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Establish Relationships with Local Funeral Directors

Maintaining positive relationships with local funeral directors is the No.1 way to build your sympathy business. It's the best way to get the funeral director to understand and appreciate the role of flowers in the bereavement process and avoid using the “in lieu of flowers” phrase in obituaries and death notices. Some funeral directors regard the "in lieu of flowers" phrase as a convenient, polite way to meet requests for memorial contributions. Others use it because they don't want to deal with flowers. They consider handling and transporting flowers an inconvenience, hassle and expense.

An open conversation between you and your local funeral director will make the funeral director feel comfortable voicing concerns. SAF provides the following suggestions to help you win over your funeral director(s) to flowers through education, support and service.

Create an Opportunity

Send a letter or call the funeral director to request a meeting to discuss the proposed or active policy. Have two or three local florists attend the meeting to demonstrate that it is a community-wide concern. However, keep the meeting small to ensure the intended purpose of face-to-face discussion is accomplished.

Drop by the funeral home to see if the funeral director has a few minutes to meet with you. (Before you drop by, check the death notices or obituaries in the newspaper to be sure the home is not handling a service that day.) If the funeral director is busy, ask if you can come back another time. Calling ahead is not an effective way to schedule a meeting. Because funeral directors must respond to the needs of their clients on short notice, it is difficult for them to schedule meetings in advance.

When you meet with the funeral director, ask for a tour of the funeral home. Your request will demonstrate your interest – and a tour will familiarize you with the display areas for future arrangements.

Use the meeting as an opportunity to learn how you can tailor your shop's services to address any concerns about flowers that the funeral director may have. Discuss the funeral home's policies on delivery times, transporting flowers, size of arrangements, types of containers, etc. Be willing to make changes or offer additional services to make handling and transporting flowers easier for the funeral director.

Do not be defensive, but understanding of their concerns or past problems with flowers. After listening to their concerns, be prepared to address them realistically. Offer some ideas on how to make things work more smoothly, while still continuing the privilege of floral delivery. This will show them that you are willing to make changes and reach a mutual understanding, one that will benefit all parties — the funeral home, the bereaved families and friends, and local florists.

Remind the funeral director that the gift of flowers can be a great source of comfort to those grieving the loss of a loved one. Share the results of SAF's Emotional Impact of Flowers study, which proves scientifically that flowers have an immediate impact on happiness and a long-term positive effect on moods. Study participants reported feeling less depressed and anxious after receiving flowers and demonstrated a higher sense of enjoyment and life satisfaction.

Don't close the meeting without expressing your concern about the use of the "in lieu of flowers" phrase. Respond directly to specific problems or concerns about flowers by offering practical solutions to make the funeral director's job easier. Once you've offered to customize your shop's services to meet the funeral director's needs, ask for his or her support in using alternative phrases that don't cast flowers in a negative light.

Talking Points

  • It is important to remember that flowers can be a great source of comfort to those grieving the loss of a loved one, and should be regarded as an important gesture.
  • Recent research indicates that sympathy flowers may not only brighten and warm a funeral or memorial service setting, but also have a positive impact on the emotional well-being of the bereaved.
  • A behavioral research study conducted at Harvard by Nancy Etcoff, Ph.D., reveals some of the calming, fortifying feelings flowers create. The study reveals that flowers feed compassion and chase away anxiety and worries. Research participants lived with fresh flowers for just a few days and reported increases in feelings of compassion and kindness for others. Overall, people simply felt less negative after being around flowers.
  • Previous behavioral research by Rutgers University also found that flowers improve our emotional health, according to The Journal of Evolutionary Psychology. Research participants reported feeling less depressed, anxious and agitated after receiving flowers, and demonstrated a higher sense of enjoyment and life satisfaction.
  • The bereavement process is a pivotal time when worry, anxiety and many sad emotions are present. With such compelling research that shows how flowers impact emotional well-being, flowers should be regarded as an essential part of the bereavement process.
  • In light of the emotional benefits of flowers, it is hard to imagine a funeral or memorial service without them. “In lieu of flowers” runs the risk of just that.
  • For information on the behavioral research and flowers in general, please visit www.aboutflowers.com.

Express Gratitude to Funeral Directors with these Suggested Phrases

  • We appreciate the time you take to receive and carefully place floral arrangements.
  • We appreciate the effort you make to keep flowers beautiful, often for several days.
  • We appreciate the help you give families, including collecting message cards from flower arrangements so they can write the appropriate acknowledgment cards.
  • We appreciate the time you take to transport flowers to churches, nursing homes, hospitals and gravesites.
  • We appreciate the efforts you make to communicate with florists and work with them to address mutual concerns.

Keep the Lines of Communication Open

After your initial meeting, keep in touch with the funeral director. Drop an occasional note to thank him for his cooperation in using alternative "in lieu of flowers" phrases and to remind him of your shops' services.

Invite the funeral director on a tour of your shop. Use this opportunity to get feedback about your shop's services. After the visit, discuss the funeral director's concerns with your staff. Try to identify areas in which your shop may further improve its sympathy services.

Send a surprise "thank you" arrangement or plant to the funeral director's home (not place of business) to show you appreciate his or her support of flowers in the bereavement process.

Create an opportunity to talk to funeral home staff members - as they are the ones who actually handle the flowers - in an informal setting. Offer to bring lunch or snacks for a casual meeting. Letting the staffers know you're interested in their work will help you establish a good working relationship with them.

Offer Solutions

To assure a good working relationship with funeral directors, suggest area florists pledge to do the following:

  • Make deliveries only at approved times.
  • Leave flowers and plants only where instructed.
  • Park trucks only in designated delivery areas.
  • Arrange all flowers for delivery in strong, practical containers.
  • Use waterproof containers to avoid damage to furniture and provide coasters for potted plants that have drainage holes.
  • Avoid flowers and foliage that drop blooms or leaves.
  • Always add a bacterial agent in all water vases.
  • Offer to provide transportation from the funeral home to the cemetery.

For more tips, review the Sympathy Business Checklist.

Suggested Alternative Phrases to "In Lieu of Flowers..."

  • The family suggests memorial contributions be sent to...
  • Should friends desire, contributions may be sent to...
  • Memorials may be made to the charity of your choice.
  • The... Memorial has been established for those wishing to make a contribution.
  • As an expression of sympathy, memorial contributions may be sent to...
  • The family has designated the... for memorial contributions.
  • Remembrances may be made in the form desired by friends.
  • Memorial contributions may be made to...
  • Flowers are welcome; Contributions may be sent to...