Traditional burial is NOT dead! While it is true that cremation has been growing in popularity as many families have had to shift their wants and needs for financial and convenience reasons, that doesn’t mean that traditional funeral services have become irrelevant.
“Sometimes the medical event associated with the death of a loved one causes the family to come together quickly, and they want the funeral service tomorrow. That’s a convenience need. The use of clergy, religious dogma, and church may not be their first choice for a celebration. Purchasing a plot, opening and closing a grave, buying a vault, acquiring a marker with inscription and concrete base may be expenses they would not choose. Directors must continually change in order to accommodate the individuality of the families they serve. Directors accept that there is no such thing as a routine service,” explains David Hazelett of Astral Industries, Inc.
With an increase in the demand for cremation, many new products have emerged to fill the ever-changing needs of the consumer. Products such as rental caskets, rental inserts, cremation caskets, green burial caskets, cremation urns, and urn vaults are all examples of products that have recently flooded the market. New companies that did not exist just a few years ago, have successfully brought new and innovative products to the market. If a casket or vault company sees opportunity, and the leadership is flexible as well as creative, successful growth can happen.
However, just because the industry is changing and cremation has become increasingly popular, traditional services are still alive and well. And for many years, the industry has noted that consumers demand more and more personalization options to accompany their casket choices and the time to embrace that is now.
“Traditional services certainly continue to be a big part of the industry, but we also know that many families are interested in non-traditional services, whether they are planning for a loved one’s burial or cremation. Families also want products and services that are truly personalized,” Matthews Aurora Funeral Solutions states.
While personalization is a way to increase value and justify cost, it is also worth noting that price will always be a factor in consumer buying habits. While cremation provides a favorable cost alternative for a family, it is still reasonable to see a higher cost option as a viable opportunity. Cost is impacted by perception. If a family perceives high value, then high cost can be accepted. The key is communication and highlighting the value that you as a funeral home can provide, all the while keeping in mind the cost concern of the consumer.
As Dan Sauder of Sauder Funeral Products states, “Price comparison and transparency are majorly impacting today’s funeral industry. Customers are becoming more and more cost-conscious and they want to do research (often online) before making large purchases. Funeral homes need to become more comfortable sharing straightforward pricing information with consumers.”
This transparency is critical in the way we do business in 2017. Consumers are smarter and more comfortable with doing the research needed to make an informed purchasing decision. Only the consumer truly knows their budget, it is up to the funeral home to identify that budget and provide solutions for all ranges of budgets.
“Families are spending less in both services and also caskets. It is important that funeral directors re-evaluate all their offerings and readjust their GPL/CPL to offer only those products and merchandise that fit the families of their community. Eliminate any value features the family does not see value in, especially if it drives the retail cost point of the funeral up,” notes Danielle Thacker at Thacker Caskets.
David Hazelett relates that families with limited funds commonly say to the director, “What kind of caskets do you have that look good and are inexpensive?” This question immediately puts this family into the low-budget category. And it is your responsibility to provide and meet this need.” David goes on to explain, “Finances cause these families to sacrifice in order to get the looks they desire for the funds available. Therefore, the importance of metal casket gauge may be something they are willing to sacrifice.”
“Selecting a product for this family can be as easy increasing the gauge of the casket you are offering. After all, how much do families really know or understand about the gauge of the casket. “There is a chance they don’t even know what the gauge of their car is. Perhaps the 18 gauge casket could be replaced with a 20 gauge non-gasketed casket with swing bar hardware and a nice-looking interior. You may find that your margin will be the same, but this family can now fit into the budget range they had set for themselves. The highest price does not always mean highest margin, and in many instances it is not what works best for the family,” David continues.
As consumer desires continue to change, that creates huge opportunities for companies who are willing to adapt their products and services to meet customers where they are. Identifying a target audience and making an effort to get to know them will go a long way in ensuring that your products and services resonate with customers.
Technology and online sales is another major shift, and a trend that cannot be ignored. As online retailers identify the market and create a distribution channel to satisfy the consumer needs, you will see online sales begin to increase.
Sirius Chan of Sich Casket explains, “The employment of new technologies within the industry will continue to grow. Not very long from now, ordering a casket from a distributor will be as easy as ordering from Amazon today! With just a few keystrokes, a funeral home can place an order with their distributor and the casket is on its way. The entire pricing structure of caskets will also need to change to allow for greater profitability in the face of declining traditional burials. I think we’ll see more reliance on import caskets, just as long as quality, service and delivery don’t suffer. Also, I envision that more funeral homes will allow families to preview or even pre-select their caskets online from their websites in advance, as long as the pricing is the same as it is for walk-in families.”
