Back in 1962 Robert L. Waltrip owned one family owned funeral home in Houston, Texas. And then everything changed when he purchased his second funeral home in Houston. That led to his adding a 3rd funeral home and forming a company, now known as Service Corporation International (SCI), that owns and operates over 1900 death care facilities across North America.
The company has been a great American success story. And, as they say, “Imitation is the greatest form of flattery”. Since, Waltrip’s creation of SCI there have been many a group who believes that they can become the next SCI. Being in the business since about 1980 I have lived that time period when many groups have formed and had various degrees of success.
It should also be noted that the company that has grown into Canada’s Arbor Memorial started expanding with cemeteries in the 1950’s.
Let’s see, there’s been Arlington Group, Paragon, and Equity Corporation International to name a few. There’s been a few private national firms who had a great deal of success although now they only survive by being owned by different companies. . . some of these include Prime Succession Group, Keystone Group, and more. Then there has been the national public companies which were led with success and were either acquired like Stewart Enterprises or, in my opinion, self-imploded like the Loewen Group. Today, we still have the national leader in SCI and we have public companies like Carriage Services, StoneMor, and Park Lawn Corporation as what I would describe as big national operators. The private sector of the business has Foundation Partners Group, NorthStar Memorial Group and Legacy Funeral Group among the largest in that category.
Then, of course, we have the regional operators. I know a lot of the regional operators who own between 20-100 death care businesses. Depending on where they are in their evolution, some will strive to grow. . . and some may strive to be acquired in the future. In any regard, if a funeral home consolidator can refrain themselves to operate in a a conservative, never pay too much environment, Waltrip’s SCI experiment formula continues to work. It’s even been emulated in Australia and Great Britain.
In a tip of the cap to Waltrip, his formula of acquisition and scalability has also been emulated in the garbage business with Waste Management buying up lot of local operators and consolidating. . . .its been emulated in the convenience store business by Speedway, and its been emulated in a lot of other “roll-up” operations.
Back in November we learned of a new funeral home company named Clearstone Memorial Partners coming into the fold when they began by purchasing the StoneMor funeral home, cemetery, and cremation assets, as part of StoneMor’s divestment strategy in Oregon and Washington.
Last week I learned of a new company that has been formed to acquire and operate funeral related businesses. The company, Grace Holdings, is being founded and operated by some experienced veterans of the death care and insurance industries which lends great credibility to it right off the bat. Industry veterans like Jim Ford and John Yopp are involved with Grace Holdings.
Ford has held senior management positions with Service Corporation International, StoneMor, and Foundation Partners Group among his impressive resume. Yopp comes from a family service background and owns four funeral homes, a preneed marketing company, and is Editor and Publisher of the Southern Funeral Director magazine.
Grace Holdings also announced last week that they had made their first acquisition. . .that of the Boone Funeral Home and Crematory in Bossier City, Louisiana.
Funeral Director Daily take: I’m an entrepreneur at heart and am always excited when people are excited to begin a new business career. These type of dreams, ambitions, and opportunities are what makes America. . . America. The ability to strike out on your own. . . put yourself into a business and see what you can make of it. . . truly gives opportunity to those who venture to do so in spite of financial risks they may face.
I met John Yopp in 1991 off the coast of British Columbia with a group of funeral home owners invited on a salmon fishing expedition by Loewen Group founder and namesake Ray Loewen. John has had a successful career in many things and I believe that his involvement with Grace Holdings will be successful and give those funeral home owners looking to move out of the profession, for whatever reason, another valid option in choosing their successor.
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