Monumental Manipulation

Many funeral homes sell tombstones. Monument shops, as well as many cemeteries and memorial parks, sell tombstones also. Most, however, do not refer to these items as tombstones, but rather as monuments or memorial markers. Here, language is important—a tombstone denotes something old, dark and scary; a monument, on the other hand, is sold as a unique item denoting the person's role, as well as station in life. Too bad that in a memorial park all of the "memorials" look similar, if not identical, except for the names and dates. Now, how it works. . . .

Whom is the customer to buy his or her marker from? Usually from the person who gets the first crack at them. How then, is a seller going to get there first? All too often, it is by manipulation. When a person is purchasing a grave space, pre-need, it is an excellent time to push for a monument sale. No one has probably gotten to them yet because usually a grave is the first item purchased pre-need and the customer is usually a "virgin" to the industry as a whole.

If the funeral home sells monuments, and the customer is in the funeral home because a death has occurred, it is also an excellent time to try to sell a marker. Why, you might ask, would a person purchase a marker from the Funeral Home? Because the funeral director might slip in to the conversation something like, "Why not take care of everything today; that way, it's all done." If the customer is doing an insurance assignment, the job is all the easier because the funeral director knows how much the funeral will cost, knows how much insurance is there and can figure on how much of a monument he or she can sell and still get paid for it all. For example, Jane Doe goes to the funeral home to make funeral arrangements for her husband, John, and assigns a $7,500 insurance policy to pay a $5,300 funeral bill (this type of assignment goes on numerous times every day in America). The funeral director knows that there is $2,200 left, and will be sure to sell a marker that sells for slightly less or equal to this amount. Since the insurance is assigned, the funeral director is guaranteed his/her money—and what is sad is that Jane thinks that this person cares about her and her family's needs and is her friend.

Now, on to the monument dealer who sells only markers as a primary occupation. Many times the monuments are only marked with a number tag—No price. Never, ever get a marker there, because it's all too easy for the salesperson to manipulate the price by using different price books for different people. For example, a customer walks into monument dealership looking for a monument for Mom. By casual small-talk, the salesperson, who works on a commission and/or quota system, realizes that they are retired and on a fixed income, so the lower-priced list is used; this is the price list which indicates the real prices of the monuments. If they answer that they are successful professionals, for example, the higher-priced list is used.

One funeral director in our area—like many others around the country—owned a separate monument business. He would offer all families who used his funeral home a 10% discount if the stone was purchased from his own monument business. But he would then have his salesperson use a list which was 15% higher-priced than his normal prices, so the stones actually cost the consumer 5% more.

Now, on to the cemetery. If a death has occurred, the cemetery will have the family come to the cemetery under the guise of "verifying" the grave location so that the wrong grave is not opened. When the family is there, the cemetery salesperson will try to sell a stone if none is owned. For example, "So, this is the grave you purchased two years ago for yourself and your husband, Mrs. Doe? Well, have you considered a marker?" Cemeteries often cheat the families by prohibiting anyone but themselves from providing the stone's foundation and setting the price astronomically high, usually by the square inch or by forcing the family to pay a perpetual care fee before installation.

Often, memorial parks that sell markers will charge an "outside" monument dealer (a monument dealer who is a competitor to the memorial park) a "road-charge". This is a charge to drive their delivery vehicles onto the cemetery's roads. Many times, this charge is in excess of $50. The outside monument dealer, who already knows by past experience that he/she will pay this charge, may not tell the family of this at the time of sale, but will telephone the family later and seem shocked and outraged that this is happening. For example, "Mrs. Doe, this is Joe at the ABC Monument Studio. Our installers were all set to install your husband's monument today; however, we have just been informed by the cemetery that there is a $50 fee for my trucks to use the cemetery roads. We're awfully sorry about that, but cannot install the monument until the $50 fee is paid. When can you send us the check?" This type of approach makes the cemetery, not the monument dealer, seem like the bad guy, even though the dealer knew this all along.

As a funeral director, I hope that this information helps you to help someone else. Someday, someone I love will have to bury me, and it bothers me that they might just get ripped off. That, and my up-bringing, is what motivates me to share this information. Keep up the good work,

(Editor's note: Savvy consumers will shop around for their monuments or markers. In fact, an internet search for "monuments" will yield not only state parks with historical monuments but also a number of companies showing designs and prices for their memorials. That should be very helpful when comparing prices in your own location.)

Copyright © FAMSA~FCA 1996


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