|We all know
that cremation is on the increase in the United States. Cremation
only accounted for 4% of dispositions in the 1960’s, whereas industry observers
forecast the rate to reach 60% by 2025. Not only is the cremation
rate on the increase, but also cultural attitudes have shifted. The
lavish, full-service ‘traditional’ funeral is not as popular as it once
was, more people are opting for simplicity, be it by choice or financial
that their core business came
from word-of-mouth and press advertising. Now today, not only are
more and more funeral homes ensuring that they have an online presence,
some funeral directors now even have Facebook pages and Twitter accounts.
The cremation ‘revolution’
Industry critics have often
likened the funeral industry to a dinosaur, referring to its metaphorical
nature to be archaic, slow to adapt to change, and possibly under threat
of extinction if it does not adapt. However, the industry is changing
I believe, albeit slowly, and more funeral homes are adapting to embrace
the demand for cremation, simplicity and lower costs.
Having been involved in the
funeral industry online for over 12 years now, we have witnessed some significant
changes in how the industry has adapted to the Internet. It is not
so many years ago that many funeral directors we spoke with claimed that
they did not need a web site,
The demand for cremation
is hitting many funeral homes bottom line hard, with less incremental products
and services required when a cremation is performed. There is no need for
an elaborate casket, grave plot, grave liner and gravestone. Even embalming
is most often not required, and some families just opt for a very simple
cremation with no service, preferring to conduct their own memorial or
ash scattering at a later date. Industry watchdogs have reported
that revenue for funeral homes is down by 27%, due largely to the shift
So how is the death care
industry responding to the rising demand for cremation?
Setting up a separate cremation
Many are attempting to adapt
their business model, seeing that they have to compete in the “no-frills”
cremation market place, and that where sales numbers decline, then volume
sales have to increase to meet the shortfall. Service Corporation
International (SCI) has their own budget cremation arm National
Cremation Society (NCS), a national network of funeral homes offering
low cost cremation services. Their NCS web site is constructed to
appear a separate entity, it does not share the Dignity Memorial
branding, yet it is a catch-net for consumers searching for a cremation
society. SCI’s creation of the National Cremation Society
demonstrates the business model of creating a separate entity to serve
the rising demand for cremation and no-frills funerals. In recognition
of the growth in the direct cremation market, especially amongst baby boomers,
SCI also acquired The Neptune Society in 2011. This brand
allows them to market to the niche, and less price-conscious, boomer audience.
A number of independent funeral
homes have also founded separate cremation and “affordable” funeral business
entities, operating a separate arm to their traditional full-service funeral
business. Their cremation and budget-targeted business is branded
independently and will usually disclose prices and packages for simple
cremations and burials, clearly competing in their local market place.
They are adapting to need and demand, are still retaining their high-end
funeral business, but also eliminating competition from those funeral professionals
who are choosing to set up in the cremation business without even operating
their own premises.
Jardine Funeral Home
in Strongsville, Ohio has adapted in just this way, and operates Cleveland
Cremation out of the same premises. Cleveland Cremation
guarantees to “save families up to 40% of the cost of using a traditional
funeral firm”….and yet, of course, they ARE a traditional funeral firm!
Cleveland Cremation even offers a “No Cost Cremation”, something
now growing in popularity during these tough economic times by partnering
with anatomical donation programs that offer a free cremation to the family.
By offering full-service, simple cremation and no-cost cremation the Jardine’s
can truly meet all funeral needs of their community.
Similarly Hann Funeral
Home in Chicago also operate Care Memorial Cremation Solutions,
and even extend their services to “cremation of Illinois services”, moving
into the wider regional services that many who operate a crematory now
offer. Care Memorial even go so far as to boldly highlight
on their home page their direct cremation price at $975.00, as do Cleveland
Cremation with their highly transparent “Simple Cremation” package
at just $1,045.
Does price matter?
We at US FUNERALS ONLINE have
long advocated for more transparency in the industry, understanding that
consumers using the Internet today to research funeral costs absolutely
want to know how much the actual costs are. We find it extremely
frustrating to find funeral home web sites that spew content about centuries
of history, and detailed staff profiles but fail to give customers information
about funeral prices.
What funeral businesses like
Jardine and Hann Funeral Homes are doing is providing the
customer what they want, and meeting the changing demand within the death
Not all funeral homes are
seeing this as the way forward, in fact, it is reported that two of the
largest publicly traded funeral home businesses in the U.S. warned their
investors over the last two trading quarters that this upward trend in
cremation is negatively impacting on their revenue and turnover.
and a casket for the viewing.
Funeral director Mike Nicodemus from Hollomon-Brown Funeral Home
in Virginia Beach even claimed that they manage to up-sell to as many as
60% of families who walk into their funeral home inquiring about a cremation.(1)
Is Up-selling the answer?
Some industry leaders are attempting
to steer families away from immediate cremation by trying to focus on our
cultural need for ritual. So how can a request for a simple cremation
be up sold to create more profits? According to staff from Dimbleby,
Friedel, Williams and Edmunds Funeral Homes in New York State, the
answer is to encourage families to have a viewing prior to cremation.
This can then require additional services such as embalming, use of a visitation/chapel
Up-selling can play a key
role in maintaining revenue when you consider that the average cost of
a funeral (with a vault) is now $7,755, whereas the average cost of a direct
cremation is $2,070. (2)
Creating new incremental cremation
Some funeral homes are investing
more into elaborate cremation urn display rooms, expensive customized urns
or even lavish ash scattering services. SCI and other corporate cemetery
chains have converted a number of cemeteries into memorial gardens.
Many who recognize the cremation trend are already converting large buildings
On a daily basis we are witnessing
new industries emerging to meet this trend for cremation. Cremation
Solutions launched their ‘Holyland Ash Scattering’ in 2012, and offer
funeral homes that affiliate and refer clients a $250 fee. The cremation
diamond industry is gaining popularity, and when you consider the 10% commission
fee paid to a funeral home when the diamonds start at around $3,000, you
can quite see how funeral homes are eager to participate and push these
products and services. The memorialization market that accompanies
cremation is expanding daily and now you can blast ashes into space, embed
ashes into a coral reef, create a memorial firework…the possibilities are
endless, and the commission is all incremental.
The DFS Memorials network of
low cost cremation and funeral providers
The DFS Memorials network
was also borne out of the demand for cremation services at an affordable
cost. It provides a service by signposting people to their nearest
“low cost” cremation provider offering a direct cremation for between $495
and $1,395. All members of the network are independent, licensed funeral
homes who are representative of providing a ‘quality service at a fair
Marketing funeral and cremation
services has always been a somewhat problematic task. For those funeral
businesses that do create a new cremation entity, they can clearly promote
cremation and benefit from the trend, without jeopardizing their existing
||Expert Author: Sara
Sara is the Editor in Chief
for US Funerals Online and has been researching and writing about the death
care industry in the US for the last 5 years.
Memorials – Network of affordable cremation providers
1 – BBC ‘Funeral
homes turn cremation into hot new business’
2 – National
Funeral Directors Association (NFDA)
Last Revised: 03/11/2013