I came to our profession unexpectedly and without prior contact or information. It was never in my thoughts. Frankly when offered a position as a Memorial Counselor my response could not be put into print. Rarely had I relied upon so many monosyllables.
My wife joined by friends of long-standing left me little choice but to “see what happens.” My intention was to relieve this pressure by marking time while I looked for another opportunity. Surprisingly I became comfortable and actually looked forward to going to work at St. Michael’s Cemetery. Perhaps my perception changed due to the people I served who deeply appreciated finding peace of mind, or selfishly as a consequence of the economic success I enjoyed.
I had always suffered boredom when engaged in repetitive chores. Representing memorial property to pre need and at need Clients allowed me to meet, listen, and share sympathies with people who wished to address lives necessities that I had never considered. To me the most important requirement for success in sales is the ability to listen. It is amazing how many purported sales reps forfeit a sale simply because they refuse to be silent and listen to the most important person; the Client.
Shortly I was the most successful Counselor at the Cemetery. When the position of Director of Sales & Marketing became available I was startled to receive a call from the General Manager requesting that I assume the post. The one requirement I requested was the additional responsibility of forming and formulating Community Relations.
The parochial management style of many cemeteries that restrict the functions of a cemetery within the gates seemed foolishly confining. Viewing a cemetery’s function as celebrating life rather than being a warehouse for the past was contrary to prior administrations. The future for the cemetery was outside our narrow confines and depended upon the public accepting us as a partner insuring living memorials to loved ones.
Eight years after altering the mindset of the Cemetery, sales reached a peak in 2007 only to suffer the consequences of the economic troubles affecting the nation. Yet we seem constantly in need to build another community mausoleum fearing a paucity of inventory. Currently our Client base extends throughout the City of New York and to areas that defy comprehension. St. Michael’s has become the place that families return to regardless how far away life may have taken them.
Our outreach program engages the cemetery in the fabric of the life of the City rewarding us with praise from every local, city, state and federally elected politician. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney on the Congressional Record applauded my efforts on behalf of the 76 Queens Firefighters lost at the World Trade Center. Television and radio broadcasts have requested my presence and commentary. The Cemetery has reaped the benefits from being involved in the lives of our Clients refusing to sit idly by awaiting need driving people to our premises.
My prior experiences compelled me to accept the purpose of the cemetery and the requirements for any business to be economically viable differently from others allowing me to utilize approaches not previously considered. There have been times when my different perspectives were questioned and doubted. Yet I have enjoyed the support of the management and leadership of St. Michael’s. It also is true that nothing succeeds like success.
Discussing my views with other cemeterians, funeral directors and members of the general public has served to enlarge and expand ideas, rethink others and defend some programs. The harshest complaints came from those who refuse to consider new ideas relying upon the past to dictate the present and determine the future. If one thing holds true in every business as in life is stagnation means death. The refusal to evolve condemns one to extinction, real or financial.
The conflicts I have engaged in have been the source for many articles I have authored that have appeared within our professional journals. I have received emails from sales reps from around the nation thanking me and requesting advice. Recently owners of cemeteries have sought me out for aid. Sales Managers at competing cemeteries have invited me to discuss with their management the need to change from past dogmas to the realities of a competitive world where the constant is consumer satisfaction and positive cash flow.
The profession has rewarded me by selecting St. Michael’s as the 2005 KIP Award, allowing me to become a member of the ICCFA Government & Legal Affairs Committee and a nominee to the Board. When I was honored by the Christopher Santora Scholarship as their Man of the Year for creating the memorial to the 76 Queens Firefighters I received satisfaction for being part of our profession that I shall remember with honor for the remainder of my life.
So after years of “trying it” I admit that I would never consider another profession. Nothing is worthwhile that comes easily. Having a vision that was different from so many others I have found that our profession holds rewards for those who wish to change the discussion accepting that yesterday does not hold chains on the future.