Important Management Considerations

Date Published: 
October, 1950
Original Author: 
J.Howard Wendorph
Vice-President, White Chapel Memorial Park, Detroit, Michigan
Original Publication: 
1950-1951 Cemetery Yearbook

It has been said there is no royal road to Geometry. If one begins at the bottom of the ladder in the cemetery business he will soon realize there is no royal road to cemetery management either. There are many problems and pitfalls that line the pathway leading to the title of a cemetery manager.

By overcoming them, one will certainly become much wiser, more capable, and will have a greater understanding of his business. To avoid and ignore our problems and to seek the easy out shows a weakness of will power. I have always tried to form a habit of choosing a form of action that I believe will be the best in the long run, in place of one that seems to be the easiest at the moment.

I have endeavored, in the time allotted, to use the same line of reasoning in presenting my subject, "Important Cemetery Management Considerations."

Let us begin by considering first, one of the most important considerations of management-the manager, the person wherein lies the success or failure of cemetery operation! What are the qualifications of a cemetery manager? What should he possess within himself that fits him to be a cemetery manager?

In my opinion the most important qualification is his personality. I would apply this yardstick in personnel from the laboring man up to the office man. I believe there could be nothing more kindly said of your cemetery than to have it referred as a cemetery with a personality, and that personality will certainly reflect the type of man at the top, and through him infiltrate through the entire organization.

The term "a cemetery with a personality" may not mean too much to you at first thought, but to put this idea into practice, you must have a smile as you serve, you must make people feel welcome and comfortable you must make them feel they are of great importance. The manager sets the pattern for others to observe and follow. He must be a person with vision, constantly thinking ahead, seeking new ideas, never being satisfied with previous accomplishments and above all humble enough to take advice and apply it wisely.

The manager should be capable of understanding human nature, be sympa¬thetic, and his code should be one of honesty, integrity and loyalty. Proper personality is one of our best insurance policies for successful management. Now let us assume that we have found the ideal manager. Let us bring to his attention some of the more important management considerations. There are many, of course, but I want at this time to present some that are vital and require his immediate consideration.

In doing so I would like to have you bear with me as I look in retrospect upon the cemetery business as I remember it a great many years ago. The cemetery business in those days was not as aggressive or involved as it is today. Compe¬tition, if any, was of little consequence, but service rendered was extensive, although rather crude, and funerals were an event. Morticians, or undertakers, as they were called, were friendly and most cooperative. Monument dealers and stone cutters, now known as memorial craftsmen, were reluctant to enter into the cemetery business and did not dream of the bronze marker industry.

In those days the funeral procession consisted of horse drawn vehicles, some of which were owned and operated, believe it or not, by the cemeteries. The servicing of the funeral was a full day's work. The most important thought was to be buried in style and with plenty of show, and most certainly to have a well attended procession to the cemetery.

It necessarily required a large staff of employees to service a funeral. There was a coachman, uniformed pallbearers, and in the absence of electrically operated chimes, you had to have a bell toll as the funeral procession passed by. Yes, funerals were truly an event, but how different today. In many cemeteries in the larger cities, funerals get to be on a production basis, and yet they receive so much better service than in the old days, with greater efficiency and less personnel. The days of the long funeral processions are gradually coming to an end. Year after year, yes, even from day to day, we see the funeral procession becoming shorter, and in a great many cases it is entirely eliminated.

Now it is an accepted fact that all cemeteries build toward sales through the many people who visit their cemetery by way of the funeral procession. It has been a great medium of advertising. If the property was attractive, had appeal, was well managed and well maintained, as well as being well serviced, people were interested, but today there is a definite trend toward eliminating this oppor¬tunity of using the funeral procession to make friends and ultimate sales. We are at this time in a fast moving age, an age in which people cannot conveniently find sufficient time to bury their dead reverently, and they are encouraged in this practice by the introduction of a new idea presented to those confronted with the burial of their loved ones-the idea of eliminating the funeral procession.

Obviously it entails less work for the funeral director; it eliminates his work at the cemetery in inclement weather and provides more hours for his recreation. There is, however, one important fact in his favor of ending the entire service at the funeral parlor, and that is the increasing hazard of traffic conditions, most certainly in the larger cities, where so many accidents occur in funeral processions.

