case study

PlotBox: Preserving Woodlawn's Legacy, Shaping Its Future

PlotBox aids Woodlawn Memorial Park in preserving its history and serving the community with effective cemetery management solutions.

| Read time: 8 mins

Woodlawn logoWoodlawn Memorial Park is a not for profit organization that has provided a beautiful place of final rest for the residents of Guelph, Ontario, and beyond, for more than 150 years. Their motto, ‘Preserving the past. Serving the present. Preparing for the future’ encapsulates their commitment to preserving their rich history while serving their local community in the best way possible - both now and in the future.

We spoke with General Manager Rebecca Kit to learn how PlotBox’s cemetery management solution is helping them to realize that commitment.

Can you provide an overview of Woodlawn’s history?

Woodlawn began back in the 1850s, so we are quite an old cemetery. It actually started with the migration of burials that had taken place within the city limits. The City passed a by-law to prevent any further burials within City limits. This forced the creation of the current site which was on the outskirts at the time but has since been surrounded by the City once again.

They wanted to move all the burials to the outskirts (where we were considered to be at one point), so they moved existing interments from the public cemetery and the church cemetery, and moved as many as they could here. And that's what Woodlawn started with.

We’re now a busy 80 acre cemetery - 40 acres being active - with around 350 burials a year. We're non-denominational, working with all faiths, all religions and provide services, not only to the City of Guelph, but any residents who live beyond that. We're really lucky in that regard because we can offer our services and professionalism to a broad range of clients.

If you ever have the pleasure of visiting the cemetery, it truly is a park - like a mini arboretum. There are many amazing species of very mature trees, providing that conservation or park feel. 

Guelph is a very community-minded area as well, so we do have a lot of regular supporters. As a charitable organization, we do have people who like to donate funds to the cemetery.

Starting in the 1850s with everything being pen and paper we have a lot of historical records that we were looking to digitize, so thought that PlotBox seemed to be the best solution to help us do that.

What does your role as General Manager entail?

I've been here for two years. Previous to that I was with a municipal cemetery for 23 years. It’s a completely different feel going from a city-owned cemetery to a charitable organization like Woodlawn Memorial Park.

My role here is very much being responsible for the finances and day-to-day operations, both administratively and out on the grounds, as well as the business case planning, planning for the future, and being responsible for preserving the historical aspects.

It was very important to me when I came here replacing the former manager, who had been here for 40 years, to honor and keep in place things that he had put in place that still make sense for Woodlawn - making sure that I was paying respects to the history of this property and our community.

I take into consideration the historical aspect, but certainly it's very important to stay on trend with what people are looking for in terms of a final resting place.

And with the rise in cremation being so popular, it's getting harder and harder to convince people to purchase a cemetery plot. And that's where that future piece comes in - making sure that we do have land developed at the rate that we need it, but also having the right options that people are going to want.

Rebecca Kit

(Pictured: Woodlawn Memorial Park General Manager, Rebecca Kit)

What was your need for a cemetery management solution?

Our previous software program was in place for about 15 years. But over time, it was clear that that software was not going to bring us into where we wanted to be in terms of a records management system.

So we had a very specific idea in mind of what we wanted this program to do and our previous software solution just was not going to cut it - that's what prompted the search for eventually choosing PlotBox.

What did you have in mind in terms of a cemetery software solution?

Because so many of our records are still paper-based we have [an old storage area], which is like a library. We have the old index cards that take you to a lot card, that you can then use to go and look up the original internment records in the archives.

It's a lot of paper. 

Not only did we want a solution that could house all of our historical records, but going forward, it felt like we were typing the exact same information into 10 different spreadsheets - we had a spreadsheet for tracking memorial sales, for tracking installations, for tracking contracts, and so on.

There's always room for error when you're entering things multiple times.

Not only that, but repeating the same information was time consuming, as well as going through various screens on the computer, and different files to look for information.

We wanted to be able to enter the information once into the contract, and from that contract generate the interment order, the memorial sale, the work order - all of the facets of our business. We wanted to be able to do it from one spot, and also have the ability to then go back and enter in all of the historical data.

And certainly PlotBox has all of that.

So it has eliminated a lot of the room for error, as well as allowing us to gain back time. We’ve gained efficiencies in our processes, and that was something that when I arrived here two years ago, the board of directors that I answered to made very clear - that this is the direction we want to go, we need to get digitized, we need to get ourselves into the 21st century. 

That was the priority, so that was my number one goal when I arrived.

Why did you choose PlotBox?

We searched, and being in the industry, reached out to fellow colleagues to see what they use for their cemetery management solutions. I think for me it was clear right from the start with PlotBox that their customers mattered and that the customer service would be there even past the project go live date.

I just didn't get that sense from the other companies [we considered]. I have flexibility in my role and once I presented the options to the board, in my gut, I just had a really good feeling about PlotBox.

Yes, dollars come into play, because everybody has a budget, but who do you have the best feeling with? Who is going to be there 50 years from now? Who do you get that feeling with that makes you actually want to invest?

Because it's a process to implement a cemetery management system, you want to do that alongside people who are just as invested as you are, and you're not just another number on their docket for the day.

That has certainly been our experience with PlotBox the entire time.

How was the implementation process?

The IT department of PlotBox that we worked with on that was very responsive, very engaged. They listened to our concerns and came up with solutions quickly.

But I think that was the most stressful part for us, because when you have put the time and effort into putting 15 years worth of records, contracts and information into a program, you cross your fingers that all of that information is going to pull over into the new program.

We never got the sense that something wasn't possible. We were never told, “No, we can't do that”. It was always, “Let me look into it”. And then there was always the solution.

