J. Britt McLane is President and Senior Funeral Director at McLane Funeral and Cremation Services in Valdosta, GA. The firm also operates McLane Riverview Memorial Gardens. Britt shared his experiences of being a cemeterian.
What are the features of your memorial gardens?
“Our cemetery is fairly small with about 11 acres under development and 14 undeveloped. We have memorial garden spaces with flat markers; traditional upright marker sections; a mausoleum complex with a chapel, crypts and niches; and we have a small urn burial garden and scattering garden.”
What are the biggest challenges you face?
“I would say our biggest challenges are: 1.) staffing and 2.) developing and marketing cremation solutions. Staffing is a challenge in getting the right people and skill sets to help us maintain the cemetery properly, drive sales and provide customer service. Getting groundskeeping staff who has the expertise to get and keep our cemetery beautiful has been a challenge for us. Getting workers who know about landscaping, chemical applications and schedules, and have the ability to supervise others has added to this challenge.
“A year and a half ago, our sales manager died unexpectedly. In addition to dealing with our personal loss, it has been difficult to replace him. It is hard to find sales and customer service staff who have the right touch with families to help them find grave spaces or design a permanent memorial and for us to drive revenue to fund the cemetery.
“Making the shift from primarily burial options to adding a complete set of cremation offerings has been a new thing for us. Developing cremation memorial gardens that have the proper balance of options and prices, and getting these sections going, is a big deal for us now. Not having staff to help with this only adds to the challenge.”
Can you share a success story about how you have overcome a particular challenge?
“If I can solve the two problems I just mentioned, I will have a great response for this question! Having said that, we have owned the cemetery for 40 years now and, for decades, it has not been profitable. Its greatest contribution to the bottom line was a tax deduction. But over time, that situation has improved and now the cemetery is profitable.
“It took many years of hard work to keep costs down and ensure that the cemetery is properly maintained and showing our community that it is a wonderful option. Also, the other competitive options for families in our area—country churches with cemeteries and our local city cemetery—are no longer viable options for most families. What this has done is increase our interments and sales, and that obviously helps a lot.”
What does your cemetery team do best?
“Our team is pretty small, but teamwork is what gets the job done. Knowing what needs to be done today and communicating that to the best person to do it is essential. I know this sounds cliché, but it is part of survival. If someone calls about their vase missing, it’s probably just inverted, but someone still needs to go out there and find out the problem, determine a solution and call the family back to communicate all this. Because the folks we do have are very conscientious, that process does get done, and families appreciate it.
“Also, since our team is small, there are times that the needs go beyond our abilities and expertise. That is when it is best to hire professionals to help. This can be expensive, so knowing when it is either worth the investment or beyond our capabilities is the hard part of that equation. Having said that, for me, getting into other cemeteries and seeing what others are offering is also very helpful. As I have seen cemeteries with my Selected Study Group and presentations at Selected meetings, it has helped guide me as I meet with professionals who are proposing designs for cremation gardens.
“I think there is the possibility of great synergy between the funeral home and cemetery. Working well together is essential, and we do. Some of our staff works in both places, which helps because communication is so important. I also anticipate that once I find the right staff for sales at the cemetery, this person working with the preplanning staff at the funeral home will be very helpful and successful with families.”
Is there a best practice you can share with your fellow Selected members?
“The word that comes to mind is persistence. Keep working at doing the basics well. Part of what has helped us be in a better position now than 20 years ago is that the circumstances in which we operate have improved. But being persistent in seeking staff to help us and working to develop options for changing consumer preferences like cremation will eventually help us to be successful in these areas as well.”
What is your response to Selected’s efforts to bring together cemeterians within the membership?
“I am very excited about the programs I have already seen and the meetings I have attended, and I’m really looking forward to future meetings. There are so many things that I know we could be doing better and more effectively. I know that there are people in Selected who have the answers to help guide me in this.
“I am looking for information that will help me develop a more effective sales program and more effective marketing. I also am looking for wisdom regarding future developments such as the cremation gardens we desire. But I also am looking for thoughts about endowments for the future and ways to be a better part of our community. There are lots of questions I would love to discuss further with the members of Selected.”