Coffins – coming to a store near you! Funeral homes branch out their business into local malls

An interesting look at ways to branch out and market funeral arrangements for different generations.

By Ap Reporter

Funeral homes have begun opening kiosk-style stores in California malls in an attempt to sell more funeral plans in an ‘impulse buy’ fashion

They say it lowers the barriers for people who find going into funeral homes ‘creepy’

Unlike their predecessors, the Baby Boomer generation – the oldest of whom are about 70 – are more willing to discuss death and plan ahead

We eat there, we buy our clothes there, and some people suspect teenagers may actually live there.

estate planning, funeral planningSo perhaps it was just a matter of time until funeral homes began popping up in shopping malls.

Over the past two years, Forest Lawn has been quietly putting movable kiosks in several of the malls that dot Southern California’s suburbs.

Impulse purchase: Mark Sanchez and his wife Lea’ Anne look at a Dodger’s theme cremation urn at the Forest Lawn stand at the Glendale Galleria mall in Glendale, California

The move, by one of the funeral industry’s best-known operators, expands on a marketing innovation that appears to have begun at the dawn of the decade, when a company called Til We Meet Again began opening casket stores around the country.

‘We try to reach our audience where they are at, and the mall is a great way to do that,’ said Ben Sussman, spokesman for Forest Lawn, whose cemeteries count among their permanent residents such notables as Walt Disney, Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson.

Funeral homes such as Forest Lawn have started opening kiosk-style outlets in California malls on the belief that more people would plan ahead their funeral if they stumbled across the service, rather than had to go into a funeral homeestate planning, funeral planning

Forest Lawn planner Henry Best mans a kiosk store at Glendale Galleria mall California

‘And it’s also, perhaps, a way to reach people who might be a little leery about coming directly into one of our parks,’ Sussman added.

As to why folks would be leery about that, industry officials acknowledge the answer is obvious: Who really wants to enter a funeral home even one day before they have to?

‘Funeral planning is something everybody knows they must do, but at the same time it’s something nobody wants to do,’ said Robert Fells, executive director of the International Cemetery, Cre
mation and Funeral Association.

estate planning, funeral planning‘Nobody gets up on a Saturday morning and says, ”Gee, it’s a nice day. I wonder if I can go out and get myself a burial plot”,’ Fells said.

But if they’re strolling past a funeral outlet at the mall, where they’re surrounded by happy, lively people and maybe clutching a bag of Mrs. Field’s cookies, the thought is that they’ll feel differently.

‘When they’re going to the mall, people are not going out of need,’ said Nathan Smith, co-founder and CEO of Til We Meet Again, which has outlets in malls in Arizona, Louisiana, Kansas, Indiana and Texas.

So if they do happen to see a place peddling coffins or urns while they’re pricing T-shirts and hoodies, Smith said, it will look far less intimidating.

Forest Lawn’s effort began modestly, with just one kiosk (one of those movable things that usually sell stuff like calendars or ties) in a mall in the Los Angeles suburb of Eagle Rock.

When no one was creeped out, the program expanded to about a half-dozen malls.

estate planning, funeral planning


Forest Lawn regional sales manager Hilda Carabes (left) shows Mark Sanchez and his wife the
Forest Lawn stand at the Glendale Galleria mall on January 30, 2014

Forest Lawn, famous as the final resting place for everyone from Al Jolson to Michael Jackson, has begun staffing outlets at shopping malls, reasoning that planning for death, either for a loved one or yourself, might not be quite as intimidating for some people if it takes place in a lively, happy place like a mall

Now Forest Lawn periodically shuffles them from one mall to another to reach the largest audience.

estate planning, funeral planningUnlike the people at other such stations, who can seem like carnival barkers as they walk right up to you and hawk discount calling plans or free yogurt samples, Forest Lawn’s operators are more discreet.

At the entrance to a Macy’s department store in the LA suburb of Arcadia last year, operators were quick to smile and hand out brochures when approached.

But they kept their distance until people came to them.

It was the same at a mall in Glendale last week, where people stopped to examine cremation urns ranging from one with a subdued design of leaves to another that brightly featured the logo for the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team.

Also on display was a recruiting poster for potential future Forest Lawn employees, complete with a picture of the great Dodgers pitcher Fernando Valenzuela, who urged them to consider ‘joining a winning team’.

Still, not everyone is thrilled with the idea.

‘You’re in a shopping mall and you’re walking along and there’s a funeral place?’ retired high school teacher Stan Slome said incredulously.

‘That sounds too deadly.’

Mark Sanchez and his wife Lea’ Anne look at a cremation urn at the Forest Lawn stand at the estate planning, funeral planningGlendale Galleria mall in Glendale

After thinking it over, however, he acknowledged it’s something that could catch on.

At age 86, Slome said, he gets his share of mail from funeral operators inviting him to seminars at local restaurants, where he can have a meal on them while he hears a pitch on why he should use their services when he exits this mortal coil.

He doesn’t care for that either, he said, but he figures somebody is attending those seminars.

If the mall effort catches on, said Jessica Koth of the National Funeral Directors Association, credit the aging Baby Boom generation at least in part.

Historically, people have not wanted to talk, or even think, about their demise.

But Baby Boomers, the oldest of whom are pushing 70, are different.

Many are beginning to press for so-called green funerals that don’t require the use of coffins or burial vaults, Koth said.

Others want custom-made coffins or urns that say something about who they were.

That often means something that represents a favorite car or sports team, said Smith of Til We Meet Again.

He pointed out he even got a request once for a coffin built to resemble a portable toilet — from a guy whose company made portable toilets.

With that mindset, could going to the mall and planning the whole deal just steps away from the Merry-Go-Round really be that unusual?

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Patricia Annino is a sought after speaker and nationally recognized authority on women and estate planning.  She educates and empowers women to value themselves and their contributions in order to ACCOMPLISH GREAT THINGS in the world – and in so doing PROTECT THEMSELVES, those they love, and the organizations they care about.  Annino recently released an updated version of her successful book, Women and Money: A Practical Guide to Estate Planning to include recent changes in the laws that govern how we protect our assets during and beyond our lifetime.  To download Annino’s FREE eBook, Estate Planning 101 visit,

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