In the Age of Dinosaurs

Ed Horn's picture


The common business adage that the customer is always right receives little attention from cemeterians when the issue is memorialization. Frankly the attitude most encountered by those in the profession when requests are heard for memorializations is "My way or the highway."
Cemeterians have a knee jerk reaction to demands for memorializations. It is if someone is throwing salt into open wounds. Our hostility makes us appear adversarial. We appear to our clients to snicker at them while relishing saying "No!" Perhaps the popular Capital One commercials originated from contact with a member of our profession.
Whenever a family wishes to memorialize their loved one the amenable atmosphere normally associated with a cemetery experience comes to an end. Acceptance of vases, photos, religious emblems differ from one cemetery to the next. There is little reason to explain our reluctance and outright disdain for memorialization. Apparently the wishes of the families are of little interest to us when their request means changing our ways. 
The amazing aspect of this ongoing friction between cemetery and client though is closing the door to revenue from property which represents obligations and costs. Once memorial property is sold fiduciary duties to maintain demand constant and increasing cemetery funds diverted to cost of operations. By refusing to consider memorialization cemeterians are turning their backs on a potential windfall which does not increase costs but will subsidize our maintenance of occupied property.
Where new ideas are considered one will normally find a sales force commission based. Our sales force is our financial lifelines. They encounter clients on a one to one basis and they represent the heart and soul of our institutions. They are driven therefore by the dual motivations of satisfying their customer and to earn more. Memoiralizations add a new and vital source of funds for the cemetery which can grow into a self sustaining resource if our sales representatives are empowered to make it so.
St. Michael's allows vases, photos and religious emblems that fit in with inscriptions. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks we became aware of Memory Medallions. Glenn Toothman was seeking an opportunity to offer his unique product through cemeteries as a new form of personalized memorialization. The product and the concept took time to take hold on the imagination of our sales team. The idea of family members coming to the office to borrow a reader seemed too much of an effort.
A new technology benefits from risk taking, and sometimes by being in the right place at the right time. Glenn while visiting St. Michael's learnt of our plans of establishing a memorial to the 76 Queens Firefighters who sacrificed their lives at the Twin Towers. Without hesitation Glenn donated a Memory Medallion to every family of the 76 so that each Firefighter would be remembered as their loved ones wished. Suddenly the 76 were no longer uniformed men but were the individuals they had been. To read the biographies, stories, tributes and to feel the losses sustained by all who participated is to define what commemoration truly is.
As a result of the impact created by the Memory Medallions St. Michael's now includes a Medallion in selected areas of our newest community mausoleum. By adding a Medallion as part of the crypt we have been able to increase our prices drive profits far in excess of the cost. Daily visitors to the cemetery purchase Medallions for their crypt or traditional property. Consequentially we are beneficiaries of the heartfelt thanks of our clients while capturing a revenue stream from property that represented stagnant liability.
Many of our clients have insisted on candles for their use to honor their loved one. St. Michael's for apparent reasons adamantly refused these requests. The hazards and risks of a lit candle far outweighed all other considerations. Our families sought out our sales reps pleading for a candle.
I received a telephone solicitation from Bill McDaid from SmartLite. Reluctantly I met with him. Bill introduced me to his technology of electronically powered candles that were capable of having a dedication placed within. The candles give the illusion of being a live fire. The light flickers and dances as if a wax candle was responding to the lightest breeze.    
After some debate St. Michael's installed a SmartLite Omnistand within an often visited community mausoleum. There was no response for the first few days. A frequent visitor inquired and purchased a candle with one of the various dedications available. Within days many of the 65 candles were sold.
We offer the candles for one, five or ten years. The prices vary but each level insures a significant profit as well as a renewable revenue source for years to come. The SmartLite program has proven so successful that we will shortly install another unit. We have concluded that candle sales will insure unanticipated profits to St. Michael's for years to come. Additionally the good will established through the introduction of the candles has already been recognized by sales of crypts that our close to their location.
Representing the cemetery I have fielded demands by our clients for new and innovative memorializations. The logic for denying these requests can be traced back to opposing new ways, new ideas and new technologies. St. Michael's has accepted that in a world of change we have no choice but to accept change. We embrace innovative ideas and products that achieve the dual benefits of pleasing our clients and supporting our bottom line. To do otherwise is to insure disappointment, heartache a diminishing market, and to follow in the footsteps of the dinosaurs. Their day passed. Without a willingness to change many cemeteries may find they are relics of the past.