Preserving The Future By Saving The Past

When most people visit a cemetery they often see the end of things, but Reverend Bruce Jolliff saw an entirely new opportunity.

Many family, private association or church cemeteries are managed by second or third generation descendents or volunteers. Over a period of time records of where burial lots are laid out, spacing, who has purchased lots, or even which lots are available for use become outdated, inaccurate, or even lost.

Rev. Jolliff realized he could improve the management of these cemeteries by offering a service that surveyed the property and provided accurate grid maps of all gravesites. A computer data base of who had ownership of the plots, which were in use, and which were available for purchase would also improve the management practices. He started Monumental Restorations Incorporated (MRI) in 1993 and convinced some small cemeteries of the value of this service. He would manually measure the overall size of the cemetery and establish the location and identify of each gravesite. From this a map was created showing all gravesites with each identified by row and grave numbers. A shading system was used for each gravesite that indicated which were sold and in use, which were purchased but unused, plus those that were available for sale. A spreadsheet then indicated who had purchased each grave, which graves were burials, and which were available for sale.

For several years MRI was merely a sideline for Rev. Jolliff, almost an avocation. However, the manual labor involved in measuring and surveying the sites became an increasingly difficult physical task. He realized that if he wanted to continue and grow the business, he needed to find an easier method to measure the plots and determine if they were in use. He found such a product (called Total Station Surveying equipment) but the purchase cost would be prohibitive unless he was able to produce more revenue by servicing additional cemeteries. This meant making MRI a full time business.

Rev. Jolliff presented the situation to Chuck Christiansen, a long time friend and also a SCORE Counselor. Over a period of time, Chuck and Rev. Jolliff reviewed the situation and together they determined there was sufficient market potential to turn the business into a full time operation. They created a basic business plan which showed that by purchasing the new equipment they could produce sufficient revenue and profit to pay for the new equipment and increase profits substantially.

There now were two issues to resolve - funding the equipment, and aggressively marketing MRI. Chuck was able to assist MRI in obtaining a Small Business Administration Community Express loan, which solved the first issue. The next issue was to employ a full-fledged marketing campaign to increase the number of clients. Rev. Jolliff had been marketing MRI by driving through the area and locating qualifying cemeteries. He would then determine who operated the cemetery and make a cold call on the pastor or head of the association. He now uses a prospecting plan that identifies such cemeteries by reading the obituaries in local newspapers, determining the individual responsible for the cemetery, and creating a data base of potential clients. He then corresponds directly with these individuals by mail, including a brochure and booklet that provide the benefits of his service and how the service is performed. The service also provides computerized mapping with grid numbers identifying all plots. This material also gives details about a program by which a cemetery can raise funds to pay for MRI's services.

Since MRI requested and received SCORE counseling, things have really grown. In 2007, the number of clients MRI serviced doubled from 2006 and their objective for 2008 is to double their revenue. One means that MRI is utilizing to reach this objective is hiring additional staff to grow the geographic market MRI currently serves and provide assistance for field work.