Taking Cremation to the Mall

Date Published: 
October, 2004
Original Author: 
Bruce Buchanan
Flanner & Buchanan Funeral Centers & Crematory, Indianapolis, Indiana
Original Publication: 
ICFM Magazine, October 2004

If you're in Indianapolis, you don't have to go to a funeral home or cemetery to check out cremation options—just go to the mall.

This summer, Flanner & Buchanan Funeral Centers & Crematory started renting information kiosks from Simon Malls at their Castleton and Greenwood malls. The company wanted a creative way to showcase the numerous service and product options available to people who choose cremation.

The kiosks are unstaffed and brochures with reply cards were not added until the middle of August. Even so, as of the beginning of September, company Vice President Bruce Buchanan said 15-20 phone calls, three preneed sales and four cemetery placements for cremated remains had resulted from the kiosk campaign.

The company had no problem getting the mall's management to approve the idea, Buchanan said. When approached by Flanner and Buchanan staff, mall management ''had that initial reaction that anyone would have of 'this is an unusual topic,'" he said, but they quickly agreed that cremation is a topic many people are interested in, it's an important topic and there aren't a lot of places people can go for information.

In the end, Buchanan said, "instead of us having to sell the idea, they came right back to us and said it was a great idea. They really embraced it."

Flanner & Buchanan operates both funeral homes and cemeteries, so why a display focusing on cremation? "Cremation is the fastest growing service choice in the country," Buchanan said. The company installed the first crematory in the state in the early 1900s and has been a leader in cremation services ever since. ''This is just an extension of something we already provide, and have for generations."

He hopes the kiosk will spark discussions among family members "about what they want for themselves when they die," Buchanan said.

Including Service and Memorialization Options
In planning what to place in the limited space available, Flanner & Buchanan wanted to "get across some sense of the value of a service—which is hard to do in a display like that, because it's a concept," Buchanan said. "We didn't want this to be overly product-oriented, but that's kind of the outcome, because the products help make up the kiosk."

Even so, in addition to the urns and other vessels for holding cremated remains, including a clock, jewelry and wooden boxes, there are photos to help get across the point that cremation is not an alternative to a funeral or other service.

"We have pictures of a memorial service," Buchanan said, "and we show cremation gardens, some of the beautiful places in our cemeteries.

"What we're finding is that people need permission to do some of the things they would like to do but are afraid to bring up because they're afraid they're going into a very traditional environment with a set way of doing things. We want them to know what some of their options are.

"It's so hard to get information out, and there's so much misinformation about cremation. And there's a whole romantic myth that's built up around scattering.

"I try to tell people that one of the values of a cemetery is it provides tangible proof that someone in your past or someone you loved actually lived."

A computer that shows people the company's Family Legacies life tributes is also part of the kiosk. Using the touch-screen technology, people can look up their loved ones' profiles or simply see how the system works to record and preserve the life story of the deceased.

"We've had four individuals call us to make a placement of previously cremated remains in one of our cemeteries, which we think is spectacular," Buchanan said.

The LifeGem option is also included in the display, and a sale is pending as a result, Buchanan said.

The local media had just begun to take notice of the kiosk, Buchanan said at the beginning of September. "I would be surprised if we don't get more coverage."

Though they were concerned that the display would create more questions than answers, they decided not to staff the kiosks. An informational kiosk is less expensive than a selling kiosk, for one thing. For another, "often when you have someone standing there, it repels people," Buchanan said. "We wanted to let people walk up and look things over."

The kiosks are rented on a monthly basis from Simon Malls. Renting any kind of kiosk becomes very expensive as the holiday selling season heats up, so at that point Flanner & Buchanan will pull out and assess the feedback they've received. ''Then we'll start up again, probably in January or February," Buchanan said, possibly making some changes in the display at that time.