The future of funeral home retailing

The best way to predict the future is to make it. – Michael Dell, founder, Dell Computer Corporation

No area of funeral home operations has evolved more quickly than the retail environment in which funeral merchandise and services are selected by families.

Fueled largely by industry suppliers, the "traditional" selection room seems more difficult to define, as full-size casket displays have evolved to casket segments, electronic displays and combinations.

So where is funeral retailing headed?

Listed below are five trends that have emerged in recent months and years, as leading funeral home operators look for new ways to make the retailing experience more comfortable for families. 1. Say it with pictures. And I'm not talking about casket lithographs. Many selection rooms today have incorporated images that portray a variety of services and special tributes that you make available.

While this approach is certainly not new for some, there are a couple factors that have contributed to the growth of this trend. First, most consumers are unaware of the variety of services that are available to them, from candlelight and memorial services to balloon and dove releases.

Second, many funeral arrangers are unwilling or unsure how to "sell" these types of services to families. After all, it can be difficult to verbally describe these experiential events. It's true that a picture is worth a thousand words. The right photograph can more beautifully and succinctly capture the emotion and meaning of these special events than even the most poetic funeral arranger.

So we now see posters and even full wall-size images in the selection room and throughout the funeral home depicting the connections and emotions of different service options. Informative videos on flat-screen monitors are being used as well. 2. Portability There are two ways in which portability has become a necessity today. For funeral homes with limited physical space, when you are confronted with the question, "where are we going to put all of these people?" the selection room is often reconfigured (i.e., cleared out) for large or multiple funerals during busy days.

Creating a selection room solution that minimizes the frequent handling of merchandise can save significant time and potential damage in what has sometimes been referred to as the showroom shuffle.

The other face to the issue of portability involves taking the selection room outside the funeral home to a family's home, the nursing home, or wherever arrangements have to be made. Lugging around multiple volumes of catalogs and price lists has given way to laptop computers at many funeral homes. 3. Cremation comes out of the closet Cremation merchandise has long been delegated to the dark, back, hidden corners of the selection room. Until recently.

The growth of the cremation rate (to nearly 30 percent nationally) has caused leading firms to re-evaluate their strategy for displaying and presenting merchandise for families who prefer cremation.

Consider that if you have four family members in your selection room today selecting a casket for their loved one, there is a good chance that two or more of those individuals may be cremated in the future. What message are you sending those consumers with your current selection room?

Today's leading funeral homes are doing more than adding a few cremation caskets with an urn display. They are creating an environment for those families to evaluate the many choices they have for services and memorialization – helping to educate what is often a first-time cremation family. How? Using imagery, video presentations, and take-home information in a well-lit, comfortable setting. 4. Technology merchandising Variety is the spice of life, and today's consumers have more choices than ever before. (Can you believe the number of different toothbrushes or breakfast cereals available in our supermarkets today? Who buys all of this stuff?)

The same families selecting a casket in your selection room, that's who.

And today, you can offer families an unprecedented variety using technology-aided merchandising. Unlike the casket litho book or flower or vault catalogs, with technology your families can quickly narrow down their search to exactly what they're looking for. How quickly can you turn to the section of blue caskets with velvet interior in the litho book?

With a technology solution, your supplier's entire product line is available to merchandise for families. This type of solution can also help counter the variety and choice provided by internet or brick-and-mortar casket stores. 5. Say goodbye to the selection room Many funeral homes have realized that the vast amount of space used to display merchandise can be better utilized in some other way. Many former selection rooms have been converted to banquet or gathering rooms, additional chapels, kitchens, children's rooms or offices.

If you decide to broaden your services to include any of these types of offerings, you may have the choice of building an expansion or reconfiguring your current facilities. Considering the cost and time it takes to build, more and more funeral homes are transforming their selection room into a space that creates new value-added services for families. In addition to the new revenue opportunities, eliminating the selection room can create an immediate savings on inventory.

Technology-based arrangement systems were introduced a decade ago and these systems continue to gain wide acceptance, even in states where a certain number of caskets are required to be on-hand. Article presented by; Marty Strohofer director of creative marketing at Aurora Casket Company. He has worked with hundreds of funeral homes on merchandising, retailing, and marketing strategies and is a frequent speaker at industry events. Visit the Aurora website for online seminars covering the topics in this letter.