Ask U.S. funeral directors and cemeterians to name the most significant challenge facing their industry and many will answer: how to continue to grow when more families are choosing cremation. As the rate of cremation continues on its upward course, that challenge will become even more daunting. But should it? I contend that when funeral directors and cemeterians adopt a new perspective and modify their business model, increasing profitability through cremation can – and will -become a realistic and achievable goal.
It is a reality that the increasing preference of cremation has caused today’s death care professionals to operate in an industry that is, as the Oldsmobile commercials might suggest, no longer “your father’s funeral profession.” Fewer families opt for the decades-old traditions that have been the heart and soul of the industry. Change is, indeed, the new normal. And change you must.
A new business model that embraces several or all of the following suggestions will result in a stronger bottom line and a new frame of mind toward cremation.
Perform cremations in-house and more of the revenue will stay in-house.
Technology now makes it possible for cemeteries to install a cremator rather than having to receive crematory support from others. For example, models are available with a smaller footprint using limited square footage, so having adequate space is no longer an obstacle.
High operational costs that once were prohibitive are no longer an issue with select units. Look for a high-efficiency model, preferably one that brings fuel savings up to 50% and which can complete a cycle in two hours or less. Choose a unit that requires no cool-down between cremations so that you can experience continual production during a 12-hour workday. And, to avoid turning to an outside source when handling an obese case, choose a model with ample capacity to accommodate any body size. All of these characteristics make processing your cremations in-house a profitable reality.
Redefine cremation for your client families.
As cremation’s popularity began to increase in acceptance, somehow the public started assuming that choosing this form of disposition always translated to direct cremation. By having crematory equipment and performing your cremations in-house, you have the opportunity to squelch that myth with your families and move them from “direct cremation” into “cremation with service.” Families want to grant Dad’s request, and you serve them best when you broaden their understanding of the various options that can pay tribute to their father while still observing his directive. In your role as counselor, educate them in the value of service.
Prominently display cremation-related merchandise to make it top of mind with your families.
Families that are unaware of the service options available with cremation are likely even more unaware of the broad scope of related products. Cremation caskets and cremation urns are potential revenue streams. Make certain that your staff is well-versed in all applicable-products and can explain the value, significance and memorial benefit of each. Reviewing product options should be done early in your interaction with families. Your credibility will be damaged if, after the fact, they learn of options they could have utilized.
When tradition won’t do, perhaps contemporary tributes will.
The new generation of families may eschew funeral traditions and will likely be drawn to memorialization with a modern touch. Arrange for them to have a tribute video, which electronically captures a lifetime of memories and can be given to family members and dear friends.
Offer online viewing when vigil or committal services are conducted at the cemetery so that those constrained by distance or physical impairment can attend remotely.
Importantly, recognize the impact this generation of funeral decision-makers is – and will be – having on your business. Relate to them on their turf. Actively use social media such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other platforms. Write a blog, or if that is not your comfort level have a younger staff person write it. Make certain your website is current, updated regularly and has contemporary features such as video. The result of your efforts? You will connect with this next generation in ways that more traditional communication and marketing will not.
The Times are Changing. Are You?
Many industries are challenged by changing times. The U.S. Postal Service, for example, has struggled since the first fax machine entered the workplace and “snail mail” took a backseat to email and texts. Cable companies and phone service providers found ways to diversify their products and services to stave off competition. The companies that succeed when faced with a challenge are the ones that focus on the opportunity within the challenge.
While ours is ministry rooted in tradition, don’t be blinded by the “we’ve always done it this way” attitude. Take a leap, not so much of faith but of confidence. You will discover that challenges can inspire you, and change can be seen in your bottom line.