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Choosing the Right Monument Dealer

When purchasing a headstone or grave marker for a loved one, you want to make sure you get it right the first time. Unlike getting a haircut, meal, clothing or most any other product or service, you are not afforded the opportunity to try again if you are unsatisfied the first time. The cost, let alone the fact that a headstone is one of the final purchases made for a loved one, makes it unlikely. Therefore, it is very important to take your time and perform the necessary due diligence required to ensure you get it right the first time. The first place to start is in evaluating the monument dealer you plan to purchase from. There are several schools of thought when selecting criteria to apply to someone who is doing custom work for you, but let us focus on the three most important items. In no particular order they are product quality, customer service, and price.

Product Quality

The end result of all your efforts in purchasing a memorial is to have an everlasting tribute to your loved one. One that can be peacefully looked upon for years as you visit your loved oneís grave. It is therefore very important that the quality of the product and the craftsmanship is first rate. How do you determine what is first rate? you may ask. Depending on the type of memorial and the material used, there are several factors to consider. Here are the most important ones broken into two categories sandblasted headstones and bronze grave markers.

Sandblasted Headstones

These headstones are made using high pressure air and sand that are used to carve the details (design and lettering) into the surface of a granite headstone. Some things to look for are:

  • Adequate depth of lettering and carvings - When carving is done on a lighter colored granite it is important that the depth of the carving is of adequate depth. Look for deeply cut lettering and lines in the design. The deeper the cut the more contrast will show under natural lighting. Some companies spray black paint in the lettering and design for contrast and this is perfectly fine, but don't let this fool you as a way to cover up inadequate depth of carving.

  • Shallow carving this type of carving is acceptable when it is on a very dark color of granite such as black, brown or dark red. In this case it is preferable to lightly carve the lettering into the stoneís surface as this will allow maximum light to reflect off the carved areas providing the best contrast.

  • Lettering finish - The lettering should have crisp edges and be properly aligned with consistent spacing. Make certain the floating areas of letters such the center parts of A, B, R, and Pís are intact. In some cases these parts of the letters tend to be blown out by the high pressure from sandblasting.

  • Design elements - The design should look proportional and appear pleasing to the eye. Of course on black granite, surface etching will work just as well, but some people choose to have shallow carved lettering with white paint for contrast on black granite.

  • Laser engraving - On black granite laser engraving is sometimes utilized as it allows for very detailed and photo quality artwork and images. When viewing samples make sure the composition looks good and the quality of the engraving is crisp and in focus.

Since granite is a product of nature it is acceptable for solid granite colors to have minor blemishes. These slight imperfections give your loved oneís monument its unique character. During the quarrying process it is difficult if not impossible to procure a perfectly even colored piece of granite.

Bronze Grave Markers

Bronze grave markers consist of a bronze plaque mounted to a granite base. In most cases they have a bronze flower vase. They are made using a casting method in which molten bronze is poured into a special mold made from sand.

While there are quite a few bronze foundries across the country who produce memorial products, not all of them have the same level of quality.

Here are a few things to look for if you have an opportunity to inspect samples of bronze plaques.

  • Lettering and dates Look for the lettering and dates to be aligned properly with no individual letters being crooked. Make sure the letters are uniform in size.

  • Relief work The raised areas of the bronze design, also known as relief work, should have adequate definition and the raised portions should be properly highlighted.

  • Bronze finish The paint and clear coat should be applied evenly and there should be no runs in it. The raised portions of the design and lettering are typically polished to reveal the natural bronze coloring. This provides a nice contrast and should look as good as examples you see in the brochures or images provided.

Customer Service

Customer service plays such an important role in the purchase of any item, but in situations where emotions are involved it is often regarded as the most important aspect of the whole experience. Since a person purchasing a headstone is at some stage in the grieving process, it is always important to recognize this fact and for a monument salesperson to treat them with the utmost care and consideration.

Unfortunately, there are some sales people in the death care industry who tend to view this as an opportunity and take advantage of their grief to increase the size of the sale. Ultimately, you want to feel as though your interests are being taken care of by the company you are dealing with. You donít want to be treated as though you are at a used car lot.

Since you are purchasing a customized memorial that can take several weeks up to several months to complete, there is the chance that you will be in contact with the company throughout the duration of the whole process. Here is a simple checklist of things to look for:

  • Do they actively listen to what it is you want and are you confident they understand you?
  • Are they available when you contact them, or do they return your calls/emails within a reasonable time?
  • If they make promises, do they keep them?
  • Do they seem willing to go the extra mile for you?
  • If they make a mistake will they correct it on their dime?

Many of these things are hard to determine beforehand. Some companies, especially the online variety, offer testimonials from customers who have purchased their products. If they are authentic testimonials, then they should give an indication of how the company performs in terms of its service.

Product Price

Price is one of the most important aspects of any purchase. You donít want to overspend, but you donít want buy on the cheap and sacrifice quality either. Yet in the funeral industry, it has been reported that some firms charge prices that reflect profit margins in the 400% - 1000% range. How can you make sure you are getting a good price on a quality headstone?

One of the easiest ways is to shop around and compare. Unlike the limited amount of time one has when planning a funeral, you can take your time when purchasing a headstone and become informed. Check the cemetery price and compare it to local monument dealers, even compare them against online companies.

Typically cemeteries and monument companies will be priced higher, but offer you the option of seeing actual samples. Online monument dealers cannot provide a physical showroom, but do offer much better pricing on many of the same products that the cemeteries and monument dealers carry.

In many cases it is hard to actually compare apples to apples when purchasing a headstone memorial. One cemetery may use Matthews Bronze products while an online monument dealer may use Coldspring products. The monument dealer may sell Georgia Gray granite while the funeral home sells China Gray granite. In general cemeteries, monument dealers, funeral homes and online monument sellers get their products from a variety of different sources making it almost impossible to compare pricing on an even field.

The best way to compare pricing is to make sure you are getting a quote for the same size headstone or bronze memorial from each company. Also, make sure the following memorial attributes are the same or similar for comparison sake:

  • Headstone design
  • Emblems or design elements i.e. praying hands, angel, military emblem, etc.
  • Number of additional letters for an epitaph
  • Granite color
  • Granite finish all polished die or polished only on the front and back, etc.
  • Headstone accessories - vases, ceramic pictures, etc.

When comparing cemetery prices with other sources, donít forget to consider that many cemeteries factor in or itemize their installation fee with the price of the headstone. This fee will need to be added to the price of a headstone you are purchasing from a dealer other than the cemetery.

Final Details

After the sale is finalized you want to be able to look back on this purchase experience with no regrets. Making a bad choice in choosing the wrong monument dealer will not only add strain to an already difficult time in your life, but there will be a constant reminder each time you visit your loved oneís grave. It is not uncommon for monument companies to make mistakes on headstone orders, but you want to feel comfortable that they will work with you to correct them. Never be afraid to ask what kind of mistakes they have made in the past and how they corrected them. If a monument dealer says they have never made a mistake, be very doubtful and consider moving on.