A cemetery client once lamented that he was tired of being the last in line. He was alluding to the reality that when there is a death, families call the funeral home before the cemetery. As part of the final arrangements, the funeral home will often sell the family a vault and marker, and deprive the cemetery of crucial burial merchandise sales. To compound matters for the cemetery, the transaction between the funeral home and the family may start out as an at-need sale for the benefit of the deceased, but the funeral home may also enter into a preneed transaction for the benefit of the surviving spouse. Consequently, the cemetery has lost current, and future, sales revenues.
Cemeteries tend to overlook one advantage to gaining equal footing when seeking to serve their families: the purchase of cemetery lots is often the first (and only) step many couples take towards funeral and burial planning. Studies show that many couples purchase their lots, but take no further action towards their funeral and burial plans. But, those studies are also showing how rising funeral and burial costs are impacting the public’s acceptance of cremation. So, within a cemetery’s records are the names of families who have shown the desire for a traditional funeral and burial, but without further action, may eventually find that type of service too expensive. So why aren’t cemeteries (and funeral homes) using those records to identity families to contact about preplanning and preneed? Those cemetery leads are buried under a mountain of paper.
Lot purchases are typically documented in a deed book, and then in a lot folder indexed to the lots. If a subsequent merchandise sale is made to the husband and wife, say a marker, the sales contract and marker invoice are filed in the lot folder. For a cemetery with tens of thousands of lots, the recordkeeping can require enough file cabinets to keep the local Office Depot in the black. While cemetery accounting software exists, the system is dependent upon those paper records. So are the industry’s regulators. The system is similar to that employed by the county recorder of deeds which uses various indices to track real estate records. Various transactions have to be tied back to a specific lot. But in contrast to the recorder of deeds, the cemetery may need to track how lot owners are related. The system cries out for a database, and at least one of the largest cemetery operators has taken a big step in that direction.* If cemeteries want to be proactive about making their property, merchandise and services more affordable to their families, they need to make their records more accessible.
*Contact Kates-Boylston Publications for a copy of their July 30, 2012 Funeral Service Insider