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Our Thoughts – The Future of Rural Funeral Homes

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Tom Anderson

Ever wonder what the future of the small-town 30 call firm is. When I started in the funeral business in 1980 in a regional center type of community – 30,000 population – we served an area about 15 miles around us. Outside of that 15 mile radius there were several small communities that each had its own 30 call mortuary.

Think about it, in a small community, with very little cost of doing business, and a low-key life style the funeral director/owner in that community could do very well. In many of those communities the local funeral home consisted of the first floor of the residence where the funeral director and spouse lived. Life was slow-going and just over two calls a month did not cut into the funeral director’s time to also be a part of that community.

As for income, virtually all services were full traditional services with casket and vault sold at retail. In today’s dollars – coupled with the professional services charge – that could equate up to a $7000 margin per case. Thirty cases times a $7000 margin with very little expenses for overhead or advertising provided a great income for the family albeit with very little time off a call schedule.

So, what has happened that mortuary schools, state departments of health and the industry itself is talking about relaxing licensing requirements for funeral homes because of the difficulty of attracting talent (new owners) to rural areas across the country?

First of all, in today’s world, nobody wants the 24/7 schedule – you don’t have to look any farther than family dairy farms disappearing to see that fact. Secondly, with the advent of cremation now reaching 60% or more in many states, the revenue margin is not near as much to give a small-town operator a standard of living of what the 1980 small-town funeral director attained. Finally, it just appears that many of our young people, at least early in their adult life, just prefer to live in more populated areas.

So, I am interested in watching how funeral service deals with this in the future. Will small-towns lose their funeral homes and be serviced by businesses thirty or more miles away? Will educational requirements be relaxed so small-towns have their version of the Funeral Planner. Will home health care agencies or hospices get into the death care business?

Maybe a combination of all those ideas? What I do know is that funeral service has always evolved to serve the consumer public for the past 150 years. It will continue to do so — maybe with ideas that we haven’t even dreamed up yet.

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2 Comments

  1. Funeral Director Daily

    Mr. Mallory– In my opinion, today’s graduates will change funeral service simply because they are not willing to work the 24/7/365 on-call shifts that many in our (you mention that you have 50 years of experience) generation did. What they will change is the size of funeral homes — small funeral homes will disappear — just like one man medical clinics did — and the firms will have minimum staffs of at least 4 licensed people. Lots of conjecture here on my part, but I think you are right in saying funeral homes are not willing to change — however, at some point with the new consumer, they will have to change. Thanks for reading.

  2. there is a disconnect between todays graduates and funeral homes of any size….I hear firms saying “we can’t get people” and I talk to students who can’t even get interviews—in the meantime I with 50 years experience willing to work as 1099 at need basis can’t get anyone to talk to me although slowly but surely I am building a client base ….the point being FH’s are not really ,from what I can tell willing to change from what we did in the 60’s and 70’s. Am I off base?

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