One of the biggest changes in the funeral industry over the past decade has been the time needed to plan a funeral service because of how far-flung family members can be, said Daniel McManus, owner and funeral director at in Katonah.
"There are dramatic social changes in the way funeral homes do business and they really reflect the dynamics in today's American families," he said. "Families used to be all locally based—now they're all over the country, even international. The time between a family death and the service takes longer because you could be calling in kids from college in Colorado or one living in Paris."
Another big change has been the filing of records online. Clark Associates has over 150 years of paper records stored at its Woodsbridge Road home, but now documentation such as where a person died, names of surviving relatives, the dates of birth and death, and the place of burial are all filed with the state online.
And much like funerals themselves—social media can bring together family members and friends who haven't seen each other in years. Clark Associates has made Facebook a part of their business operations in order to help more people to connect.
"We're now asking families if, as part of the services we provide, they'd like us to share their loved ones' obituaries on Facebook," said McManus, who took over the 154-year-old business in 1994. "We'll help them write it and post it to our page for them to share."
McManus said he first had the idea when he began seeing the youngest members of families—when visiting Clark Associates for family meetings or funeral services—engrossed in social media on their smart phones. Then members of his own family joined Facebook. After attending a seminar last winter on the power of social media to improve a funeral home's marketing and communications, he knew it was time for Clark Associates to jump on the bandwagon.
Beyond the connections the posted obituary may help facilitate among family and friends, the simple act of sharing may also help promote Clark Associate's services, a benefit that is not lost on McManus.
"It does help to have our name and phone number shared," he said.
The business, which is now run by McManus and three other full time licensed funeral directors—Ron Ceraso, Adner Montenegro-Lee and Bruce Reidsdorf, who also serves as manager, has been an institution in Katonah since 1858, when funeral services were called "undertaking," and they were typically folded into a furniture seller's business.
After William H. Clark joined Samuel Hoyt's furniture store in 1894, he obtained his funeral director's license and formed a firm called Clark & Avery, which oversaw the disinternment of the graves in the Katonah Cemetery in Old Katonah to other local cemeteries, when Old Katonah moved to New Katonah. Eventually, Clark took over the funeral business at Hoyt, and the funeral home was built at its present-day location in 1928 as a Sears-Roebuck pre-fabricated commercial building.
What hasn't changed over the years is the commitment to quality, the directors say. Whether paper or online, the records the business keeps are confidential and important to the family at the time of death and beyond.
"Our primary business is trust," said McManus. "And that's important to us."