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Working with Funeral Homes

Building relationships in sympathy

Written by Faye Harnest
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Funeral directors hold the power to supply you with consistent orders, and to introduce you to families that can become lifelong customers Funeral directors hold the power to supply you with consistent orders, and to introduce you to families that can become lifelong customers. Your success in increasing the number of referrals you receive, and in becoming a home’s preferred florist, depends on pleasing the funeral director. The better the relationship you have with these professionals, the better your shop will do. But these alliances can be tricky to navigate. Perfection is the only option, and time constraints and sensitive customers can cause tension.

Perfection is a must for florists and funeral directors alike. Loved ones only get one chance to say goodbye. 

How do you keep your cool and persuade funeral directors to see you as a valuable partner? Canadian Florist sat down with a funeral director and a florist, both experts in the field, to gather tips on building mutually beneficial relationships. Jim Cardinal is the third generation in his family to serve his community as funeral director and owner of Cardinal Funeral Homes in Toronto. He has worked with a number of florists, and is a firm believer in the importance of flowers. His preferred florist is now Irene’s Flowers. Silvia Neumann, who owns Irene’s Flowers, is a dedicated and passionate designer who specializes in sympathy arrangements. Here’s their roadmap to a better relationship that works for both partners:

Play on the same team
Remember that funeral directors have the same goals you do. You both want to attract and keep clients, and provide them with the best service possible. You are also both in a position to help each other to meet these goals. Cardinal and Neumann say they have a solid partnership because they trust each will make things easier on the other and on their clients. Neumann is always there to help Cardinal out, and in turn, Cardinal passes business on to Neumann. Their relationship works well because it works both ways.

Think about how you can make directors’ jobs easier. Cardinal admits that flowers are a lot of work for funeral homes. Staff display, care for, and dispose of arrangements, in addition to transporting them to churches, hospitals, and gravesites. Ensure that arrangements are well balanced and packed for easy transport. Make sure that you don’t overwater in order to avoid leaks. If you’re close enough to lend a hand, help directors set up when they’re in a pinch. “Your job is not done the minute you finish designing an arrangement,” Neumann notes. Let directors know that you will respond quickly if there are any problems during delivery or setup.

Be flexible and accommodating. Neumann says that if a client requests a particular flower, she will get it for them. If you don’t make the effort, funeral homes will find a florist that will. If Cardinal needs a last-minute replacement of broken flowers for another shop’s arrangement, Neumann will do it, no questions asked. “I would bend over backwards for them, and they would do the same for me. That’s a good relationship.”

Call ahead before delivering. Cardinal says that florists can overlook the importance of calling funeral homes to find out when to deliver, and to let directors know how many pieces to expect. It only takes a minute of your time, but is essential for things to run smoothly.

Take advantage of opportunities to talk with directors. Every time you receive a funeral order, ask the funeral home it is going to if you can meet with them regarding referrals. Also, court funeral homes as you would corporate clients. Research homes in your area to see if they have preferred florists. Meet with them to discuss their policies, and what you can do for each other.

Seek out and utilize the feedback of directors. Families will not be shy about letting directors know what they think of your arrangements. Directors might have ideas about what you can do to improve. Consider them a resource.

Make every client happy
Provide convenient, comprehensive service. If you enable funeral homes to provide clients with every service they need all in one appointment, you will be valued. If a home is open to suggesting you, make it possible for clients to choose and pay for arrangements directly through the funeral home. Give funeral homes a book they can show their clients that illustrates the products you provide, and make photographs of these products available for their website. Offer arrangements at different price points, and consider selling small gifts that can help people remember their loved ones.

Treat every customer and every order with care. Directors will notice if you are able to please the most sensitive of customers. “This is one of the most difficult times in our clients’ lives, and they are already fragile. They need perfection,” Neumann says. “I design each arrangement one at a time, as if each is the first and only one that day.” She understands that many customers are only comfortable with traditional arrangements and strives to give them what they want.

Produce consistently high quality pieces. Always use fresh flowers, and order a variety of blooms to choose from so that the arrangements feature the best blooms possible. Personalize each arrangement so that you are excited about designing, even when you’re producing a number of pieces similar in colour and shape.

Be prepared to do the impossible
Embrace the challenge. Funeral homes depend on you to deliver exactly what the client wants, on time, even though most orders are made on short notice. “You don’t have a month or a week to prepare for these events, and there is no chance to fuss with arrangements. They have to come out perfect the first time,” Neumann says. She has come to realize that she thrives on the adrenalin rush and that sympathy arrangements are her calling. She is motivated by the fact that every day brings new challenges. “When I feel my heart racing and don’t have time to feel tired, I love it.”

Employ the help you need to get the work done. Neumann only has one employee, Luda Artemenkov, but she is everything that Neumann needs. “She is my right hand and my left hand. She is my best friend and my saviour. Whenever I need her, she is there. Without her, I’d need to hire four people to do what she does.”

Befriend your suppliers. What is the trick to getting supplies and fresh flowers fast? Form a close bond with your wholesalers and treat them well. Neumann says she doesn’t haggle with her salespeople and she doesn’t stray. In return, they provide whatever she needs, when she needs it. Plus, despite the fact that Irene’s Flowers is a small space, they keep the essentials – foam, wreaths, and containers – stocked on well-organized shelves.

Manage your stress. When she feels stressed, Neumann concentrates on how proud she is of her designs and the end results. “At the end of the day I know I did something good and I was able to ease someone’s pain. When I get a letter from a family who has lost somebody and has taken the time to thank me, it’s really special.” Staying focused on the importance of your work will help you to remain pleasant when dealing with funeral directors, despite the pressure you’re under.

Faye Harnest has worked in the floral industry for 14 years in Canada and the U.K. She is the author of a young adult novel, Girl Fight, and her writing has also been featured in The Wedding Ring magazine and ParentsCanada magazine.
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