As the world around us continues to evolve, embracing all the change can be overwhelming at times. Although we want to believe that the funeral industry is immune to many outside market forces, it most definitely is not.
“Shorter one day visitations and funeral services, an increase in graveside services, the explosion of cremation, and families seeking lower casket and overall funeral costs combined with the handheld availability of electronic information has catapulted the somewhat cloistered funeral industry into a modern market arena. We are quickly moving from an industry highly focused on a casket to one that must be highly focused on creating new experiences that better engage families’ participation,” explains Arie Elder, Business Development Manager with One Source Prime.
The continued rise in cremation along with other widespread consumer trends like increased social media use certainly affects the way funeral homes do business today. Also, new consumer trends will continue to affect how they will do business in the future. However, what has not changed is the desire to honor and remember the lives of loved ones with meaningful services and tributes.
According to Matthews Aurora Leadership, “the biggest shift we are seeing is increased desire for digital merchandising solutions. Our funeral home customers want to ensure they are meeting the needs of all families, whether they choose burial or cremation, and digital merchandising solutions allow them to provide families more choices without adding to their inventory or occupying more space in their funeral homes.
The traditional market is no longer so traditional as we’ve seen a huge shift to cremation, or direct cremation with no formal services. Families are finding new and unique ways to say their final goodbyes. 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.
“There is also a greater demand for more environmentally friendly options, without the green surcharge we saw in the past. There are a lot of innovations in designs and styles and customization happening in today’s market. With L and G Funeral Supplies, environmentally friendly options are not more expensive than traditional options. We are making a conscious effort to reduce our impact on the environment by examining everything in our manufacturing, from our packaging inwards, because every bit helps,” states Sandy Faddoul, Vice President of Sales with L and G Funeral Supplies.
The rise of cremation has been a big change for the funeral profession. It’s not heading the other way anytime soon. So, casket manufacturers need to look at their complete product offering and reevaluate the depth and breadth of their line to make sure it is in keeping with what consumers and funeral homes want, while adapting to the future.
“Manufacturers need to be nimble in their thinking today, continue to measure the changing attitudes of consumers and do the best they can to stay a step ahead. In that regard we’ve intensified our own R&D efforts and are looking at new branches of business that will benefit the changing needs of our customers,” expounds Sirius Chan, Owner of Sich Caskets. “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 who provide high quality products, service and delivery. Also, I envision that more funeral homes will allow families to preview or even pre-select their caskets online from their websites in advance, assuming the pricing is the same as it is for walk-in families,” adds Sirius.
Traditional burial services are decreasing year after year and for most funeral homes, this has translated to both decreased revenue and profit on the service side of things. Now more than ever, it is very important to become very cost conscious, seeking a casket that provides a high visual value and can maintain (or even boost) the funeral home’s profit levels. This needs to happen along with the casket being sold at a reasonable retail price to families. Funeral homes are increasingly ditching the high-priced brands and the old loyalties in favor of their own bottom line and keeping their boat afloat.
“The main challenge for casket distribution and manufacturing companies is managing its overhead per casket in a time when less and less caskets are being sold. Casket distributors and manufacturers who do not manage their overhead will have to increase prices significantly to overcome the decline in volume, and that itself will erode the company’s business over time,” explains Danielle Thacker, VP Sales & Marketing for Thacker Caskets. “Casket companies can work to counteract this however in a couple different ways. One way is to minimally maintain your unit volume (which really means growing market share in a shrinking market). The other way is to diversify your product and service offerings. Companies who do this will have no problem surviving and some will even thrive with this method,” Danielle adds.
Like caskets, burial vaults are also a vital component of the overall revenue stream of every funeral home. In terms of revenue contribution, burial vaults fall in just behind the service charge and casket sale. With the increase in cremation, vault sales are critically important to every funeral home’s overall success.
“We have already seen a slight shift in the way our products are presented to consumers. Funeral Directors are beginning to move away from miniature vault samples in their showrooms. Wall graphics and digital images are slowly taking over. People are used to seeing images of products on a screen or graphic, and then making decisions based on those images. The way funeral directors choose burial vault suppliers is also changing. Funeral service practitioners are choosing their supply partners based not only on the products that they sell or distribute. Suppliers should be considered partners to their client’s business with a deep knowledge of the profession,” opines Ethan Darby, Marketing Director of Trigard.
