongst our client families and in their perception that no ceremony was needed. We ourselves as funeral professionals are to blame as we have allowed this to progress for far too long, all the while hoping it would get better.
Well it hasn’t… Ceremony is what we offer our families to aid in their healing and grieving process. If we fail to educate our families one at a time on the importance of ceremony, we may as well just change the name to ACME Crematory, and become a commodity within our industry. The inherent need for ceremony isn’t something that we conjured up in our business plans; it is a human necessity for the grieving process. We have all read about or been to presentations on the grieving process and how ceremony is vital to working though our grief. Yet, we leave these seminars and the books that we have read behind once we return to the day to day work we have in front of us.
I say we are failing our families and our businesses when we take the easy way out and just accept what we are being requested by our client families, when they tell us they want a “direct cremation with no services”.
As I mentioned above, I was faced with this challenge as Managing Partner in New Mexico. The first step I took towards a solution was to study our selection room. I was astonished by the focus placed on our burial families, especially for a business that was largely cremation based. I knew right away we were not serving our families correctly. We were the ones allowing this to happen, failing to provide our cremation families the choices, education and options they really needed. I contacted my casket representative and senior management of the casket company and asked them for a meeting to discuss and devise a plan to engage the cremation customer into the ceremonies they needed. After a year of planning and strategizing, we formed a plan of action and a room that was unlike any other, a complete original. One focused on the majority of our families….our cremation families.
We illustrated and displayed ceremony and the inference of ceremony at every turn throughout the location – flat screen televisions with ceremonial videos played, graphics of ceremony with captions reading things like….”Mom wanted simple, we needed to say goodbye” and graphics of an urn carrier with pallbearers carrying their loved one to the niche were prominently displayed. The point of all this planning and strategizing was to infer the importance of ceremony to each and every family without us even saying a word. When the arranger or family service counselor began their conference, the family already had a ceremony in mind. We allowed the room to speak for us; we allowed the family to absorb all the information about how important ceremony is at their own pace. The funeral arranger and family service counselor were there to solidify this and take the families new found enthusiasm for ceremony and create it for them in a personalized, unique way. The product comes in naturally, out of necessity, to build and create the perfect ceremony to tell the story of their loved ones life. This was accomplished through tribute blankets, caskets, urns, flowers, memorial folders; register books, DVD’s, etc.
By 2009 our cremation contract average had climbed from $1800 to $3600 and our direct cremation percentage dropped from 80% to 41% and all we did was put our family’s needs first. I understand that not every business needs a complete change in their selection room, but I would be willing to bet that almost all rooms could use some improvement in this area.
The best ceremonial room will always outperform the best product room……..in selling product.
I encourage each of you to take an honest look at your business and ask yourself, “Am I doing the right things for my cremation families?” When you answer this question, and if the answer is no, there is a huge opportunity for you and your client families. The sooner you address this question, the sooner you will be on the correct path for true cremation success and truly offering your cremation families the care they are seeking from you and your business.
We must have the courage, compassion and fortitude to address these situations when they present themselves for the sake of our businesses and our families’ well-being. Simply put, we must do the right things for our families and sometimes this means challenging our client families’ limited death care knowledge. This doesn’t mean that we get confrontational or too assertive with our recommendations. It simply means we must act. There are many ways to act on what we know is our responsibility as a funeral and cemetery professional.
In the end, if we take responsibility for doing the right things for our families by providing them with education, information and choices, we all succeed! Our families are blessed with a beautiful ceremony for someone they dearly cared for and we operate and lead a business successfully. FBA
David Navarrete is Senior Vice President of Funeral Home Gifts, Inc., the nation’s premier weaver and supplier of tapestry Tribute Blankets to death care providers throughout North America. Navarrete is a licensed funeral director and top producer whose 20 plus year career has included leadership and senior management positions with both corporate and privately held funeral home locations. He can be reached at his office at 682-323-4076 or by e-mail at [email protected]