Jonathan Modlich brings new ideas to his family's 80-year-old grave marker business.

While many of the tasks Jonathan Modlich tackles at Modlich Monument Company are the same as those performed by his great grandfather and company founder Linus Modlich, the current vice president also faces new and serious issues few could have predicted eight decades ago. Challenges include changing ideas about end-of-life practices and the rise of large, shareholder-controlled companies seeking to dictate all aspects of funeral-related services, Modlich says.

The amount of people opting for cremation has surpassed the number of individuals choosing burial for the third year in a row, according to the National Funeral Directors Association, headquartered in Brookfield, Wisconsin. The trend has forced the Columbus company, which produces headstones and other grave markers, to pursue new products, services and technologies.

At Modlich Monument, they are working to communicate with potential customers about the value of memorial markers that commemorate a loved one’s personality or celebrate a life event, Modlich says. These markers do not have to be associated with a burial site, he says. They can be located in a garden or at a favorite park. “Often these can be placed in someone’s landscaping,” he says. “If they move, they take it with them.”

Creating a permanent memorial also can help people deal with their loss, he adds. “It fits into the grieving process,” he says. “There’s very much a need to memorialize a person, but it doesn’t need to be in the traditional way.”

To help customers achieve that, the company stays on top of industry trends. Modlich Monument offers a type of engraving that allows staff artists to replicate digital photographs on stone. Photo etching can be used to add someone’s likeness or a favorite landscape to a memorial.

Company representatives are trained to sit down with customers and ask questions to get at what image or style will best suit their needs, Modlich says. He recognizes that budget is also a factor and is always open to ideas that will lower a consumer’s cost without affecting quality.

Modlich and his fellow members of the Monument Builders of North America trade association hope these personalized services will differentiate themselves from the large corporations buying funeral homes, casket manufacturers and stone companies. Modlich is active in the Dayton-based organization and was recently chosen as the group’s vice president. “Jonathan is very bright, personable, talented, passionate about the monument industry and MBNA, and has exhibited the rare ability to lead others,” says current president Bobby Mattos, a board member of MBNA. “We are very proud of him and feel lucky to have him as a part of MBNA’s leadership. ”

Modlich hopes members can share ideas and best practices to make their companies more successful. He’s had experience doing just that. After spearheading the development of software to help his company manage orders, he realized the application could work for others in the industry. Sister company, MB ProBuild, was created to sell the software to other monument builders. “We didn’t come up with this to sell. We were looking for a better way to keep ourselves organized,” he says. “We realized it could help others.”

Modlich also prioritizes helping nonprofits. His company donates the engraving that it does on fundraising pavers for the Ronald McDonald House of Central Ohio. The effort allows Ronald McDonald House to direct more of its donated funds to programming, says Angela Hartley, senior director of development for the organization. “He has a passion for helping families and children,” she says. “He’s very in tune to what’s happening in Columbus. He sees that he can make an impact through his services.”

Initially, the charity hired the company to do the work. But when Modlich delivered the first batch of pavers, he got a tour of the facility. He quickly realized he wouldn’t be sending them a bill. “They can put that money to a much better use than we ever could.”