The nice name given to the funeral home
business: the largest players (in North America) being the Loewen Group
(LWN), Service Corp. International
(SCI), Stewart Enterprises
(headed now by former CEOs of Osiris, Inc.
& Charon Holdings Ltd.
) all of whom went out of their way to give new meaning to Death on the Installment Plan
Should you (god forbid) require these services, keep the following in mind :
a) they have to provide you with a price list if you ask for it to compare to wholesale prices - it's the law,
b) remember if you sign something you regret, you only have three business days to 'change your mind',
c) a complete 'traditional' funeral should cost you in the area of $1,400-$2,200 (it costs large corporations like SCI and Loewen, with their supplier agreements and cross-selling, between $800-1200 on average to supply the materials, personnel and facilities) as opposed to the $3-10,000 frequently listed. The same goes for cremation (which costs practically nothing) - a reasonable price is in the range of $300-$550 (not $750-$4000) and finally,
d) don't ever buy into a PrePayment Plan (they call it 'Succession Planning') - accidental cremations, lost burials, misplaced bodies and poorly or mis-shipped 'cremains' are almost constant with that sort of thing- really not worth it.
Generally the strategy in the industry though much of the 80s & 90s was to consolidate
though mergers and acquisitions
(i.e. buying up cute little Mom and Pop
funeral homes with established reputations), secure the human capital
(i.e. getting everyone to sign non-competition agreements
, especially the morticians and funeral directors, then turf everyone else), and finally 'ramp up
' services and materials while taking advantages of 'economies of scale
' (jack up prices on people too much in anguish to argue over the price of a casket or cost of a full memorial service). When I worked in the Legal Department
, there were still 1000s of people a year paying 400 percent or more over wholesale for a casket
Between SCI and Loewen, the two largest death care operators, almost 25 % of the burial and cremation market in the US was under this sort of chain store
McDonald's type mentality by the late 1990s : if you got buried in Texas (the Earthmans'
chain), Louisiana (the Ourso
chains), the Pacific Northwest (Universal Memorial Gardens
), California (Rose Hills
outside LA), Virginia (Arlington Memorial
) in the last 20 years, this means giant global corporations
handled the transaction, even though it may have all looked very local and downhome. Loewen (now in bankruptcy protection
) owned over 1500 funeral homes and 900 cemeteries around the world at its largest point in the mid-1990s - as well as insurance companies (mostly in Florida and Mississippi), flower shops, limousine fleets (Louisiana and NY) and even ran ambulance services for time in rural Nova Scotia. Basically, the aim was to 'vertically integrate
' the entire business cycle