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Feature Story

Keep sympathy sales alive


Combatting the challenges to maintain strong sales.

by Amy Bauer and Shelley Urban

    Despite growing challenges to sympathy flower sales, florists are finding creative ways to combat the hurdles and emphasize the important role of flowers in the grieving process. See what’s being done and how your department can benefit.

the top challenges
“In lieu of flowers …” The origins of this wording date to the early 20th century, according to Florists’ Review’s A Centennial History of the American Florist. This negative reference to floral products, which even then often preceded a request for a donation to a charitable organization, raised the same concerns it does today: that it unnecessarily casts a negative light on flowers and dictates how loved ones express grief and sympathies.
Cremations increasing In some regions of the country, cremations are quickly becoming a preferred choice. Quite often, this choice also means no funeral services are performed, or the services are scaled down, sometimes significantly. In many cases, the result is fewer floral tributes.

alternatives to “in lieu of flowers …”
National support This year, the Society of American Florists (SAF), through its SAF Fund for Nationwide Public Relations, purchased full-page advertisements in three issues of The Director, a magazine published by the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA). The ad, headlined “Can we bury ‘In Lieu of Flowers’?”, points to recent research on the positive emotional benefits of flowers and reminds that even families requesting charitable donations rarely want to eliminate flowers from their services.

SAF members can download and personalize a related letter as well as several other materials to help establish and maintain positive relationships with local funeral directors and to help them understand the importance of flowers to the bereavement process. These are available at www.safnow.org/sympathy. (Read more about the organization’s efforts in our “Critical Mass” column on Page 50.)

Local partnerships While SAF’s efforts are appreciated, most floral managers say that local networking is critical. “It’s the frontline florists who make flowers continue to be acceptable expressions of sympathy,” assures Rose Clayton, senior category manager, floral, for The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company Inc. (A&P). She recommends that department managers get to know local funeral directors. “Give a friendly call to their offices, introduce yourself and ask if you can drop off your business card with a small complimentary arrangement,” she explains.

Fostering strong relationships is exactly what the Texas State Florists’ Association (TSFA) has been working toward, along with, ultimately, eliminating the “in lieu of…” phrase. The organization has partnered with the Texas Funeral Directors Association to share information—articles from each association have appeared in the other’s magazine—and to meet face to face at state conventions. In June 2007, TSFA members created a booth at the funeral directors’ convention showcasing the latest trends in sympathy florals and presented a floral design program that fulfilled a continuing education credit for the directors and highlighted the importance of positive relationships.

Funeral directors were encouraged to come to the booth and answer a few questions—what they like and dislike about working with florists, as well as whether they would consider alternate wording to “In lieu of flowers …”—with a chance to win a digital photo frame that was on display in one of the floral arrangements.

“Many directors use ‘In lieu of flowers …,’ they said, because it is easy,” discovered Dianna Doss Nordman, AAF, executive director of TSFA. “They have trouble thinking of anything else,” she explains. A handout from the Texas florists encouraged alternative phrases. (See the sidebar on Page 39, and download a copy of the brochure.)

cremation services require new strategies
Overall, according to the Cremation Association of North America (CANA), nearly one in three decedents in the United States (some 32 percent) were cremated in 2005, the latest year for which figures had been compiled at press time. The association projects that by 2025, however, 57 percent of decedents will be cremated.

In 2005, the Mountain and Pacific
regions had the highest percentage of cremations, 53.5 percent and 55.4 percent, respectively. The East South Central region (Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee) had the lowest rate, at 10.5 percent.

When cremation is the preferred option, CANA’s 2005 figures indicate that 61 percent were performed directly, meaning that no funeral services were held prior to the cremation. Memorial services were held after all cremations 57 percent of the time.

John Partridge,
owner of Martina’s Flowers & Gifts in Martinez, Ga., who spent 13 years as a funeral director before joining his wife in the floral business and maintains his funeral industry licenses, says that more cremations, even direct cremations without traditional funeral services, don’t have to mean lost sympathy sales.

“With direct cremations, the casket spray is lost, but we recently sold a ring of flowers to go around an urn that cost about the same as a small casket spray,” he points out. He also notes that when mourners inquire about sending flowers for memorial services, sales staff should reassure them that such gestures are appropriate and will be appreciated by families.

“But,” he suggests, “guide customers to plants and baskets and items that families can take home or donate—to a nursing home, for example—rather than sprays and set pieces that have less value to families since, most often, there is no cemetery service,” he explains.

Ms. Clayton agrees that expressions of sympathy sent to the homes of immediate family members are valuable options. “Flowers are [comforting] at these solemn occasions, so suggest lovely vases of flowers or beautiful blooming dish gardens as special, personal tributes [for the home].”

Although the numbers of cremations in Mr. Partridge’s area are lower than the national average—opted for in 21 percent of all deaths according to CANA—he says a continuing upward trend is no cause for alarm. Instead, he says, “‘In lieu of flowers …’ poses greater problems than cremations.”

flowers serve the living
Along with easing some of the pain of loss, as the SAF-sponsored studies show, flowers provide a welcome focal point and source of conversation for friends and family at a difficult time, points out Jennifer Sparks, SAF’s vice president of marketing. If you take a proactive approach to establish relationships with local funeral directors and guide your staff in selling sympathy expressions appropriate to each situation, you will help to ensure that these benefits are not denied grieving families and that flowers maintain their important sympathy role in your area

Contributing Editor Amy Bauer at abauer@superfloralretailing.com. Senior Editor Shelley Urban can be reached ar surban@superfloralretailing.com.

Super Floral Retailing • Copyright 2008
Florists' Review Enterprises, Inc.