Horan & McConaty Funeral Service/Cremation of Aurora, CO, has two cremation gardens under its Rocky Mountain Memorial Park banner. Considered among the most beautiful cemeteries in the world, they have been designated official wildlife habitats. President and CEO, John J. Horan, and Vice President of Advance Planning, Thomas M. Folkert, shared thoughts about creating and operating the gardens.
What was your goal in creating these gardens?
Horan: “First and foremost, the intent was to provide something to our client families that was previously unavailable.
With a few notable exceptions, there’s an alarming lack of memorialization options in North America that reflect the desires of the people who are choosing cremation today. Our goal was to create something that was compelling to those customers in ways that reflect the uniqueness of our Rocky Mountain region: streams, natural granite boulders and features, meandering crushed granite paths, sculpture that reflects our brand and our state. And we accomplished all of this at our original location in an area of less than one acre—what some call a pocket cemetery.
Folkert: “Our competitors have become more attentive to providing cremation options, but those options tend to be product driven rather than creating an environment where people want to visit. One company does have a cremation garden, but you have to drive through a large cemetery to get to it. The beauty of ours is that it’s small, unique and stands on its own. It feels like a park rather than a cemetery.”
Horan: “When you walk through our cremation gardens, you find there are very few straight lines. We use natural materials and avoid having any concrete visible. We want to give visitors a feeling of being in a sacred space like they might find along a hiking trail in the Colorado mountains.”
Is the natural aspect a big part of the success?
Horan: “Without a doubt. There are many families who want cremation but don’t have a clear plan for the cremated remains. The key is getting them to actually come into our gardens, hear the waterfalls, see the koi ponds, walk the meandering trails, enjoy the birds and butterflies. Then they begin to envision this as a place they’ll want to visit for years to come when remembering their loved one.”
Folkert: “It’s interesting that the locations people seem to love the most are near the water. Maybe it’s the calming effect or the sounds of water, but this is a definite trend.”
Horan: “Both of our locations now have garden chapels—outdoor gathering areas where people can have not only committal services but also other ceremonies and receptions. They have opened up a whole new range of services we can provide to families.”
What advice can you give to fellow members who are considering this concept?
Horan: “The first thing is to talk with a planner who specializes in developing cremation gardens—one who understands your vision. They should be able to provide design ideas, help identify a range of products and even assist with merchandising and pricing.
“We met with several large cremation memorial providers and rejected them because their focus was more on filling the gardens with their products rather than reflecting our unique vision. It took some shopping around and asking a lot of questions but, in the end, we found a planner who didn’t have a personal agenda and understood the importance of an integrated project.”
“I would encourage people to not overbuild in the beginning but have a number of phases to be developed. In our experience, subsequent phases are always modified based on what we have learned from the previous.
“A good designer should provide a plan for future expansion that isn’t obvious to the public. For example, we have areas that are meant for future expansion, but right now they look just like part of the grounds. They have grassy areas, trees, flowers and wildlife. The land doesn’t jump out as something that is not yet completed.”
Folkert: “We have significant plans for expansion at our second location that will include family estates, above-ground niche banks and memorial walls. The property overlooks a beautiful golf course, with the Rocky Mountains in the background. We want to be careful not to make anything look like a cemetery but rather a place where people can remember their loved one and enjoy the beauty of nature.”
“Something members may want to consider are the benefits of creating a memorial garden within a 501(c)(13) not-for-profit cemetery corporation, like we have done. CPA John Schmitz, who has spoken at Annual Meetings and consults with Selected on the Management Comparative Program and Selected Study Groups, recommended this approach to us, and it has had tremendous tax advantages for our funeral home when donating both land and management supervision.”
“I traveled across North America from Toronto to Vancouver, Newport Beach to Phoenix, visiting cremation gardens. That effort really helped me form my vision for ours. And we are happy to have Selected members come visit us in Denver and see what we are doing.”
How did you guide staff toward selling new cremation memorialization options?
Folkert: “This was well underway by the time I joined the team, but I understand there were some challenges at the beginning. Increasing sales and making a new venture financially viable is always difficult. There are many moving parts: planning, pricing, scheduling, maintenance, etc. But as the positive benefits started becoming apparent to families, and as we refined our processes, the gardens became a natural extension of our services.
“There are guidelines I use to hire the right kinds of people for our sales staff. These have helped us build a successful team. [See below.]
“The value of the various locations within a cremation garden needs to be watched carefully. Looking back, we found that our pricing was out of balance for some locations. So it became important for us to monitor customer preferences as a guide for future development.”
Seven Tips for Finding Good
Funeral/Cemetery Sales People
By Thomas Folkert
- Look for qualified people who will be able to sell. Having lost a spouse or other loved one doesn’t necessarily qualify them. I use a personality assessment to gauge ability to be successful. There are several of these assessments available.
- Look for people who are honest. If there is a red flag in the person’s past, be careful. Past behavior is the best indicator of future behavior. Be sure to ask for and speak to references on everyone.
- Look for people who are trainable. I find it preferable to hire people who don’t have preconceived ideas of what a sales program should look like and, rather, are willing to learn to do things “our way”.
- Look for people who practice good habits. Good habits are indicators of what their work will be like. If they are late for the interview, have the time wrong or come in smelling of cigarette smoke, take them off your list.
- Look for people who are connected. People with community connections will be better able to cultivate their own leads and help build your business. I am interested in people who have a faith connection or are active in veterans’ groups, civic clubs and other organizations.
- Look for people who are ready to work. To put it bluntly, look for people who are hungry. People who desire to make money are much more willing to get after it, work nights and weekends, do their prospecting, spend time on the phone and be willing to ask for the sale.
- Look for happy people. If people aren’t happy before you hire them, they won’t be happy afterward. A positive attitude mean a lot.