Cemeteries in Smaller Communities

Date Published: 
September, 1940
Original Author: 
William Eisner
Detroit, Michigan
Original Publication: 
1940-1941 Cemetery Handbook & Buyers' Guide

In giving my views on the subject, "Why is it more difficult to operate a successful cemetery in a small community than in a large one", I beg you to pay close attention to the other gentlemen on this program. My view is based strictly on my personal experiences gathered from selling, operating, and in developing four cemeteries in the middle west not in city populations from 10,000 to 40,000, and may not necessarily be the same view as you will hear from the other men.

First, obviously because of limited population, cemetery developments and beautification cannot be built on a massive scale at huge expense like large city cemeteries.

Second, advantages of each development to be made must be studied as to the best selling points and the best place for certain developments to be explained in a sales sequence.

Third, enthusiasm must be built around small development improve¬ments making each outstanding where in reality the same small develop¬ment would be minor in a large city cemetery.

Fourth, man power advantages are naturally limited because of small population.

Fifth, few rich people who purchase live within the limited selling territory, thereby eliminating prestige sales.

I believe these are the most serious problems confronting the owners of small city cemeteries, all of which can be overcome.

The one big problem which has confronted most of us, and undoubt¬edly the hardest problem, was President Roosevelt's free giving of money to city owned cemeteries for developments. After 7 years I trust we will whip this free money problem with a WILL, and lock it out of our pro¬gram with a KEY.

Cemetery developments cannot be built on a massive scale like large city cemeteries. This reason is clear to a cemetery official who investigates his business and attends state and national conventions. A large city with potential prospects for years to come can build, for example, a large tower costing between five and twenty thousand dollars exclusive of music. To use music in a small city, it becomes essential to build a modern inex¬pensive tower to serve the purpose and still be a high selling point for the salesmen. In a small Michigan city a very attractive tower was built of split fieldstone at a cost of only $510; a music installation amounted to $950; beautification with various shrubs and flowers cost $120; making a total expenditure of all improvements only $1,580. With this minor cost for music, tower, and gardens, the owners were able to sell 25 thousand dollars worth of lots in a 17 week sales campaign. After the short but brief campaign of 17 weeks was ended, there still remained sufficient lots in the particular section set aside for the tower to bring them in 15 thousand dollars in future sales. This brief campaign ended about four years ago, and since that date this particular city has had about 80 imme¬diate need purchases a year and 74 out of the 80 purchases each year have been made in the Memorial section.

I gave you this example merely to show developments cannot cost too much in comparison to the large city developments. With study and care the less expensive developments will serve to build powerful sales helps for a sales campaign.

The developments selected for campaign purposes should be made a study, not only from the point of cost, but also the story to be built into the sales talk plus extra attention as to where it should be used in sequence in the sales talk. Before deciding on some particular improve¬ment to be used as a power point in a sales' campaign, I would suggest the officials consult various directors in their state association or the secretary of our National Association in regards to style, expense, and story to be used on this particular development. Members of your state association are only too pleased to assist you in any matter pertaining to improving the present day cemeteries. Officials who have never operated a sales campaign will more than be repaid by consulting some of the men who have had sales campaigns and by becoming a member of a state and the National Association.

ENTHUSIASM must be built around the non-expensive but all impor¬tant development features to be built. Even with a nominal cost for a tower and music, as mentioned, beauty can be added by securing the assis¬tance of a horticulturist or landscape gardener to assist you in the beautification of this particular development with shrubs and flowers, thereby making a small city cemetery one of the city's leading beauty spots, all of which can be had at a nominal cost.

MAN POWER advantages are limited naturally because of the small population. The owners must take particular care in selecting the correct type of salesmen and sales ladies to avoid your Commission plan being told and broadcast at large, thereby making it unduly hard for the salesmen to avoid arguments from prospects in regard to buying a lot and paying the salesmen's commission.

One of the largest selling points, as you know, is prestige sales of purchasers or board members. This point is largely lost in a small city development because the man, who has made money or holds a responsible position in a small city, generally does not have the goodwill of the ma¬jority of the average laymen. To offset this sales point which is used commonly in the larger cities, you can make up a list of the average purchasers.

SENTIMENT seems to carry a larger amount of weight in small communities, giving an advantage to the salesmen. The people buy because of love for friends or neighbors.

PRIDE carries weight also, thereby assisting the salesmen because the families like to keep up with their neighbors or friends.