Again, that solidifies the feeling that I had from the beginning - the feeling that the team at PlotBox is really invested and they want to find solutions for us. They're not going to just sell us a ‘cookie cutter’ program, install it and walk away. They're going to work alongside us.

And that's exactly what it was.

PlotBox digitally mapped your cemetery - how was that process?

That went much smoother than I thought it was going to, because I couldn't provide a lot of our maps to the PlotBox team in a digital format - I would literally lay them out as flat as I could, take a picture and send it to them. I thought they were going to want something better, but they came back to me with the map overlaid over top of the drone imagery that they had taken.

I thought…you guys are geniuses!

And the revision process was so slick. I didn't feel like I ever had to go back and forth several times on one revision. It was, “Got it, no problem”, and the next day, I'd show up at work and they completed the revision. 

I love having the drone imagery that we can access, and having our lot numbers all overlaid.

It's such a great solution.

And again, to get away from paper, I wanted not only the records to be digitized, but also for our sales - our sales representatives who are working with the families, to go out on the ground grounds with an iPad and have them map out everything in front of them, instead of taking big binders full of maps. It's so cumbersome - so that's our goal - to get rid of that book!

Woodlawn 2

With that in mind, what processes have PlotBox made easier for you and the team?

Definitely all of our administrative operations. Because now everything's in one spot, we log into PlotBox and click through to whatever module we want. That replaces the multiple spreadsheets and searching through paper.

Again, with human error you can get things out of order quite easily - whether it's sales of plots, sales of memorials, or the installation of memorials. The mapping components help from a sales perspective as well, the booking of the burials - putting onto the calendar, which is the diary module - that's all now in one place.

And again, with all of this being generated from information being entered one time, it has created many efficiencies in our administrative operations.

Once we have mastered all of the processes, we plan on adding the outdoor team as users so that instead of us printing out an installation or work order, we just let them know, and they can check them. They'll be able to log into PlotBox, look at what work orders are in there, and then enter the information, rather than handing in a piece of paper for us to enter the information.

Once we get the whole team on the system, again, we're going to eliminate so much duplication and paperwork.

So it's been wonderful.

What have the benefits been to your pre-need sales processes?

We used to have two separate contracts - again, two separate spreadsheets - one for at-need and one for pre-need services. We amalgamated that. And now, because in PlotBox, you can choose whether it's a pre-need contract, an at-need contract, or a combination of both of those things, we now have one contract.

From there, we're able to enter whatever the situation might be and get the information where it needs to go. And again, for those pre-needs, we used to type out little cards with people's information on it as to what they had prepaid for, and it would get filed in a drawer. Now we just type the person's name in and all of that contract information will come up.

So again, we're eliminating unnecessary duplication and unnecessary steps.

Genealogy is very important to Woodlawn - how is PlotBox helping?

We are starting. I'd like to purchase a laptop or a desktop - something that we can set up in the front office area. We would then have the [public genealogy portal] Everafter set up on there because we know that it’s pulling our information and populating it in a customer facing site.

Or if we get genealogy requests coming through our website, we can then send a link and have them look them up themselves. We certainly want to assist everybody, and using Everafter will help save time for our administrative functions.

So having Everafter is a huge bonus. 

How have your team adapted to using PlotBox?

I think any time you're going to implement a change of this magnitude, you are going to be met with some apprehension, and of course the administrative team knew that we needed to choose a solution and move forward with it.

One of the several good things was having the data test site for so long, because it gave us the peace of mind to do the initial data migration test, knowing that we weren't going to [mess up] anything that we were actually going to be using.

It was also good in giving us the opportunity to start playing around with the program and start to identify where we might want to make some changes to our own internal processes.

I try to really involve my team in all of the decision making here - it was not my decision alone to choose PlotBox. I think engaging the team and making them part of the process is beneficial. It wasn't my work going into the program, so involving the whole team in the process was key to making sure that we weren't missing anything.

It's a matter of sitting down as a team and deciding, okay, this is how we used to do it, how can we translate that into a digital form? I think we've worked through pretty much all of those now, and can see that little spark of excitement when they figure out another tool that PlotBox has that's going to make their lives easier.

Now they're really starting to use it for the basics and their everyday roles, we’re now thinking how can we take that one step further and use some of the other tools that PlotBox offers that we're not currently utilizing?

It’s really getting them to think outside the box.

What has the support you’ve received from PlotBox been like?

It's been really great. So even now, after going live, I reach out to [our Customer Support Manager] Ashlynn regularly because she's taken us from the start, and because you're always more comfortable communicating with the person with whom you've been communicating through the whole process. Ashlynn is so quick to get back to us and respond, or point us in the right direction.

And that’s the same with all of the customer service reps that are on the PlotBox [in-app messenger] chat. We get an immediate response. Somebody's always there to help - even the [FAQ] help topics. 

If you just want to search through the help topics, you can typically find what you're looking for - it's like having a built-in Google!

And finally…would you recommend PlotBox?

Oh, of course - I've already recommended it to others. It's just been a really great experience. Anybody in the cemetery business, or in the bereavement profession in general - we're in this because we truly care about our families and those that we serve. And we care about our communities. For us, we just want to make sure that we're choosing the right solutions that are going to help us be better so that we can be better for the families that we're serving.

I would recommend PlotBox to any of my colleagues as an all-encompassing cemetery management solution. 

It truly is what PlotBox sells itself as - it is a cemetery management solution from every angle, no matter how many facilities you have, you can manage every aspect of your cemetery business, from administrative to grounds operations, and everything in between.

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