About this time last year I posted Funeral Industry 2014 in the Rear View Mirror about the top news stories along with predictions for 2015. For consistency, I’ll provide the top news stories in the funeral industry from 2015, see if some of my predictions for the year were affirmed, and make predictions for 2016.
According to Allison Sullivan, Publisher of the Kates-Boylston funeral industry periodicals, A Look Back by Patti Bartsche listed the number one story as Matthew’s purchase of Aurora Casket. No one really saw this coming and for all practical purposes this should prove beneficial to the industry as a whole. The new Matthews/Aurora merger creates a formidable company that offers cremation (including retorts/bio-cremation/urns) solutions, cemetery products, memorialization products, and caskets which pretty much covers the landscape (I don’t think they are in the vault business…yet?). This year should be interesting in the casket provider sector as cremation is now the primary choice of consumers for death disposition. Is this the year Hillenbrand spins off Batesville Casket? Hillenbrand is certainly investing in outside manufacturers instead of investing in anything new within the funeral sector. I think the biggest impact/increase in caskets sales this year will come from the jobbers/local casket suppliers that are selling products from companies like Batesville’s Northstar brand, Matthews/Aurora and Thacker Casket. The days of high wholesale caskets are over…low casket prices will reign supreme in 2016!
At the number two story, I agree with Patti that another purchase/merger, Legacy.com of Tributes.com would be defined as a big story. Legacy.com now becomes the giant in the obituary market. As far as obits go, I wonder how technology will continue to evolve and produce profits for anyone with newspaper subscriptions on the decline. Will funeral home websites get more poaching of their obits?
I must add that the number three spot must go to the launch of Funeral Nation TV. The dynamic duo of Ryan Thogmartin (aka #kidsocial, Connecting Directors, Disrupt Media, Funeral Social) and yours truly took the funeral industry by storm. The clever use of acronyms (FN and WTF) to generate buzz from the tight-ass balcony along with interesting guest interviews, up to date news, and Spotlight on a Funeral Director has reached a broad audience of funeral professionals. Funeral Nation provides up to date news, provocative content/guests and a forum for funeral professionals to engage…you know, offer their insights and opinions to make a difference. In 13 short episodes, our show was watched over 3,600,000 minutes by thousands of people in over 40 countries. As a note, watch Episode #14 of Funeral Nation for more end of 2015 and start of 2016 discussions.
2015 has a spattering of news stories mentioned in Patti’s article, but we all agree the resounding the headline is that cremation is resounding choice of consumers and will remain so. What will be interesting (in the predictions below) is exactly how this exodus from tradition will affect funeral home bottom line and financial viability.
In last year’s Funeral Industry 2015 in the Rear View Mirror, 2015 in the Windshield , I made a few predictions:
- Cremation will continue to rise at a rapid rate which applies additional pressure to traditional funeral service provider revenues. <YEP…cremation is now the preferred choice of death disposition>
- Consumers will continue to educate themselves about the funeral business online and will make choices (just like any other consumer choice) based on their research from their screen. <YEP>
- Funeral service providers that offer complete and transparent information online (including pricing, remember only 9% of US firms have their prices online) will reap benefits. <YEP…Parting.com launch will change the landscape>
- Social media use by funeral homes will continue to emerge as the preferred communication to consumers. Of course as usual, there will be few adopters because the tried and true “Lions Club attending, calendar giving, diner place-mat advertising” crowd knows better…just look at their website (oh sorry, if you want more information you have to go to their location). <YEP>
- New funeral service provider models will continue to evolve and flourish such as Distinctive Life, Triad Cremation Society & Chapel, Family Choice Funerals & Cremations and Smart Cremation. These new brands are moving market-share and consumers are gravitating to their offerings. <Yep…these particular brands expanded and gained market-share in 2015>
- Speaking of new models, casket companies will continue to produce their “newest and best casket” that will “families will love” with superfluous features adorned in their continued failing attempt to “turn the market around” in their corporate favor. The continued arrogance of some blinds their ability to flourish and at some point, if your company has not sold 1 more casket than the year before 10 years, maybe you’re not doing something right. Keep an eye on Aurora’s BeRemembered offering as they seem to be the only one not tone deaf to the needs of consumers and fresh ideas from a casket company…a bright spot in a cloudy bunch. <Yep>
- Be on the lookout for a new team of “Lasers” in the marketplace that will be bringing high discounts and deals to “low penetrated” customers trying again an already failed model of moving casket market-share. I don’t like the idea of being penetrated by a casket company (see story #1 above), but it seems that is the way some of them view funeral homes. <I’m not sure how this one turned out…they were quite stealth and obviously not making much impact>
- Please, no new urns. <I missed this one…LMAO! I think someone came up with something new last year>
- 2015 will bring news stories of ignorance and disregard of the funeral profession that will eclipse the headlines over the well-deserved servants of the deceased. <Oh, yes we had our share of brilliance in 2015>
- Consolidation will continue and we’ll see some strange alliances from funeral service providers, suppliers, pre-need companies and even funeral related organizations. It’s called survival (see story #2 above). <No. 1 & 2 stories from this year>
Now I present my 2016 predictions for the funeral industry:
- Consolidation and strategic alliances will be king. Vendors, manufacturers, and funeral homes alike will continue to merge/initiate working together in our increasingly challenging market.
- The educated funeral consumer will drive the market. Funeral homes will struggle to convince consumers to make decisions based on the particular funeral home’s model, not the consumer need/desire.
- The growing segment of cash-strapped consumers will gravitate toward value based brands/offerings of funeral service whether that be burial or cremation. I have offered in the past, that “I only have bus fare, but I want to buy a Cadillac” families will increase pressure many funeral providers and their financial health. Yes, I predict there will be a solution for funeral pay plans soon… (see Funeral Pay Plan).
- The curtain will continue to lift on funeral pricing. Is this the year the FTC mandates funeral homes post GPL’s online? The launch of Parting.com will certainly elevate the discussion.
- The internet and use of social media will continue to have impact for those funeral homes and vendors that make concerted efforts to create their brand messaging to consumers. Everyone else will continue to encourage Lions Club membership, sponsorship of kid’s soccer teams and invest in paper place-mat marketing. Sound familiar?
- Someone will develop an industry changing urn.
- We will see an increase of DYI end of life planning sites reaching directly to consumers (wills, POAs, Advanced Medical Directives, funeral planning guides, etc.). These sites will do a better job at reaching consumers than traditional funeral industry methods and provide “non-biased” information adverse to many funeral home operating models.
- Finally, not much will change. The soothsayers/pundits will continue to pound the drum of “show value and charge more” a concept contrary to consumer demand. Introductions of services/products will emerge only to be met with “We’ve never done that before” or “Our families won’t go for that.” Of course those same “naysayers” will criticize just about anything new from their “I’ve contributed nothing, but have everything to say” point of view. Social media has contributed to the bravado of those who have become expert critics but yet to create anything (more to come in a series of posts on this subject soon).
So, 2015 is behind us and 2016 is in fresh diapers all clean and powdered. 2016 brings tremendous opportunity for those willing to actually do the hard work and execute their mission. For the others, misery is comfortable and making changes or effort is hard. What are you going to create and contribute to the funeral industry in 2016?
Thanks to all regularly read and respond to The Funeral Commander blog. I am blessed to reach thousands from all around the globe who share my views/experiences, but rarely articulate. If along the way I have offended, pissed off or annoyed you…suck it up, Cupcake because 2016 is only going to be better! From behind a thick fog of cigar smoke in the Command Post, Cheers to 2016 Y’all! #thefuneralcommander