June 5-7, 2024 • Broward County Convention Center • Fort Lauderdale, FL

How to Support Your Community’s Sympathy Business and get Past the “Just Send Something Nice” Response

— North America's Largest B2B Floral Show —

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Author: Cindy Hanauer

As they say, “When things get awkward, just start texting on your cell phone. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, our industry requires us to gently maneuver customers through some of the most delicate ordering situations. 

Sympathy business, in itself, usually tops the list of the most delicate exchanges between florist and consumer.  In addition to the customer being in a state of distress, there are many different funeral customs and service types that make it complicated for the customer to understand at a time of grief.  Most importantly, we as the experts, have the responsibility to guide our customers through this difficult time and deliver the most impeccable plants or flowers to the event. 

In ancient times, flowers, herbs and fragrant oils were used to anoint the bodies of the deceased, and additional flowers and plants were used to adorn the burial site, itself. Today, flowers and plants are symbolic of the love and sympathy one has for the deceased and are used to create a beautiful atmosphere at the memorial location and final gravesite. At the most difficult times, flowers are used to relay ones most personal sentiments. But admittedly, funeral orders are the most complicated to service and, just like a wedding order, we only have one shot to get it right!

So what are the best ways to get a funeral order right the first time, while creating a simple way for the customer to place their order? Listed below are some of the most important guidelines to help create an efficient atmosphere to attract sympathy business, initiate an easy way for customers to order, and remain on good terms with your local funeral homes which will become your biggest advocates!

 Opening Dialogue

  In addition to the rudimentary information such as sender’s name, contact information, and deceased’s name, it’s also a best practice to ask the sender’s relationship to the deceased and offer condolences on behalf of you and your company. By offering condolences, the upcoming dialogue will seem more personable, and understanding the relationship that the customer has with the deceased will provide an idea of the general dollar amount the customer may be willing to spend on the flowers. 

For example, if one is sending flowers for a co-worker’s mother, they will likely not spend as much money as they would if they were purchasing funeral flowers for their own mother. By asking “the relationship” question upfront, it will alleviate awkwardness in the middle of the order when trying to determine the appropriate item and cost range. 

Quick Tip: The bereaved, many times, is faced with numerous decisions at the time of a close family member’s death. Maintaining a conversational tone with the bereaved, rather than “running down a checklist” will put their mind at ease and make them much more comfortable with the entire planning session.   

Delivery Location           

  In today’s world, there are many different considerations based on the delivery location of the funeral or memorial piece(s). It’s wise to cover these possibilities with the customer, as they may want to send flowers to multiple locations if they’re made aware of the possibilities. Within the United States and Canada, most services for the deceased are held in three parts: Visitation, Funeral and Burial. The location information will also determine whether your shoppe will be creating the floral pieces, or the order will need to be relayed through a wire service.

  1. Funeral Home

Flowers and plants for the funeral home range from casket adornments to pieces that are displayed around the room. Plants and flowers delivered to these locations are normally brought through the back door, stored in a holding room and then placed on display by the funeral director before the family arrives. Be sure to maintain a positive relationship with your local funeral home(s) by delivering flowers with plenty of “cushion time” left for the flowers to be brought into the room and displayed well in advance of the family’s arrival. After the service, the funeral home will take a select set of flowers to the burial site and the remaining flowers and plants will be sent home with family members. 

  1. Church

Delivering to a church can be tricky. Years ago, the doors of most churches were left open. Today, churches are generally locked until the scheduled event takes place. In the case of a church delivery, it’s wise to call ahead to arrange a delivery time with the church administration, so the doors will be unlocked, and someone is available to sign for the delivery.   

  1. Residence/Workplace

Sometimes a customer may not find out about a funeral in time to send a floral piece to the funeral home. In these cases, the best option is to send a plant or floral arrangement to the home or workplace.  Big funeral sprays or easels should never be sent to a home or office environment. Instead, pieces sent to these locations should be a tabletop arrangement, plant or food basket.

Quick Tip: It’s always wise to verify the location, dates, address and time of the memorial by simply checking the funeral home’s website or the local newspaper listing. As an additional safeguard, verifying the delivery hours with the funeral home before sending the delivery will keep the relationship with the funeral home in top condition. A signature of receipt should be received at every drop-off point for verification that the flowers were indeed delivered, and the name and address of the florist should be attached to each piece in case the funeral home needs to contact the delivering florist for any reason. 

Design Options

Selecting the best design option is where the customer will need the most help. There are many options which, when offered, will build a healthy relationship with the customer and create a beautiful environment for the memorial.

  1. Casket Adornments – These pieces are normally placed inside the casket near the body, and encompass items such as boutonnieres, corsages, garland, rosaries, mini wreaths, satin pillows and bouquets. Casket adornments are usually chosen by immediate family members.  
  1. Casket Spray – This item sits on top of the casket. If the casket is open, the piece sits at the bottom, closed portion of the casket. If the casket is closed, the casket spray is placed in the middle of the casket and is normally large enough to cover the entire top of the casket. Casket sprays are generally chosen by the immediate family.
  1. Easel or Standing Sprays/Wreaths – This design option is larger, highly-styled and affixed to a tripod easel for display on the floor. Standing sprays and wreaths are generally selected by a close family member or a group of close relatives or co-workers.
  1. Pedestal Arrangement – This style is usually much smaller than an easel style and normally displayed on top of a column or pedestal that’s supplied by the funeral home. Before accepting an order for a pedestal arrangement, the funeral home should be contacted to make sure they have pedestals available for general use.   
  1. Table-Top Plant or Arrangement – These designs are small in scale, and normally sent to the home or office rather than the funeral home. Table-top plants and arrangements are normally sent by a distant relative, a co-worker or friend. 
  1. Cremation Flowers – Cremation flowers are normally created on a flat wreath form and built up around the cremation urn. For this style, the dimensions of the cremation urn are required so that the urn will fit inside the wreath’s center once displayed at the funeral home. Also the color of the flowers should coordinate with the color of the urn since they will be displayed as one unit.

Quick Tip: Many customers labor over the perfect message for a sympathy card. Selecting a pre-printed enclosure card with words such as “With Deepest Sympathy” or “In Loving Memory” is preferred, simply signed with the first and last name of each sender. On the back of the card, it’s a best practice for the florist to describe the flowers sent, and to include the name and address of the sender with their permission. This practice makes it easy for the family to collect enclosure cards after the funeral, with the senders’ names and addresses at their fingertips for thank-you cards.        

Product Integrity

Flowers sent to a funeral home will likely be viewed over a 3 to 4-day timeframe. Consequently, all plants should be well-watered and pieces well-hydrated with a reserve water source. Products should be fully finished and not require vasing, watering or anything else to be done by the funeral director. Finally, be sure to let the funeral directors know that they are welcome to call the shoppe if they see anything that is wilted or needs replaced. 

Following the above four guidelines when working with your bereaved customers will convert a difficult situation to an easier one and win a loyal customer for the future.

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