Keeping your funeral home from “Secular Decline”

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As we move into the Fall season in Minnesota the weather turns a little cooler and I’m forced to do my daily running and exercise routine inside on the treadmill instead of outside on the streets.  One of the advantages of this, however, is that I can tune in the television and learn something while I am running.

The other morning I was forced inside and flipped on CNBC to learn of what was happening in the business world that day.  During my run there was a conversation going on of something that I really had never thought of. . . .but does happen in the course of a business’ history.  The topic was that of “Long-range Secular Decline” of a business.

The commentators talked of the long-range secular decline of some iconic American businesses that just did not see the future in the proper way for long-term survival of their products and have now went into obscurity or simply out of business.  They talked about how we take pictures with our phones now and have them instantly available and stored for future reference or printing.  In that discussion they talked about the decline of Eastman Kodak and their cameras and film developing services.  They also talked about Polaroid — for the same reasons.  The idea being that the “secular” choice of photo taking is now with our phones and that those aforementioned companies have virtually disappeared because the use of their products by the American consumer has vanished.

The commentators also commented on iconic brands such as Coca-Cola and Kraft and mentioned that over the next 30 years they are at risk of becoming “Secularly Obsolete” because of the new generations lack of fondness for cola beverages – putting Coca-Cola at risk – and the fact that so many meals are either eaten or ordered outside of the house – putting Kraft at risk.

So, I wondered what “secular” choices by consumers will put funeral homes in “decline” and if I still owned a funeral home what would I do about that situation.  So many funeral directors and owners are busy handling the day-to-day operations of their businesses that they just don’t take the time to do these long range planning scenarios.

However, if you owned a funeral home that did over 150 calls and were in a competitive market, you would have seen a secular decline in business if you did not add Pre-Need in the 1980’s, Aftercare in the 1990’s, and a web-site right after the turn of the century.  The key now is to try to figure out over time, and before you are left out by a lack of secular choices, what type of services should be added to your firm’s stable of services.

Yesterday, we wrote about tattoo removal and preservation.  . should that be added?  Will a large percentage of consumers be looking for that service?  What about an in-house crematory?  Will having that service be done in house not only save money but be something the consumer looks for in a full-service funeral/cremation establishment?

I don’t have the answers for what will help your firm avoid “secular decline” — that decline where you do not have the services that the average or majority of consumers are looking for.  However, you really need to keep your eyes open for trends in the death care realm that you don’t want to miss.

So, if I was running a funeral home what services might I keep my eye on?  I’m of the opinion that when it comes to death care and memorialization we are on a long-term trend favoring the environment.  I think the trends are against casketed and vault burials and will continue to move toward the breakdown of the human body into a small movable unit such as cremation provides for.  I would also suggest that families will opt to have this breakdown in an environmentally friendly way and also move to permanently memorialize their loved one in an environmentally friendly way.

My long term ideas would be to move into alkaline hydrolysis and market it as “water cremation” or “green cremation”.  I might also move to partner with cemeteries for ways to provide my families scattering areas with some type of recognition of who is scattered in the area.  Other ideas might be to partner with places such as Better Place Forests for environmentally friendly disposition of client’s remains.  I’m not so sold on recomposition – human composting that just was legalized in the State of Washington – but that might be another area to keep  a watch on.

The thought process is endless as you move forward.  The goal in this exercise is to eventually get to the products necessary to serve families in your area before your competitors have got to those points or products.  The end result is to ward off a “secular decline” in business that happened to Kodak and Polaroid and bring on a “secular advance” in client services.









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One Comment

  1. As I was taught on the first day of mortuary school “The only permanent thing is change.” This is a lesson that funeral service can take from your example of Coca Cola and Kraft Foods as they are not the same companies as they were thirty or forty years ago. Both companies have come up with new products, merged with other companies and are equipped to handle the changing market trends and consumers.

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