Compassion & Innovation: How the Levett Family Succeeds in the Funeral Business

The death care industry is a multibillion-dollar industry, and family-run Gregory B. Levett & Sons Funeral Homes & Crematory, Inc. has carved out a solid place in the industry.

In business since 1980, Georgia-based Gregory B. Levett & Sons Funeral Homes serves on average 1,800 families annually and it pulls in $10 million-plus, compared to the average funeral home earnings of an average of $1-$2 million a year.

“We are five times larger than any other funeral home in the US that is family-owned and operated. We have truly dominated an industry that has been taken over by a large corporation that ‘buy out’ family-owned firms. With five locations and two more being acquired in the near future, we are set to average about $12 million-plus in annual sales,” said Gregory B. Levett & Sons vice president Deanna Levett.

The family business is always innovating, such as bringing technology into the funeral service — from remote arrangements to streaming funeral services for family and friends who cannot attend.

Gregory B. Levett, Jr, vice president of operations, and Lanier Levett, vice president of business operations, told more about the industry and their business. How did the family first get into the funeral business? 

Lanier Levett: Our father Gregory B. Levett, Sr. is a third generation funeral director. He was introduced to the business by his father, George Levett, Sr., and he decided to open his own funeral home in 1980, Gregory B. Levett & Sons Funeral Home and Crematory. It was created in Scottdale, Georgia. Due to the success of our first location in Scottdale, we opened locations in Decatur, Gwinnett, and Conyers, Georgia. We strive to make a lasting imprint on communities, serving all nationalities and religions. There seems to be many successful Black-owned funeral companies, why do you feel African Americans have been able to succeed in this industry?

Gregory B. Levett, Jr.: Funeral homes are much like the Black church. It’s a business that has served the community in various ways, not just when a death occurs. It’s been the center of help for many families. This industry is built on reputation and trust, and many funeral homes have been around for years because families continue to patronize firms that have been used in their families for generations.

Not all funeral homes are financially successful, and that depends on what your definition of success is. We believe that we are successful in our own right because serving families and giving back to our community is our definition of success. This career is a ministry to us; it’s a calling, not a job. What are the benefits of working with family?

Lanier Levett: It creates generational wealth for generations to come within not only our family, but our community. Providing jobs and creating wealth within our community is a huge benefit to us. We have over 150 full and part-time team members who are the heart of our company. We are thankful for our team; they are an extension of our family and make our company what it is today.

Gregory Levett, Jr.: The other benefit of working with family is that we are able to serve families on a more personal level because we are family-owned and operated. Many times you will see at least one of us at each location throughout the week where we can meet and interact with the families. Each family we serve becomes a part of our family, and we believe they can feel that genuine love and care when they walk through the door.

Lanier Levett: Legacy is so important within our community and giving back is at the cornerstone of what we do. We just want to leave an impact within our community for generations to come. What are the pitfalls of working with family? 

Lanier Levett: There are no pitfalls to working with family. We may disagree, but the good heavily outweighs the bad. As long as each family member has their niche and respects each family member’s lane, everything can run smoothly. What helps us operate cohesively is understanding our roles.

Gregory Levett, Jr.: We are all licensed funeral directors and embalmers and have a key role in funeral service side which is the foundation of all that we do. We also have our own personal business endeavors that balance our day to day role at the funeral home. What are the goals of the company for 2019? 

Gregory Levett, Jr: We will be expanding three out of five locations, increasing our community involvement individually and collectively through our family foundation, The Gregory B. Levett, Sr. Family Foundation. How has technology changed the industry? 

Lanier Levett: The death care industry’s tech developments have been antiquated for some time. Most funeral homes do not invest or take the time to learn about new developments and become comfortable with doing funeral service the “normal” way. We began exploring ways to add technology to funeral services early on.

For example, families can now have an entire cremation done through their desktop computer without entering our cremation facility. Although we don’t encourage this because a ceremony or even a small gathering is encouraged to help with the grieving process, but we understand everyone is different and grieves differently. We have incorporated streaming services. We service many international families and even families that live domestically that can not afford to travel due to financial obligations or work. We can now stream services from any location, and families can watch on their computer or cell phone.

We also have online grief counseling. Individuals can watch live sessions and pre-recorded sessions from the cell phone or computer.

Mental health is so important to us, and we realize that many families in the Black community are not tackling this issue. We do not charge for these services and offer counseling throughout the year at each location. These are some of the ways we incorporate technology within the funeral service. The death care industry is slow to adapt, but we’ve had great success with 1,800 families being served a year. We credit our willingness to try new technology and incorporate new ideas to our success. What are some of your long-term goals?

Lanier Levett: To create an even greater legacy for generations to come and to allow our children’s children to reap the benefits of the legacy we’ve created.