Burial vaults are also one of the greatest opportunities for the funeral professional to explain an often-misunderstood product to the family. By explaining the differences between outer burial containers and burial vaults, the funeral professional can share their expertise and at the same time build trust and confidence with the family.
“When the funeral professional spends the extra time to help a family thoroughly understand outer burial containers and the options available, the family gets exactly what they want, which regularly includes the addition of personalization. Added personalization translates to a unique family experience at the graveside that often becomes a lasting memory for the family and the funeral professional. It’s one of the most talked-about experiences for those in attendance, likely because it’s their last memorable (and joyful) image as they leave the graveside service,” explains Wayne Stellmach, Director of Marketing at The Wilbert Group. FBA
Learn more about the importance of caskets and burial vaults and how they are still very relevant in this rapidly changing market in this feature editorial.
“The Traditional market is no longer so traditional as we’ve seen a huge shift to cremation, or direct to cremation with no formal services,” begins Sandy Faddoul, Vice President of Sales with L and G Funeral Supplies. “Families are finding new and unique ways to say their final goodbyes. Manufacturers however are still offering the same old options to funeral homes; when funeral homes are on the front lines of the not-so-traditional funeral market; they must adapt and lower their prices to stay competitive in the marketplace or they lose market-share. This is why at L and G Funeral Supplies, we understand the trends and offer funeral homes new and fresh ideas like our solid wood casket, the Naturelle, styled to look like a traditional casket, but has no chemicals in the staining process and priced competitively to allow for families who thought they could not afford a full-service funeral to reconsider,” Sandy continues.
Like every industry, technology will help those who embrace it and use it to their advantage. It allows customers and suppliers to interact in much easier, faster, cheaper ways than before.
“Customers are more informed and demand more, and so the suppliers must stay ahead of the curve to make sure we stay relevant. Whether by offering online ordering tools for your customers; online billing and bill payment options; as well as design tools so they are using your products for their online stores also,” adds Sandy.
L and G Funeral Supplies offers a large selection of wood and metal caskets as well as traditional and environmentally friendly options.
“We’re not aiming to be like every other manufacturer; we want to be better. We want our clients to know it’s our job to make their job easier. It’s our job to understand their business and to offer solutions that will make them more competitive by having a better selection, and better prices, and for that, you need a trusted partner and that is what L and G Funeral Supplies strives to be. We don’t do gimmicks; our price is our best price. There is no special binder with volume prices; we want every customer to know they matter to us and we want each and every one to succeed because when they succeed, we succeed. All our products come with 100% risk free guarantee. If our prices don’t wow you, our service surely will,” Sandy states proudly.
Matthews Aurora Funeral Solutions is a leading provider of strategic, growth-oriented solutions and high-quality products to funeral homes, including metal, wood and cremation caskets, urns, memorial jewelry, stationery products, and marketing, technology and professional development programs.
“We have the largest distribution network in the funeral industry, and are proud of our expert, deeply dedicated sales and service teams who serve our funeral home customers every day. Matthews Aurora is committed to helping our customers grow their businesses and to helping the families they serve move from grieving to remembrance,” explains Matthews Aurora.
Matthews Aurora is committed to the funeral industry and to ensuring their customers’ success.
“We have recently made significant investments in improving our product quality to ensure we are providing the highest quality wood and metal caskets to our funeral home customers. Matthews Aurora has also invested in professional development to help our customers offer their staffs the very best in training and education. Finally, we believe we have the industry’s best team, from dedicated customer service support to an expert sales team who help our customers achieve their business goals,” they add.
When asked about technology solutions, Matthews Aurora can provide a demonstration of their new Solution Center, which includes the Catalog App, a leading digital merchandising solution that allows funeral homes to offer families more selection without increasing inventory or using more floor space in their funeral homes.
Families are changing the way they choose to celebrate the life of their loved ones and customers are likely experiencing a change in their businesses as a result. Based on proprietary consumer research, Matthews Aurora Funeral Solutions knows that families wish to preserve and tell their loved ones’ stories whether they choose burial or cremation. With their industry-leading programs, products and services, combined with their experienced, consultative sales force, Matthews Aurora can help funeral homes retain and grow market share in this changing landscape and competitive environment.
