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 the program.
To listen to the Replay visit: “Funerals on Weekday at KUOW 94.9”
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 passion. Her website is: http://www.ASacredMoment.com.
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 this conversation.
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.