The funeral industry has undergone a shift in recent years that is unlike what many other industries have experienced. Like many industries, business trends can change at the drop of a hat. However, the trend towards cremation is one that has happened gradually over time and is not one that should have caught anyone by surprise. Nonetheless, the trend towards cremation has begun to accelerate in recent years and there is no end in sight.
Many times, it is economic conditions that are the biggest culprits, and the economy is often the catalyst that will not only cause a shift in general consumer demand, but also in the demand for the products and services that an industry offers. But in the funeral industry, both are true.
Over the past 20 years, the United States has experienced extended periods of economic growth. But during that time span, there have also been short periods of economic turmoil, resulting in mild and major recessions. For example, during the economic downturn of 2008 (caused by the housing bubble and subsequent speculative lending practices of both banks and mortgage companies), we saw a noticeable increase in cremation rates. However, it didn’t just start then, the need and desire for cremation services has been on a steady trend upward since 1995.
Current cremation rates are expected to increase from a current rate of approximately 56% and peak at a high of nearly 80% by 2035. So, if the trend will continue upward, what are you doing (or should be doing) now or prepared to do in we continue to see a spike in cremations?
To help answer this question, Funeral Business Advisor magazine recently sat down with 4 prominent vendors and asked them to address this issue and give their guidance and advice on cremation and green burial. We started off by asking these suppliers why they felt it was important for funeral homes to embrace cremation as this trend continues on an upward trajectory.
Barbara Kemmis, Executive Director of CANA (Cremation Association of North America) has her own thoughts on the matter. “Cremation is the new tradition in the United States,“ says Kemmis. “While many families don’t understand all of the options available with cremation, they are choosing it anyway—for a variety of reasons.”
“This means that if you want to best serve your community, it’s time to get proactive,” explains Kemmis. “Examine your product and service offerings and what your team is saying about cremation.”If you don’t think what you see or hear is getting to the core of what you families want, then make changes!”
Are there trends within the trend? “Green burial is an emerging trend, so it is the perfect time to embrace it,” continues Kemmis. “This is an opportunity to establish yourself as the green burial expert in your market. Research where the nearest natural burial or hybrid cemetery might be and add green products to your selection rooms. Scattering tubes, biodegradable urns or even bamboo cremation containers are easy to add and may serve as a visual cue that you provide green options.”
Kemmis concluded by saying, “The other important step is to educate your community on the options available when choosing cremation. Show them that you are the one who can help create a unique and personal experience to honor the life of their loved one. Cremation rates will only continue to rise. If you do not embrace that reality now, you risk becoming irrelevant.”
According to Andrew Clark, Chief Financial Officer of Foundation Partners Group, he looks at the cremation rate and says you should use caution and not forget about such a large portion of the deathcare market. “With the current cremation rate at approximately 56 percent nationwide, not offering cremation services can mean alienating a large portion of the population,” says Clark. “We all entered this profession to serve families and today, with the shifting market dynamics, we are seeing more and more families request cremation services.”
Clark continues, “Recent studies show that cost is not the primary factor in a family’s choice of cremation. Other factors include environmental concerns, shifting cultural traditions, religious faith, etc. I firmly believe that funeral professionals will need to embrace cremation to meet the needs of families today and into the future.”
Mark Brewer, President of Biolife, LLC and creator of The Living Urn® sees the ability to differentiate yourself with unique products as the real opportunity for funeral homes to thrive in the cremation market. “Consumer preference is changing, and most people are now being cremated”, says Brewer. “With this growing demand for cremation, there is a significant opportunity for funeral homes to benefit by offering a variety of unique eco-friendly cremation to help families have more memorable and meaningful memorial experiences.”
Brewer continued, “Many of our funeral home partners will create packages and services using one or more of our experience-oriented urns to differentiate themselves in the market, generate more revenue per cremation, and inspire families to create personal memorials with cremated remains.”
Asking questions and allowing families to disclose their true wishes is critical. Marty Strohofer, Vice-President of Marketing and Product Development for Matthews Aurora had some insight on the subject. “Whether a family chooses traditional burial, cremation, or green burial, it represents the final wishes of their loved one, or the families’ wishes for their loved one’s final goodbye”, says Strohofer. “Traditional burial, cremation, and green burial all represent an opportunity for a family to have a full funeral or memorial service, with the appropriate merchandise selections for final disposition.”
Strohofer went on to say, “Many selections can support either a traditional burial or cremation, so the families’ selection of cremation does not automatically mean that a service is out of the question.”
So, now that we have confirmed that it is important to keep an eye on cremation rates and the trends on a regular basis, what can you do to address these needs? “As with traditional burial, cremation represents an opportunity to serve families during the most difficult time in their lives,” remarks Strohofer. “Certainly, the rapid rise of cremation has caused change in the industry, but final disposition does not change the need that families have to remember and honor their loved ones’ memories.”
