Funeral Costs - What I Didn't Get to
By Robin Heppell
I had the opportunity to be on the Seattle NPR Weekday
radio program this morning. The show was hosted by Steve
Scher with guests, John Eric Rolstad of the People's
Memorial Association and Char Barrett of A Sacred Moment
who performs home funerals. The show covered three main
topics: Embalming, Cremation, and Funeral Costs. If you
want to get the gist of what is happening in the Pacific
Northwest, I would recommend that you have a listen to
A couple things that weren't mentioned but should be
noted. The home funeral movement I feel is appropriate
for those families wanting something private and under
the ideal conditions. Dry ice might retard
decomposition, but I would question if the family was
prepared to deal with purge, urination, defecation, or
the more unpleasant things that funeral directors have
quietly looked after like tissue gas and maggots.
I give credit to Char for carving out a niche that she
is serving - her website is informative and the families
that she looks after will be the benefactors of her
When it came to funeral costs, John, from the People's
Memorial Association, referred to its price survey of
funeral homes from western and central Washington state.
He stated that there is such a wide range of prices for
similar services - 300 to 400% compared to other
industries that are 10 to 20% citing Target, WalMart and
Costco. Unfortunately, it was the top of the hour and
the host, Steve couldn't see the disappointment face
when I was unable to expand upon funeral costs - but
this is what I would have said:
John is referring to commodities - things that do not
have a qualitative differentiation in a given market.
Funeral services couldn't be further away from a
commodity. The flaw in their survey is that they have
requested a stripped down service to try to compare
apples to apples. What aren't considered are the
differentiation factors like the level of service, the
location and quality of facilities, and time frame and
number of transfer staff dispatched to a residence, to
name a few. Also, not considered in the price survey are
other items such as DVD tributes, online memorialization,
facilities, equipment, and knowledge of creating and
facilitating events that are very personalized.
A more relevant comparison would have been to look at
other service / experiential oriented industries like
hotels - Motel 6 vs. Crowne Plaza or McDonalds vs.
Seattle's El Gaucho Restaurant - and oh, what about a
cup of coffee? I am not saying that one has to choose
the most expensive, but not everyone is shopping purely
on price. Research that I have seen indicates that only
17 to 22% of consumers are truly shopping on price but
the majority of consumers are value shoppers.
"With a more educated consumer and with a wide variety
of funeral service providers, the business model of a
Memorial Society is obsolete!"
Memorial Societies were formed to give people the
opportunity to choose a simpler, less expensive option.
A generation later funeral homes are either serving
specific niches or offering a wide range of service
options. Now with so many different choices, families
can get whatever service they want. Just as funeral
homes 50 years ago assumed that everyone wanted
"traditional" funeral services, Memorial Societies
should be aware that not everyone wants the cheapest!
For someone who wants the absolute cheapest, I would
forgo a Memorial Association membership fee and compare
prices - save your 25 bucks.
It is a consumer-driven market so only those funeral
providers who cater to what their community wants and
what they are willing to pay will survive - if they are
too expensive or too cheap they won't.
I would like to thank the host, Steve Scher and the
producers, Sage Van Wing and Katy Sewall of KUOW for
inviting me as a guest on their show. I would invite
comments from Char, John, other listeners, and my
readers and fellow funeral professionals to continue
Final point: I believe that any dialogue that serves as
a catalyst for the general public consider how they
would like their last wishes to play out is a benefit to
them, their families, and to the funeral industry.
Visit Char's website at http://www.ASacredMoment.com. To
listen to the Replay visit: "Funerals on Weekday at KUOW
Robin Heppell, CFSP, combines his expertise in
technology and pre-need, his formal business knowledge
and his deep-rooted legacy in the funeral profession so
that he can help funeral homes and cemeteries be more
competitive, more profitable, and provide the best
possible service for the families they serve.
Through his consulting firm, FuneralFuturist.com in
Victoria, British Columbia, he assists funeral directors
and cemeterians throughout North America embrace and
incorporate innovative strategies and technologies.
This "Funeral Futurist" has over 20 years experience in
a highly competitive, high cremation (90%) market. He is
a fourth generation funeral director and a Certified
Celebrant. Heppell is also a faculty member of the
Canadian College of Funeral Service, a contributor to
Mortuary Management and the Canadian Funeral News.
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