The growth of consumer-direct caskets via the web and warehouse retailers, and the vast amount of information available to all consumers through the internet, the game is changing rapidly.
“Funeral homes will need to look at offering more favorable casket pricing both to stay competitive and to re-establish value in traditional funerals. But it’s also up to the funeral home to shift their messaging to the changing audience, to educate them and demonstrate the range of options available, and the emotional downsides of do-it-yourself funerals,” continues Sirius.
Perception of value has forced the funeral profession (all vendors included) to reevaluate the funeral experience. It’s easy to become a creature of habit from one service to the next. However, just as successful retail stores change up new products and merchandise displays, so too must the funeral home be sensitive to the buying habits of their customers.
“Consumers are not afraid to spend as long as there is significant perception of value. When perceived value is low, rest assured revenues will be as well. Casket and vault burial services need to be affordable to funeral consumers. The old model of high mark-up merchandise is not a practice for long term survival,” says Chris Boots of CJ Boots.
Value doesn’t stop with the casket sale. In fact, it probably should start with vaults. Burial Vaults are another area that progressive funeral homes are learning to embrace.
“Outer burial containers (OBCs) are a sizable revenue and profit source, particularly if lined burial vaults are strong in the sales mix. Burial vaults also have the potential to enhance the experience that the family receives,” says Wayne Stellmach of Wilbert Funeral Services, Inc. He goes on to add, “containers (OBCs) are a sizable revenue and profit source, particularly if lined burial vaults are strong in the sales mix. Burial vaults also have the potential to enhance the experience that the family receives.”
Personalization is important with burial vaults as well.
“Burial vaults will continue to become more personalized. Currently vaults are painted to complement the casket. Printed images are also being added to the carapace top. This type of customization will continue to grow, says Kathy Hoalt of Doric Products, Inc. The sentiment is being echoed by others as well. Wayne Stellmach also stated, “We have also seen a significant increase in awareness of what can be done to make the burial vault personal. From the color of the vault to the panorama of the carapace where the sky’s the limit for personalized expression, customization of the burial vault is becoming more popular. I have seen beautiful and touching images displayed on burial vault carapaces at the graveside committal service which add so much to the tribute of a loved one. This, in turn, adds to a positive experience for family and friends – which of course is the goal for the funeral home. However, letting families know what can be done is directly predicated on the way funeral directors offer burial vaults. Families can’t know what they aren’t told.”
According to Mary Ellen Fricke of Trigard, “A personalized vault can make it a memorable and healing experience, one that adds value for any family. We have seen time and time again, how this closure validates the investment of an enhanced vault. This added value can lead to better served families, stronger reputations and new revenue streams for funeral homes. A meaningful graveside service that families will talk about will set a funeral home apart from the competition.”
The end story for our business seems to be education and information. The consumer wants this information, and they prefer to receive it from someone they trust. Trust is a major foundation of our industry and is built when we meet with our families. This is the perfect time to begin the education process.
Families want to be educated. They want to know more about outer burial containers and they want to know about personalization options. According to Wayne Stellmach, “In an independent consumer study conducted by Product Acceptance Research, seventy-eight percent of consumers said that they did not know the difference between a burial vault and a grave box, but after watching a brief educational video only seventeen percent said they would choose a grave box. Sixty-eight percent said they would choose to personalize the burial vault. Education is the key.” FBA
Get industry information and advice from top casket and burial vault companies for 2017 in this featured editorial.
Astral helps funeral directors navigate the needs of the financially challenged families, while increasing earnings for the firm by offering options for caskets that do not have all the “bells and whistles” of the industry, but have attractive looks and lower prices for the family. Specifically, Astral offers great looks in a large color variety of 20 gauge non-gasketed automotive-grade steel caskets with swing bar hardware, fresh crisp interiors, and themed for personalization.
“Our caskets today come from our customers’ perspective. As a result, customer insight has guided us in the design decisions we have made. When you look at the product, you see the competitive advantage. In addition, we balance the scorecard between Price, Quality, and Service,” explains David Hazelett of Astral Industries, Inc.
David stresses the importance of remembering that there is no such thing as a routine service, “It is important to ask the right questions and bring out feelings and thoughts which place the family in control. The beginning of trust starts in this environment. With good questioning and listening skills on the part of the arranger, a picture of what the family needs will begin to form. With the consumer of today, that’s one of the changes they respond to best. Developing the caring skills of human dynamics will move the profession into 2017 and beyond. The arrangement conference has never been more critical.”
The old model of high mark-up merchandise is not a practice for long term survival. At CJ Boots, they are committed to providing much more affordable merchandise through a new lower pricing structure so that funeral directors can pass along the significant savings to their customers.
