Caskets in the United States evolved from local furniture craftsman. Now the casket and furniture industries couldn’t be further apart. The furniture industry was decimated by its own cremation moment with the rise of Chinese imports and mass market retailers. The lessons learned from successful boutique furniture retailers can provide insights for the funeral industry and help us better serve our families.

Manufacturing caskets was once the domain of the local furniture maker. Sometime in the mid-19th century the casket industry became mass produced and specialized while most of the furniture industry followed the same path but chose to locate within 100 miles of High Point, North Carolina. My company makes specialty fabric for furniture companies and we have lived through the decimation that destroyed that industry. Analysts thought the shakeout was over by 2010 but it just kept getting worse for traditional retailers. My company grew through this time period because we recognized that the future of selling furniture was in customization and making a connection between the furniture and the family.

It is time to reconnect the DNA of the caskets and specialty furniture. Think about what we are in the funeral industry – we are the most specialized of retailers. We give the client whatever they want. Bring a motorcycle into our showroom, chocolate fountain, no problem. We take care of families and bend over backwards to help them through their celebration of life. But our caskets have not kept pace with furniture. Part of this problem is of course logistics. When you purchase a couch from a retailer these days, you are making a myriad of decisions about fabric, style, stuffing, pillows, etc. Everything is customized from the feet up. But the delivery time in that world is measured in weeks not hours as it is in ours.

We in the funeral industry have a problem that is unique because of time constraints. How do we create a casket and a service that connects to our families and have it ready on an at-need basis? Our industry was once thought of as stabile and now it is anything but. We have to rise up to meet this problem and treat it as an opportunity.

The first lesson learned in the furniture industry is that nobody wants to buy furniture. They want to buy lifestyle. I suspect that people don’t really want to buy caskets, but they want to buy a feeling. They want to know that they made everything right.

The second lesson learned from the furniture industry is that any customization is possible. Everything that is possible today in furniture was impossible in the 1990’s not because of technology but because of attitude. Can we adjust our attitude toward change in the funeral industry and open our minds to simple changes that can help create that “wow” celebration of life?

The third lesson learned from the furniture industry is that if you take care of number #1 and #2, you can charge more for your furniture. When a furniture retailer offers their customer a better lifestyle furniture experience, coupled with customization, margin comes back into the equation. From the year 2000 to 2012 there was a catastrophic race to the bottom with respect to furniture pricing. Couches almost became disposable. It was only when the industry realized that they needed to sell lifestyle and customization that they had a change in profitability.

How far away from our furniture DNA have we evolved? Is it time to reconnect our share DNA? Should we as an industry take the lessons from the furniture industry and consider what we can do to make our caskets and service a better experience? For that matter, don’t forget to personalize the urn as well. Consider the failures of the furniture industry before you drop your prices and sell commodity caskets. Show your families what is possible. Take them through a visualization of what a service can look like.

There are options out there to customize your casket and make it a lifestyle selection as opposed to color, materials and sealability. Remember what matters to you may not matter to your family and what matters to your family may not be obvious to you. Learn the lessons from the furniture industry and let us not let the bankruptcies that plagued the furniture industry cross over into our world. FBA

Karl Weisenbeck is President of Funeral Home Gifts, the premier supplier of heirloom quality woven and printed Tribute Blankets, beautiful custom cap panels, photo urns, and personalization products to funeral homes throughout North America. Funeral Home Gifts is a division of Pure Country Weavers, a boutique textile company. Karl can be reached at 800-233-0439, or email him at [email protected] Visit their website at