Because of sentiment and pride, the purchasers, waste no time in telling all their friends they purchased a burial estate, especially at the bridge clubs, Parent-Teachers' Associations, sewing bees, etc. You will find advance information on future prospects is somewhat easier than in larger cities because a resident generally knows the larger part of the population personally. Truthfulness plays an all important part in the success of a small city cemetery development. One pressure story, one night club party, or one argument with anyone may mean the ruination of that salesman's future sales and the prospects for the entire cemetery program. Obviously, the salesmen must be hand picked and be men and women of high type caliber with a good reputation in the city.

Prospects and sales are limited because of the small territory to cover. Improved sections with beautification as mentioned should be built after the campaign starts and should be considerably smaller in size, that is to say in number of lots, than is ordinarily the case in large cities. A promise of a specified development in the sales talk and a failure on the part of the owner to complete said development will kill the cemetery sales program quicker than anything I know.

Developments to be built should be completely modern and up to date to offset the old alibi of “I want to be buried in the city cemetery where mother and dad are resting". A simple answer to this argument is, "I am sure if there had been a modern cemetery of this type in your city at the time they purchased a lot, they too, would have bought there, because they were progressive. I know they expect you to continue throughout life with progressive ideas and be among the city's ambitious young folks to assist in all civic developments".

I should like to enlighten small city cemetery owners of the advan¬tages they have to make a success with a sales campaign. Each of the salesmen selected should be good listeners, as well as being able to answer all questions. Small city residents enjoy telling their life's history and should be given that opportunity. This holds true, I think, with a lot of people in large cities also.

Second, salesmen as well as the owners must have confidence. I have found the average layman in small cities to tell all their friends what a lovely burial lot they had purchased, and the story has been passed on to the salesmen sooner or later by others who have heard the story by word of mouth thereby building confidence in the salesmen. This sells him on his business more than any sales director can sell him. With confidence you can meet each morning unafraid and conquer anything.

Third, salesmen become persistent in small communities because of price raises as the developments are being made and soon learn to call back on lost sales ahead of each price raise and thereby make sales.

Fourth, salesmen working on small city campaigns become more considerate of prospects because of family leads. It is common for a salesman to make a sale and be given the names of sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. This is one of the main advantages in selling small city cemetery property over larger city property. I recall a salesman, who contacted a family one winter afternoon when the thermometer stood at 22 below zero. He made the sale and within 6 days had sold 17 lots to relatives. It is, therefore, my belief that salesmen enjoy selling in small cities regardless of the many handicaps because it becomes a thrill to make a sale and within 24 hours have other residents tell him they know he made a sale to some certain party; also because the news boys on the corner as well as the businessmen and the banker start calling you by your first name. They respect you because they realize you are assisting in making their city modern. Residents seen to know their city is judged by the looks and type of their cemeteries the modern memorials of the present age.

The small city owners need a national association because of the gain they receive through visiting with members from larger cities, the advantages to be gained by reading and studying the year book, the talks presented at the conventions, along with the great opportunity afforded them in being able to see the latest and most modern display at the National conventions.

The only other way I know of to better assist small cemetery owners can be and no doubt will be within the coming years, added to our National program. This assistance should be a traveling director who is qualified and knows from experience the problems of the small city cemetery owners, along with learning from personal contacts throughout the country what others are doing to make a success and thereby passing on information and assistance to the small city cemetery owners while covering the United States. When this day arrives to add such assistance through the National Association, it will not only be constructive, but a God’s Blessings to owners who operate in the smaller communities and will assist to build a larger National Association. Until our association can build large enough and work out plans to finance such an educational, instructive and direct assistance to this particular type of owner, it is imperative that these owners continue to attend and assist, not only with respect to building a larger National Association, but at the same time assist in building a local state association. What we have done in Michi¬gan in respect to building a cooperative State Association and assisting the - small cemetery owners, I will be only too glad to explain to interested members any time during this convention.

My personal advice to small cemetery owners who anticipate opening new sections, or start a selling campaign, would be to read every article that appeals in our National Association Year Book, the Legal Coupon and the American Cemetery Magazine, listen attentively to what is told you by others who have had sales campaigns, but refuse to accept it as fact until you have thought it over relative to the possibilities of it work¬ing in your own locality. Analyze it, and decide in your own mind whether it is the proper move for your own particular locality and ceme¬tery. Use your personal ability to reason, to analyze, and to choose the things you hear and read that which in your opinion is worthwhile and helpful to your own case.