Strohofer summarized by stating, “Offering families all options, regardless of final disposition, will help funeral homes continue to be successful even with the continued rise in cremation.”
Others who serve the needs of the cremation market echo this sentiment as well. “Funeral directors have the opportunity to be creative and offer a range of personalized memorial products and services for families who choose cremation,” says Brewer. “Although it requires some adjustment to expand beyond traditional urns, in the long-term it can have important lasting value.”
Brewer continues, “Funeral homes can generate more revenue from cremations and drive more business utilizing a unique offering of products and services for direct marketing and from word-of-mouth from appreciative and satisfied families. Our goal has always been to help funeral directors as much as we can to adapt to and capitalize on the cremation shift.”
It is important to take it one step further by educating families on their options. “As cremation grows in popularity, funeral directors will have to present it as an option to more families and be prepared to explain the pros and cons of cremation versus traditional burial,” Clark explains.
Clark continued, “This means funeral directors will have to be more well-versed in cremation than ever before to best serve their client families. And, as the options associated with cremation continue to increase, the need for funeral directors to stay current will be even greater,”
But does that mean you should automatically assume what your cremation families want? Well, not so fast. “Families who choose cremation or green burial are expressing the values that they live by and wish to display after their deaths”, says Kemmis. “In response, businesses must get creative in what services and products they offer and how they present them. Stop and listen carefully to the family first. Then help them select services and products that meet their needs and wishes instead of trying to fit the family into the ‘box’ or what you expect them to want.”
We concluded our interview by asking what future changes in cremation they feel will impact the funeral industry most.
“I believe that the biggest change will come in the area of memorialization,” says Clark. “I don’t think funeral professionals place enough emphasis on offering permanent memorialization solutions to families who select cremation. By offering more of these options, we can demonstrate to families that the opportunity to honor and permanently memorialize a loved one is equally available and important in cremation as it is in traditional burial.”
Others see the opportunity to create packages for families to combat the rising rate of cremation. “We believe there is a very significant opportunity for funeral homes to create packages for families who choose cremation, “says Brewer. “Funeral homes should look for a partner to provide the necessary products and services.”
What about eco-friendly products that meet the green burial need? “Whether it is planting a tree, scattering cremated remains at a beautiful location using a personalized scattering urn, placing a loved one’s cremated remains in the ocean, or other memorials – it is important to have the right partner that can offer a variety of services,” states Brewer.
The growing demand for green burials should be viewed as a tremendous opportunity. “Direct cremation is often a compromise choice for customers who would prefer green burial,” says Kemmis. “People who express green values in their lives will seek to do so in their deaths, but if they can’t find options that support those values they may have to settle for a different solution. That often means selecting direct cremation with return to the family, even though the family will perform a ceremony on their own later. Wouldn’t you rather have that business than not?”
In summarizing our examination of cremation and green burial in today’s funeral industry, one important take-a-way is look at cremation not as a challenge, but as an opportunity. “Cremation still represents an opportunity to serve families in the same way as traditional burial, says Strohofer. “Families can still have a full funeral, memorial service, or celebration of life.”
“Families can still have a viewing or a small family gathering before the service,” Strohofer emphasized. “There are many merchandise options available to support families choosing cremation including cremation caskets, beautiful and unique urns, and highly personalized memorial jewelry like our popular Personal Expressions line of fingerprint, signature, and photo jewelry.”
Strohofer concluded, “Stationery, portraits, and other gifts can be offered whether a family chooses cremation or burial. There are so many options available to families choosing cremation or green burial today, and it’s important to make them aware of the many choices they have.” FBA
Founded in 1913, the Cremation Association of North America (CANA) is an international 501 (c)(6) trade association of over 3,300 members, composed of funeral homes, cemeteries, crematories, industry suppliers, consultants, and students. CANA members believe that cremation is preparation for memorialization.
We have a long and proven record for tracking and accurately predicting cremation statistics. We were the first to offer crematory operator certification more than forty years ago, and we continue to lead the way in providing progressive education focused on serving families who select cremation.
CANA is the authority on all aspects of cremation. When you register for a CANA certification program, convention, online class or join as a member, you become a participant in a community of cremation experts.
CANA is governed by a volunteer board of directors and led by a professional staff headquartered in Wheeling, IL. Volunteer and staff leaders regularly engage in strategic planning to review and prioritize the member benefits and programs offered.
CANA is best known for crematory operations and research. However, we also offer a wide range of online, on-demand continuing education courses for funeral professionals. These focus on cremation topics to improve your skills when working with cremation families.
There is a continuum of green services that can be offered, so green is more accessible than ever. Supporting cremation or green burial is not an all or nothing proposition. Everyone can find services and products that advance their particular mission and work within their business culture.
