Window dressing

Charles Cowling

Window

 

An email arrived here recently from a person who has been struck by the way undertakers dress their windows. ‘Dreadful’ is one of the adjectives she used, ‘depressing’ another. She’d like to set up a small business and put them right.

Whether or not undertakers’ windows are on the whole dressed badly is a matter of perception. An assortment of tombstones, the window sticker of a trade association, a vase of faded artificial flowers and a fan of pamphlets selling Golden Fleece funeral plans – is that okay or is it dreadful and depressing? In truth, you rarely see much in most undertakers’ windows to raise the spirits of yer average potential customer, nor evidence of the exercise of much imagination, aesthetic intelligence or marketing acumen.

Did I say customer? I meant client, of course. Funeral Directors are professionals. They term themselves Funeral Directors to distance themselves from the unlettered, scurrilous undertakers of yore. The modern use of the word undertaker denotes an artisan funeral director, an altogether different fish, one we can dissect another day. Artisan, of course, doesn’t mean what it used to mean, either; it’s gone (socially) upmarket like artisan toast.

What other professional operates out of a shop? I mean, I was going to say, lawyers announce their presence with nobbut a discreet brass plaque, but actually, come to think of it, a lot of them now have something of a shopfront. As do banks, and banking is a profession, right? What are estate agents?

Does it matter? You can tie yourself in knots arguing one way or the other about whether undertaking is a trade or a profession and it’s only status anxiety that causes undertakers to fret about it. Journalists don’t. (They’re trade.)

Undertakers aren’t there to flog you stuff, so you wouldn’t expect their windows to follow the retail model. Nor is there anything they can put in them to tempt people to avail themselves of their services before they absolutely need them — it’s only sad necessity that draws them over the threshold.

Nevertheless, a window is a potent marketing tool – and as they say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. It’s a place where you can transmit key messages about your professionalism which will bear fruit when people find themselves bereaved.

What messages should a shop window transmit? Answer: what people want to hear, of course. Here are some.

The attribute that bereaved people rate most highly is empathy. Kindness if you prefer.

They want to know that you are a member of the human race and not one of those weird sotto voce types from planet BlackMac.

They want to know that you possess specialist skills and expertise of a high order.

They want to know that you have a vocation; that you are motivated by altruism (not greed and an ambition to sell out to FSP as fast as you can).

They want to know you are honest and open in your commercial dealings.

They want to know you have organisational skills.

They want evidence that your qualities are endorsed by someone on the side of the consumer.

You’ll tell me which ones I’ve missed.

How you get all or even some of those messages into a window display I haven’t a clue. But if I were an undertaker I’d be working on it. If you can create in people a warm regard long before they need you, you can probably halve your advertising spend.

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John
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John

I was very interested in your point about ‘the shop front’ and what it should portray, a friend of mine work has a funeral director, it was part of a sort of ‘franchise’ operation so he didn’t have a say in the frontage of the shop. When he received the image he laughed and thought it was the wrong photo sent by mistake, it was hideous to say the least. He had to go with it as it was part of the deal and it had already been paid for! The ‘shop’ (I do agree with your retail analogy) was… Read more »

Jennifer Uzzell
Guest

Richard, I had also thought about that, quite recently as it happens. We don’t currently have a window that could be ‘dressed’ but if we did I would be thinking seriously about what could be reasonably done at Hallowe’en/All Souls/ Samhein if only because it is a time when folks have traditionally remembered their dead. It would have to be done very carefully though! I also do not believe in Ricard’s God, but I do use a capital G, partially because its a convention, partially out of respect for those who do (One of a few conventions I use for… Read more »

Richard
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Richard

Liking this thread! Jenny, I agree, whether you believe in souls or not, All Souls’ Day could inspire inventive undertakers’ window displays. And, yes, God with a lower case G strikes me as militant posturing. As you may have noted from a recent post, I’ve recently attended a church service of thanksgiving for the life of a beautiful and sorely missed friend. Attendees were a complete mix, but no one politicised the profound service, throwing their toys out of the pram because it included the Lord’s Prayer. Over drinks afterwards, we all agreed how our confused, grieving thoughts were crystallised… Read more »

Sean Martin
Guest

We are just drawing up a schedule for the year of window displays that we want to be “thought provoking”. To get people to think about the end of their lives. A blend of displays that throughout the year embrace a variety of themes such as: Do It Your Way – Be Different Just Add Colour Remembrance – WWI Anniversary Celebrate All Things Local! Sport And even – “We don’t want to see you before your time – Look After Yourself” which we can do in collaboration with local sports teams, leisure centres, gyms, slimming clubs. This in particular is… Read more »

Quokkagirl
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Quokkagirl

Bravo Jonathan. Well said. I also refuse to spell god with a capital. On the subject of shop window displays…what the devil (sorry Richard, Devil) would you put in a funeral director’s window to attract custom? I must say, the leaning towards patriotism leaves me a bit cold but I am aware that there is a massive section of our good British public who love the nationalism thing. It all rings of sentimentality and soppiness to me – the Mothering Sunday displays and the Remembrance Sunday displays…..however, they are infinitely better than the two headstones, some faded purple velvet and… Read more »

Janice Hutton
Guest

I do wish someone on this site would have something good to say about funeral directors! We are not all doom and gloom….. Our Company has an informative and easy to use website with our prices clearly shown, our adverts are not boring, and as for our window displays they beat any other funeral director in the area. Our Cleckheaton branch has a window that we regularly put displays in. From Remembrance Sunday, to Christmas, Mother’s Day, Easter, plus some things that relate to funerals or as next months window will be – Memorial Candles. I am no window dresser… Read more »

David Holmes
Guest

Tis true, most are truly dreadful. I’ll try and email a picture of mine 🙂

Hazel Pittwood
Guest

A funeral home I used to work at would have people walk in off the street to say they liked our window display! We had a local florist come and do it every couple of months. The display never had anything to do with selling anything or funerals – it was just pleasant to look at.

Lucy
Guest

When I was looking for the building that would house my company, the window and frontage was my only concern. I wanted something with big windows so I could do some brilliant window displays but also so people could look in. The age at which people are having to arrange funerals is getting younger and younger. Many have no idea what to expect from a funeral director and there is an element of fear walking through the door. They expect to see bodies and coffins so by having an open window before they walk in, dispels that straight away. My… Read more »

Richard
Guest
Richard

Neither a patriotic anniversary nor a specific saint’s day but one day undertakers don’t seem to mark in their window displays is All Soul’s Day (or Halloween). Odd that!

Richard
Guest
Richard

With the centenary of WWI and the 75th anniversary of WWII coming up this year, what’s the betting there will be an inordinate amount of funeral drectors’ windows displaying Union Jacks and wreaths of poppies. I’ve wondered before why so many undertakers project this conservative patriotism. Is it because their majority customer base (often people who remember the last war, at least as children) like it that way?

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan

Good god, Richard, I don’t think undertakers consider what people like, nor would have the slightest idea what on earth that was if they did. Nor, for that matter, would their customoer base. Poppies? Union Jacks? Almost certainly, but why? Have a look at their adverts, or their websites – I spent an hour once writing down what they say about themselves, and found they just think up the same old crap their competitors say about themselves and repeat it. As for their windows, they all look the same and I haven’t seen a single undertaker’s window display that would… Read more »

Richard
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Richard

Jonathan, while your anarchic streak is refreshing and amusing, you should know by now that God is spelt with a capital G. 😉 x

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan

Only to those who believe in it, Richard!