If you have tried to increase your sales with ideas of your own and met with somewhat of a defeat, do not forget and by forgetting wipe it out of your mind, instead take your defeat, examine it, analyze it, and make it a power weapon to fight new battles with new ideas you picked up at this greatest of all National Conventions.

Be like the cemetery salesman who had worked all day making many calls but no appointments. His neighbor wanted him to go to a soft ball game that night but he declined. "I've got a lot of home studying to do." The next night he was ready to go and was more than full of enthusiasm. Later he explained that the night before he worked three hours going over every call he had made, analyzing each. He studied every objection given to him, worked out a new sales talk to whip these objections and that day sold one out of two sales talks.

I would like to say in closing, if you listen and read everything possible about our business, work out a plan of benefits that are attractive to prospects, build what you say you're going to build, assist in building a larger membership within your State and National Association, you need not worry about your possibilities of making a success with a small city development.

CHAIRMAN HINDS: If anybody here wants to ask a question, we have time for a few questions.

MR. A. L. WATERS (Lancaster, O.): The program says why should the small cemetery be connected with the Association. Beyond Mr. Eisner's paper, I would like to ask him what the Association can do for the small cemetery.

MR. YELLAND (Norwalk, Conn.): Isn't it true that the state con¬vention or the state associations are of more value to the little man because the problems of each of those members are more nearly alike and they understand them better, and they are probably among that group; a few that have sound methods of solving those problems. Here a small man's problem is not that of Los Angeles or of Chicago or of Atlanta or of Philadelphia. Ours is an entirely different problem and many of the good things that have come out of this convention are much over the head of an institution such as ours and many of the institutions in our state, which are similar.

MR. EISNER: That is very true. However, if you apply the things you hear here in your own local park you really won't need a state association, as I see it, but a state association has different problems, of course, from legislation on down, and they can work them out. I will say to you the information given out at the State Association in Michigan has not only helped Michigan small cemetery owners but we have had people volun¬tarily send in $1.50 a year in order to be kept in contact with the little bulletin paper of what we are doing in Michigan, the small cemeteries as well as the large from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Ontario, and if that is true, if someone was out in the field contacting and going to those places and giving them advice and helping to hire men and trying to close sales, giving them all of those ideas, some one, of those things would be worth the fee to pay the National Association, if it could ever be worked out.

MR. CHESTER SPARKS (Philadelphia): Bill, I am going to say a word; if you please. When I went to Philadelphia people said, "Oh, Philadelphians are a lot different from Detroiters." I think that is the trouble with the small cemetery man. The statement was made here just now that his problems are different from the large operator. It is all wrong. Philadelphians are like Detroiters. Your cemetery is life the big cemetery, and we do not want to kid ourselves that our-problems are dis¬tinct and aloof. I have given a lot to those Michigan Association meet¬ings, but believe me I have learned a lot from those, from these same little, small-town operators. The only thing about the small-town operator, he tries to keep the things to himself. If he would give in to these National Associations and State Associations as much as the big-town operator gives, then all of us would benefit, but don't let us kid ourselves that the small-town problems are different from the big town. We all have our fights and we must work together, and give together to benefit.

MR. C. H. HOLLPWELL (Vincennes, Indiana): I just, want to go a little farther and ask Mr. Eisner about this contact man, if I understand it correctly, and probably inject something in that. It sounds like a good idea to me, probably not to the big operators because they know more and have the bigger problems to handle and a lot of it never gets out, but for the small operator it seems to me it would be a very good idea for the National Association to have a contact man to contact these small owners in the small towns and pass on the ideas and, as Mr. Eisner said, help him for a day or so on ideas to get men or if nothing else to kind of fizz the organization up, to let a lot of these salesmen so-called in these small towns know these ideas. They have no direct connection with the National Association. The sales manager or the owner probably belongs, but when he gets back, well, he has a lot of ideas and doesn't tell them or isn't able to give them like a contact man would that would be out to do that one particular job, and that is to fizz up an organization. To me it would be like some big business concern having their repre¬sentative out in the field contacting different branches throughout the country for a day or maybe two days and fizzing that particular branch up and it would be a very fine thing.

