In most industries, technology and consumer buying trends change over time. The funeral industry is not immune to these changes. Understanding what these trends are and what changes are taking place takes observation, intuition, and diligence. “It seemed like overnight that music sales shifted from compact discs to musical downloads,” says Justin Davis of Starmark. “The growth of cremation, like digital downloads, is a world-wide trend for many reasons written about by many. With well over 1,500,000 bodies cremated in the USA by the end of 2020 (80% being likely direct/immediate cremations), the trending numbers look only likely to continue to increase and funeral homes/funeral directors who do not embrace cremation can expect a continuing erosion of sales opportunities.”

The role of a funeral director has shifted. Not long ago, most funerals were roughly the same, what we would call “traditional” funerals today. “A funeral director must listen to the consumer and adapt their product and service offerings to the values of the family, states Darren Crouch of Passages International. “It is important to move toward the values of the family, rather than trying to make them conform to what you offer. Cremation and green burial provide a wider array of experiences to each family, and the funeral director should look at each of these as an opportunity, not a threat.”

As funeral professionals, your job is to help guide people through some of the hardest times they will experience in their lives. Understanding the consumer buying trends is one way to ensure you provide the best services. Current data shows that Americans are increasingly choosing cremation over burial (according to the NFDA 2020 Consumer Preference Study), it is even more important to get out in front of these changes. “These numbers and statistics can no longer be ignored,” says Darren Crouch.“ For example, if you are not offering products and services to that families that want greener alternatives, you are underserving them and leaving money on the table.

Another way you may be leaving money are the table is the consideration of recycling prosthetic implants and dental scrap. These materials often contain environmentally harmful materials when buried, and there are environmentally conscientious ways available to solve the problem of post-cremation metals as well. “Recycling post-cremation metal is an important but often overlooked part of green burials,” says Melissa Polis of Garfield Refining. “Burying post-cremation metals in cemeteries is outdated and may be detrimental to the environment. Growing green burial rates have increased the importance of partnering with a good metal refiner. A good refiner can help funeral directors efficiently handle increased post-cremation metal volumes by offering storage, automated shipping, and equipment.”

So, what does the future look like?
This is not an easy question to address. Predicting the future in the funeral industry would be an impossible task. But we can rationalize what could be expected. The phrase “It’s not the big that eat the small… but the fast that eat the slow” applies to the cremation and green burial businesses all too well.

Every funeral director has their own perception about the business opportunities the future holds. Some basic things must be done to be in the best position for the changes that will come. “First, build call volume and eliminate overhead faster and more effectively than your competitors,” says Justin Davis. “Cremation families, whether or not there are additional services rendered, in contrast to families seeking traditional burial, do not anticipate the need to purchase a casket. And green burial families, again whether additional services are rendered, are thinking simplicity, low carbon footprint and biodegradability of the container. Funeral directors who want to succeed with cremation and green burial families need to offer alternatives to traditional metal and hardwood caskets. Alternative container sales included with creative services (whether modest or traditional) will make or break the way funeral directors do business moving into 2021 and beyond.”

What do you need to know?
“First and foremost, funeral directors should know the public already wants cremation (and green burials) but may not be informed of their options. We spend every day thinking about funerals, but most of the world does not,” says Darren Crouch. “It’s our job to make sure that our client families are fully educated in the options available to them, because they might be drawn to something they didn’t even know about that leads them to the most meaningful, healing, and memorable ceremony they could have.”

There are some important statistics you should be familiar with. They say knowledge is power. The following statistics were compiled from a recent study and survey.

1. The nationwide cremation rate will likely hit 78% before 2036; an estimated average thirty thousand burial casket sales will be lost EVERY YEAR over the next 16 years. And we can guess that an ever-increasing portion of the remaining burials will be green or at least simplified.

2. With well over 1,500,000 bodies cremated in the USA by the end of 2020 (possibly much higher with COVID-19), and with a growing request for green burials, it is important that funeral directors and their staff be nimble and have an appetite for constantly adapting and improvising service offerings.

3. According to Starmark’s surveys, Green (or “Natural”) Burial is appealing to many cremation families, but survey respondents don’t want to pay much more for Green Burial than simple cremation.

What can you do?
Today, most cremations nationwide are lowest revenue “Direct Cremations” (according to a recent survey that says approximately 80% of North American cremations will fall into this category). “The trend towards Direct Cremation is incredibly strong,” says Justin Davis. “Funeral Directors can double or triple cremation revenue with low cost ID viewings, Private Farewells and other value priced gatherings. High eye appeal, low cost containers used to view bodies (often not embalmed) need to be included in value priced packages.”

So, how to adapt?
The basic interpretation of adaptation is the process of adjusting your normal process and the willingness to change to fit the new environment. “We believe that as funeral directors continue to adapt to changing consumer demands, green burial and personalized final disposition of remains after cremation, will become as mainstream as traditional funerals have been for decades,” says Darren Crouch. “The common options will be burial (traditional or green), and cremation (flame or water), and funeral directors will focus more heavily on what happens after cremation. This is just the beginning, as there will also likely be other innovations that will enter the market, slowly gain acceptance and challenge funeral directors to be more open-minded.”