“Matthews Aurora is committed to and has invested in the funeral industry. We have recently made multi-million-dollar investments in our manufacturing facilities to improve our product quality. We also have the industry’s largest distribution network and are investing in ensuring we provide the best customer service in the industry,” concludes the company.
“At One Source Prime we believe that funeral homes will transition to a business model similar with the appliance industry. The local independent appliance store purchases standard inventory in volume, warehouses the products, and serves its customers. For some families, premium brands are important, and those appliances are then ordered and shipped one at a time directly to the appliance store and delivered to customers at higher than standard profit margins. To dramatically reduce delivered casket costs, a similar model will replace the high cost of the current at-need casket delivery model. Ironically, this is similar with the practices of funeral homes three or more generations ago: buy low and sell high. We believe that funeral homes can buy at the lowest prices through One Source Prime,” explains Arie Elder, Business Development Manager with One Source Prime.
Moving forward Arie sees survival of only a few.
“The traditional manufacturing/distribution model will need to change. One Source Prime offices are located at a building that ten years ago was the highest volume manufacturer of compact discs in North America. In a few short years, down-loading of music literally sent that company into bankruptcy. In the end it may not be about lowering the cost of casket assembly or even about changes in at-need casket distribution, but rather about how to market new ways of disposal such as natural burial, while possibly slowing the growth of cremation (more specifically direct cremation),” Arie adds.
One Source Prime sells and delivers caskets in bulk at incredible savings to funeral homes. It offers dramatic cost reductions on a broad selection of products from metals, woods and cremation products that are all made in the USA. One Source Prime makes you, the funeral home, your own distributor.
“Funeral product suppliers and funeral homes have generally embraced the most expensive and convenient traditional methods of receiving products. This means manufacturers and distributors are all competing for a diminishing market share but still raising prices every year as their operational costs inevitably increase. One Source Prime passes the savings on to bulk funeral home purchasers,” explains Arie.
“Because of the wider range of consumer choices, from direct cremation to highly personalized funerals with burial, we knew we had to offer the widest possible selection of caskets,” explains Sirius Chan, Owner of Sich Caskets. “Currently, we manufacture over 200 models of caskets for cremation and burial, including stainless steel, precious metals, and many varieties of beautiful hardwoods. Our range includes Orthodox Jewish caskets and others with specialized themes such as hunter’s camouflage along with various religious motifs. As for service, that’s why we maintain a network of excellent distributors so that personal support and speed of delivery are up to the standards competitive and busy funeral homes demand,” he continues.
Sich Casket provides extremely high quality and extremely high value at every price point.
“We source our materials globally to obtain the finest quality and value and employ skilled craftsmen to produce and finish each casket to exceptional standards. Sich caskets are proudly sold through a network of carefully selected distributors located throughout North America. Working through our distributors, funeral homes can select the Sich casket models that best fit their needs and order as many or as few products as required. Also, people love to find out about our state-of-the-art robotic warehousing system. This set a new world-wide standard for casket production, inventory management and shipping. The less human handling at this stage means lower risk of damage, while being able to quickly access any casket model in our inventory on-demand,” Sirius adds
Sich Caskets make it their mission to help distributors and funeral home customers become more profitable in the current market environment by providing them with top-tier quality caskets at pricing that allows for higher margins while offering the families lower prices.
“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 say, “Only Your Accountant Can Tell the Difference. We don’t believe funeral homes should have to wait and wait till year end for a check as a means of saying ‘thanks for your business.’ We say ‘thanks’ with each casket we sell by having the right price to begin with. It provides savings that the funeral home can use now; it provides for better cash flow for the funeral home; it says we want you to be successful right now,” explains Sirius.
“Traditional burial services are decreasing year after year and for most funeral homes, this has translated to both decreased revenues and profits on the service side of things. Funeral directors have become very cost conscious, seeking a casket that provides a high visual value and can maintain (or even boost) the funeral home’s profit levels. This needs to happen along with the casket being sold at a reasonable retail price to families.,” explains Danielle Thacker, VP Sales & Marketing for Thacker Caskets.
Personalization in the funeral industry is a topic that keeps on getting more and more attention. Thacker has continued to offer more and more options in terms of personalization. Last year, Thacker introduced Tailored Designs™, a program that offers interchangeable interiors on caskets for next day delivery.
“This monumental program by Thacker gave funeral directors the answer to their number one request by families and certainly changed both our product and service offering,” Danielle adds.
