Think outside the plastic box

Cremation continues to increase. This is one of the realities every funeral business faces. It only makes good sense to develop a strategy that increases cremation revenues for your firm. How you offer cremation merchandise must be a part of that plan. This article presents six proven ideas that will increase revenue from urn sales, that is, to help you "think outside the plastic box. "

Idea #1: Change what you measure.

The most common way to gauge urn sales is by the "average urn sale. " This average is typically calculated as follows:

Revenue from urn sales ($) / Number of urns sold (#) = Average urn sale

Over the last six years, I have consistently asked funeral directors from across the country what their average urn sale is. The answer was typically around $250. (Few funeral directors actually tracked this number; usually, it was an educated guess. This is a point I address in Idea #6. )

The problem with using the average urn sale as a gauge for urn sales is that it does not take into account the families that did not buy an urn. This is the untapped potential for revenue that can be captured by a new strategy. This new strategy focuses on the question of how can you increase your urn sale frequency?

It is obvious that selling urns is different from selling caskets. One of the more subtle differences is that, generally, a casket is a required purchase, while, generally, an urn is an optional purchase. Therefore the strategies for offering urns (and other cremation merchandise) must be different, addressing the cremation consumer in a way that generates more sales rather than higher-per-urn sales.

Frequency of urn sales should be the primary focus in monitoring urn sales. Over the last six years I have also consistently asked funeral directors across the country what percentage of their cremation families purchase an urn. The answer was usually around 20%. Sometimes this number was as high as 90%, and always for some distinct reason. I have distilled these reasons down to the ideas presented in this article.

When you change what you measure from average urn sale to frequency of urn sales, your entire strategy of providing merchandise changes. First, your business goal is in terms of frequency, so you will focus on achieving that goal.

Second, instead of offering more high-price urns to keep your average up, you consider finding products that are less expensive, and matched to the functional needs of the family. Cost is a major factor for most cremation families. That doesn't, however, mean that they won't find value in, and select products that are appropriately priced and matched to a specific function. The more families that find value in products you offer, regardless of price, your level of client satisfaction increases.

The idea is to offer more merchandise in price points, between $85 and $300. This does not make sense if your focus is on maintaining a high average urn sale. It makes complete sense if your focus is on generating more sales to more families. The result is that both you and the family win by following this strategy.

Remarkably, this strategy does not negatively affect the sales of the higher-end urns. People that find value in those urns will purchase them. This strategy does capture more sales from those that previously left with only the plastic box. Thinking in terms of frequency is "thinking outside the plastic box. "

The other ideas presented in this article are geared to increasing frequency. Before we get to them, however, let's look at an example of how frequency can make a big difference, and a new way to track urn sales that accounts for both revenue and frequency.

Funeral Home I Funeral Home II
300 cases per year 300 cases per year
40% cremation rate = 120 cremations/year 40% cremation rate = 120 cremations/year
Average Urn Sale = $250 Urn Sale Frequency = 70% = 84 urns sold
Total urns sold = 24 Average Urn Sale = $150
Urn Sale Frequency = 20% Total urn revenue = $12,600
Total urn revenue = $6000  

A way to measure urn sale frequency and revenues in one number is to take the "Urn-Per-Cremation Average," or "UPC" Very simply:

Total Urn Revenue / Total Number of cremation cases = UPC

Funeral Home I Funeral Home II
$6000 / 120 = $50 $12,600 / 120 = $105

You can see in this example that while Funeral Home I had a higher average urn sale, the Urn-Per-Cremation Average (UPC) is low. Funeral Home II has a lower average urn sale, yet the UPC is higher, and so are the profits. Because of the nature of the cremation market, it is more profitable to focus on selling urns more frequently than trying to maintain a higher urn sale average.

The Urn-Per-Cremation Average is a great target number to use in setting business objectives and in tracking the effectiveness of your merchandise strategy to increase urn sale frequency.

Idea 2: Make It Part Of The Process

Where you display urns strongly affects your urn sale frequency. Because cost is a major factor for people choosing cremation, and because the cremation consumer is typically astute in the choices they make, and because the purchase of an urn is generally an optional purchase, making the selection of merchandise a part of the process of making arrangements is critical. As soon as you ask someone to stand up and walk in to another room to make a selection, it becomes a "time to be sold something. " This is a red flag for 80% of cremation consumers.