Expect the unexpected?
COVID-19 has affected seemingly every aspect of our lives. How we attend religious services, how we vacation, how we visit our elderly and infirm family members and friends, and even how we attend funeral services. It has forced everyone to step back and reanalyze their businesses, and funerals are no exception. “COVID-19, although challenging in many ways, has awakened people to the need of wanting and needing to be together, especially to mourn,” says Justin Davis. “Going into 2021 and beyond, new and creative ways to host services will continue to surface. The rise in live streamed and interactive video-based services, outdoor services (with social distancing), drive by funeral services and other creative ways to bring people together will continue to challenge our industry to stretch itself.”

“We’re all currently dealing with the immediate effects, but this is a good time to look internally at how things can be done differently in 2021, and beyond,” says Darren Crouch. “How can our businesses not only withstand this tumultuous time but potentially use this moment, even through uncertainty, to change and emerge stronger? Families may have delayed taking the opportunity to gather and say goodbye, but as the virus comes under control, expect a return to more intimate ceremonies focused on remembering the person. Families will want to get outside after being indoors and restricted for months, so expect an increase in scattering at sea, in the mountains, returning to nature in a green burial or becoming a tree.”

Should we expect unexpected events are the norm? Of course not, but one thing COVID-19 has taught us is that there are events that can seemingly change our lives in the blink of an eye. So, we should always prepare for the unexpected.

What is not unexpected is cremation will continue to grow and your families will continue to turn to you to do what you do best. Do not let them down! FBA

Passages International, Inc. was founded in 1999, when the demand for greener funerals was at its earliest stage. With green funerals now mainstream, Passages is dedicated to providing sustainable choices that allow families to have a unique, meaningful funeral experience. We are a family owned and operated business, and our environmentally friendly products are designed to let families and funeral homes create a funeral that truly honors a loved one, meets their values, and celebrates their life.

With Passages products, families can curate a funeral that truly reflects their loved one.

We partner with funeral homes around the world to help them cater to today’s modern consumer. People today want more efficient cars, less wasteful products, and are green minded in all areas of life. These values do not simply disappear when planning a funeral, and families have become disenchanted with what is traditionally offered by funeral homes. We believe that we can all do better, for those we serve, for ourselves, and for the communities we live in.

We design and produce many of our own products and stand behind our unsurpassed quality and service. We are proud to be approved by Green America as a socially and environmentally responsible business.

Passages has been providing non-traditional options to funeral homes for over 20 years. Passages offers extensive expertise in the areas of green burial and non-traditional burials that ensure their funeral home partners experience success while catering to today’s modern family. Passages goes the extra mile for those funeral directors who are not sure how to get started in green burial and alternative burial options by lending expertise to their partners.

Passages International
(505) 830-2500
[email protected]

Starmark (a division of Vandor Corporation) manufactures cremation products sold directly to Funeral Homes and Crematories nationwide and through a growing network of casket distributors. The leaders at Starmark have deep roots in the casket business.

Starmark® Cremation Products began in 2004 designing and marketing a small line of engineered cremation solutions with mixed success.

Presently, Starmark is the Number One provider of alternative containers in North America for cremation. Starmark is 100% focused on providing sensible solutions to funeral homes for cremation that often contribute to overall revenue increases from direct to full-service cremation.

Starmark’s passion is for researching, developing, and engineering cremation products that contribute to the overall success of the funeral home by ensuring that families are better served with products that fit their unique needs.

The team at Starmark thinks only about cremation and products for the changing industry landscape.

Starmark is 100% focused on providing Sensible Solutions® for cremation that improve funeral home revenue. Starmark is also the nations largest volume supplier of temporary urns and ceremonial rental casket inserts for all brands available to the industry.

Starmark’s goal is customer success – if their customers do not succeed, then they do not succeed. Starmark’s products are designed to be simple, cost effective solutions that offer high eye appeal for Private Farewells and Contemporary Full Services alike.

Starmark Cremation Products
(888) 366-7335
[email protected]

Located in Philadelphia, PA, Garfield Refining is a 128-year-old precious metals refinery that buys gold, palladium, platinum, and silver. We believe that a transparent refining process and honest payouts are fundamental to building loyal relationships with our clients. Most of all, we pride ourselves on our friendly, award-winning customer service, and generations of satisfied customers.

Garfield Refining is a family-owned business that values personal relationships and provides free, onsite consultations to ensure funeral directors achieve an “easy, streamlined solution” for dealing with post-cremation recycling. For directors who have never recycled before, Garfield Refining can often provide free equipment and supplies to get the funeral home started. At Garfield Refining, we are experts are refining precious metals which is the most valuable part of post-cremation metal recycling.

For more than a decade, Garfield Refining has held the position of “Best Dental Refiner in North America”, according to Dental Professionals. Garfield helps funeral homes and crematories recover and recycle gold, silver, platinum, and palladium from post-cremation metals.

Garfield provides funeral directors with an environmentally friendly solution for handling post-cremation materials while generating revenue for facility improvements, equipment purchases or to support charities and non-profit organizations that the funeral home holds dear to their hearts.

Garfield has always been a proudly family-owned American business. Get in touch to discuss how we can help with your refining needs!

Garfield Refining
(800) 523-0968
[email protected]