10 tips to modernize and revitalize sympathy sales

By Teresa P. Lanker

When was the last time you attended a funeral—not to deliver flowers but rather to deliver condolences? If you’ve been to a funeral lately, you might have noticed some differences from funerals of the past. As a florist, it is important for you to periodically re-examine the way you approach sympathy business and update your products and services. Consider these tips.

1. Provide professional consultations. With eventlike funerals on the rise, florists are in the perfect position to utilize their consultation skills with clients who want more than simply sprays. Make it a point to handle sympathy sales with great care and compassion. Designate a member of your staff as the sympathy consultant, and prepare business cards that help build a personal relationship with clients.

2. Sell settings, not arrangements. When working with families, focus on the entire casket setting. Emphasize how flowers and plants can be used to create an appealing environment and a “frame” for the deceased. Offer multiple options including descriptions of how flowers can enhance areas of special interest such as video tribute screens and musicians’ staging.

3. Offer “reception” decorations. Provide the option for flowers to be included in events beyond the church, funeral home and cemetery. Emphasize that floral arrangements for hospitality tables or buffets should be designed using different (all-around) styling than traditional designs sent to the service.

4. Create an album. Compile a tasteful collection of photographs showing examples of your finest nontraditional sympathy work. Include on-site photos that show coordinated floral “settings” around closed caskets as well as flowers for indoor and outdoor receptions.

5. Emphasize color. Expand your vocabulary beyond red, yellow and blue to discuss color in terms of warm and cool families. Offer options within popular color combinations, such as mixed colors that are bright, pastel or muted. Demonstrate your artistic understanding and concern for customer satisfaction by honing in on the precise tints, tones and shades of the colors desired.

6. Advertise. Make your special sympathy services known to the public through a sustained advertising campaign that is carefully planned and equally compassionate. A subtle plea for sympathy flower business on the obituary page of the print and online versions of your local newspaper can create a brand for your shop that assures repeated sympathy sales.

7. Personalize. Broaden your repertoire of sympathy flower options using accessories that are appropriate symbols of love and loss. Inspirational books, memorial garden stones, wind chimes and keepsake angel figurines are just a few items to consider.

8. Design with size. Avoid sacrificing size for style. Most customers want a design that measures up among its cousins at the funeral or memorial service.

9. Consider rentals. In the face of so much personalization and reception decoration, it is more appropriate than ever for florists to consider adding rentals to their funeral service options. By no means should fresh flowers be rented, but large urns and decorative containers, plants and other site ornamentation are all options that are viable rentals for modern funerals.

10. Offer pet tributes. As the face of modern funerals has changed, so has the response to the loss of beloved pets. Pet cemeteries and pet burial products are rapidly on the rise. While not a service in great enough demand for most florists to advertise widely, the opportunity to network with local companies that assist mournful pet owners is growing. Though there are no traditions to follow for designing pet tributes, a little imagination is all that is needed to create meaningful memorials for Fido and Fifi.


Teresa P. Lanker is assistant professor and chair for the Horticultural Technologies Division and coordinator of Floral Design and Marketing at The Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute. Contact her at



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