I spent three days last week at my annual funeral professional/death care professional golf event that I have attended almost every year since first being invited in 1991. From my count, there are about 130-144 invited guests that enjoy three days with each other in an atmosphere of fellowship and friendship.
Most of the talk is friendly banter about our golf game or what our growing (and grown up) kids are up to. However, inevitably, when you have over a hundred death care executives in one area, the talk will turn to business. Much of the talk centered around the recent news pertaining to the Park Lawn Company and its acquisition of the Signature Group, the price multiple being paid for quality firms, and, as has been the case for the last dozen years, the decline of the casketed services market.
Some of that discussion was about the demise of the traditional funeral as we know it and the negative repercussions, from a business standpoint, that go with that dynamic. It was interesting for me, however, to listen between the lines and listen to not the downward pressures on the business of death care, but to listen to my colleagues talk about where the opportunities might exist.
I listened, learned, and analyzed and I now believe that there is a world of opportunity for those that do it “right”. We know that traditional funeral service is going downward in popularity and the thought of cremation is increasing in consumer popularity. And, we know that there is downward pressure on prices for cremation being put on traditional funeral homes by the low cost, high volume providers. However, we also know that the more “knowledge” a client family has on cremation options, the more likely they are willing to purchase more than what the minimum provider offers.
I firmly believe in the value of memorialization — my father died when I was a teenager, back in 1977 — and he is memorialized with a monument out at the local cemetery. My children have gotten to know their grandfather by the stories we tell — sometimes when we are at the cemetery on Father’s Day, Dad’s Birthday, or Memorial Day. In essence, there has been great value for my family by having a “memorialization place” for my father.
I certainly believe that cemeteries have a great opportunity to tell this kind of story and then use that story to be able to give client families the reason for purchasing cemetery lots or property – even if for an urn interment, memorials, memorials with space for urns inside them, niches, columbarium spaces, opening and closing prices, perpetual care, and the like. When I see the number of families that bring recently cremated loved ones to their homes to sit on a shelf or to a place for scattering, I see the lost memorialization opportunities families have forgone.
What about funeral home opportunities? Here is the dilemma with great opportunities for cemeteries. . . . in a time of an at-need death, cemeteries have memorialization items that give great sales opportunities, but funeral homes control or see the family making the decision. If a family decides on a cremation service and wants the ashes scattered or buys an urn to bring home, that family has no reason to go to the cemetery for “memorialization” purchases unless the funeral home can convince them of that value at that time. And, if there is nothing in it for the funeral home, then this family becomes one that never visits a cemetery to see what options are out there for them.
So, I don’t think the new “opportunities” are so far from us. It is apparent to me, that if independent funeral homes and independent cemeteries are to prosper in the day of rising direct cremation, they have to work together to preach the value of memorialization. You can find ways to share revenue but working together is the key because cemeteries control the cremation memorialization products and funeral homes, in most cases, control the gateway to the cremation family decision makers.