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A cemetery provides services for those who have passed away. Their primary purpose is to provide a plot of ground for burial, but an owner can certainly take on more responsibility for the benefit of their clients. They may assist in arranging funerals, provide cremation, or supply necessary items for loved ones (e.g., caskets, urns, etc.)
Who is this business right for?
Cemeteries are not a very joyful business, so an owner will need to be able to separate work from home life. They should be comfortable dealing with those who are grieving and understanding of how to insert themselves during a difficult time without becoming too much of a distraction.
What happens during a typical day at a cemetery business?
Cemeteries follow a fairly stringent routine when it comes to working with clients. While each business will be slightly different, a typical day will usually involve meeting with clients, making arrangements based on their wishes, providing the services, and maintaining the grounds of the cemetery. It may also include general advertising or administrative tasks such as billing and budgeting.
What is the target market?
The main market for your cemetery business will be family members or friends of people who have recently passed away. Although funeral and burial arrangements are most often organized by family members of the deceased, some of your customers will include people who would like to ensure that their burial plans are in order before they pass away.
How does a cemetery business make money?
Cemeteries make money by charging people for the plot of land, headstone, casket, and transportation.
What is the growth potential for a cemetery business?
This is not a popular business for fairly obvious reasons, meaning it's a good opportunity for those who can handle it. Established competing cemeteries may run out of land faster than they realize and may not have the option of expanding. Or other cemeteries may have owners or staff that are callous or greedy with their customers, which can all translate to excellent growth potential for a newcomer.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful cemetery business?
People should have some experience with death to really get ahead. Whether working in hospice or as a gravedigger, they should have an idea of how people respond to death, and what it is they're looking for when it comes to formally saying goodbye.
What are the costs involved in opening a cemetery business?
Costs vary widely based on where a person chooses to operate. Between the land, supplies, and staff salaries though, owners will need to make quite an investment to get off the ground.
What are the steps to start a cemetery business?
Once you're ready to start your cemetery business, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:
- Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
- Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your cemetery business is sued.
- Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
- Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your cemetery business keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
- Set up business accounting. Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
- Obtain necessary permits and licenses. Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
- Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
- Define your brand. Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
- Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Where can I find a business mentor?
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
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What are some insider tips for jump starting a cemetery business?
Only start a cemetery if you know it’s the business for you. No matter how much you may understand on a cognitive level that death is a part of life, it’s never going to be easy to work with parents who have lost a young child. It’s absolutely pivotal to maintain a healthy balance if you choose this field. The average person will either be swallowed up in the grief or block out their emotions completely. Neither of these will help you grow your business.
You also want to consider a strategy for how to compete with the primary cemetery in your area. Most people will want to keep their families in the same location, which can make it difficult to get started. But the future of cemeteries isn’t necessarily determined by its past. Some business owners are gaining traction by promoting ‘green’ cemeteries that can actually improve the environment. It’s these types of ideas that can make your customers start rethinking death in a very different light.
If you do know that you can handle the pressure and the competition for the long-term, it’s time to really map out a business plan. This is important for all new endeavors, but especially for a cemetery. You need to know the competition, acknowledge the hurdles, and figure out how you’ll be able to successfully prepare your budget. Most cemeteries take about a decade to start turning a profit, so it helps to be prepared for the long haul.
How to promote & market a cemetery business
Owners may want to find a unique angle when it comes to their cemetery, such as a long-term way of tracing a family’s roots. Some cemeteries choose to celebrate death by opening their grounds with a big party where the whole community is invited. It gives owners a chance to not only meet the residents and answer their questions, but also to shed some of the stigma of death (for both themselves and their customers.) Cemetery owners can also consider running more somber ads on TV, the internet, or in print, but these may be easy to block out by the average person considering the content.
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How to keep customers coming back
What’s nice about a cemetery is that most families won’t just bury a single person there, which means owners have repeat customers built into their business. As long as owner can manage to show compassion while also (seemingly) effortlessly taking care of the details, it's usually enough to keep people coming back. However, cemetery owners will still want to keep up with the trends and new customer demands to stay relevant in the modern world.
How and when to build a team
You will need to build a team immediately to take care of the details of the business. From soil removal to casket brands, look for employees who understand the business of death as well as its emotional counterpart.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a cemetery business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, check out our informative guide, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
For information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Certificate of Occupancy
A cemetery business is generally run out of a piece of land. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.
- If you plan to lease a location:
- It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
- Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a cemetery business.
- After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
- If you plan to purchase or build a location:
- You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
- Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your cemetery business will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.
How much can you charge customers?
It’s not unusual for a person to pay up to $12,000 for a single plot in a heavily populated place like San Francisco, but the average cost is about $1,000 for the actual ground. Transportation to the graveyard costs about $750, cremation is $1,100 and the average headstone is $1,750. Check the price in your area to get a sense of what people are willing to pay before setting your own menu of services.
What are the ongoing expenses for a cemetery business?
Cemetery owners need to keep up with not just staff salaries, but also the costs of maintaining the land and organizing the activities of burial. Maintaining licenses, researching new products, and advertising are all general costs that owners will handle on a regular basis.
How much profit can a cemetery business make?
The average profits in death can range significantly, especially considering some owners will take advantage of grieving customers who aren't in a position to price-shop. Owners can (and have) charged hundreds of dollars to ‘seal’ a casket by putting a $10 (or less) ring around it. But it’s difficult to ascertain the margins of profit owners, especially considering it can take so long to recoup the initial costs. Still, it's clear that there is money to be made from death. The average salary for a higher-up in a cemetery is about $76,000.
How can you make your business more profitable?
Cemeteries may want to get a little more creative when it comes to testing out new services and products for the community. For example, there are companies that will preserve the tattoos of the deceased, or who can anchor a casket so it can never be washed out to sea. It's these types of interesting services or partnerships that can both boost publicity and profitability at the same time.