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Funeral Home Online--Funeral Home Goes High Tech


from Utah Prime Times
July 2000

Cutting edge technology has arrived in the Funeral Home industry and Larkin Mortuary is at the forefront using new computer age concepts to help families plan their needs.

Larkin Memorial Corporation has been serving families for five generations and Lance Larkin; vice president of the corporation is leading them into the future with the aid of the computer age. Larkin Memorial, established in 1885, is one of the first funeral homes in the nation to offer its customers a "virtual showroom" of their complete line of funeral products and services.

They have been a highly respected business in Salt Lake for 115 years and continue to be a family owned and operated business. The company owns three funeral homes, two cemeteries, two mausoleums, a crematory, vault and monument manufacturing facilities and full service floral cottages.

The Funeral directors are using a new software package called "Family Advisor" developed by Aurora Casket Company, which they have customized and added to. Zachery Larkin has spent a large amount of his time recently working to program these changes. With this program, customers are assisted with funeral plans using a "virtual showroom" on a large television screen in a very comfortable setting around a table where they can complete all the arrangements.

According to Lance Larkin, "this new approach to funeral planning allows us to save the family from to 1 hours of the family time." He adds, "This approach gives us the ability to offer so much more to the consumer than what a traditional showroom can provide."

We are able to help write the obituary on the screen right in front of the customer, says Larkin. We even scan the picture right at that time so the family doesn't have to worry about losing their precious photo. The family can take a completed copy of the obituary just as it will appear in the paper.

"There are specific forms which are required for the government and the Federal Trade Commission," says Larkin, "we are able to complete them right on the screen so the customer can see and eliminate any errors before they are sent." Even the death certificate is now prepared on the computer and printed out for the doctors to sign.

The old tradition method of preparing for funerals included marching through showrooms filled with maybe 20 caskets and a few urns and perhaps a lid from a burial vault. It is a chilling experience at best, with not too great of selection. Well, times change, and this time for the best.

You can now choose the casket with any custom touches you desire and even the price is right on the screen as you choose. There are all the various program covers to choose from. A full selection of guest registers is available. Then you are able to select floral pieces right there without running all over town to find a florist.

You can choose the burial vault and even the memorial grave marker of your choice, with a zoomable picture to see any detail closer. Loved ones can see any of the products in fine detail, customize urns and monuments, and get a feel for what things are going to cost as they go along.

"Some consumers still like to go into the showroom of caskets, but rapidly ask to go back to the computer because of the tremendous selection that is available," says Larkin. There will always be a place for a small showroom but utilizing technology will help both the customer and their business, adds Larkin.

The showroom at the main office of Larkin Memorial has 42 caskets for families to look at. Larkin said "with the new computer showroom, I can show 120 caskets and 200 variety of urns at the push of a button and then allow for customization." With the virtual showroom we can download each morning those items that are available or in stock at the wholesaler so there is no disappointments if the customer selects something that is not available. He says they can have the items there in a matter of minutes.

"We are very excited about this new concept," says Larkin, "Technology is going to revolutionize this business, without doubt." According to Larkin, hardly anyone in the nation is as developed as far as Larkin Memorial is. There are regular visits from funeral directors coming to Utah to see how this program works.

Being able to assist families this way helped lessen the actual grief families feel by not having to go into the casket room, which is a very difficult thing for many people. This new system softens the process.

Larkin Memorial has a fully owned subsidiary called Rocky Mountain Monument and Vault. Since granite weighs a lot, and its hard to just move samples of granite around to look nice in a display, we have created a virtual showroom of markers, monuments and headstones on the computer to give our customers an idea of what is available, adds Larkin.

He says they can tailor-make the headstone right in front of the family and when completed, the family can walk away with a laser copy of what the headstone will look like. They can customize a headstone or marker with just about any art now with the aid of the computer. You may see a fisherman fly-fishing, or they may be embellished with circus animals, rainbows, teddy bears for a beloved child, Harley-Davidson motorcycles or even a laser engraved photo right on the headstone or marker.

Using computer technology, and good design software, you can put just about anything on the stone. At Rocky Mountain Monument & Vault, they have seen a lot of special requests. They have been asked to have the gravestone engraved with a steaming locomotive, and even a jeep flying through one of the famous Utah arches.

An artist can scan a favorite image into the computer making adjustments to the lines where necessary. They work to make the picture so it is just perfect for the family. In other words, says Larkin, it is truly "what the customer wants" and not just a picture they picked out of a sample book.

Their artists can pull together designs, choosing from thousands of images whether religious icons or sports figures. They can choose from dozens of fonts for the typefaces, or even add the signature of the person.

When all is completely designed, the final creation that will be on the gravestone is transferred electronically to a computer plotter. It has razor knives in place of the ink and cuts out the pattern in a heavy rubber resist material that will be put on the stone and then sandblasted.

Larkin says, "The whole industry is heading toward personalization." We want to know what you want. This personalization helps with the complete healing process, he adds.

The same type of custom service is available when planning the programs to be printed. They can put art from the family or special poems or whatever the family wants.

Another wholly owned subsidiary is The Rose Shop, which provides full service floral arrangements for all occasions. Larkin says that in the past, people have had to look at industry standard books to choose floral arrangements. Now with the computerized showroom, they can show pictures many different styles, all that were from their floral shop. And as with all of the other products, the flower arrangement can be customized to what the family wants.

According to Larkin, "Family after family are pleased with so many choices." Families doing preneeds planning, are able to have funeral planners come right to their home with lap-top computers and make choices right on the screen for future needs.

Families wanting to get more information can even visit the company website where a great deal of information is available. In the future, says Larkin, we hope to have a fully interactive website where people can come to look at all the products that are available. He says that the future generations are so computer literate that they expect to buy everything off a computer, so why not a funeral off the computer?

One thing is for sure. The future is here in the funeral industry and the consumers are the real winners.



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