What price value?

Charles Cowling

 

Over at the Connnecting Directors website here there’s a rant by a funeral home consultant, Alan Creedy. In it, we see amusing similarities between the US funeral industry and our own:

Why do funeral professionals spend so much time fighting among themselves and never fighting for themselves? … Why is so much emotional energy spent on not-losing-a-call and none spent on getting 5 more calls?

Mr Creedy berates US undertakers for their passivity in hard times:

We are so addicted to our “Mr. Nice Guy” image and so afraid of offending just one person that we allow people like Jessica Mitford and Lisa Carlson and a plethora of ill informed journalists to tell our story for us. In fact, I have come to believe we no longer know what our story is.

Worse, it seems US funeral home profits have halved in the last 30 years. Mr Creedy wants undertakers to stand up for themselves:

WAKE UP! If you think people will like you because you are their doormat (which they don’t) they will like you a whole lot less when you are a public failure. Your livelihood is in jeopardy. Your wife and your family’s livelihood is in jeopardy

…and so on. You can read it for yourself here.

Over here in the UK, times are also hard for undertakers. There are too many of them competing in a market where the death rate has never been so low.

Worse, there’s a recession on.

And to top it all, demand has never been higher for cut-price funerals. The undertakers who are doing best are the £995, bargain basement, pile em high and burn em cheap brigade. The number of people looking for direct cremation is becoming astonishing.

It is not all economic necessity which is driving this. Arguably, the significant factor is the failure of our undertakers, collectively, to make a case for the emotional and spiritual value of a funeral ceremony.

A funeral is, for many, no more than an invidious social ordeal.

And the trend is that it is becoming increasingly okay to opt out.

9 thoughts on “What price value?

  1. Charles Cowling
    andrew plume

    David

    excellent news in that your lower price funerals are increasing in popularity

    and to quote two parts of your comment:

    1) “…some families do want a very simple, basic service and that the large groups are not willing to provide it….”

    well if they did, they would surely be undercutting themselves in that they would be taking business away from their ‘mainstream branches’ etc etc

    2)”….their answer to declining numbers is to keep on increasing their charges…”

    exactly – it’s because they are all so ‘highly geared’ in that (a) their business model and allied P&L is all designed on high end prices; (b) they all have ‘armies’ of non-essential admin and marketing people; and (c) high prices are necessary to fund ongoing acquisitions

    ………and as I’ve said on this blog a couple of times in the past, my view is that your average punter in the Street should not have to contribute towards all of these unnecessary future acquisitions, when he or she (clearly) has no interest or need in them

    regards

    andrew


    Charles Cowling
  2. Charles Cowling
    David Holmes

    I think too many people involved in the ‘death care industry’ (as our American cousins like to call it) are open minded enough to the alternatives. The traditional wood coffin, hearse and one limousine to the local crem funeral, has its place. But families want to be more involved these days. As expert service providers, we must be open to this welcome change, embrace it enthusiastically. As I constantly remind my sons, the funeral that can feel routine to the undertaker is among the biggest events in the life of our clients. They will remember it forever, the detail. And of course, us. The things we said and did.


    Charles Cowling
  3. Charles Cowling
    Jonathan

    Oh, I forgot to point out that, axiomatically, no funeral director is involved as they are surplus to requirements once you’ve worked out a substitute for a mortuary – what is it other than a scrapyard for the ‘vehicle of the soul’ when it has irretrievably broken down? Don’t be too sentimental about mine, please, concentrate instead on prising what’s left of me from its wreckage!


    Charles Cowling
  4. Charles Cowling
    Jonathan

    “…the failure of our undertakers, collectively, to make a case for the emotional and spiritual value of a funeral ceremony.” Well put, Charles; if only more of them had the faintest idea themselves of what that means.

