The Cremation Association of North America just wrapped up its weeklong gathering of cremation professionals at CANA2018. While I did not attend, I have kept up with some of the issues that were discussed and saw a quote come out of the convention that I wanted to discuss further.
The quote I am referring to was attributed to Jason Engler, CANA Historian, and is the following, “The selling point of cremation has evolved over 100 years from sanitation to aesthetics to affordability, and now, to personalization.” Wow!! That is a pretty simple quote, but I think it has tremendous wisdom behind it when you think of how the consumer has behaved with his choices.
I became a funeral director in 1980 and would guess that is about, when in large cities across America, the affordability consumer preference came into play. It was after Jessica Mitford’s book, The American Way of Death, rebuking traditional funeral practices and prices. Memorial societies and low-cost cremation providers popped up as competitors to the traditional funeral home in every large American city even though the cremation rate, by some sources, was less than 10% in the country.
It is my opinion that the affordability led a slow, steady march by consumers – who many times were wary in choosing cremation for that first family member that did not choose the “casketed” way – for the next 30 years with the national average then exceeding 40%. Following that period the last 7-8 years has lead a tsunami of cremation across the entire country – even into areas where the percentage was historically pretty low – until now where cremation outnumbers earth burial and some statistics indicate it may rise as high as 79% by 2035.
Again, it is my opinion, that that last 7-8 year rampant increase has been caused by the knowledge and availability of personalized services. Knowledge is the key in that almost all consumers, with the tap of a couple of buttons on their smart phones, can see what is available to them in this approaching time of need (death). Yet, even with knowing what can be done, some sources cite about 32% of cremation deaths are handled in what we would call “a direct way” with no services.
So, from my point of view we have moved into this life-cycle of accepted cremation in our country through affordability and personalization. Those firms that saw this coming such as memorial societies and low-cost providers have prospered. The way for your death care business to prosper going forward is to figure out what the consumer wants next in the market.
I think that low prices and personalization are here to stay. My guess is that the next market mover in this area will be “Convenience.” Watch people 35 and younger – they do everything on their phones. Over the course of my generation we have moved America from a “high-touch” to a “high-tech” business society. No longer do we make a shopping list – we just notify Alexa and have it delivered. Running shoes get a hole in them. . . just look on-line and have a new paired delivered the next day. Visit our bank to make a deposit. . .never anymore. . just photo my check and message it to the bank. . done!!
My bet is that cremation is now the accepted way of memorialization and our client families will be looking for convenience. How we give that to them may very well be what drives our business success up or down. Just my opinion, but I think that success in the coming cremation market will be about affordability, personalization, .. . . . and convenience.