Special Services That Help Sales

Date Published: 
September, 1940
Original Author: 
J.E. Watkins
Elm Ridge Memorial Park, Muncie, IN
Original Publication: 
1940-1941 Cemetery Handbook & Buyers' Guide

Before going into a discussion of the matter assigned to me, it probably would be well to give you a picture of the property which I represent.

Ours is a privately owned Cemetery, organized for profit, if any. We were organized in 1926, started business in 1927 and have only nine stockholders, all residents of Muncie. Our property was developed before any sales or burials were made and we combine park plan and monuments. We are situated in Muncie, Indiana; a town of 50,000, that you will remember as "Middletown." I might say in reference to this "Middletown matter," that we are all beginning to consider our¬selves first class Guinea Pigs. We have been analyzed, surveyed, ques¬tioned and photographed to the extent that we now automatically adopt a pose when we see a stranger walk into the office.

Back to our Property---We are one of the few cemeteries started in the 20's that was "under-capitalized"---of course none of you gentlemen have ever had any experience with that condition. Having started in 1927, we might even be called a depression baby, as most of our life has been under the cloud of depression or recession.

Our first development was 19 acres, to which we have since added 16 more; in addition to this we own 70 acres of reserve ground. We have a Community Mausoleum, completed and in use that is the largest building of its kind in Indiana. Its capacity is 888 crypts. Contrary to the feelings of most Cemetery operators, we like the mausoleum and consider it a definite asset, financially and otherwise.

Our competition is a municipally owned cemetery, well managed and enjoying a splendid reputation. This cemetery has been in operation some 75 years and has approximately 35,000 burials. Elm Ridge, our cemetery, is at the present time getting approximately 25 to 30% of the burial business of our City. In addition to this, we are, of course, very active in the solicitation of pre-need sales for both the ground and mausoleum.

What I have been trying to show you, is that ours is a rather small property, operating in a middle-sized town. This fact must, of course, be borne in mind, in considering some of the things that I am going to say. The matter of prime importance with us, has always been expense, being as I said, a small property and under-capitalized. Features we have devel¬oped and special services we have conducted have had to be those that were reasonable in expense and the kind we like best are those that are paid for by someone else. Don't laugh at that remark, it is entirely possible to, do just that thing.

The subject assigned to me: “'Special Services that Help Sales," is one that has been given a great deal of attention and one which I approach with a great deal of humility. If I am able to throw out a single idea that some of you can use, I will feel amply repaid. If I don't, then you'll just have to charge the time up to resting and let it go at that. I am not going to talk much about sales, as I feel that they will come all right, if we take care of the Service and Services.

Let us first analyze what it is that we have to sell; what is our mer¬chandise-our bill of goods? I believe that it can be summed up in just three words and those three words are: "Beauty, Permanence and Service”. Really now - isn't that our Merchandise? Of the three, I have decided, that the last one, "Service," is the most important. "WHY" because without it the other two are meaningless. Therefore, we are discussing that thing which we do, that is the most vital to our SALES that does the most to cultivate our market - "SERVICES and SERVICE”.

Now I want to ask another question. WHAT IS THE BIGGEST SINGLE FACTOR IN THE CEMETERY BUSINESS? What is it that makes these wonderful properties possible and incidentally, makes your job and mine? Isn't it SENTIMENT? Of course it is. Without it, you and I wouldn't be in the business as there would be no need for us. It is the thing that makes the wheels go around as far as we are concerned. Sometimes I wonder if we bear this fact in mind enough. Do we, in every thing we do or plan for our Cemetery, first ask ourselves what bearing it has on the sentiment involved?

We have now arrived at this point---first, that our service and services are one of the most important factors in cultivating our market, and second, that the background or foundation of our business is the sentiment of our lot owners and the public in general. We come now to the consideration of this all important feature of our operations, bearing in mind always the sentiment and feelings of those for whom we plan and render these services.

The word Service has been used in a good many ways, but in the cemetery business, I like to divide it into two classes. The first of these is the special or planned service, such as we have at Decoration Day, Easter, Mother’s Day and some Sunday afternoons. Into this category I also place the usual routine of burial. The second class, I designate, for want of a better word, as INCIDENTAL services. I will discuss some of my experiences with the former first,-that is the one we usually think about when we use the word service, but I am convinced that the latter is the one that makes the real lasting impression with those people to whom we are obligated, our lot-owners and the public.