Displaying merchandise in the room where the arrangements are made, makes selection a part of the process. Since the purchase of an urn is usually optional, this will at least expose the client to the products without creating a sales atmosphere. If the merchandise is displayed properly, I have seen this one idea increase urn sales frequency by 30%.

One of the things I have noted in watching the results from this kind of set up is that families who chose traditional funerals are not swayed toward cremation, or bothered by the cremation merchandise. This decision is usually made before they come into the funeral home, and for reasons more fundamental than what merchadise is available. I have not heard of any families initially wanting a traditional funeral deciding on cremation because of the cremation merchandise on display.

Idea 3: Retail Is OK

Here is what "displayed properly" means: urns should not be behind glass or in anything that looks like a bookshelf. It should be a retail display, like slat wall or pedestals. Studies have demonstrated that while people generally don't like the idea of "being sold," they do generally feel comfortable in a retail setting. It is familiar. Studies also tells us that people like to buy things that they choose.

Often, the objection to this is that displaying merchandise in the arrangement room creates a "sales" atmosphere, and that, as funeral directors, we must avoid the appearance of being sales people. I understand the heart if this concern; I also know that as soon as the family is asked to get up and walk into a display room, any homey, non-sales intentions quickly evaporate. The other alternative is to accept a low urn sale frequency, and believe that it is because no one wants to purchase urns. We are in a business that relies on sales.

A small selection of urns in the arrangement room is fine: 7 to 10 is perfect, if you are limited on space, or if you have a larger more complete display somewhere else. This way, when the family shows interest in an urn, you can always take them to the larger display. You can have your complete urn display in the arrangement room if there is enough room, and this works well, too. Some funeral homes have actually created space for making arrangements in the merchandise selection area.

Idea 4: On Price & Function

The selection of urns in the arrangement room must be thought about in light of your new strategy: increasing frequency. The highest price point should be no more than $500. If you have a larger display in another room, put your higher-end urns in that display. In the arrangement room, choose urns that address the most common dispositions: scattering, retention at home, travel, shipping, and "don't know yet. " Every arranger should be able to point to an urn that fits the chosen disposition the family has chosen for the cremated body.

Idea #5: Little Things That Make A Difference

  • Where you sit is a subtle, but important point. You should position yourself so that the family is facing the urns on display.
  • Make a point during the course of your time with the family to leave them alone. This gives them an opportunity to look at merchandise and discuss it in private.
  • Ask the family what urn they have chosen for the cremated body. Just ask the question. If, during the course of your discussion with the family, you get an idea for an urn that would work for them and their chosen disposition, tell them this, and ask if you can make a suggestion. This shows both that you have listened to them, and respect for them (because you are asking permission to share your idea).

Idea #6: Pay Attention

Idea #1 was about changing what you measure in tracking your urn sales. This Idea is about actually paying attention to the results you get and how you got them.

  • Pay attention to numbers. Set up a system whereby your urn sales can be tracked, and you know the UPC (Urn-Per-Cremation Average) for your business and each person that makes arrangements. (See a sample form for tracking these numbers at the end of this article. ) The best method is to have each person keep track of their own numbers. This makes them pay attention.
    • Attention brings you the information you need to succeed.
    • Attention changes things.
    • What we pay attention to increases.
  • Pay attention to yourself: What do you say to families, how do you say it? What attitudes do you carry into your work with families; what assumptions? How do they affect the family? How do they affect your results?
  • Pay attention to the family: What do they say? Where do they look? What choices do they make and why? What do they want? If you simply pay attention to these things, with curiosity, and without drawing conclusions too hastily, you will find the information you need to fine tune your efforts to serve each family and build your business.

In Conclusion. . .

Try looking at your efforts to increase urn sale frequency as an experiment. These ideas have come to light because someone paid attention to what happened when certain things were tried. Questions were asked. Risks were taken. Ideas were tried.

There are more possibilities for building your cremation revenues than any of us have ever imagined. Our business is changing, and to the degree we are willing to pay attention to our results, to our families, and to ourselves, we can make things happen, watch them happen, or wonder what happened. Treat your effort as an experiment, and stay at it until you have the right combination.