Wednesday, June 18, 2014

What's the difference? How to help families make better decisions through education

This article originally appeared in the May/June issue of Funeral Business Advisor.

By Rich Darby, Chief Operating Officer

What’s the difference between a 20-gauge and an 18-gauge casket? What’s the difference between a standard and a deluxe print package? What’s the difference between a concrete box and a burial vault?

How many times have you heard these kinds of questions during an arrangement? As families make decisions about products that they don’t know much about, so often they want to know “what’s the difference?”

I know it can be tempting to minimize the question and say something like “they’re basically the same, except for the price”. But when we don’t take the time to explain the differences, the family doesn’t have the opportunity to fully understand how they can get the most value.

But before you can explain the difference, are you sure that you know the difference? Have you ever casually referred to a concrete box as a vault? They are absolutely not the same.

A concrete box has no seal or liner. In fact, it has drainage holes in the bottom. The only function of a concrete box is to help prevent the earth from collapsing, although it still may break down over time. Concrete has a compressive strength, but it doesn’t allow for any bend from the forces of the earth. While it may meet a cemetery’s minimum Outer Burial Container (OBC) requirement, a concrete box cannot provide a clean, dry casket space.

A lined, sealed, warranted burial vault provides the security and peace of mind that families want for their loved one. It provides multiple layers of protection by including a polymer liner that works with the concrete to help prevent breakage. The more layers of protection, the stronger the vault.

It also has a strong seal to help protect against outside elements. Only a lined, sealed burial vault can provide a clean, dry casket space.

Does this seem like a lot of information to share with a family during an arrangement? Or even worse, does it feel like selling?

There are two things to remember. First, in a pre-arrangement, time is on your side. It’s easier to direct the conversation and provide more information because the family isn’t dealing with the stress and emotion of making at-need arrangements. They are more open to information and education.

Second, remember that providing information about the benefits of a lined, sealed burial vault isn’t selling. It’s teaching. When you educate families about the products, they feel more confident in their selections and place more trust in you, their funeral director.

But what about during an at-need arrangement? The emotional stresses may be weighing heavily on the family by the time you come to the discussion about the burial vault. Don’t shy away from the information. I understand that you want to get the family back home and out of your selection room, but they have one chance to make the best decisions they can for their loved one’s final disposition.

This also brings me to the importance of clear, family-friendly, educational graphics. I am always looking for ways to better explain the importance of a burial vault and their layers of protection. Ask your supplier for tools to help illustrate the information you’re sharing with families. Visual aids that reinforce what you’re saying help families comprehend, especially during at-need arrangements.

But what about the family who can only afford the minimum? While a concrete box is often the least expensive option, it does not give the families you serve any value or protection. As a director, it’s your job to figure out how to serve this family the best that you can. Maybe it means choosing a lower-end casket so they can afford a lined, sealed burial vault. Or sometimes there is no OBC choice other than a concrete box.

There will always be some exceptions, but I challenge you to educate as many families as possible about the difference between a concrete box and a lined, sealed burial vault.  When you do, the families you serve will rest easy, secure in the knowledge that they have made a good choice focused on value. And you can also rest easy, knowing you have given the family all of the information to make a wise decision. 

________________________________________________________________________Rich Darby is Chief Operating Officer for Trigard and Trigard Memorials. He earned his funeral directors license from Southern Illinois University in 1987, and is licensed in Illinois, Indiana and Arizona. His family owns and operates Trigard, Trigard Memorials, seven funeral homes and a memorial park across Illinois, Indiana and Arizona. Email him at

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