One of the most sentimental times of the year is the Christmas Season. The average individual's thoughts are centered around his home and his loved ones. If that family circle has been broken, there is, at Christmas, a particular feeling because of this break. Isn't it strange that few cemeteries have done much to satisfy this feeling that the average person has at Christmas? It is true that some properties have developed expen¬sive pageants and tableaus, but to most of us this has been denied because of the cost. Let me tell you how we have met this need.

Four years ago I was driving with my family one evening during Christmas time; we were out for the purpose of seeing the many attrac¬tive lighting displays about the homes of our City. The thought came to me, "Why not do something of that sort at the cemetery? As those lights in the yard are an expression of sentiment, why shouldn't lot owners and the public appreciate the same thing at the Cemetery, especially those lot owners whose loved ones are buried or entombed there? The following year I made a start on this and I was amazed at the response. Let me describe, briefly, the set-up I have developed over the last three years.

Our Mausoleum is in the center of our development, and as you can see from this plat, the burial sections are laid out on either side. The building is back about 600 feet from the highway. I made a start on our Christmas lighting program by constructing a four foot illuminated star. If you have a handy man in your organization, he can build it for you, or if not an electrician can do it at small cost. This star was made of ply¬wood and has about forty outlets in it, in which we used 25 watt white lights. In the center was placed an old automobile light reflector with a 150 watt white light. This star was put on a tripod 15 feet above the top of the building. By painting the legs of the tripod black, we created the effect of a hanging star above the building. We designed and had made two candles shaped frames which were placed in recesses on each side of the face of the building. These frames were covered with flame colored parchment and gave the effect of two large burning candles. In the mid¬dle of each burial plot on both sides of the building, we have a large evergreen bed. Wires were laid from the building out to these beds. Ordinary rubber covered wire may be used for this even though it is laid across the road, as driving over it doesn't hurt it. In each of these beds, stringers of from 50 to 75 - 25 watt blue lights were draped over the evergreens and a large white light placed at the top. Did you ever see evergreens lighted this way that were covered with snow? It’s a wonderful sight.

We have a very beautiful World War Memorial, about which I will have more to say later. We place a floodlight on this Memorial with an amber filter. Our florist made an artificial wreath, about four feet in diameter into which was woven four strands of outside Christmas lights. This wreath was placed on an easel in front of the Statue.

Then I borrowed an idea that I saw at the World's Fair last year. You will recall, no doubt, riding down the avenue leading to the Lagoon of Nations. This avenue was lined with trees and at the base of each tree there was a green light shining up through the branches. Of course, the lights there were very expensive, but I found a very good substitute. The General Electric now has on the market, a spot light bulb of 150 watt intensity. These bulbs are their own reflectors and they cost $1.70 each. A special swivel holder for mounting on a board costs .95¢, and a color filter costs another .95¢. Thus, for $3.60, you have a colored 150 watt spot light, made of Pyrex glass that is impervious to the weather. I placed a few of these, having green filters, around under trees, directed upward, and you have no idea the effect created, even though the branches were bare.

That is the set up as I had it last year. Of course, each property would have to work out its own lay-out. You can make it just as expensive as you want, or you can do it gradually as I did. After the season is over, you take it down and put it away - next year it is all there, waiting only to be installed - your own workmen put it up and your cost is but the current used.

I doubt if I have $100.00 invested in my entire display and the cost of current is negligible compared to the results obtained. I usually put our display up on the 15th of December and burn it every night through January 1st, from dark until 10:30 or 11 pm. We had a total of 5,000 watts burning last year so you could figure the operating cost from your own rate. No personal attention is required as the entire circuit is turned off and on by a time clock (not expensive).

There is one thing that I want to caution you about. If you do anything along this line, DO NOT FAIL to put some of it out in your burial sec¬tions. Don’t center around your entrance or buildings. It is the burial section that the individual is interested in and that is where his sentiment is. If you do any lighting at all, BE SURE to put some in your burial sections.

Now, as to the reaction and results - I know of nothing that we have ever done that has caused as much favorable comment, regardless of cost. The newspapers have inspected our display every year and give us a very fine news story. Hundreds of people drive out to see it each year. How do we know that? We have had many people call or come into the office, to tell us how much they appreciated the fact that we had remembered their loved ones at Christmas time. Last year, after having this display for three previous years, the night before Christmas, for some unknown reason, the clock that operates the circuit failed to work and the lights were not on all evening. The next morning you would have thought that some one had stolen all the monuments in the cemetery. "What's the matter with your Christmas Lights?" "Aren't you going to have them this year?" "We drove out specially to see them." We were covered up with calls.

