More and more families want to remember loved ones in distinctive ways,
and you can help with memorable tributes.
by Morgan Chilson
The funeral industry today is adapting to the needs and desires of a
diverse group of consumers, and an interesting—and sometimes
startling—range of new products and services is being introduced.
Florists’ Review spoke with sympathy industry experts to learn how their
industry is changing so that you can tailor your floral services to the
needs of today’s sympathy customers.
reflecting a life
The No. 1 trend in the funeral industry has been the same for the past
decade—personalization of services. The point is to tell the story of
life in a way that reflects the attitude, philosophy and personality of
the person who died.
Research by casket manufacturer Batesville Casket Company, in
Batesville, Ind., indicates that among Americans older than 60, the
traditional values of honoring a death and paying tribute to the
deceased remain a priority, says Joe Weigel, Batesville’s director of
communications. Baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964),
however, are starting to change funeral expectations. While still
honoring traditions, they are shifting toward celebrating the lives that
were lived and taking more active roles in the funerals. “The baby
boomers are saying, ‘I want mine to be different. Individualize it,
personalize it, customize it in a way that is befitting of my loved
one,’” he notes.
Jason Meyers, curator at the Museum of Funeral Customs, in Springfield,
Ill., has the unique perspective of having studied funerals through the
ages. Today, there is a new philosophy developing. “The new approach is
celebrating a life as opposed to mourning a death,” he explains.
Flowers are an ideal medium
for creating or enhancing whatever theme may be present at a
funeral. John Reed, treasurer of the National Funeral Directors
Association (NFDA), is a funeral director who also owns florist
shop Victorian Treasures, in Cowen, W.Va. He says florists need
to respond to the desire for individualized flowers.
“Instead of a standard funeral basket or a spray, [customers]
want unique things,” Mr. Reed says. “We use a lot of driftwood
and sometimes wind chimes. For grandmothers, we use rocking
chairs with a quilt or a blanket.”
Jerry Prokuski, aifd, owner of Jerry’s Flower Barn, in Mendota,
Ill., has worked closely with Batesville Casket Company and
gives presentations about personalizing funeral flowers. He
recommends that florists take pictures of their personalized
arrangements and keep a book to show customers.
A treasure trove of ideas for personalizing sympathy florals is
The John Henry Company’s Sympathy Flowers sales and consultation
guide. Featuring color photos of more than 300 designs, this
inspirational book is available from the Florists’ Review
Bookstore by calling (800) 367-4708 or visiting the bookstore
There are several popular concepts that speak to this movement.
One is the personalization of the service itself. More people
are standing up to tell stories about the individual who died,
and there are creative ways to show pictures of the deceased
throughout his or her lifetime, Mr. Meyers describes. “[Family
members] are creating PowerPoint presentations set to music,” he
At Batesville Casket Company, Mr. Weigel says one way the
business has responded to the customization trend is to offer
caskets with a MemorySafe® drawer. This small drawer opens in
the lid of the casket and can be used to display cherished
keepsakes or to secure private mementos or farewell messages.
Another Batesville feature is the MemoryShelf®. Positioned
inside the casket, this feature allows families to display
special keepsakes and meaningful mementos during the viewing.
Many companies also offer options for personalizing the casket
itself. Batesville has special casket corners with LifeSymbols®
designs, such as a baseball glove, a jumping bass and symbols
for all the military branches.
Mark Allen, executive director of the Casket & Funeral Supply
Association of America (CFSA), says most of the 200 companies
represented by his organization offer customization. Caskets can
be engraved on the outside, or custom-embroidered panels can be
placed on the inside lids.
Other new funeral trends
include the following.
• “Green” caskets—Biodegradable caskets for the
environmentally conscious. These have been popular
internationally and are getting a lot of interest in the United
• Polyurethane film to personalize caskets—This film can
enwrap a casket to change its appearance (much like graphic
wraps for vehicles).
• Jewelry for cremated remains—Designed to hold a small
portion of cremains, “keepsake jewelry” is available in men’s
and women’s styles to hold a loved one close.
• Small funerary urns—Small urns enable family members to
share cremated remains of loved ones.
• Create a gem—Some companies offer the service of taking
a small portion of the individual’s ashes and making an
industrial-grade diamond that can be mounted in jewelry.
• Themed funeral homes—Some funeral homes are setting up
rooms with themed looks. A St. Louis, Mo., funeral home offers
three designs: Grandma’s kitchen complete with cabinets, sink,
stove and refrigerator (and the smell of baking cookies); a
sports-themed room that can be adapted for any sports lover; and
an antique-style living room, where family members can bring in
the deceased’s own collectibles and antiques.
• Creating vignettes—Some funeral homes create vignettes
that incorporate items from the individual’s life. For instance,
one funeral director set up three vignettes to honor various
parts of a deceased’s life: his military service, his sportsman
hobby and his dedication to public education.
The personalization trend even has affected cremations, the
number of which has been on the rise for several years. In 2005,
cremations accounted for about 31 percent of services. According
to the NFDA, that number will increase to more than 38 percent
by 2010 and to more than 51 percent by 2025.
“There’s an urn shaped like a gasoline tank of a Harley-Davidson
motorcycle,” describes Mr. Allen. “We’re seeing all sorts of
different shapes—golf tees, for instance.”
Urns also can be engraved with numerous designs, says
Batesville’s Mr. Weigel; however, at this time, the most popular
urn engraving is simply the name of the deceased and the dates
of birth and death.
respect for tradition
While there are numerous other ideas and as many kinds of services as
there are personalities of people, most experts agree the funeral
industry ultimately is steeped in tradition.
“One of the big concerns with personalization is that the dignity of the
person being honored always be retained,” says Mr. Allen. “I think that
has made this process maybe a little bit slower than it could have
Batesville Casket Company offers options for
personalizing caskets, such as this casket corner to
memorialize the life of a gardener. The company offers a
selection of 24 LifeSymbols® designs.
One of Batesville Casket Company's exclusive custom
American Legion Collection caskets, with embroidered
overthrow. Other models and urn accessories featuring
the emblems of the American Legion, Sons of the American
Legion, and the American Legion Auxiliary also are
Inspirational and religious-themed afghans, such as
this one from Manual Woodworkers and Weavers, are
gaining favor in the sympathy market.
Typical of a modern, personalized funeral, this
ceremony setting, created outdoors to celebrate the life
of an avid gardener, incorporates several personal
possessions and mementos that represent the deceased's
love of gardening.
custom camouflage interior would be ideal for a hunter
or any outdoorsman.
|Photos A, B, D, and E
courtesy of Batesville Casket Company,
and photo C courtesy of Manual Woodworkers & Weavers,
Morgan Chilson is a freelance business writer residing in
Topeka, Kansas. You can contact her by e-mail at