Technology has played a tremendous role for Thacker. From manufacturing, distribution and promoting their products, technology has been embraced every step of the way. In 2013, Thacker launched iArrange™ digital presentation display for funeral homes to be able to show and display caskets and other merchandise to families. Since 2013, Thacker has had several version updates to include displaying urn and cremation jewelry merchandise, automatic markup calculators, online ordering, displaying of Tailored Designs™ interchangeable interior program and more.
“As far as our manufacturing and operations side, technology has completely streamlined our business. Our caskets have a serialized barcode system where we can determine when any casket was produced and those specific people who worked on the casket. Another example is that all our trucks have a GPS tracking system where we can tell where they are at any given time. Technology has truly made Thacker a stronger company,” she continues.
“We would love for all our funeral homes to know everything about our products and services, however our philosophy boils down to this: as a family owned and operated company, our success hinges on the success of our customers. At Thacker, we only have the funeral side of our company as we are not diversified like many of the big companies, therefore we have a vested interest in our funeral homes and their success. Every product or service that we bring to the table is aimed at making the funeral director more successfull,” Danielle expounds.
“We have already seen a slight shift in the way our products are presented to consumers. Funeral Directors are beginning to move away from miniature vault samples in their showrooms. Wall graphics and digital images are slowly taking over. People are used to seeing images of products on a screen or graphic, and then making decisions based on those images,” explains Ethan Darby, Marketing Director of Trigard.
The way funeral directors choose burial vault suppliers is changing as well.
“Funeral service practitioners are choosing their supply partners based not only on the products that they sell or distribute. Suppliers should be considered partners to their client’s business with a deep knowledge of the profession. Of course, we offer the full range of products, however our knowledge of the funeral and cemetery profession are clearly our strength,” Ethan adds.
Today, burial vaults and urn vaults offer tons of personalization options in which funeral directors may not be aware.
“We offer a product that is unique to the industry: a light-weight high-strength urn vault. We also offer several options for personalization with full size burial vaults and urn vaults. Personalization adds value to the product, and the consumer feels better about the purchase they have made. We believe, regardless of the method of final disposition, each family should be presented with options to always include a final and permanent resting place,” Ethan elaborates.
Trigard offers many tools when it comes to serving families:
• Free Marketing materials
including wall graphics, custom literature, digital images, many others.
• Trigard University
a free program they offer where funeral professionals can come and get continuing education hours while learning about the industry.
• Educational Posters
they offer posters and graphics that help educate families on the importance of burial vaults, removing the burden from funeral directors.
Burial vaults and the accompanying services are still an excellent source of revenue for funeral homes in today’s industry.
“Offering highly personalized services, inclusive of a personalized vault, is growing in popularity and becoming more the norm in funeral homes serving families. This also helps to keep a funeral director and funeral home relevant in the minds of families. A personalized vault greatly enhances the service and even has been described by families and funeral directors as the highlight of the service. It transforms the vault from a purely functional item into a touching expression of who that person was and how much she or he impacted those who are gathered. It is not uncommon to see cell phones taken out to snap photos of the carapace as a memory of their loved one. Some funeral directors even provide the family with a framed photo of the carapace image because it can so completely reflect a person’s legacy. The more a funeral director can truly direct a family towards meaningful versus routine funeral services, the better for all,” opines Wayne Stellmach, Director of Marketing at The Wilbert Group.
Both burial and urn vaults can and should be used as a means of emotional expression that adds to the living memories long after the funeral service is over.
“Naturally, the decreasing burial rate will affect the burial vault business. That is why it is vital that funeral home management emphasizes to their staff the importance of articulating to families all the options that are available to them. Families cannot choose what they are not aware of and funeral directors who do not explain the difference between a burial vault and an outer burial container are doing a disservice to those families. The interesting thing is that what is good for the families is also good for the funeral home and to a larger extent the funeral profession,” urges Wayne.
Wilbert has a wide range of products, many of them unique only to Wilbert, which only a discussion with their local Wilbert provider will fully demonstrate. Many of the Wilbert representatives are themselves funeral professionals who understand funeral service and the challenges that a funeral home faces day in and day out, so they can be a tremendous source for practical and applicable ideas. Funeral homes should speak with their local Wilbert provider and be aware of the range of services they can offer them, from graveside setup and burial to personalized printing of burial and urn vault carapaces.