Forest Lawn is a big name in the funeral business, and it has funeral homes all across Southern California. Most are stately, sprawling estates. But the Glendale location is a little different.
First off, it’s tiny — the size of a typical funeral home bathroom. Second, there aren’t any coffins or headstones for sale. There is an attendant, but he can’t sell you anything: The urns are only on display. The place feels pretty inconspicuous. It could as easily be marketing homemade pottery as end-of-life planning.
It’s also right in the middle of a shopping mall.
This Forest Lawn “funeral home” is just a kiosk, a movable booth where you might otherwise find things like sunglasses or gimmicky T-shirts. It’s tucked between a LensCrafters and a women’s clothing store in the Glendale Galleria, a shopping mall in suburban Los Angeles.
Forest Lawn launched its first kiosk in 2012. Since then, the company has quietly rolled out others in malls across Los Angeles. It shuffles them around to reach the largest possible audience. Ben Sussman, a vice president at Forest Lawn, says the kiosk’s low-key vibe makes people feel comfortable with what is often an anxious topic.
“It’s really a casual way for a consumer to approach our business,” Sussman says, “somebody that might not be eager to go visit a cemetery or might be a little bit leery about coming into one of the parks. This is a way that we can go to them.”
Rather than making purchases, inquisitive visitors can find information and schedule appointments at one of Forest Lawn’s main locations.
Still, the potential for creepiness is high. Who wants to dwell on mortality midway between a Macy’s and Jamba Juice?
Doris Timberlake, 80, wasn’t bothered when she stopped to examine an urn on a recent Wednesday afternoon.
“I think it’s a good thing,” she says. “It’s closer to my house than a funeral home, and it’s what we all need when we are going out the door — I mean, permanently.”
Jessica Koth of the National Funeral Directors Association says Forest Lawn is banking on that convenience factor to attract customers, especially baby boomers.
“Baby boomers are starting to look to plan for themselves,” Koth says, “but historically, baby boomers are used to doing things their own way. This is a way to get information in a setting that fits in with their daily life.”
The makeup of mall-goers might also have something to do with it. While malls have long been associated with teenagers, they are also gathering places for the elderly. The Glendale Galleria hosts a group that meets daily before the mall opens to walk laps.
In fact, many young people now turn to the Internet for funeral information before they go to a funeral home. According to a 2010 survey by Funeral and Memorial Information Council, 40 percent of people under age 40 said they would look for information online. The number for those aged 40 and above is less than half that.
Chanise Stewart, 36, is shopper Doris Timberlake’s daughter. She wrinkles her nose when her mom talks about the funeral kiosk.
“I think it’s just creepy,” she says. “Nobody wants to see that while they’re shopping. I would just go online.”
But Forest Lawn has got that base covered, too. Its Facebook page has more than 13,000 likes.