Selling Death Care in a “Limitless” world



Last week I spoke in front of a small audience of funeral directors and commented on what I see happening in the Death Care world.  One of the things that I have noticed that is very similar to the funeral home world that I worked in is that death care clientele have three selections to make —


  1. Disposition method
  2. Celebration or Service method
  3. Memorialization or Remembrance method


Those decisions or choices have not, in my opinion, changed for the last 100 years.  What has changed, however, is that while a Disposition method is required for a deceased human body, the Celebration and Memorialization methods have become very optional where at one time in the past they were societal norms or expectations for the community.


I told the audience, not so many years ago these three choices were very homogenized and services and memorialization were most often an almost universally included addition to any disposition method carried out by the family funeral home.


For instance, casketed disposition almost always included a service and an interment where Memorialization was a monument.  The same for cremation. . .there generally was a service and then some type of niche or earth burial of the ashes with some type of permanent memorialization.


Today the thru-put of Death Care is no longer homogenized, but very segmented.  Disposition of the body is still required, but a Celebration and/or Memorialization is very much an option.  And, the options might be quite different than a church service and cemetery interment or niche placement.  A family may go to one vendor for the disposition, let’s say a crematation.  They may then look for a celebration center or planner for a service and may or may not go to another business to satisfy their memorialization and/or remembrance needs.  Those memorialization needs could be as varied as being scattered in a cemetery cremation garden to being put in a rocket ship by the company Celestis for earth orbit.


In addition, there are companies in these segments that believe that they can be very profitable by just operating in one segment with the flip-side being that pulling away that segment from the family funeral home causes reduced income at the family funeral home. . . .and less profitability


My point is. . when we lived in that “homogenized” death care world and clientele satisfied their death care needs with the “limit” of what a funeral home had on hand, funeral homes and cemeteries were very profitable and controlled the sales environment by the “limit” of what they had in stock or what they could do.


Tom Anderson
Funeral Director Daily

When I thought of this “limit” of death care options through funeral homes it brought me back to growing up in a small town.  I attended every high school home basketball game and those players became my heroes.  Our high school players wore red Chuck Taylor basketball shoes and I really wanted a pair so I looked like the high school players.  When I went to the local stores and looked at youth-sizes you could get all of the Chuck Taylor basketball shoes you wanted. .  as long as you wanted them in white.  Red would have to be a “special order” through an athletic store somewhere.  Suffice it to say, I was “limited” in what I could buy and never could get the youth-sized red shoes I preferred.


I think that same phenomena occured in death care sales in small communities.  In the 1960’s even anatomical donation and cremation seemed “limited” by what the funeral director informed his clients on what could be done with those wishes.


Let’s contrast that to today. . . I can go online and get virtually thousands of sneakers delivered to my front door withing 48 hours. . . It’s a “Limitless” purchasing world.  The same can be said of Death Care. . . . a consumer can go online and find what they are looking for whether it be casketed burial, cremation with services, or direct cremation with no services.  They can also find event planners and memorial items such as urns, solidified remains, cremation jewelry and more that they may be interested in. . . . In today’s “Limitless” world, walking into a funeral home is not necessary.


One funeral director, who operates traditional family funeral homes, I talked to has already seen the online direct cremation affect his number of dispositions.  It’s made him think about starting his own online cremation company that is separate from his current funeral home and cremation business.  He’s not only losing out on these cremation dispositions, but he is also losing the chance to visit about services or memorialization options if they don’t come into his funeral home.


Another operator of a large-scale cremation business told me that about 50% of his cremations are now arranged online.  He also told me that the lack of coming into the brick and mortar building for arrangements is limiting his sales of services/celebrations and memorialization items simply because he does get a chance to physically talk to the mourners.  He also worries about the lack of the clientele becoming a “heritage family” that returns for another cremation in the future. . . . because there only contact is non-personal with a computer and that will, more than likely, lend itself to that type of search at the time of the next death. . . . If the family had walked into the offices, there is that idea of “place” of where the first decedent was cremated. . . that is lost in the “limitless” online world.


Going forward I think that there will only be more and more of these “segmented” players in the death care world.  What should a full-service funeral home do to compete with them?


The answer is marketing and preneed.  Regardless of what type of disposition, and let’s include alkaline hydrolysis and natural organic reduction in this discussion too.  If a funeral home representative can sit down with a a couple and have that long talk about one’s eventual demise, they can plan out a potential way for your funeral home to have its hand in the operation of the eventual event.


It’s probably more imperative than ever that funeral providers reach out to potential clientele about how they can help regardless of what in the “limitless” world of death care purchases a consumer may be thinking about.  Working with that client in “building a roadmap” of their death, disposition method, celebration, and remembrance purchases can go a long way to keeping those revenues “your” revenues.


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1 Comment

  1. Anonymous on May 8, 2023 at 8:45 am

    I enjoyed this one, thanks Tom! Our industry is not alone. The same is true for hair care products you could only find in a salon and furniture that was only on display at the nearby furniture store! It’s exciting and uncomfortable at the same time.

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