CANA offers a wide range of resources to support our funeral home, cemetery and crematory members including a PR Tool Kit, access to a Crematory Management Program, discounts with Regulatory Support Services, access to a Crematory Liability Insurance program, our annual statistics report, affordable education—and so much more!
CANA = All Things Cremation®: Please visit our website or reach out to CANA using the contact information below if you would like to learn more about our association, the benefits of membership, or to become a member.
Matthews Aurora is proud to serve our Funeral Home customers with the highest quality products, outstanding service and innovative marketing and business solutions that help them grow their businesses and help the families they serve move from grieving to remembrance. Matthews Aurora is deeply committed to the funeral industry, and we continue to invest in the industry to help Funeral Homes be successful now and in the future. Last year we introduced our proprietary Compass business analysis tool, which our Funeral Service Consultants use to help Funeral Homes assess their business challenges and find new opportunities for growth. Funeral Homes can contact their Matthews Aurora Funeral Service Consultant for a Compass presentation. We are also always focused on the continuous improvement of our products, service, and solutions we offer to our customers. Last year, Matthews launched Matthews Technology Solutions, a business that offers technology solutions to funeral homes and cemeteries.
Matthews Aurora is committed to serving our Funeral Home customers with the highest quality products, outstanding customer service and innovative marketing and business solutions that help them grow their businesses and help the families they serve move from grieving to remembrance. Matthews Memorialization is the only partner that can provide funeral homes and cemeteries with comprehensive suite of solutions that begin with funeral planning and continue through cemetery interment. We offer caskets, bronze memorials, granite memorials, urns, memorial jewelry, stationery and gifts, technology solutions, merchandising solutions, marketing programs, and more. Beyond products, we are deeply committed to continuing to invest in the future of the funeral and cemetery industries, helping to ensure Funeral Homes and cemeteries are successful now and in the future.
Matthews Aurora is intently focused on helping our Funeral Home customers grow their businesses while they help families move from grieving to remembrance. Our comprehensive suite of products and solutions are designed to help customers meet the needs of families today, and we are developing and introducing solutions that will continue to meet families’ needs in the future as well.
Foundation Partners Group, founded 11 years ago with a commitment to revolutionize the funeral profession, is one of the nation’s most innovative providers of end-of-life experiences and products. The company owns and operates a network of nearly 160 funeral homes, cremation centers and cemeteries across 20 states. We embrace the legacies of our partner firms while leveraging the economies of scale, deep understanding of technology, and our ShareLife® customer experience-centered approach to deliver personalized and compassionate care to the families we serve.
Our local teams are community leaders and true end-of-life partners to the families we serve. We offer families the most compassionate care, delivered using the latest best practices and most advanced technology by professionals who are dedicated to the highest standards of quality service.
We support our funeral home, crematory and cemetery partners with an extensive team of experts in operations, finance, human resources, marketing, legal issues, technology, purchasing and training. Our 86 percent company-wide cremation mix means we are always up-to-date on the latest issues and trends involving cremation. By taking much of the operational weight off the shoulders of our partners, we free them to focus on what’s most important in funeral service – supporting and serving grieving families.
Foundation Partners is driven by our five unique truths that keep us faithful to our principles and committed to our Partners’ traditions and legacies. Our desire to preserve these local legacies, combined with our innovative approach of presenting families with a variety of options in an omni-channel setting, also sets us apart from the competition.
FOUNDATION PARTNERS GROUP
Based in Colorado, The Living Urn® is committed to developing and providing unique cremation urns for families interested in eco-friendly memorial options that can be more meaningful and personal.
Working with soil scientists, arborists, and materials engineers, we developed and patented our first product, The Living Urn®, a novel biodegradable urn and tree planting system designed to grow a memory tree from the special urn holding cremated remains. Today, tens of thousands of Living Urn® tree memorials have been planted worldwide and we continue to receive excellent reviews and testimonials from families each and every day. We currently offer more than 25 beautiful tree and shrub options for every zip code so families are sure to plant trees or plants best suited for their local area. Our premium trees are shipped separately, on demand, from our nursery and are 2 to 4 feet high, depending on the tree type and season, with a nice, strong root system.
Over the past few years, we designed and now produce additional proprietary urns and memorials for scattering and burying our loved one’s ashes in a dignified way – including The Living Urn® Indoors, the Eco Scattering Urn™, the Eco Water Urn™, the Eco Burial Urn™, the Eco Home Urn™, and Flow the Ice Urn, a patented urn made from a block of ice. In addition, we recently launched Rest in Nature® Scattering Services to scatter remains at some of the most beautiful places in the country – we’d love to partner with your funeral home to offer our services!
We also provide our funeral home partners with marketing materials that can be helpful when speaking with families about our products and services – if you would like a Marketing Package, just ask and we will send it out to you right away!
THE LIVING URN®