“Our Craft Caskets™ line is one of the fastest growing group of products we offer. Craft meaning non-traditional traditional caskets. Craft Caskets™ take customization to a whole new level by creating an experience for the family and friends who come to the funeral home. This line brings a much needed paradigm shift to casket merchandise. Craft Caskets™ also offer a funeral home the opportunity to set themselves apart from their competitors by offering merchandise that stirs conversation,” says Chris Boots of CJ Boots.
CJ Boots has aggressively addressed the issue of cremation by offering a wide selection of Ceremonial Rental Caskets through their sister company Starmark Cremation Products. Ceremonial Rental Caskets are available in Cherry, Oak, Poplar, Pine and the new Cadence Round End Metal Caskets. Starmark Cremation Products manufactures cremation products sold directly to Funeral Homes and Crematories nationwide and through a growing network of casket distributors. Starmark is the nation’s highest volume manufacturer of rental casket inserts and the Sure-Lock™ urn is the highest volume urn sold in the USA.
As today’s industry changes and evolves, Thacker has shifted its priority to reasonably priced high eye appeal caskets. Families today place little emphasis on old school quality features such as gauge and round ends. Therefore, Thacker has taken a lot of the steadfast product lines in the industry and made them into 20 gauge versions – ones that a funeral director can sell at a reasonable retail price, but profit equally as well.
Thacker offers a variety of personalization services – these include customized insert panels that can include names and dates of a loved one. In addition, Thacker offers caskets such as the Hartley and the Olympic that featured Customized Tribute Packages – a kit of a panel and matching decals. These caskets are traditionally offered in 5 colors and also have a choice of 5 different package options – thus creating over 25 different options per casket model. This “pick your color, pick your theme” customized tribute allows families the choices and customization they desire.
“A prospective funeral home or crematory needs to know that Thacker thinks outside the box with regards to our burial products. We don’t necessarily follow industry norms. For example, our Ascent product line is one that features a paint finish with double metallic flake, in the most popular car colors in the automotive market, attractive hardware, but with a cost at less than $900. We focus on giving a family superior eye appeal, at a price that a funeral director can keep reasonable to the family yet still make an above average margin,” explains Danielle Thacker of Thacker Caskets.
Traditional services certainly continue to be a big part of the industry, but Matthews Aurora Funeral Solutions knows that many families are interested in non-traditional services, whether they are planning for a loved one’s burial or cremation. Families also want products and services that are truly personalized. Personalization opportunities play a major role in the industry right now, and Matthews Aurora is focused on personalization across their products and services, from burial caskets to cremation products, to turnkey marketing solutions like their I’ll Remember You® cremation program, Matthews Aurora has a lot to offer the industry.
“Matthews Aurora offers one of the industry’s widest selection of metal, wood, and cremation caskets, including hardwood and all-wood-construction caskets that are second-to-none. We also offer a broad array of cremation caskets and other cremation products including urns and memorial jewelry. We offer comprehensive marketing, technology and training solutions designed to help our customers grow their businesses and help families move from grieving to remembrance, including P3 Price Protection Plan® (casket price protection) in partnership with Homesteaders, our I’ll Remember You® cremation program, BeRemembered.com®, Matthews Children’s Foundation™, our Catalog App, and our Advisor suite of technology products. Matthews Aurora acts as a partner to our customers, offering not only products, but complete turnkey solutions via our experienced, consultative sales force, that help funeral homes serve their families whether they choose burial or cremation,” – Matthews Aurora Funeral Solutions.
At Sauder Funeral Products, they know that price comparison and transparency are majorly impacting today’s funeral industry. As customers become more and more cost-conscious, they want to do research (often online) before making large purchases. Therefore, in today’s industry, funeral homes need to become more comfortable sharing straightforward pricing information with consumers.
“The growing preference for online shopping is also complicating the traditional funeral home business model. Low-cost suppliers like Costco and Wal-Mart make it possible for consumers to purchase funeral products from the comfort of their couch, oftentimes for far less than at their local funeral home. We aim to help funeral directors address this challenge by providing wood caskets that are comparable in price to online offerings,” explains Dan Sauder of Sauder Funeral Products.
As cremation rates continue to rise and customers opt for lower-cost funeral solutions, Sauder caskets are moving from a niche offering to a mainstream staple. Sauder Funeral Products are perfect for the growing number of Americans choosing cremation: a beautiful, combustible casket that costs half as much as solid wood. But Sauder caskets also appeal to people who want to be buried. This is a major advantage for funeral directors with a population that is split between cremation and burial. Sauder Funeral Products crossover into both categories, which means that funeral directors can serve twice as many people with the same casket.