    As for price, my idea of a ‘basic’ funeral is to die (expectedly) at home and be buried in the garden, so only the registrar would get a penny. Of course I’d have to buy a house and garden first, so that’s out of the question; they’ll need to think creatively. But starting from there, it’s only a matter of time before communities open their own, not-for-profit crematoria or burial grounds; then we’d have an idea of the real cost, especially when open-air pyres become lawfully practicable.


    Charles Cowling
  5. Charles Cowling
    Fran Hall

    Hmm, death rate at an all time low, funeral prices at an all time high – not so difficult to work out why there’s scrapping in the industry… vultures as a simile anyone?

    Maggie you sound fabulous, wish we’d had a chance to talk today at the funeralmap convention, David you’re clearly doing a great job, and yes, funerals do not have to be expensive. A fabulous funeral can cost next to nothing – the content and quality is entirely non related to the amount of money exchanged between bereaved family and the ‘service provider’ – oh that the public as a whole realised this!

    What is needed is a shift in awareness of the purpose of a funeral, and a full range of provision that accommodates the needs of all.

    We’re getting there…


    Charles Cowling
  6. Charles Cowling
    Maggie

    Hi Charles

    As you know, we offer a £995 plus disbursements funeral – but it’s not a ‘basic funeral, it’s just the price we charge. It includes a hearse, coffin, bearers, chapel of rest etc etc – al the normal things. There are no restrictions on date/time for the funeral and the hearse can leave from the family’s house if they wish. We are able to do this because we have kept our overheads to a minimum, we hire in the hearse and bearers on an as needed basis and my husband and I do everything else ourselves. All our prices are displayed on our website and we welcome anyone who wants to drop into the office – the coffee is always on!

    PS: great to see you today, it was a very informative day and has given me lots to think about.


    Charles Cowling
  7. Charles Cowling
    Jon Underwood

    I like this guy’s strident tone but the last quote sounds more like wholesale panic!

    I think he’s right that funeral directors need to tell their own story and part of that is about the great value that people like David Holmes are offering. But what Vale seems to be alluding to is another part of the funeral director’s story. I think the public will flock to those that offer quality, authenticity and heart as well as great value.

    There’s certainly a great story to tell from that perspective too by many on here, but maybe we’re not yet ready to tell it?


    Charles Cowling
  8. Charles Cowling
    David Holmes

    My firm offers a direct cremation service for £950. http://www.simplefunerals4u.co.uk. I can tell you, it is definitely growing in popularity.

    It is evident that for their own surprisingly varied reasons, some families do want a very simple, basic service and that the large groups are not willing to provide it. My feeling is their answer to declining numbers is to keep on increasing their charges.

    We are a full service family owned and run funeral director, willing to provide fewer service elements for less money – if that is what a family chooses.

    Our £950 service covers collection, a coffin, making the arrangements, delivering the paperwork and placing the coffin on the catafalque prior to the funeral taking place. Attendees would not notice money had been saved. The service excludes: Obituaries, embalming, visiting in the Chapel of Rest, listing donations and flowers, going to an address prior to the crematorium. We also insist on pre-payment. Anything normally provided as part of a funeral director’s services is still available – at additional cost. I do believe we are worth the charge made for our traditional funerals, but that option doesn’t suit every customer.

    I also believe the whole funeral business in Britain is vulnerable to a new low cost, low charge entrant, offering a truly nationwide service. (Dignity admit the same in their accounts!) I am only surprised this hasn’t happened. Yet. After all, where demand exists, someone usually finds a way of filling it.

    For over twenty years I have offered coffins to the public for DIY at around £100. My advice is always freely given. Funerals really don’t have to be expensive!


    Charles Cowling
  9. Charles Cowling
    Vale

    So much of this urgent call to arms that is, simply, right. Old ways can’t be relied on as guides to the future survival of – not just our businesses – but even of funeral ceremonies themselves.

    The only reservation I have is with pricing. People do press for value, but low cost funerals should not be equated with low value ceremonies. The two are not at all synonymous. I’d even say that confusing funeral price with the quality of the ceremony is part of the problem itself.


    Charles Cowling