feature story

personalized services

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.

  the role of flowers

 
 
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 here.

 


 

special memories
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 says.
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.

  more new concepts

 
 
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 States.

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.

 


 

cremation
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 been.”

   

 
 

A) 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.


 


B) 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 available.


C) Inspirational and religious-themed afghans, such as this one from Manual Woodworkers and Weavers, are gaining favor in the sympathy market.


D) 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.


E) Batesville's custom camouflage interior would be ideal for a hunter or any outdoorsman.

 
Photos A, B, D, and E courtesy of Batesville Casket Company, www.batesville.com, and photo C courtesy of Manual Woodworkers & Weavers, www.manualww.com.
 


 

Morgan Chilson is a freelance business writer residing in Topeka, Kansas. You can contact her by e-mail at morgan@exactlywrite.net.
 


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