Like most new businessmen, Cecil Gilmore stresses that he's thinking outside the box. His business will have a better or different way of doing things than those who have come before.
In Gilmore's case, thinking outside the box literally means outside the "box" - a casket.
He wants Gilmore Mortuary Services on East Main Street in Rock Hill to have a reputation as a place where you can find dignity without the status quo.
Of course, he's offering the traditional funeral services most have come to expect: a loved one reposed in the casket, a viewing and service, and then burial at a cemetery. The mortuary's simple brick building between an auto parts and hardware stores, has several rooms where caskets and vaults are displayed. His service includes the release of a white dove at the grave site.
He offers religious as well as nonreligious services.
"When people have a funeral, you cater to them," he said. Gilmore is a licensed funeral director and embalmer in South Carolina and North Carolina.
But it's the nontraditional funeral where Gilmore's hopes to establish a niche.
His premise is simple: Present people as they lived life.
If a father or husband was an avid fisherman, pose him in his waders and favorite shirt, his cap festooned with lures, holding his lucky fishing rod.
If mother is most remembered for relaxing while watching TV, pose her on a bed with the remote in her hands.
Or, if the deceased was known for his love of motorcycles, pose him in his jeans, vest, bandana - even sunglasses - on his bike of choice.
"The idea is to make people look like they are living, or just sleeping," Gilmore said.
Burial or cremation of the body would be done in the traditional manner, he said.
And, because he's also a Baptist minister, Gilmore said he would not present the deceased immorally.
Gilmore knows the nontraditional service is not for everyone. He has yet to perform one in Rock Hill, but once he does, Gilmore is confident people will be talking about it.
Greg Dunbar, of the Dunbar Funeral Home in Columbia and president of the South Carolina Funeral Directors Association, said he did not know of others offering the service in the state.
It represents "the extreme end of the industry's trend to personalize services," Dunbar said. "It would appeal to certain individuals or groups."
Joshua Slocum, executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance in South Burlington, Vt., said such posing of the deceased is "more of a curiosity in the business."
But creating ceremonies without caskets is a bow to history, he said. Before death became a business, families did all the work, from washing the body, to presenting the deceased on a bed during a wake, putting them in a casket for burial and then carrying them to the grave.
"The casket is a commercial image," Slocum said. "It has a distancing quality. It's like a velvet rope."
Slocum was more interested in another of Gilmore's out-of-the-box approaches.
Gilmore, who is black, says he wants to operate a multi-cultural funeral home that caters to all people.
"I want to break barriers," he said. "I don't want to be the funeral home that serves whites, or serves blacks. I want to be the Wal-Mart and serve everyone."
Slocum said people pick funeral homes on perceived religious or ethnic affiliations. He noted that the books listing all funeral homes nationwide sometimes have the notation "BLK" after some entries, signifying mortuaries that serve minorities.
To break barriers, Gilmore has a multi-cultural staff and is looking for someone fluent in Spanish to serve the area's growing Hispanic population. His marketing materials, including a funeral service for $2,500, are in English and Spanish.
Slocum said the price is less than the average cost of $7,000 for traditional funeral. (Neither price includes the cost of a burial plot.)
The Rev. Melvin Douglas, who assists Gilmore at the funeral home and has known Gilmore since childhood in Fort Mill, said the business should succeed when people "see compassion, professionalism and tell others.
"Breaking down barriers, it's the whole human race not just one race," Douglas said. "We all share the same hurt, pain of a lost loved one. The inner self is the same."