These Christmas lights are one of those services that you can render that ties in directly with the feelings of your customers and prospects. It gets your property a lot of attention at a time that the cemetery is usually relegated to the background and it earns the lasting gratitude of your lot owners AND DOESN'T COST MUCH.

Most of you have used Church organizations and like groups for Sunday or special programs at your Cemetery. Have you ever thought of using the BOY SCOUTS? Here's one of the finest groups in the world and one that deserves every encouragement - especially in the times that we are going through just now. They lend themselves admirably to a Memorial Day program and if you have the success with it that we have had, you will probably do as we have - make it an annual affair.

About two and a half years ago, I attended a large Community meeting in Muncie and as is always the case, at Community events; the Boy Scouts were on hand doing what I call the DIRTY WORK. They were directing traffic running errands and doing all those little things that men don't want to do and delegate to the youngsters. Being continually on the lookout for something that would appeal and be a little different for Decoration Day, the thought occurred to me, "Why not give those Scouts some real responsibility? Instead of having them do the dirty work, why not let them plan and execute the entire program?" The more I thought about it, the more it appealed to me. After all, what could be more fitting than the "MEN OF TOMORROW HONORING THE MEN OF YESTERDAY?"

When the time came to consider the Decoration Day program, I went down to see the local Scout Executive and put my idea up to him. He looked at me in amazement for a minute and then said, - "Do you mean to say that you want the Boy Scouts to have the entire responsibility of your program and not just do the work? I replied that is exactly what I want. I want to announce to the public that the Delaware County Council of Boy Scouts have planned and are executing the Memorial Day program at Elm Ridge". "Well, that certainly is something different. You bet we will do it. What kind of a program do you want? That is your problem", was my reply.

The final outcome was this - the Boy Scouts planned the complete program, one of their number acted as Master of Ceremonies, three others put on a tableau in connection with the history of our Country, another group gave musical numbers, and an Eagle Scout gave the Address of the Day. (A darn good speech too.) After this talk, a squad of Scouts decorated all veterans' graves and then all Scouts placed a flower at the base of the War Memorial, lining up so that the firing squad, furnished by the American Legion, would perform between them and the Memorial. This entire program lasted about 50 minutes.

What is the effect of this type of program? I can best tell you by repeating what I overheard a man say who was standing near me. His friend asked him why he was there, rather than fishing - it being a Holi¬day. His reply "My boy is a Boy Scout and he has been talking about this program for a month. These folks turned the whole affair over to the Scouts and he wouldn't have missed it for anything. Believe me; it is certainly fine that these people were thoughtful enough of these boys to let them have the responsibility and glory, as well as the work." There is your story. You will never see a prouder bunch of boys, and men, too, for that matter. It was their program - they had planned it and they were putting it on. Don't forget that practically every boy there was brought by his parents and that, in addition, all of the adult leaders and Council members were there, too. Not a small part of the value of this program is that you are helping to instill patriotism into those boys that will be the men of tomorrow.

Here is another Service that appealed to the sentiment of the Boys, their parents, lot owners and the public in general. Try it some time. You can guide and vary the program as to speakers and other details, but let the Boys handle it.'

What did the service cost? Very little, other than the incidental ex¬penses that we would have had anyhow. Our part was simply to have the property ready, arrangements made, and to mail out announcements of the Service. This mailing, a copy of which I have here, was sent, to all lot owners, prospects, and, of course, to the families of all the Scouts in Delaware County. The program was publicized, throughout, as the pro¬gram of the Delaware County Council of Boy Scouts at Elm Ridge Ceme¬tery. Because of the tie-up, the newspapers were more than kind.

You might be interested in the make-up of this announcement. It makes a convenient method of contacting your owners and is not expen¬sive. Approximately 2½¢ mailed by pre-cancelled stamp.

I spoke a while ago of a World War Memorial, which we have. Here is another case of a service to our Community which has in turn been of considerable benefit to us. The story of this Memorial is a splendid exam¬ple of what can happen if one is awake and grasps an opportunity when it comes his way. This particular case may never occur again, but it does prove the point that you should be on your toes in your own Community.

