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Some Cremation Strategies to Consider for 2022 and Beyond

When I was asked to write a column for this publication, I asked for some time to receive and study the Cremation Association of North America’s 2022 Annual Statistics Report. By now, I am certain most, if not all of you have read this report. Are there any surprises in it?

Lisa Baue

We all know that cremations are increasing – especially during the pandemic as the number of excess deaths dramatically increased in the last two years by over 1 million versus an annual average growth of 35,000 between 2015-2019.

What interested me most about this year’s report was the statement that so many “First Time” cremation decision makers entered our space and have had their first experience with cremation. I will be curious to see future surveys as to how the cremation experience was for these first timers. Will it influence their decision in the future regarding having services, especially considering that most of them could not meet in person and many communications were over the phone or via Zoom-like platforms?

Additionally in many parts of the U.S and Canada, no services could be held, and memorial services were planned for later, with many having no funeral provider involved. How did that feel to these “new” cremation families I wonder? How many had services later and were any of you involved in them?

I predict the numbers were very low. My guess is less than 10% of our cremation families scheduled services after the pandemic was slowing down. Time will tell when new research is available and we can assess better, future consumer behaviors.

It’s safe to assume that cremation is here to stay and will be the disposition of choice going forward, along with a growing trend toward more “green alternatives.” Right now, CANA tells us the cremation rate is showing a 1.5% increase over the last two years and that in the future this rate will likely slow down (as it has in Canada -1.08%) as the cremation market matures.

Knowing this, the question many of us should be asking is, are we doing enough, or do we need new strategies this year and into the future? What will our client’s desired service choices be, and how can we plan more creative cremation options to meet their needs?

If you and your company do not have a cremation strategy that includes cremation training, options and packages, and a strong cremation communication/marketing campaign, then this is the year to get them started.

It is not too late, but I do fear if you wait too much longer, many of you will struggle to catch up, if that is even possible.

Many years ago, I sat with some funeral service friends from England, Australia and New Zealand. They shared that we Americans did not embrace and accept cremation from early on. We were in denial and “buggered it up” as they stated.

Maybe we stuck a few urn pictures in our books or hid urns in closets just in case we needed them (guilty).

Or maybe a few of us put in separate cremation selection rooms (guilty) or did a small display with some urns mixed in with wood caskets (guilty here, too).

We also relied on our suppliers to tell us how to sell and market cremation (really guilty). Based on the growing number of U.S. consumers that choose direct cremation with no service without us, I am pretty certain these old strategies didn’t help us much as we had hoped.

After putting in our first crematory in 1999 (Baue is the former owner and CEO of the Baue Funeral Homes, Crematory and Cemetery in the greater St. Louis region of St. Charles County, Missouri) and then building a cremation and embalming care center about eight years ago, we learned a great deal about cremation and the client families over the year. We learned more about the processes and the many choices in services and products we could offer.

We also had a wake-up call when we designed and printed a Cremation Options Guide like many of our friends. We could not keep enough of the guides in stock. They disappeared daily from our tables at all our locations. This was a sign we needed to expand our cremation education and offerings; the public was seeking more.

We built a small cremation garden in our cemetery around a big oak tree by the water. It sold out within two years.

We brought in a couple of columbaria, and they were full within less than two years. We didn’t bring in enough options. Now we have complete cremation gardens, walkways, fountains and cremation dedicated sections throughout the cemetery.

You know the old saying: “If you build it, they will come?” Well, it is true and my cremation strategy advice to you is to build your plan and build it now! A person’s need to memorialize and have a place for their loved does not change because they chose cremation. Neither has their need to have a remembrance ceremony. Even if their loved one said they didn’t want anything, families will still have a gathering of some sort, either at their home, their favorite bar, on the beach, by the lake or at the country club. They will do something, and we must do all we can to be part of these events.

There are many new and high-quality educational programs in our profession to learn how to better serve cremation clients. Your suppliers, your associations will have seminars, webinars and write articles about the “how to’s.” Attend them all if possible and learn more about how to better serve cremation families. Knowledge is a good thing. But remember this, a family is mourning, whether they choose burial or cremation. My advice is to treat them the same as you do your burial customers, offer them a wide variety in compassionate services and product options.

Educating and marketing cremation to families on the many options you offer is a key responsibility you have as a funeral, cremation and burial professional. I believe it is the most important strategy you must embrace. Offer regular planning seminars on cremation with PowerPoint visuals and “TED” like talks. Have tours of your crematory and your or other cremation gardens. Use the word cremation in your name. Plan to add new photographic examples of what cremation services look like at your firm.

You must have the tools and great photography available to show at seminars, in arrangements, on the website and social media platforms. Set up a photography session with a professional photographer – please do not use your own cell phone!

Show ideas on creative personalized services. Set up various themes, such as a common hobby in your area, a Jimmy Buffett party, a golfing memorial service, or a mountain top gathering.

Sit down with your staff and think together, work to create these “set ups” of special ceremonies, receptions, gatherings or celebrations of life, and show what they look like at your facilities.

Show round tables beautifully decorated, a buffet line or a “pass and serve” event, a beach memorial, a lakeside event, a park picnic memorial, etc.

Have photography for the areas in and around your community where you arrange to bring in the caterer, the tents and chairs, the open bar, or the candle lighting ceremony. Educate your market that you are the company to choose for a life honoring event!

In conclusion, if you wish to survive and thrive in the future growing cremation world, embrace cremation and educate yourself, your staff and your community.

Improve your communication tools, using all formats, from visual examples, to webinars, to your website, to showing off your facilities and community as the perfect cremation venue and you as the “cremation service planner” of choice.

With this strategy, you will be successful if you are willing to embrace the trend that is here to stay.