Bucking the trend
“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated” is a popular misquote attributed to author Samuel Clemens, known by his pen name, Mark Twain. However, that quote has stayed with Clemens (Twain) forever and is now simply a part of his lore.
The same thing may be said for cemeteries. The demise of cemeteries into the future has been predicted as we have moved from a nation that overwhelmingly buried our dead traditionally in casketed services in dedicated cemeteries to a nation that has moved cremation to the forefront of human disposition. And now, moving into the future with other disposition methods like natural organic reduction and alkaline hydrolysis, one might think the future of cemeteries is bleak.
That may be true in areas of the country where population is declining. Rural country churches are closing and there are simply no members left with an affinity to be buried in the church cemetery where earth burial was a fundamental ritual with almost all church members for the past 100 years.
However, I think there is a renaissance going on with great hope that cemeteries in populated areas have a great ability to generate income for their owners. To do so, however, cemeteries have to be creative and expend some capital in “inventory” that is different from the acres of grounds that provided the “inventory” in the full casket traditional burial era.
In my opinion, the key for profitable cemetery businesses going forward will be continuing the act of providing “Permanent Memorialization” for our loved ones. We have gotten away from that in America where many are okay with the thought of spreading ashes or will be okay with putting the soil from natural organic reduction in the backyard. As an amateur historian, I’m one who believes that without “Permanent Memorialization” we lose a lot of the history of who we are and where we came from.
I’ve just finished reading the book “Killing England” which is about America’s triumph in the Revolutionary War. It’s amazing what the people who built this country did for us and, in my opinion, every one who played a part in that event should be permanently remembered for doing so. . . .even though they are deceased, their monuments can play a part in teaching about history.
Here’s a recent story from the Providence Journal about a lost burial plot of a Revolutionary War veteran that can tell a story.
That all leads me in to my theory on why and how cemeteries can make their comeback in the non-casket world of Death Care. What it is going to take is an inventory of products at the cemetery that can lead death care consumers to make the decision to permanently memorialize their loved ones. And, that inventory of niches, cremation areas, mausoleums, scattering gardens and the like will take an upfront investment to move forward. It’s also going to take a marketing campaign that informs consumers of these options and why they should permanently memorialize.
One of the company’s bullish on this promotion of cemetery options is public death care company Carriage Services. According to their website they own 69 cemeteries across the United States. Here’s what their CEO Carlos Quezada said about their cemeteries in last weeks Earnings Call:
“Our cemeteries continue to be an area of great opportunity for Carriage. We’re focused on building our sales organization and continue to see upside being realized through the successful integration of our recent acquisitions. Our ongoing investment in new cemetery inventory will add to our value creation strategy in 2023 as many of these new cemetery projects are in near completion. As mentioned in our release from yesterday, we expect preneed cemetery sales to grow above 2022 levels by low double digits while continually building up and developing our sales leadership team. Since launching our high performance sales strategy in 2019, cemetery operating revenue has grown by an impressive 22.2% compounded annual growth rate. We’re excited by the potential of our cemetery segment and are confident in our ability to deliver continued growth, particularly as we continue to add premier cemeteries in large growing markets through our acquisition strategy.”
And recently an article was written about Foundation Partners Group and their improvements and inventory enhancements at a cemetery in South Carolina. That article entitled “If you build it, Cremation families will come” was written by American Cemetery & Cremation magazine. You can access the article from the Foundation Partners Group website here. After the inventory enhancements at the mentioned cemetery the article states these were the results:
“In addition to the overall jump in sales, unit sales were up 78% and the average revenue per unit increased by 152%. Revenue per cremation call increased 313%”.
Finally, I noticed this item last week that indicates a new Catholic Church cemetery is in the process of being developed and built in Bakersfield, California. In my research, outside of military cemeteries, I just don’t see a lot of property dedicated to new cemeteries, so I think that this is an interesting development also.
Again, I continue to believe that cremation, natural organic reduction, and alkaline hydrolysis will grow as a percentage of the human disposition choices in the United States. I believe that there is growing trend to allow for the “celebration of these lives” by allowing the remains to be scattered, buried in a forest, solidified to be placed in nature, lifted into space, or other fitting placement of the remains in relation to the decedent’s life.
However, I also think it is imperative to preserve history with permanent memorialization and those that are in the permanent memorialization business can help a decedent’s family to do both. With these new forms of disposition there is the potential to “split” remains to satisfy both objectives and cemeteries that provide the opportunities may allow families to do both.
Related — Here’s a couple of products that I think every cemetery and/or funeral home should be offering to the families that they serve. It appears that they can provide a simple, cost-effective permanent memorialization.
More news from the world of Death Care:
- Pennsylvania mulls green “death care”. The Bradford Era (PA)
- Human composting offers an eco-friendly life after death. Video story and print article. KING TV 5 – Seattle (WA)
- Call for greener funeral options to be legalized. BBC News (Great Britain)
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