Our funeral home firm embarked on building a new physical funeral home with a first ever, for us, crematory included in 2005. It’s hard to believe that we have been headquartered there for 15 years as I remember things such as pointing out what trees we wanted to save on the bare lot. Some of those trees are pretty big now.
We decided to include a crematory simply because of what we had seen happening in our 40,000 population county. Since 1980, when I started, we had seen a cremation rate of virtually zero pop up to 20% with the knowledge that incremental popularity was going to continue. Today, we do about 60% cremation.
Prior to having our own crematory we had a great relationship with an out of town trade crematory. They were fair, competent, willing to work with us on timing, but, simply because they controlled the crematory charges and we had transportation and staffing charges to get the remains to them, we did not have complete control over the charge we would be billing our consumer client families.
A couple of other things we noticed about the cremation business as compared to the funeral business at that time were:
- Our community’s families preferred to have us take care of the cremation of their loved one, however, there was a price point for each family where they would call an out of town low cost direct cremation firm if they thought we were too high. So, we had to have a low enough direct cremation cost to not alienate our consumer families.
- Many times in trying to tell families about the value of visitation, viewing of the deceased, and memorial services, families “felt a sell” when we talked about a funeral first and then cremation as an option. We noticed many times that that discussion took that “trust” that they had in us away from us.
- All of our funeral directors truly believed in the value of viewing and the value of sharing your grief with the community. We also believe it is our job, and we get only one crack at it per family, to make sure families get the best care available for the lowest possible cost.
While we knew that we had to offer a pricing option for a direct cremation with no services (DCNS) to our families who truly wanted that, we also wanted to give families an option to have more than that without requiring them to go to a full price setting. Our solution was to offer an option with a free urn, package pricing, and limited options.
Our price for DCNS was about $1695 and for that price families received our care, our professional services necessary for that care, legal forms completed, a cremation container pre cremation, and the remains returned to them in a cardboard container. To the vast majority of families that chose this option it was all about price and they were more than happy to bring the remains home or scatter them.
Our next option was aimed at families who thought that they wanted DCNS but were really concerned with the scattering of ashes and believed
that permanent memorialization was better, but did not want to go to a full service pricing. They also were receptive when we would tell them that this price included a 2-hour visitation, without the body present but the remains in an urn present, so that friends and families could have a chance for interaction and to pay their respects. And to facilitate this option, we would explain that we would give them an urn that was suitable for a visitation and permanent burial or niche, as compared to the cardboard box provided with DCNS. Our price for this, when you added our $400 visitation charge, was $2095.
Without the offer of a free urn, I’m pretty certain that many families would not have opted for this plan simply because they did not want to display a cardboard box at the visitation and did not want to purchase an urn.
The free urn was similar to what you see in the photo accompanying this story. We offered it in about five colors and, when we could find them at a competitive price, also offered wood urns also. We bought all these urns in quantity at that time for about $50 each which allowed for a $350 additional margin just for having a 2-hour visitation.
The $350 additional margin was only the start though. Most of these families would then choose memorial folders, which were printed in house and a high margin item for us, and often times rent our reception hall for an additional amount. Because they now had an urn that they considered permanent and suitable for burial many chose to hire us for an additional $275 to supervise the burial of the remains at a cemetery. Finally, many cemeteries required urn vaults which gave us an option to realize a margin on that sale also.
At the end of the day we would usually bring in about $1000 or more in extra margin per service for giving away a free urn. Not a bad business deal.
What made it so gratifying is how the client families would thank us. They thought that they wanted a direct cremation with no services. And part of that was we made it so easy for families to have a DCNS by returning their loved one in a cardboard container that many felt was not conducive for visitation and/or burial. And most wouldn’t take the initiative to go buy an urn or check at a cemetery for burial options.
Finally, our funeral directors liked this approach because it allowed them to do what they truly are called for — take care of the needs of the surviving family members. By offering something free there was an incentive for families to take the offer and have a visitation that allowed for, at least in most cases, psychological and physiological needs of bereavement to be met without what seemed like an up sell.
To many of you who do a high percentage of direct cremations with no services, I would say give this method a try. While there are those consumers who want no more than cremation at the lowest price, there are also those out there who are seeking alternative ideas about how to memorialize their loved one in a more complete way. Maybe using something like this method will give them just the opportunities that they are looking for.