Funeral services find niche in malls

LOS ANGELES — We eat there and buy our clothes there, and some people think teenagers live
there. So perhaps it was just a matter of time until funeral homes began moving into the local
shopping mall.

Over the past two years, Forest Lawn has been quietly putting kiosks in several malls dotting
southern California’s suburbs.

The move by one of the funeral industry’s best-known operators expands on a marketing innovation
that appears to have begun at the dawn of the decade when a company called Til We Meet Again began
opening casket stores around the country.

“We try to reach our audience where they are at, and the mall is a great way to do that,” said
Ben Sussman, spokesman for Forest Lawn, whose cemeteries count among their permanent residents such
notables as Walt Disney, Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson.

“And it’s also, perhaps, a way to reach people who might be a little leery about coming directly
into one of our parks,” Sussman said.

As to why folks would be leery about that, industry officials acknowledge the answer is obvious:
Who really wants to enter a funeral home even one day before they have to?

“Funeral planning is something everybody knows they must do, but at the same time, it’s
something nobody wants to do,” said Robert Fells, executive director of the International Cemetery,
Cremation and Funeral Association.

“When they’re going to the mall, people are not going out of need,” said Nathan Smith,
co-founder and CEO of Til We Meet Again, which has outlets in malls in Arizona, Louisiana, Kansas,
Indiana and Texas.

So if they do happen to see a place peddling coffins or urns while they’re pricing T-shirts and
hoodies, Smith said, it will look far less intimidating.

Forest Lawn’s effort began modestly, with just one kiosk (one of those movable displays that
usually sell calendars or ties) in a mall in the Los Angeles suburb of Eagle Rock.

When no one was creeped out, the program expanded to about a half-dozen malls. Now, Forest Lawn
periodically shuffles them from one mall to another to reach the largest audience.

Unlike the people at other such stations, who can seem like carnival barkers as they walk right
up to you and hawk discount calling plans or free yogurt samples, Forest Lawn’s operators are more

Still, not everyone is thrilled with the idea. “You’re in a shopping mall and you’re walking
along and there’s a funeral place?” retired high-school teacher Stan Slome, 86, said incredulously.
“That sounds too deadly.”

After thinking it over, however, he acknowledged that it’s something that could catch on.