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Forest Lawn Mortuaries Takes Its Marketing To Local Malls

July 28, 2013

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Forest Lawn Mortuaries Takes Its Marketing To Local Malls

Death has come to the mall.

Shoppers who have visited some of Westfield’s Southern California mall properties in recent days have probably noticed a new tenant — Forest Lawn Memorial-Parks & Mortuaries.

The cemetery and funeral planning company has informational carts on hand at malls in West Covina, Sherman Oaks, Arcadia and Palm Desert.

“Ours came in March and the cart at Westfield Santa Anita in Arcadia came on June 1,” said Lisa Avakian, marketing manager for the Westfield West Covina mall. “It’s a little different, but all the feedback I’ve heard has been positive.”

The Forest Lawn display at Westfield West Covina is nestled between a Forever Beauty kiosk and a glass-encased display of summer beachwear. The cart features four cremation urns, including one with a baseball theme, and a variety of brochures and pamphlets about Forest Lawn’s services.

“We work in four-hours shifts,” said Ana Maria Nunez, an advance planning representative who manned the cart one recent afternoon. “I’ve had two sales today and the other person had two leads.”

The move, while seemingly unconventional, is part of Forest Lawn’s effort to expand its marketing reach, according to company spokesman Ben Sussman.

“This is really not that new because we did one last year in Eagle Rock,” he said. “It creates a very approachable way for people to come up and ask questions or learn more about Forest Lawn. It’s good for people who might not want to come to a cemetery.”

On a recent Tuesday, scores of shoppers passed by the Forest Lawn cart in West Covina without so much as a glance, while others took note of the name and seemed to hurry on their way a little faster.

Frances Sugich, 60, of La Puente stopped and talked with a company representative for several minutes but declined to elaborate on her conversation.

“Not right now,” she said.

Sussman said Forest Lawn has broadened its online marketing as well.

“We’ve been expanding into social media this year,” he said. “We have a very robust community on Facebook — about 13,000 strong. It’s really a great way to engage the public.”

Jessica Koth, a spokeswoman for the National Funeral Directors Association, said cemetery and funeral planning businesses have stepped up their marketing efforts in the wake of the recession.

“Funeral homes have taken a hit in recent years with the downturn in the economy,” she said. “People die every day, but families are making different decisions about funeral spending and that’s had an impact on the funeral process. So many options are available these days. It’s no longer just the standard funeral that you went to 20 years ago.”

Consumers may have more options. But funeral costs have risen dramatically, according to figures from the NFDA. In 1960, the average cost for an adult funeral was $708. By 1980 that had risen to $1,809. And by 2009 — the most recent year for which figures are available — the cost hit $6,560.

Funeral home profits have fallen off, however. In 1999 funeral homes earned a profit of 9.24 percent per average sale. By 2011 that had fallen to a profit of 5.91 percent per average sale.

The statistics also reveal changing consumer tastes regarding end-of-life decisions.

In 1960 the

A couple passes an urn at Forest Lawnâ s display at the mall. (SGVN/Staff Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz) (Pasadena Star-News)
U.S. cremation rate was just 3.6 percent. By 1995 that had climbed to 21.1 percent, and in 2011 the rate jumped to 42 percent, according to the NFDA. But it’s much higher than that in some states.
Nevada boasts the highest cremation rate at 73.9 percent, followed by Rhode Island (73.4 percent), Washington (72.1 percent) and Oregon (70.6 percent). California’s cremation rate is 57 percent.

“The biggest reason people do cremation is because of the cost,” said Oliver Yeo, president of SoCal Cremations in Van Nuys. “We don’t charge much, just $650. That covers everything — the cremation, the urn, the death certificate, the taxes … everything.”

Yeo launched his company three years ago and said business has ramped up quickly.

“In the first six months I had 97 cases, and 600 during my first full year,” he said. “But I’m on pace this year to do 900 cases.”

That’s not surprising considering how expensive funeral costs have become. Forest Lawn offers a variety of package options for funeral services, with caskets ranging from $1,700 to $7,000. But other costs can add up quickly.

The funeral ceremony, for example, runs $700 and floral tributes range from $300 to $700, according to the Forest Lawn price list at the mall. Other incidental options include a memorial book ($40 to $150), matching memory folders ($45 to $85) and an Eternal Tribute online memorial with DVD ($195). A 6-by-28-inch bronze memorial tablet also is available for $925, and the bigger 20-by-28-inch tablet sells for $1,295.

But it doesn’t end there. The embalming is $450, care and preparation is $275, the transfer fee is $425 and the casket coach is another $350. Forest Lawn’s total package prices range from $7,895 to $13,395.

Ed Defort, an editor with NDFA publications, said Forest Lawn’s mall strategy may well work.

“Instead of a cemetery waiting for walk-up business they are taking it to the people,” he said.