Business, Cemetery

The problem with cemeteries

Foundation Partners why I partnered

We’ve now moved into the 4th quarter of 2020 and with that timing we have had 6 full months of the COVID world results in death care.  We know from listening to the news, looking at public death care company reports, and anecdotal reports from our colleagues that while funeral homes have been learning to do business in the COVID world, the financial results still probably lag where we want them to be.

We know that there has been a higher number of deaths in the United States than would normally happen and we also know that revenues per case have stayed below anticipated numbers because of the social distancing requirements and attendance numbers.  In some large metropolitan areas, and with large death care companies that have enough services to fall under what I call the “law of large numbers”, the increase in deaths offset by lower revenues per service has, in some instances,  worked out to a “push” on the bottom line.

In smaller communities where COVID deaths have not happened as frequently our thought process is that funeral firms that lie within that parameter are probably having less than stellar profit years.  The general feeling at Funeral Director Daily is that their revenues per service are down and they have not had the larger, COVID induced, deaths to make up for that revenue per case loss.

In any case, although we think that there may be long-term negative trends that affect the funeral buying public brought to light through the COVID year of 2020, we anticipate by mid-year 2021 we can put COVID in the rear view mirror and funeral homes, in general, will get back to normal.

We have also seen some difficult times for cemeteries and we have a little different view point on their issues.  The general feeling at Funeral Director Daily is that cemeteries are seeing a general decline in their relevance, use, and finances.  And, we don’t see this reversing in a post-COVID world.

Just this past weekend we found a number of articles spanning our great nation – from West Virginia to Wisconsin, to Missouri, and on to Washington state – deriding cemetery conditions and, in some instances, financial states of affair.  We thought we would share those with you.

West Virginia — “Since 2018, 115 complaints on cemeteries“.  Video and new story.  WSAZ-TV  Investigates.  Huntington, WV

Wisconsin —  “City considers proposal for Cemetery District“.  A tax proposal to handle finances with city cemeteries.  Amery Free Press.  Amery, Wisconsin

Missouri — “Investigation into missing cemetery funds nears completion.”  This is about a cemetery that fell into receivership and has became an issue with city finances.  The Joplin Globe.  Joplin, MO

Washington — “Ranier Cemetery District running levy on November ballot.”  This article is for additional funds to “keep our property beautiful” and “show respect to the dead”.  While there is no complaint to this measure, it does show the costs necessary to fund cemeteries, especially those that are fairly inactive with earth burials at this time.  The Daily News.  Longview (WA).

Funeral Director Daily take:  I’ve seen it in my own community that the trend of cremation and the resulting disposition of the cremation ashes brought to the home or scattered has caused loss of revenue in cemeteries.  That loss of revenue comes from the lower proportion of sale for grave lots, interments, and markers as more and more consumers decide on cremation and other alternatives as their type of disposition.

Cemeteries for the past century have been set up to operate on a model that was based on a high percentage of earth burials.  Since that is no longer the case, many small cemeteries are running into upkeep expense issues caused by the lack of revenues coming in.  It is our opinion that more and more cemeteries will face this issue as the consumer public continues to choose disposition options that rely less and less on earth burial.

One of the things that we notice very often as we peruse articles to be used for Funeral Director Daily is the growing number of small, generally rural cemeteries that do not provide enough annual income for maintenance costs.  We notice that many of these former church yard or association cemeteries are approaching their governmental units for funding or government operations.

We see this as a mounting problem going forward, especially as small governmental units budgets have already taken a hit with the added expenses of the coronavirus.  In other words, I’m not so sure governmental units are all that excited about taking over operation and funding of these types of cemeteries at this time.  And, we also see an issue where state regulators and state regulations are somewhat all over the map as to how these processes must transpire.


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