The headstone engraving business has evolved from artisans using hammers and chisels to computer-created stencils and laser engraving tools. Tombstones and memorial plaques are engraved when first placed, but weather, vandalism and grounds maintenance at cemeteries often damage these important memorials, requiring repair or total replacement.
There are at least three types of headstone engraving businesses you can start: contracting directly with cemeteries, working as an independent artisan and manufacturing grave markers. Public, private, military and family cemeteries and funeral homes buy grave markers and hire engravers. The average cost for headstone engraving runs from approximately $200 to more than $1,500, at a rate of about $20 for each letter. Among the important business features customers look for, in addition to producing a reliable product, is attention to details like the spelling of names and a good approach to customer service. When dealing with the bereaved, good listening skills are paramount.
Laser stone and metal engraving equipment has replaced some of the sandblasting, acid and hammer and chisel methods. Laser engravers use computer-driven images and stencils to make the engravings and can even create 3-D images. The durability of these images is still in question, and they occasionally require maintenance, so figure that into your contracts. If you prefer to stick with the more traditional approach to stone and metal engraving, you will need engraving tools, facilities to store chemicals, and stone and metal cutting and polishing tools. Whatever you choose, remember that a business requires a business license, legal identity, insurance and record-keeping for billing, accounting and tax purposes.
If you plan to focus only on headstone engraving, market your services directly to cemeteries and headstone manufacturers. Many cemeteries are owned by large corporations, so make your pitch to those corporations as well. Churches, funeral homes and social service organizations also might be good places to contact to demonstrate your engraving skills and excellent customer service -- a way to get word-of-mouth advertising and the possibility of customer requests.
If you choose to manufacture headstones, establish relationships with suppliers of granite, marble and bronze plaques. Also check with your local zoning commission regarding where you can set up your workshop and storage. Manufacturing headstones requires a different approach to marketing. Generally, funeral homes assist clients in monument selection, so providing catalogs of your monument and plaque styles is one way to attract business. Many cemeteries have specific requirements for their grave markers. Designing according to their styles and contracting directly with those cemeteries is another way of building business. Creating a website and marketing it via social media, search engine optimization and online advertising will attract orders from people who are shopping for specific styles or custom memorials.