Living Memorials Are A Poignant Offering At Hoerr Nursery

Perennial Casket Spray Coral Bells from Hoerr Nursery
A perennial casket spray with coral bells from Hoerr Nursery.

In July 2014, Hoerr Nursery opened a new department: Tributes and Memorials.

“We were approached by John, an employee’s brother, who has worked for years in the floral industry,” says garden center manager David Ploussard. “He noticed that we had the largest selection of memorial products in our market. Combined with his knowledge of funeral and visitation arrangements and procedures, he reasoned that Hoerr Nursery could provide a niche in the memorial market.”

Hoerr’s buyer, Darlene, had worked over many years to grow Hoerr Nursery’s selection of memorial products. It was not unusual, Ploussard says, for Hoerr to receive requests to deliver these products and live plants to to visitations.

“We reasoned that John’s proposal was a natural fit, as well as an extension of our current services,” he says.

Greenhouse Grower RETAILING asked Ploussard to tell us more about how this department functions.


Q: Most garden retail marketing has a happy tone. How do you market a department that is inherently sad, since it’s linked to grief?

A: We have marketed our Tributes and Memorials in several ways.

  1. We hired John, a retired florist who has a passion for this service. With his passion and experience, as well as the growth of the product line, it appeared to be a no-brainer to give the Tributes and Memorials department a try. We added a design counter and displayed the memorial products around it. This was put in a less busy section of the store, so it proved to be a good location that has increased customer traffic.
  2. John contacted all the funeral homes, park districts, and cemeteries in the area. Then he stopped by to present the program. For those interested, we created brochures for the organization to hand out. This also led to contacting school districts and libraries as well.
  3. We advertised in the obituary section of the newspaper. John felt this was the logical location in the paper.
  4. We included the program on our website and promoted it on Facebook.
  5. We also created both radio and television spots to get the word out.
  6. With John’s experience, he knew that anything sent to a funeral home should have our logo visible. People are standing in line waiting at the visitation. They spend their time looking at what has been sent as well as reading the cards of who sent it. They also like to know where gift or bouquet came from. When they see something they like, they too will order from that store.

Following introduction, our marketing focus began with Tribute Trees, a symbol of love and remembrance for families. A framed photo card of the tree is delivered to the funeral service on behalf of the sender.

Participating institutions use the handouts when inquiries are made or to promote this program to prospective donors. The institutions have been receptive and excited about these win-win services. The donor and family benefit, the institution benefits, the community benefits, and Hoerr Nursery benefits.

The program is marketed for a variety of occasions. These include Unity Trees in wedding ceremonies, birth of a child, birthdays, anniversaries, retirements and any other occasion for special remembrance.

Q: Where are the tributes planted?

A: The actual tree is planted by Hoerr Nursery at the location chosen by the family. The institutions I mentioned above (cemeteries, etc.) are invited to be on our list of places willing to accept tree donations. Tree locations as well as types of trees are identified as choices for the donor. An offshoot opportunity has presented itself with cremations. A loved one’s ashes can be spread during tree planting. The tree becomes a living legacy as the tree’s roots spread among the ashes with some nutrients taken up in the tree. This becomes a suitable alternative or an additional choice for using/ saving the ashes. Trees may also be planted at someone’s home.

Q: Is there a difference in how you handle memorial trees, perennials and products?

A: We do handle them differently:

  1. Tribute Trees
    1. These are trees planted as living memorials (as opposed to stone, bronze, or granite!) in memory of a loved one who has passed away. They can be purchased by family members or by other individuals , such as coworkers, students, neighbors etc. who want to give it as a memorial gift, often in lieu of funeral flowers.
    2. The trees may be planted at the family’s home, at a park, school, library, or cemetery. Any where the family wants it planted and it can be arranged with the property owner, but the places I have listed are most common.
    3. We have talked to park districts, school districts, and cemeteries in nearby communities. Together with each organization, we have developed a list of appropriate trees for the organization, and in some cases, predetermined locations.  When individuals approach us or the organization directly, there is a brochure the individual is given with details and a list of trees and planted prices from which they can select.  The organization refers the individuals to us for handling the arrangements, if the organization was contacted directly.
    4. Once the tree is decided upon, Hoerr Nursery schedules the planting. If requested, we will schedule the planting in conjunction with a small memorial service at the same time.  Last fall, we planted a memorial tree at a nursing home prior to the mother passing away.  The family had a small service to include the mother, as she wanted to be a part of it prior to her death.
    5. We also offer the tree to be planted with the cremains, if requested and allowed where the tree is to be planted. It is not common, but we have done it.  Originally, we thought this would be an option the funeral homes could offer families whose loved one is cremated.  We discovered the funeral homes are reluctant to do this as if cuts out their sale of cremation urns, vaults, and burials.
    6. In addition to memorials of loved ones, we offer Tribute Trees for commemorative purposes, such as weddings, births, retirements, and other life events. Planting a unity tree is becoming an alternative for unity candles.  Soil from each families’ homes are combined and incorporated into the planting hole.  Births, birthdays, and retirements seem to be the most common reasons, after memorial trees.
    7. If the tree is purchased in lieu of funeral flowers, we will send the tree, if it is small enough. Most often we deliver a framed Tribute Memorial Card, which includes a picture of a mature tree, to the service.   It is displayed among the flowers and other gifts.
  2. Living Arrangements
    1. We are not a florist, so we rarely include cut flowers. However, we offer “living arrangements” that have been put together to send to the funeral home.  These most often include flowering perennials, arranged and potted, sent as a living bouquet that can be kept indoors for several days by the recipient.  As the flowers begin to fade, the perennials are planted outdoors.  The recipient is reminded of their loved one at the same time each successive year, when the perennials begin to flower again.
    2. Frequently, this is also done with flowering shrubs such as roses, lilacs, forsythia, and hydrangeas. In some cases, a shrub is planted with perennials and annuals.  We guide the buyer as to what will work well, and what is in flower at the time.  When necessary we can include some cut flowers or silk flowers.  We usually deliver it to the funeral home for the buyer.
    3. One time we did a casket spray of predominately Coral Bells, as the deceased was a Coral Bell enthusiast. Fortunately, they were in flower at the time.
  3. Memorial gifts are quite popular to be sent to funerals. Outdoor living pieces such as statues, gazing balls, memorial stones, chimes, and bird baths have become quite popular. Often some sort of arrangement is made to dress up the gift that is sent to the funeral home. Bird baths make good plants for living and floral arrangements.
    1. Wholesale vendors, carrying memorial products, have increased in the last few years. In addition, the product selection from the vendors has also increased.  Memorial Benches, plaques, statues, fountains, stepping stones, etc are more varied than before. Although we have found that people are also interested sending regular products. rather than just memorial products.  Finally, pet memorials is on the increase.  It is a popular avenue for expressing one’s sympathy and compassion, usually given from a family member or neighbor.

Q: How is the department performing?

A: This new department is a very niche service and therefore a slower start. We are beginning to see results and expect it to be popular choice as it gains momentum. It has not taken off as quickly as I would have liked, but it is on the increase. We are definitely selling more since formalizing the program. I believe it will continue to grow. While I haven’t analyzed the figures from last year, I have seen more deliveries to funeral homes as well as memorial tree plantings going out.

Q: Where is the department located within the store?

A: We have located this department in a prime location, as traffic moves toward our attached greenhouse and then to the annuals yard. Located in our atrium, the ambience of natural light and brick floor creates a warmer, more intimate setting from the rest of the garden center. Included in this area with the displays of memorial product is the design counter. Here customers may observe or participate in creating the living bouquets of perennials, shrubs, annuals, etc.

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