“With the decline of traditional burial, the growth of consumer-direct caskets via the web and warehouse retailers, and the vast amount of information available to all consumers through the internet, the game is changing rapidly. Funeral homes will need to look at offering more favorable casket pricing both to stay competitive and to re-establish value in traditional funerals. But it’s also up to the funeral home to shift their messaging to the changing audience, to educate them and demonstrate the range of options available, and the emotional downsides of do-it-yourself funerals,” explains Sirius Chan of Sich Caskets.
Sich Caskets manufactures over 200 models of caskets for cremation and burial, including stainless steel, precious metals, and many varieties of beautiful hardwoods. Their range includes Orthodox Jewish caskets and others with specialized themes such as hunter’s camouflage along with various religious motifs. When it comes to service, Sich Caskets maintains a network of excellent distributors so that personal support and speed of delivery are up to the standards competitive and busy funeral homes demand.
“We’re not at all what people expect from a Chinese casket company which is why they love dealing with us. Even though our headquarters is in Ningbo, China, all our caskets are designed and manufactured exclusively for the North American market, built to meet or exceed U.S. standards in design, features and quality. It’s only our pricing that’s quite different, which is why we always say, ‘Only Your Accountant Can Tell the Difference’,” explains Sirius.
Burial vaults improve the services offered to families by providing peace of mind that the deceased is protected to the fullest extent. Choosing a burial vault over a graveliner provides the family with the comfort of knowing that water should not be a factor in the eternal protection of their loved one. Burial vaults also offer the opportunity to offer personalization options to honor the deceased.
Doric offers many useful products for funeral directors as well as families. The DoricLink® app is an extremely useful tool for funeral directors. It is an app that works both on an Apple iPad® and an Android® tablet. DoricLink® can be customized to show the products chosen by you and includes Doric’s Why You Need A Burial Vault video. Once DoricLink® has been installed, you only need an internet connection for occasional updates. This feature also makes it great for preneed situations.
“We have been in the business since 1955. We use quality materials at our manufacturing facilities and we have a nationwide network of vault dealers to assist with service transfers. Doric offers concrete top-seal burial vaults as well as air-seal metal vaults. On the cremation side, the same is true for our urn vaults. Doric can truly handle all your burial needs,” explains Kathy Hoalt of Doric Products Inc.
Doric is the only company that offers a thermoformed liner with strengthening ribs, which increases the strength of the liner over standard thermoforming.
“Burial vaults and urn vaults are a secret tool that progressive funeral homes have embraced. Graveside is the last place that families will say goodbye. A personalized vault can make it a memorable and healing experience, one that adds value for any family. We have seen time and time again, how this closure validates the investment of an enhanced vault. This added value can lead to better served families, stronger reputations and new revenue streams for funeral homes. A meaningful graveside service that families will talk about will set a funeral home apart from the competition,” says Mary Ellen Fricke of Trigard.
Trigard burial vaults are handmade in the U.S.A. by local men and women who care deeply for the families and communities they serve. The vaults are about two things: protection and personalization. At Trigard, they know that when a family invests time and money in choosing a casket or urn, that investment should be protected. Trigard’s lined vaults are designed to safeguard the contents. It is an easy way to give families peace of mind. In addition, Trigard knows that personalization is what captivates high-value customers. Families can choose a vault that not only protects their casket, but also celebrates a life through photos, military emblems or words of endearment. Trigard offers an educational program called Trigard University in Danville, IL as well. Funeral directors can see firsthand how vaults are made, how they benefit families, and how they can become a positive revenue source.
In addition to the actual products – burial vaults, urn vaults, mementos, memorialization jewelry – the extensive Wilbert network of local providers help setup services at the cemetery for committal services.
“Serving families also means educating and guiding families and Wilbert has numerous tools to help funeral homes do that. We have educational videos on outer burial containers and burial vaults as well as on cremation service options and final placement choices. These videos are available on www.wilbert.com for funeral homes to download, link to, or embed on their own websites,” says Wayne Stellmach of Wilbert Funeral Services, Inc.
In today’s industry, families want to be educated. They want to know more about outer burial containers and they want to know about personalization options.
“In an independent consumer study conducted by Product Acceptance Research, seventy-eight percent of consumers said that they did not know the difference between a burial vault and a grave box, but after watching a brief educational video only seventeen percent said they would choose a grave box. Sixty-eight percent said they would choose to personalize the burial vault. Education is the key. It’s not fair to make a blanket statement, but I think some funeral directors are surprised at how much the burial vault can mean to families, especially vaults with personal carapaces that become an integral part of the committal service,” he continues.