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I made a trip in April to California, and met the gentleman who preceded me there, Mr. John Gregg. I, for one, am not going to be fool enough to take him up on his wager. He is unquestionably one of the biggest men I have ever met. He is so big in every respect that I consider it a great honor to have met Mr. Gregg and to have shaken his hand, and when you make your trip to the sales conference, if you really want to see something, go down to Whittier, California.
He purchased one hundred thousand dollars worth of tractors just to move a mountain to make a section for his cemetery. That is just the kind of way that guy operates. So, John, even if you are enthused, please have a little mercy on the rest of us.
That is not part of my talk. I have prepared a good deal of material to talk on, but those who have preceded me have already covered most of my subjects, so I will only attempt to give parts of it. We find, as cemetery operators, that we can do about anything we want to. It certainly has been proven to us by those who have appeared on this platform already what could be done. I find my hardest problem is to ascertain just what I want to accomplish, and that is the reason I have always come to these meetings. That is the reason I have traveled to see what other people have done and are doing, so that I might help myself ascertain just what I want done.
Once we know what we want, what we really want, we can clear the deck, and go right ahead and do it, but we must ascertain a great many facts before we can proceed. I am sure that many of you are kind of like us in Texas that your greatest competition is the country graveyard. That is true in our part of the state, so our most important objective is to make our properties so perfect and so beautiful, to make them appear to be magnificent repositories for the earthly remains of the people of the community so that the people may ascertain the difference between the country graveyard and the modern burial ground.
The most important man for me in my cemetery is a man who knows how to handle the workmen and the people in the office, and how to buy machinery and equipment, because he is the man who will make this cemetery beautiful. He will either squander money or he will save money. The ability to handle men is considered the most important quality that a man can have in the Army. In the Army they call it leadership. That is the most important qualification of a man in charge of a cemetery, in my opinion. It is absolutely imperative that he be mechanically inclined, in my opinion, and of course that he have ambition.
We found that we have been able to clean up our cemetery by simply adopting the little motto: "Fix it so you can mow it"; we had to spend a little extra money rearranging things, taking out some things so that a lawnmower may be rolled across an area and so that we do not have to trim so much.
Now as we go into the office, we find that in some cemeteries the big trouble is collections. You certainly cannot have a successful sales department unless you have a collection department to help it. The purchaser may make the down payment to the salesman, but that first monthly payment must be made, as well as the balance of them. The thing to do is set up a collection department. Let that be the primary number one job of at least one person in your office.
We found if, by making it the number one job, and the job of being secretary, of writing letters of condolence, etc., be secondary to the number one job of the collection department, that it is a great help to us in cutting down percent¬ages of cancellations caused generally by weak salesmen. A weak salesman will turn in a lot of sales that the first payment will not be made on, unless you have an intelligent man or woman in charge of your collection department. An intelligent man or woman operating your collection department will make it easier for you to keep your salesmen.
In selecting personnel in your cemetery it is better to get younger men, in my opinion, and let them fight their way up. If you get an older man who is ex¬perienced, you may be disappointed. I have been disappointed. I found that it is better for me to get young men and to train them and let them fight their way up. Every time I hire an expert I get a disappointment, except, of course, when I hired Chester Sparks, but to put a man up on a pedestal and expect a lot of things of him, you might be disappointed. To let a man fight his way up, you are helping that man. To put a man up on a pedestal and expect more of him than he is able to produce, able to do, you are going to hurt him as well as yourself.
Remember the expression, "enthusiasm." We have certainly received a full dose of it today.
Recently, I had the occasion to visit with an old Army friend of mine who was my boss. He is in the Pentagon Building and I have always admired him because of his ability to maintain a smooth running organization. He told me this: "Show me a man with enthusiasm and I will show you a man that has original ideas." The Army today is just like every one of us in business. They are searching for leadership and for enthusiasm and for original ideas. When you find men and women that have enthusiasm and original ideas, cling to them with all your heart and soul, because they are very scarce.
The previous speakers have allowed me to eliminate a good portion of my talk, and I will cover only one or two more points. One is that once you have ascertained what you want, you much emulate, if possible, that great American, Judge Harold Medina, who presided over the nine month trial of the Com¬munists a few months ago. He's been eulogized in many articles in various ways because of the manner in which he conducted this trial. He has accom¬plished many other achievements during his lifetime. Upon being asked how he was able to do it, his reply was, "You must have method and persistence over the long pull." Once we know what we want, once we have ascertained exactly, unequivocally what we want, we can find it. It is simply a matter of method and persistence over the long pull.
The difficulty we sometimes have with men is that they know what they want today, but a week later they have forgotten about it. Let us remember the words of Harold Medina and not attempt to do it all in one day, but to lay a plan and each morning as we get up, make a new resolve to ourselves as to what our objectives are. That is the only way on earth we will ever get what we want.
There is only one other point I want to bring out, and that is, we in the cemetery business are showmen. We must be good showmen. We must make our cemeteries sacred in their appearance in every respect as they certainly should be. The conduct of the personnel in our office must be the conduct of good showmen. Our own personal conduct must be the conduct of good showmen. If, when we enter our offices, we see the stage we would like to see, fine. Don't do anything about it, but if your office, your cemetery grounds, or the people who represent you to the public are in your opinion poor showmen, you can never develop what you really want.
We find that by a little showmanship, we can really improve everything, including the attitude of the public and the funeral directors, or whoever we might want, towards our institution. The funeral director opens his door, bows, and smiles and gives the attitude that he takes the utmost care. If we will just use the funeral director as a guide on what to do in good showmanship, we will find that we can get a great deal more for our property, and thereby we will be able to spend more money on it and make it the sacred place in appearance of our community that it actually is. I thank you!
From the publication:
“1950-1951 Cemetery Yearbook”
NCA 21st Annual Meeting
Hotel Schroeder, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
October 18, 19, 20 and 21, 1950