In order to properly give you the facts, it will be necessary for me to give you a little history. In 1924, Elizabeth Sears, a resident of Muncie, died. In 1922, she had lost her only son, a World War Veteran. After her death, her will disclosed the fact that she had left all of her very modest estate in trust to the City Park Board, to be used for the erection of a Memorial to all World War Veterans. The amount was so small that it was not sufficient to do the job at that time and it was placed in a savings account to accumulate. In 1937, the then Mayor of Muncie, inter¬ested himself in this matter and the outcome was the purchase of a statue, "The Spirit of the American Doughboy", executed by E. M. Viquesny of Spencer, Indiana. After the statue had been bought, a question arose as to where it would be, placed and how. An argument followed and the result was that it was put in storage. Now, bear in mind, please, that we have in our City, a city cemetery, which has its own World War Veterans' sec¬tion and further, that this statue and the remaining money was in the possession of the City Park Board.

A year ago last July, this matter again came up, and as sometimes hap¬pens, an agreement still could not be reached as to, where it should be placed. At this point your speaker came into the picture. I had known all about this matter, of course, since I am a veteran, and when it came up again, I wondered if this might not be an opportunity for Elm Ridge to perform a service for the Veterans of our Community and at the same time, secure for itself, a very creditable War Memorial. Accord¬ingly, I attended a meeting of the City Park Board and Veterans which had been called for the express purpose of discussing this matter. After considerable talk that had produced nothing, I arose and suggested that, inasmuch, as Elm Ridge Cemetery had no War Memorial I thought that it would be a very appropriate plate for it. I proposed to furnish the ground required, and to underwrite any deficit incurred in giving it a real setting. I had previously made a complete lay-out of my proposal and I described it to them just as we would erect it. Of course, I had had some conversation with members of the Committee before the meeting (you know how that goes). My proposal seemed to be a happy solution to their problem. The outcome was that a Committee, composed of two veterans and a member of the Park Board was appointed, with instruc¬tions to secure a location for this statue. They came to our property and I sold them the idea of the location I had. Their proposal was taken back to the Veterans' organizations and the City Park Board and was accepted. Elm Ridge then formally accepted the Statue and the residue of the fund and gave them a contract, guaranteeing the erection to the satisfaction of the Committee.

We really gave them a setting for their Memorial, too. I say, with all due pride, that it is the finest in Eastern Indiana. It cost us some money, yes, but not nearly as much as if we had had to buy the whole thing. The statue alone cost $800.00, and there was $381.00 left in the fund. We put the Doughboy on a five foot tapered base, landscaped a 60 foot square, planted it and included a 45 foot bronzed flag staff.

Even if we had paid the entire bill, the tie-up we had from the pub¬licity standpoint would have been worth the price. The officers of the Cemetery were in the background all the way through. All plans and announcements came from the Veterans and the Park Board but of course, every mention of the affair included the Cemetery and what we were doing for them. This scrap book will show that in the space of four weeks, there were 18 separate news stories and one editorial about this statue, its location and the generous cooperation Elm Ridge was giving. Pictures, drawings and stories were on the front page of the Sunday edition for three straight weeks. That is a lot of publicity in anybody's league and it's the kind that counts as it is from the other fellow about you. None of this publicity was paid for it wasn't even requested. The newspapers asked for it and were glad to get it.

Announcements of the Dedicatory Services were sent to all veterans in the County and to all Auxiliaries as well as all the prominent folks. Of course, it went to all our lot owners and prospects. The day of the serv¬ice, every veterans' organization was there enmasse. The Mayor of our City gave a speech of welcome and thanks to us, a flag was presented to us by the Daughters of the Revolution and two Congressmen were the speakers, one of them the national Commander of the V.F.W; this again, all without expense to us, the cost of the speakers being borne by the Veterans. There were some 4,000 people at these services, all of whom went home with Elm Ridge uppermost in their minds.

Of course, this type of thing doesn't happen often, but it does be¬hoove us to keep our eyes open. You never know when something of this kind might break. In this connection, as well as for the good of your property, I have found that it always pays to keep on the good side of the powers that be.

The final result of this Service to our Community is that we have a very beautiful World War Memorial, which we wanted and would prob¬ably have erected at some time anyhow, for about one-third of what it would have cost us and along with it we have had publicity that we couldn't have bought at any price. The Veterans are grateful to us and we have the thanks of the City Fathers. We have again cultivated our market.

We come now to a discussion of that other type of Service that I have called Incidental Service, and to my mind it is the more important of the two. It is bound up completely with that sentiment which we admit is the basis of our business. To be effective, it must be just what the word indicates - Incidental and spontaneous - if it isn't, it loses its value. It is the service that humanizes your operation.

