KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL)- The current site of Trinity Memorial Centers in Kingsport will soon become the corporate headquarters of a brand determined to reinvent the funeral home industry across the state of Tennessee.
“I’ve learned that a cookie-cutter approach doesn’t work,” said Trinity owner Weston Leonard.
Leonard may be in the business of death, but he’s ready to bring to life a brand specializing in the funeral home of the future. He opened Trinity Memorial Centers in 2013. In just seven years, his business has attracted major investors.
“We’ve caught the attention of one of the largest banks in the funeral industry,” he said. “They’ve given us $50 million dollars to expand. Part of that expansion was we wanted to add a state-of-the-art crematory to the Tri-Cities.”
There are currently no crematories in Kingsport city limits due to zoning code. Funeral homes offering cremation services currently transport bodies to outside counties and towns to have the actual cremation process done.
However, all this changed on November 5th. At Leonard’s request, the Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted to permit crematories as accessories for funeral homes.
Leonard plans to open the first one by next February.
“This will be the first time in the city’s history that a crematory has opened up in Kingsport,” he said.
While there are other crematories in the region with spaces for viewing the process, Leonard says Trinity will offer a formal funeral service along with the crematory. He said the formal cremation service could include pallbearers and a pastor, a service that would be the first-of-its-kind offered in East Tennessee.
A viewing center will be attached to a crematory. Families can be present as their loved one is cremated in a machine, visible through a glass barrier. Meanwhile, the special service with a pastor memorializing the deceased can be held. Leonard said public cremations are often requested in certain cultures and religions like Hinduism, as well as those curious about the cremation process itself.
“[It’s] something that has all the amenities they would need, and then give them that closure,” he said.
A separate pet crematory will also be built on-site. Other funeral homes will be able to use Trinity’s crematory as well.
But this is only Phase One of spending the $50 million investment.
“That will also allow us to go into the second phase, which is going to be to purchase top funeral homes across the state of Tennessee,” Leonard said.
The plan is to convert these buildings into embalming centers for a new brand of funeral homes. The brand’s name is being kept under wraps, but Leonard revealed which cities they’ll be in.
“We’ll go from here, to Morristown, to Knoxville, to Chattanooga, to Cleveland, and then Nashville,” he said.
Within 60 miles of these locations, special “Life Gathering” centers will be built. This is where funeral services will be held. Leonard is currently scouting properties to build the first branch somewhere in the Tri-Cities.
Looking at a blueprint of the “Life Gathering” centers, Leonard describes uniform facilities built of wood, stone, and glass – with plenty of natural light.
“It’s going to look like an art museum. When you come in this hallway, it’s going to be this huge glass wall, and you’re looking down this huge hallway, and you’re seeing nature,” he said.
Leonard didn’t want the architectural blueprint shown on camera, saying the layout design is completely original. Each center will feature a large chapel, a garden with a reflective pool, coffee shop, and a banquet room where families can gather for a meal after funeral services.
“[We’ll have] everything you need to just feel relaxed,” Leonard said. “There’s even an outdoor area in the back for the kids to play around, lose some of that energy so they’re not inside the place, running around crazy. Just a place for families to gather.”
The brand’s signature will be upfront, transparent pricing listed online. Leonard said families will be able to plan services with funeral directors via webcam if desired. A mobile app will also be developed to help grieving families communicate.
“It’s never been done before, to have a single brand across America. So we’re going to try building that brand,” he said.
Trinity’s existing site will soon undergo a $2 million renovation into the brand’s corporate headquarters. Leonard plans to spend the next three years converting existing funeral homes and building these Life Gathering centers around Tennessee. But beyond that?
“Hopefully, the plan is within ten years, to have these locations in major cities across America,” said Leonard.