Let us become realistic. Let us wake up to the fact and recognize this increasing trend of having the committal service at the funeral parlor; let us recognize this as causing a definite loss in sales, contrasted with the funeral procession to our property in the past. Just how serious is this situation at the present time? Last year at a great many properties, over fifty percent of the cremation services were funerals without a procession, and much worse, without any of the family attending. Why should an individual who desires his body cremated be denied the full conventional funeral ritual? In a family of husband and wife who have opposite ideas of the method of disposing of their bodies, one can desire either interment or entombment whereby the friends accompany the body to the ceme¬tery; the other might desire cremation where the committal ritual takes place at the funeral parlor. Why, may I ask the full respect for one and the lack of ceremony for the other? I can see no reason for such discrimination.

I can well understand how easy it is to promote the idea in cremation cases, and I can cite many of the arguments being used, but dangerously as the record indicates, the practice is rapidly finding its way into the entombment services, and it is obvious that it is just a matter of time until the funeral procession will be entirely eliminated.

I want to give you a concrete example of an experience we encountered just two weeks ago. A lady came to our property, expressed her desire to look at some columbarium space and intimated to the superintendent that it was for future use, and he, after showing her throughout the mausoleum and pointing out to her the various features, commented about the various chapels and she wanted to know what they were used for, and he told her they were used for the committal service for cremation or mausoleum entombment, or interment. She then revealed there would be a cremation service in her family on Tuesday. This was Sunday that she visited us. She said, “We will not be coming out here to your chapel because the funeral director told us they weren't going to the chapels any more at the cemetery, they were concluding the service at the funeral direc¬tor’s parlor." However, she thought it would be very nice to have the committal service at one of our chapels, so we waited anxiously for the order to come through expecting they would have a committal service in our chapel, but the funeral director was more powerful than our management, and the body came out unattended even by the widow.

How shall we combat this practice, or shall we even try? It is my opinion that the practice is too far advanced to do so and move over, we are not organized properly to cope with it. We might more wisely spend our time and energy filling the sales gap with other activities and methods, perhaps through beautifying grounds and buildings, training courteous personnel, in an active public rela¬tions program, and in a well planned aggressive sales campaign. In short, we must carry our story to the people in their homes, if we expect to merchandise our property.

Another challenge which has been presented to the cemeteries by the people in the memorial craftsmen group who have advertised in our local papers advertising for the public to consult not us, but memorial craftsmen, before purchasing their cemetery lots. This advertising is directed to everyone con¬templating a purchase in the monument or non-monument cemetery. Clearly they seek to govern the choice of purchase, as well as the amount of money to be expended for the memorial estate.

Now all this leads to the subject assigned me, "Important Management Considerations,” for unless we rise up to meet these challenges, eventually we win have nothing to manage and consider. It will all be managed for us. Not long ago I talked with a cemetery operator. He said he was not interested in the internal activities of his property. He did not have the time or energy to promote them. He was interested in the sale of space only, which to me labeled him as being nothing more nor less than a real estate operator. How can a man claim to be a cemetery operator if he does not think beyond the sale of space? It is true that we all cry for the need of sales, but it is my belief that it would be better to cry for the need of families.

It is most important for a successful operator to think in terms of families rather than the monetary value of each individual sale. A volume of families, even though the sales be small is wheat in the bin. They produce an abundance of future operating revenue which is the lifeblood of our existence. Strive as you may to build your fund, you will find it difficult to accomplish if, out of necessity, you are using funds acquired for the sale of land to meet your payroll, but with the ever increasing revenue accumulated from the many services rendered on those productive sales which include interment and marker charges, winter covering, floral services and other miscellaneous items to meet present and future expenses, it is evident you will acquire your "care" fund with greater facility.

To do this we need families, small sales, revenue producing sales. We should not be overly concerned with large sales, for in such cases there will be unused graves that are non-productive. It is very pleasing to us if we, in reviewing our sales report, find a salesman who has produced $4,000 worth of business in one month, but we should be more interested in breaking down this report and analyz¬ing it for the potential operating revenue. If the salesman, in providing this $4,000 in sales, sold eight six-grave lots at $500 each, we have a minimum of potential operating revenue. On the other hand, if he had sold sixteen three-grave lots at $250 each, we have definitely sixteen good revenue producing accounts.

It is reasonable to assume that most of these graves will be used, and if you add to that the profit from the miscellaneous revenue on each interment, you are ahead on the sale of interment space. In addition to this, let us not lose sight of the radiation of two families instead of one. You are doubling your sales force. Surely satisfied owners are good for many additional sales. So my advice to you as cemetery operators is to operate with one more important thought in mind and ask yourselves this question: How many families can we permanently associate with our cemetery this month, for if you get a volume of families, the dollar volume will take care of itself. They will be dollars not just for today, but for many years to come, and then you will always have the needs for proper management.