What do you do for your Lot owners? I know your answer - You will tell me that you have developed a very beautiful property; you sell them fine lots at a reasonable price; you give them a very impressive burial service; and you keep the Cemetery in good condition. BUT I ASK AGAIN, WHAT DO YOU DO FOR THE LOT OWNERS THEMSELVES? Coming back to sentiment again - what do you do for your lot owners that is going to put a warm spot in their heart for you, and through you, your property? Those lot owners of yours are the best boosters you have if they are sold, not on the property especially but YOU, PERSONALLY, and by you, I mean, of course, your organization. The best way to have them sold and keep them that way is to put your relations on a personal basis -- be human.

I can best make myself clear, by giving you an example from my own limited experience. Several years ago, I sold a lot to an old man by the name of Licher who had lost his son in a very tragic accident. He was a charming old man and it was a pleasure to serve him. Some time after the burial he had erected a small monument. Not a particularly attractive one, but it was a nice stone, and, of course, he thought it perfect. I was on the grounds one day with a camera, and happened to make an exposure that included Mr. Licher's monument. When it was developed, I found that this stone was well shown. Having no particular use for the print, I put it in the mail to Mr. Licher, with a note, telling him that he could have it. That mail was probably delivered about 10:00 o'clock the next morning. By 11:00 of the same morning, Mr. Licher was in my office. He asked me, with tears in his eyes if he could have two more prints if he paid for them. It seems that he was a Catholic and had two daughters in the Church, who might never be home again. He wanted to send each of them one of those prints, so that they might see where their brother had been buried. Needless to say, he got his two prints. That old man, down through the years, until he died last year, was one of the best friends Elm Ridge and Jim Watkins could have. Never did I see him, but that he mentioned the pictures and always with a tear in his eye. There was an incidental service that cost probably 20¢, but I couldn't have bought the regard he had for us, because of it for any price.

Did you ever gather up the empty flower baskets after a funeral, put them in your car and drop them off at the home of some poor old lady that has lost her husband? Try it some time and see what happens, I'll promise you, you will be repaid.

Another example - Three months ago we entombed an old Belgian glass worker in our Mausoleum. Our crypt salesman has a hobby of tending a flower garden and has some very beautiful flowers. A couple of weeks, ago, he had picked some blooms and stopped at the building on the way in. He picked up a vase, put a few flowers in it and set it in front of Mr. Andre's crypt. The next day, Mrs. Andre was out to the building, and of course, saw these flowers. The old lady talks very broken English - when she tried to tell us her feelings - she had to revert to her native tongue. We didn't understand her - we didn't have to - we could see her face.

Do you instruct your workmen to ask if they may be of service to lot owners? Did you ever stop your car, get out, and carry an urn or water can for someone on the grounds. If you see someone come into your mausoleum to decorate a crypt - do you sit there and let them do it or do you get a ladder for them and help them?

That's what I mean by Incidental Service. Little things, yes, but how big they loom up in the minds of your friends. No set program - no set rules - but, just out of the goodness of your heart do those little human acts that will set you and your property apart as a place they will remem¬ber. Are these things appreciated, you ask. My answer is YES. Here again, we are back to sentiment. There is a hundred times more senti¬ment in a little service that appears to be spontaneous and unstudied than in all the set services that you can ever render. What do you do - you make the lot owner feel that you are interested further than just a sale ¬you are interested in his well being as a human - you want to add to his comfort. Of course, you will find some that take these services for granted, but those that appreciate your consideration will far outnumber those that don't.

One more example - I have an old lady in mind, whose daughter is entombed in our building. She has no car and it is difficult for her to get to the Cemetery. She has never asked me to take her out, but I stop by every once in a while, to see if she would like to ride out with me. But you say that is time wasted? You wouldn't if you could see her.

The reaction of some of you to this idea may be that you don't have time or that it would cost you too much money. I say to you that YOU CAN'T AFFORD NOT TO DO IT. If you put your operation on a cold mercenary basis of taking them to the Cemetery, selling them a lot, making a burial and forgetting them, you are missing the finest opportunity in the world, not only to build your property, but also to build yourself. And another thing - don't delegate these services entirely to your subordinates. Do a few of them yourself - no matter how busy you are. Let your lot owners know that you are a human being just as they are, and that you are interested in them beyond just the sale. The satisfaction you will get out of this type of service will more than repay you for the time it takes.

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