It may be one of the only industries with which every person on earth will one day interact.
As such, Terri Flores-Brown, daughter Shelby Calleja and business partner Paul Wood know they have job security working in funeral homes.
The trio own and operate both Springs Funeral Services locations, one on the northeast side of town, near Powers Boulevard, the other off Platte Avenue east of downtown. And while death is a given, the industry itself is constantly changing, bringing new challenges with each passing day.
Starting from zero
Flores-Brown met her future husband, Arlen Brown, in the funeral business while working as an auditor for a corporate organization in Arizona. The couple moved to Colorado Springs for a second time in 2006 (Arlen has since retired because of health issues) and the two opened the central operation in 2007 with family, following a negative experience at a friend’s funeral.
“By July we had all the paperwork set up, we found this building in August and we were open by November,” Flores-Brown said. “We became incredibly successful way quicker than we thought it would.”
It’s common in the funeral industry for operators to buy existing businesses, Flores-Brown said, because of the costs involved in starting from scratch.
“We started from zero and we’re now the top funeral home in the city [based on volume],” she said. “And we opened a second location in September 2016.”
According to Flores-Brown and Wood, Colorado differs from every other state in the Union in that Colorado doesn’t have any licensure requirements.
“I could hire you today and teach you how to embalm and you’re an embalmer,” Wood said. “There is a certification that is voluntary, but it’s not schooling. There are a lot of people in Colorado who have lost licenses in other states and come here to open up and there are a lot of funeral directors and embalmers in Colorado who have never had formal training.
“Anyone we hire has to go to mortuary school and be licensed. That’s partly how we elevate our services. Too much about this business requires that you have formal training. In Colorado, you don’t have to go to college at all. That scares me. We’re dealing with people at the absolute worst time of their life, and risk of all kinds of problems — from legal issues to grief issues — and they have no training.”
Service and affordability
Flores-Brown said one of her company’s goals is to provide exceptional service while remaining affordable.
“We hear from families about funerals costing $20,000,” she said. “I don’t think we’ve seen a number close to that and we provide the same merchandise and, I believe, better service.
“For instance, we answer phones at night. We don’t use an answering service. And many funeral homes use third-party removal service, the group that brings the dead into their care. It’s internal here. That way we can train for quality and watch what’s happening. It’s cheaper to outsource, but we believe quality makes a big difference.”
The Springs Funeral Services works with about 1,200 families a year and clients come from eastern plains towns as well as Pueblo and Teller counties.
According to Wood, there are about 18 funeral homes in the region, a healthy number considering the area’s population.
“If we were in the [southern part of the country] there would be more because the burial rate is higher,” Wood said. “It takes more volume to make a living here compared to someplace with more burials.”
That’s because of the cost difference between a burial and a cremation, he said.
“There are more services and work involved in a burial,” he said. “A burial could go from $5,000 to $10,000. Cremation is about $1,200 to $5,000. The cremation fee is usually about $200 to $250. The rest is for the services that go with it. For a cemetery burial, you’ll spend $2,500 just on the cemetery expense.”
Wood said The Springs Funeral Services is a full-service home.
“We do anything from direct cremation to working with someone on a whole-body donation to someone doing a natural or green burial to a full traditional burial.
“There are funeral homes that won’t do the green or natural, and we’ve done them since we opened,” he said.
Natural burial is done without embalming and usually utilizes more natural, biodegradable caskets. The result can be a more economical burial.
“True green burial is where we bury the person in a nature preserve,” Wood said. “There are cemeteries designated eco-friendly where they hand-open graves. There are no backhoes. It’s done in a very ecological way.”
The only thing The Springs Funeral Services does not do is produce markers or headstones, but they do coordinate with a local company.
And while the nature of the business is difficult, Wood said the job does have its highlights.
“The most rewarding part is seeing a distraught family after we’ve prepared a loved one — where they can see them,” he said. “We see, in a matter of time, how they can begin to relax around that person, laugh and tell their stories. Then we know, when it comes to dealing with their grief, that we’ve started them in the right direction.”