I am not going to suggest the methods used in making the family ties. That is the business of the salesmen and the sales manager. My problem and your problem as operators is to see to it that there is operating income after the sales department has sold us out of our capital assets. Our own capital assets are the property we have to sell, with interment or entombment or columbarium space. Any additional income must be created, and no outsider is going to create it for you.

A short time ago a funeral director friend was telling me of a recent funeral he serviced. His remarks were something like this: "Brother, did I have a good job the other day; sold a copper and a good vault." I asked him how his¬ service went, were there many people in attendance, and did everything work out smoothly, but it appeared this was incidental to him, as the only part of the service he apparently was concerned with was the sale of the casket and the vault. I attempted to point out that he should be more concerned with his service to the family by having a well conducted funeral which would lead to additional calls through radiation, rather than the sale of merchandise only, but he wasn't interested in that fact, but only that his profit was large on the sale of his merchandise. After all, that paid his rent and allowed him to put some money in the bank. This is nothing more or less than living by a policy of making it today and letting tomorrow take care of itself.
How many in our business work at management as does this funeral director? Are you going to value the opportunity to advertise and merchandise those revenue producing items which come by thinking and operating beyond the initial sale of the property?

I want to touch on one more point that has been much debated in cemetery circles, and I assume that many of you are not in perfect accord with the methods of merchandising cemetery property, most certainly on a pre-construction basis, so let us compare pre-construction sales with other commodities. We will find it is no different than any of them providing you have established yourselves as a going institution, one that has gained the respect and confidence of the people of your community.

Most of us have driven cars we ordered from a reliable manufacturer through a salesman's story or descriptive literature. There wasn't the least doubt in our minds that the car when delivered would be well constructed and all that was claimed for it. Usually we were more pleased when we saw the actual car than with the pictures, yet the pictures induced us to make our selection and sign the order.

All of us buy before need and before the commodity is produced and think little of it, but when it comes to selling burial lots, many operators feel it is unethical and misleading to the purchaser and unsound for the cemetery. All of us who have had experience with sales are convinced in so many of these cases they turn out to be most unhappy and dissatisfied owners. Why? Because, first, the sales person does not have the time to spend with these families to properly sell them on the institution. They do not thoroughly understand the values and the many features of the property. It is logical to assume that at• that particular' time the purchaser would remember but one-tenth of what he was told.

In the pre-construction campaign, all of these advantages are clearly portrayed in the home by visual as well as a descriptive trip through the property by well trained consultants. Prior to and during the construction of the property, you will find their anticipation of seeing completed property prompts them to watch the progress as it is developed, and talk of it to their friends and neighbors. Compare this to the purchase of developed property whereby the purchaser pays the account, places the deed in a strong box, never to think about it again until the property must be used.

Yes, the pre-construction sales are very advantageous to you for radiation purposes, provided you do not overload your families by selling them more than they actually need for protection. However, you must first get yourselves out of the old graveyard category. You must manage your property in a manner worthy of recognition by the people of your community, as being a great asset to them in beauty, friendliness, personality and service.

Join with them in whatever community memorial activities are being promoted. Make them feel proud they have a modern cemetery institution in their community.

These operations can all be classified, then, I believe, under the heading, "Important Cemetery Management Considerations." I would like to point out first the need of important qualifications for a cemetery manager, and second, there are definite changes in funeral practice which have created a sales gap resulting in a loss of potential sales and loss of interest in property. Therefore, the problem resolves itself into this: Cemetery management must create policies to capture public interest, to acquire a volume of friends, to increase miscellaneous operating revenue by such methods as proper advertising, intelligent public relations program, and effective sales campaign. Remember, your only capital assets are the properties that you have to sell, interment, entombment and columbarium space, and I forcibly repeat that all other revenues are created entirely by your own acts.

Make your business live-make it one of action and of result; even as our worth is determined by the good deeds we do rather than by the fine emotions we feel, so the growth and success of our cemetery industry depends upon the accomplishment of well-manned, constructive and progressive activity.

Only action gives to life its strength as only moderation gives to it charm. Action may not always bring success, but I assure you there is no success without action. Thank you!

From the publication:
“1950-1951 Cemetery Yearbook”
NCA 21st Annual Meeting
Hotel Schroeder, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
October 18, 19, 20 and 21, 1950