Sunday, February 3, 2008

Traditional Selection Room or New Style Funeral Boutique You Decide...

I have worked and served families in several funeral homes over my career that employed the traditional styled selection room, a room full of full-sized caskets, and burial vaults that were displayed open when entering the room.

I often heard families say just how overwhelming this segment of the arrangement process is for them. They simply wanted to get in make a selection and get out as fast as possible.

Imagine entering a new styled selection room, which is now called a funeral and cremation boutique. Now not only is the name different but the look, feel, and atmosphere of the room is also different and warmer. The room would have a typical boutique feel, possibly even at first glance look much like a card shop or the home furnishings section of a department store. The room would still display caskets by viewing only a portion of the casket accompanied by a photograph maybe even employing the use of a computer based kiosk to display caskets. The room would be filled with other ancillary memorial products such as embroidered tribute panels, urns, floral arrangements, stationary packages, jewelry, grief related book library, grief newsletter subscriptions, sympathy cards, children’s grief coloring books and stuffed animals, memorial candles and many other types of memorial products all displayed in a store-like boutique friendly environment.

Is this a concept that would make us all less fearful of the selection room experience? We are all different, we like different things, but we all make purchases in a like manor. Look at the way we shop at the mall, grocery store, etc.

Please read this article I stumbled across where a funeral home has done just this to make the merchandise selection process much easier andmore comfortable for families.

Feel free to email me or post your comments regarding this blog entry, I really would encourage you to share your thoughts regarding this concept.


By Reed Fujii
Record Staff Writer

LODI - At first glance, the glass-fronted boutique might seem to be a card shop or the home furnishings section of a department store.

There's soft music playing. Recessed lighting gently illuminates the space overall, while track lights direct the eyes to the books, gift cards, guest registers, ceramics and other knick-knacks tastefully arrayed on wood-and-glass displays. Everything is clearly priced and shoppers are welcome to browse and compare before taking their selections to the check-out register near the door.

But this is not a simple gift boutique. It's Cherokee Memorial Funeral Home's new approach to offering products and services. Instead of displays of cut-down window treatments, there are sections of finely finished wood and metal caskets. And the ceramics are mostly cremation urns.

"We're reacting to market research that indicated this type of arrangement would be more satisfying to the people," said Charles Irwin, president of Cherokee Memorial. "It's a traumatic event no matter how you handle it, but we're trying to make it less traumatic for people."

The funeral home's Memory Store, open since November as part of a renovation and expansion project, takes its design cues from contemporary retail d├ęcor, not from traditional mortuaries. For example, it displays one-quarter caskets mounted on walls with accompanying photos and fabric samples, instead of full-size caskets.

The results are a great savings of display space and a less-threatening appearance.

Many mortuaries are doing away with the traditional casket room, said Jack Jensen, general manager of Cypress Lawn Funeral Home in Colma and public relations chairman for the California Funeral Directors Association. He said entering a room filled with full-sized casket was often a shock to survivors.

"Many of them, if not most, would tell you ... when we walked into that casket room, it really hit home: Somebody has died."

Irwin himself had that experience, making arrangements for his father's funeral. At the time he'd already been running the nonprofit Cherokee Memorial Park for about two decades, but its subsidiary, for-profit funeral home had not yet opened.

"I didn't like being shown into this room where there were 15 or 20 full-size caskets. It was kind of creepy," he recalled. As a result, he took little time to consider his choice.

"I was running in and just buying to get in and out."

While reduced-size casket displays have been around for a number of years, more recently funeral homes have been bringing in additional merchandise, such as guest registers and memento displays.

Jensen said retail displays such as a sample memory table or remembrance board can be helpful to survivors.

"Having examples of these kinds of ways to personalize a service, having them on display ... often stimulates a family to start thinking about those things. ... It begins a cascade of memories," Jensen said. "The funeral is an important time. It is a time for people to reminisce and share memories. There's a heck of a lot we can do to make this time memorable."

Moving away from traditional casket displays and to a more innovative mix of products and services is a growing trend, he added.

"If there's a new funeral home opening these days, there's a good chance they will approach their selection room in that kind of style," Jensen said.

Some funeral directors have gone so far as to move the process out of the mortuary all together and into shopping centers and other retail settings, said Jessica Koth, spokeswoman for the National Funeral Directors Association in Brookfield, Wis.

"We've seen in the last few years, funeral homes open standalone facilities," she said. "They're very much store-like settings where people can browse for caskets, urns, memorials stones, you name it."

While not ready to move out to the mall yet, Cherokee Memorial does include a couple of dinette-style table and chair sets inside the Memorial Store where survivors may sit and discuss their selections with funeral home employees and make service arrangements. Nearby flat-screen monitors even give them a look at scenes from the Memorial Park to the south.

"We can have multiple families in the room making arrangements," said Walter Scheffer, funeral home manager.

For anyone wishing more privacy, there are also separate offices nearby.

Scheffer said it's too early for him to gauge well the retail-display approach is working for the funeral home's clients. It may simply be that the space is so ordinary or familiar that no one's been prompted to talk about it.

Still, anyone left waiting in the entry hall seems to tend to wander into the Memory Shop if no one else is around.

"It draws people in. It's a comfortable setting."

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