According to the Casket & Funeral Supply Association of America (CFSAA), casket manufacturing developed as a distinct business in the late 19th century. On the other hand, imported caskets have only been around since the start of the 21st century. When they first arrived, these imported caskets received a mixed reception from funeral service. Sure, you were getting a great price, but what were you sacrificing to purchase these offshore caskets? Much like the way the funeral profession has embraced cremation; funeral service is following a similar adoption curve with more and more firms now buying imported caskets. Have funeral home owners given up objecting to offshore caskets, or is it that they have come to realize the financial benefits are increasingly more necessary with their cost containment of products?
Having worked for several casket companies (both family-owned and publicly-traded) over the years, I have sold both domestically-produced and globally-sourced caskets. While this in no way suggests that I am an expert on caskets, this background has provided me with a unique perspective on buying and selling caskets.
In my travels, I have heard a number of issues that have been raised over time, related to the purchase or non-purchase of imported caskets. People have asked me what factors funeral directors with whom I have spoken evaluate when selecting a casket company with which to partner, and how have they changed over the years. It may seem elementary to many, but these factors have not only changed over time, the importance of several key factors has also shifted. Therefore, I have created the following checklist.
Product Quality – For every product used in funeral service, it all begins and ends with quality; for that matter, quality has always been king. It’s no secret that when import caskets first made their appearance twenty years ago, there were stories – fact or fiction – about the quality of these caskets.
Times have definitely changed and improvements followed after many years of manufacturing caskets by import casket companies. Import casket companies today have become laser-focused on quality in all areas of manufacturing. They have instituted process improvements and they have quality control departments set-up in the plants. The result is that now some folks in our profession say the quality of caskets from some import casket companies is on par, if not superior, to domestic manufacturers. Plants in the U.S. no longer hold a monopoly on producing premium quality caskets. Perhaps that is why most casket companies headquartered in the U.S. now have plants outside the U.S.
Distribution – If premium quality is #1, then dependable distribution runs a close second. As more and more funeral homes reduce (or eliminate) caskets from their selection room, the need for reliable casket delivery becomes even more paramount. Funeral homes want a company that will be able to readily deliver a casket, especially when a situation comes up on short notice. Funeral homes also appreciate when they do not have to pay extra to have a casket expedited in the case of an emergency.
Nowadays, more and more independent casket distributors in North America have decided to partner with overseas casket manufacturers to carry and inventory their products. With many independent casket distributors stocking Import caskets, this has greatly increased the footprint and daily coverage area to supply funeral homes Import caskets. The distributor also provides an extra level of quality control since they conduct and inspect every casket they take delivery. Distributors will also check the casket again prior to delivery to the funeral home to ensure funeral home satisfaction.
Fair and Transparent Pricing – In the past, sometimes it took an accountant to figure out the actual price of caskets. With casket companies offering upfront discounts and year-end rebates, determining the true price of caskets was a real chore. Not to mention other items that could be thrown in the mix: marketing allowances, selection room representation, “freebies”, etc. to justify their casket pricing structure. And sometimes to get these discounts, you had to sign a multi-year contract – just like cable TV or wireless phone companies.
Nowadays, some of the larger casket companies are going to a more simplified pricing company – although most independent casket distributors have always preferred a very fair and transparent pricing structure for all their accounts. This ensures a funeral home knows they are getting a distributor’s best price from the beginning without haggling, threatening to leave, or signing a contract.
Insurance – Although rare, there are situations where there is an issue with a casket during the service. Who stands to lose when there is a legal action brought by the family related to the casket? After all, it’s the funeral home from whom the family purchased the casket.
Much like the domestic manufacturers, the major import casket manufacturers have arranged for product liability insurance to protect the company and the funeral home from legal issues with a family. Obviously, for all concerned, the hope is that it is never needed, but certainly, a comfort to know that it’s there.
Wide Product Line – Import manufacturers realize it is important to offer both metal and wood caskets in a broad product line whose designs can easily be substituted for all the popular models that are in the line of most casket manufacturers today.
Given the way casket prices have risen over the years, funeral directors need to be in a position to cost-effectively provide families with a casket that fits the financial situation of a family, and also a casket the family is proud to display their loved one.
Import caskets have also allowed in certain instances an opportunity for a funeral home to offer a suitable casket substitution to a family in cases where a preneed contact has not kept up with the rising prices of funeral service.
Sales Representation – Unfortunately today some funeral directors look to their casket representative as an order taker. A good casket representative, from a manufacturer or a distributor, can be a valuable resource for a funeral home – offering merchandising support and other business advice.
An Understanding of the Funeral Profession – The formula for viewing products as a commodity had worked well for smartphones, microwaves, and TVs manufactured overseas, so why not for caskets? Simply, funeral service is different from the retail marketplace. Most funeral directors had a much different view of pricing caskets and as a result, viewed the casket as something more than merely a commodity.
Over time, a few import manufacturers began to better understand the funeral homes and their pricing structure and as a result, improved care and attention. A handful is giving back by supporting the profession through sponsorships at conventions and donations to organizations in the funeral profession.
Made in America – Some funeral directors love to wave this flag and have every right to do so. “Buy American” has served our country well over the years. But we live in a global marketplace where similar industries such as furniture, textiles and automotive have all transitioned to embrace the cost-saving advantages in global manufacturing.
Interestingly, most domestically-produced caskets source parts like hardware and interiors from overseas in the assembly of their caskets. Conversely, many import casket manufacturers obtain most of the woods for their hardwood caskets from the US and use American paints for their metal caskets.
Regardless, some funeral homes want to be supportive of domestic companies. They still can do this by working with a local casket distributor. Their local distributor employs not only themselves but many other local workers and families.
Recognizable Name – While no casket company – domestic or overseas – can claim they have brand awareness and recognition with the general public, it can be comforting for funeral professionals to deal with a casket company that has some name recognition in the profession. At present, there are but a handful of casket manufacturers that have brand awareness with funeral directors.
To some, it’s a show of confidence when a company chooses to advertise and put their name behind the product. The most recognizable product at a funeral service is the casket. It only stands to reason that companies are proud of the products they manufacture would advertise.
A Final Thought
At the end of the day, selecting the company from whom you want to purchase a casket is a business decision to be made by each funeral home. My intent with this article is merely to bring to light factors that go into this business decision; not to start a debate about domestically-produced v. global-sourced or big v. small. If I caused you to think differently about how you purchase caskets, then I have helped. Thank you. FBA
Scott Weisenbach is the National Sales Director for Sich Casket Company. Sich is the top-selling manufacturer of premium quality wood and metal caskets from China and distributed by a carefully-selected network of independent distributors throughout North America. Information is available by visiting www.sichcasket.com, emailing [email protected] or calling (888) 317-1929.