Pretty Rocks Made From Human Ashes? How This Founder Convinced "Incredibly Skeptical" Funeral Homes to Sell His Novel Service.
Parting Stone founder Justin Crowe realized that to make something new, he'd have to win over an ancient industry.
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The company Parting Stone offers a novel service: It turns the ashes of deceased humans and animals into pretty little stones — like river rocks. And when Justin Crowe founded Parting Stone in 2019, it seemed obvious who his first customers should be. "Our research showed that while 1.6 million American families choose cremation through a funeral home each year, there are already 75 million people in the United States living with pet and human ashes at home," he says.
In other words, Crowe planned to skip the hassle of persuading funeral homes to offer Parting Stone's "solidified remains" as an alternative to traditional cremation. Instead, he'd sell his service directly to those 75 million consumers with an urn in the basement.
But when the company launched, things didn't go as planned. Crowe had to step back and reconsider his strategy. In doing so, he realized that numbers aren't everything. Sometimes sales hinge on something less quantifiable: trust.
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Crowe isn't the first person to transform ashes into keepsakes. There are other companies that put remains into objects like jewelry or vinyl records. "But those things use, like, a teaspoon of ash," he says. "There's still 10 cups left that go in the closet." Crowe, who has a fine arts degree in ceramics, wanted to create something that used all of a person's ashes, and appeared to be made only from the ashes: a "found product," like a stone. He got a grant to work with a ceramic submarine engineer and developed the Parting Stone concept.
When he launched in 2019, Crowe went all in on consumer sales — building a digital marketing staff and investing in online ads that targeted people living at home with ashes. But to his dismay, early direct sales were dismal. And to his surprise, nearly 100 funeral homes reached out and asked how they could offer Parting Stone's services to their families.
That was an unexpected turn of events. "The industry is incredibly skeptical of outsiders and slow to innovation," Crowe explains. "Nearly 90 percent of funeral homes are mom-and-pop shops, many of them multigenerational." And yet, there they were, asking for more information. So Crowe scrambled to set them up with the education and marketing materials to begin offering the service. Soon after, sales soared.
As it turned out, the things that made funeral homes slow to innovation — affinity for tradition, and fear of offending grief-stricken families by suggesting something newfangled — also made them the most trustworthy evangelists for Crowe's service. That mattered a lot more than the 75 million people who have ashes stashed at home.
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Once he realized his sales strategy was wrong, Crowe course-corrected. He halted Parting Stone's consumer-targeted online ads, redirected his marketing staff's focus to funeral home sales calls, and produced point-of-sale retail displays for those spaces. "I was spending most of my days on Zoom conducting sales communication trainings for entire teams of funeral directors," he says. That helped him identify pain points he hadn't considered before, like how funeral homes make wholesale orders. Parting Stone soon built a wholesale back end into its consumer-focused website.
Two years in, the shift is paying dividends. "More than 80,000 families per year see solidified remains in funeral homes now," Crowe says. "And we're finding that as our service through funeral homes grows, our direct-to-consumer sales are steadily increasing. They're taking on a life of their own."