I don't know whether it could ever be worked out with the finances, whether the finances of the National Association could finance that part of a program or not, but I think it would be very helpful and I think a small operator would be willing to pay for that service, and between the time of the National Association meeting and the next National meeting there are lots of things that come up that the small operator should know about which are helpful. By the time the next National Association meeting comes around that is old stuff and they are just a year behind on it, where if there was some way of passing this information on when this new idea comes up, why they would just be a year ahead. Yet, they have to wait to come to the National meeting, and a lot of that information is never passed on.

There is so much to be taken up here in a few short days you just don’t get it all. You get a lot of good. I don't think anybody comes here that doesn’t go back with good, but I think the Association could be improved by this idea Mr. Eisner has of a contact man, not only to visit the small cemeteries but the larger ones. The large cemeteries would naturally benefit by the ideas some small operator is using and he could use it probably on a larger scale.

Chester Sparks and Bill Heston and Harry Miller, who belonged to this National Association for six or eight or ten years did a very big part of building up a State Association and in seeing that the little operators are doing business.

We have in Michigan today five memorial cemeteries that weren't there three years ago, that is, old cemeteries with sections of memorial and they wouldn't have been there if it hadn't been for the enthusiasm and the pep and so forth of all the men in the State Association, which leads right back to the one point that the big operators were able to send their men out for this complete information.

How far, Mr. Eisner, do you go out to get business from the smaller towns?

MR. EISNER: Well, I would say 15 to 20 miles. Nothing has ever been sold in any of the small cemeteries I have been connected with at all in investment, nothing absolutely.
CHAIRMAN HINDS: That is fine. Well, I was talking to Mr. Eaton, who I understand has gone out. I wanted to ask him some questions. He has a big organization, strong salesmen, and he talked about going out into the adjoining towns and selling cemetery lots 150 miles away. I live in Memphis, used to live 104 miles from there. Jonesburg is about the same distance. I couldn't get it through my mind how you could go 100 miles and sell a cemetery lot, and just to convince myself it could be done in Memphis, I employed a man and sent him up to see an outstanding planter 74 miles away at Blightville, Arkansas. The most of my talk was about what Eaton told me he did, and it was along this line. I found out from the bank the financial standing of this man. I didn't get his balance, but he was comfortable and I instructed him to use a speech similar to this: Go up there and find out how that man stands on your account. He stopped at the filling station and asked the local officers or somebody else. He was satisfied to that, and he walked into the room and he had a speech similar to this: "Mr. Webster, I notice you have a nice home here."


"And a modern looking home; it is beautiful. I want to commend you for having it. You have a nice garage, a nice car in the garage.'" He commented on those things and he was invited into the home directly. He got in, and the man had a nice divan sitting on the side and he was sitting in a cheap chair. It looked like $3.00 or $4.00, and it had a split cushion. He looked like a farmer and dressed like a farmer. "How come you got that nice divan? It must have cost $150."

The planter said; "Mary is getting grown and has beaus and I thought I would buy it for her." That old fellow had the idea of getting as favor¬able a marriage as possible. He commented favorably on that. "How many children have you?"

"Three boys, Sam, John, and Henry"

"Where are they?"

"Sam is at Tulane University, New Orleans, taking a medical course. John is up at Vanderbilt University. I think he is trying to be a lawyer, and the other boy is going to stay here. He is interested in agriculture and is going to be a farmer." Well, he didn't fail to comment on that. The old man was illiterate, only had a fourth grade education, but he knew how to make money. A lot of those fellows do. Well, the sales¬man didn't try to sell him anything. He left some literature and touched the high points, and he did say to him, "I understand why you are so successful and have a fine family and you are happy and you are to be commended.”What about your burial ground?"

He said, “We have an old graveyard, a little old cheap graveyard.” “Now a man of your type ought not to have that kind of a funeral place. A man who has made a success all but the final rights ought not to have that.” Well, he convinced him that he wanted him to come over and see Memorial Park. He promised to come, and the salesman brought him to Memorial Park and he sold him an $800 lot for a $200 down check. He brought the check in and the rest is to be paid in the fall.

Now that convinced me that that thing can be done. That is the reason I asked that question. You can go out and centralize the same as centralizing schools. You can centralize cemeteries in small places if you are not afraid of hard work.

From the publication:
“1940-1941 Cemetery Handbook & Buyers’ Guide”
ACOA 11th Annual Convention & Exposition
Hotel Statler, Buffalo, New York
September 8-11, 1940