Berardinelli Funeral Home Increases Revenue with Local and Eco-friendly Showroom
Over the last year, Berardinelli Funeral Home in Santa Fe, New Mexico, has been making a shift in their product showroom (now a “gallery”) to something unique in the funeral industry. They have made the transition to 100% local-handmade and eco-friendly cremation merchandise as well as introduced the similar options for burial. The Initiative, lead by funeral director Jody Herrington, was a inspired by a desire to be more environmentally conscious and support the local Northern New Mexico economy. She saw the value that the diverse southwest community places on creativity and their connection with place and designed her funeral merchandise showroom to reflect the focus of the community. Her intuition for a local/eco-friendly showroom has paid off as Herrington reports an increase in merchandise revenue for Berardinelli Funeral Home since eliminating the usual Batesville and Mathews merch, although she wouldn’t reveal actual sales figures.
Herrington comes from a background in film, hairstyling and cosmetics as well as being a bartender at some of LA’s hottest nightclubs and ultra lounges. She notes, “I entered the field of death care a little later in life, but it was good for me because this career requires that you know yourself and what you are capable of.” She is a Certified Funeral Celebrant, Mortician Licensed in 3 states (NM, ID, DC), and CANA Certified Crematory Operator.
We interviewed Herrington about her experience building a local and eco-friendly funeral merchandise gallery at Berardinelli Funeral Home. During the interview we made a list of her favorite products…
CD: What Inspired you to make the shift to all local/handmade products?
JH: When I moved to Santa Fe, it quickly became apparent that this town associates itself heavily with art and craftsmanship. It seems no matter where you go or who you talk to, you will be talking to an artist of some kind. When I first went to the Contemporary Clay Fair (Santa Fe), it really hit home that these artists were not just making lovely pieces of art, but were creating pieces that could serve to honor the dead as urns. These art pieces that are so abundant can speak for the dead in a way that mass produced urns cannot. They can show the values and the ideals of their inhabitants in a way that a machine made metal piece from India can’t even touch upon. When we spoke to the artists and discovered that they were excited about the prospect of their pieces taking on a higher significance, the decision was made.
CD: What is the typical response from customers to the gallery ?
JH: Usually, before people go into the selection they think they know what they will see. When we enter our gallery, they are surprised by the unique pieces, and the beauty of what we have to offer. When we tell them about our one of a kind handmade pieces and how they are made by local craftspeople, their faces almost brighten up. The families we serve are often art collectors or creators. They see the pieces as lovely artwork with a higher purpose and they appreciate our support of the artists who create them. To the people who we serve, supporting local art is an extension of how they live and lived their lives.
CD: What changes have you noticed since the shift?
JH: I have definitely seen that families are buying more items. When everyone can choose a keepsake that speaks to them about their loved one, they will do it. I have also noticed that people are actually apprehensive about cardboard. When they see the handwoven options they relax a bit and have often said to me that the handwoven feels “softer” in their minds. It’s less industrial and less “anonymous.” Their loved one is not anonymous, why choose something anonymous for them?
CD: What are your top selling products at the Berardinelli Funeral Home Gallery?
JH: Easily, our best sellers are by a local gentleman named Dylan Weller. His pieces are a perfect balance of simplicity and obvious craftsmanship. We sell his pieces for $695.00 -$795.00, and not once have I had a family balk at the price when looking at his urns.
CD: Do you do this with caskets as well?
JH: We have not made the full switch to handmade caskets. There are multiple reasons for this, but the big one is that people who choose traditional burial are usually looking for what they perceive as traditional. Coffins are no longer “traditional”, but “caskets” are. We do still offer our families the Batesville line of caskets, and we definitely stand by the quality and craftsmanship of Batesville. But we also offer a beautiful Willow Mastercraft Casket that is as close to “handmade” as we are likely to see. To supplement this, we do offer a line of handmade coffins. They are made of willow, seagrass, bamboo, or local pine and are beautiful. We want people to know their options without overwhelming them. We believe that we offer a nice and reasonable amount of selections no matter what a person’s taste.
CD: What do you do if a customer does not want a woven casket?
JH: When it comes to cremation containers, we stand firm by the woven options. We do this for their eco-friendly aspects. Cardboard is generally not eco-friendly and especially the kind used in cremation containers. There is usually a waterproof outer layer on the cardboard itself as well as a plastic sheet liner. The purpose of this is obvious, but it all adds to smoke and toxic chemicals coming out of our stack. With the woven cremation containers we do not have this issue. This funeral home is in a residential neighborhood, and we care about our neighbors. This is one way that we can show that we care.
CD: What was the biggest challenge with a local/handmade focused gallery?
JH: The biggest challenge is stocking it! We don’t go online for pieces or choose from a catalog. We go to art shows of all shapes and sizes. We also will be holding an art show in March and we just might purchase more then.
CD: Where do you source the products from?
JH: Our artist pieces are all from Northern New Mexico. With so many artists in residence, we have no shortage of talent to pull from. Our eco-friendly options come from as far away as South Africa (Biotree), Spain (BiosUrn), Germany (Alder and Birch Urns), and our own backyard, Albuquerque (Gourd Urns). If the pieces are beautiful and soundly eco-friendly, I will purchase from almost anywhere.
CD: What has been the best part of this transition?
JH: The best part of this transition has been opening people’s eyes to opportunity for memorializing their loved ones. People can easily get stuck in the “this is how it’s always been done” mentality and I feel that we are shattering that. We offer such beautiful and unique pieces (some of or eco-friendly urn options come from halfway around the world), and it’s unlike anything people are used to. We tell people that each urn is as unique as the person whose cremated remains are housed within, and it’s true!
CD: What advice can you give other Funeral Homes that what to include local products in their showrooms?
JH: I would say the first question you should ask yourself is “Does this community want locally made urns?” I almost had it easy when we made the decision to switch over, but I don’t think every community will feel that way. Look at the people in your community. Are there a lot of artists? Are there a lot of galleries? How many shops in your community sell original art? In Santa Fe, these numbers are all very high, but they may not be in another community. If however, your numbers are high as well, I say go for it! It never hurts to help support the local economy, local artists, and local values.
Have you carried local artisan-made urns like Berardinelli Funeral Home has? Tell us about your experience int he comments!
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