Caskets and COVID-19

By: Scott Weisenbach, National Sales Director for Sich Casket Company
Tuesday, September 22, 2020

As we slowly move towards the “new normal” for funeral service, what does the future hold for the funeral profession – and more specifically – caskets?  While I can’t predict the future, some things appear to be here to stay.

Think about it - over the past six months, funeral service has seen an explosion in the live streaming of funerals as well as a rise in remote funeral arrangements.  So how will this impact your operations in the coming months and years?

When you find a free moment – if that’s even possible – you may examine whether you have selected the right platform for streaming funerals.  You may also review the operation of your online arrangement software to make sure it’s the right one for your firm.  But the time may also be right to evaluate the relationship with your casket supplier.  Here’s why:

In addition to the two trends noted above, several others surfaced in the past six months.  One was the return to direct burials (and increase in direct cremations), a second was a growing interest in pre-planning of funerals and finally a renewed desire by families to have prices for products and services posted on funeral home websites.

If you take a moment to think about it, caskets play a role in each of these trends, and having the right supplier is crucial.  Now might be a good time to assess how your present casket supplier has performed in the face of these coronavirus-related developments.

Having worked for several casket companies (both family-owned and publicly-traded) over the years, I have sold both domestically-produced and globally-sourced caskets.  While this in no way suggests that I am an expert on caskets, this background has provided me with a unique perspective on how funeral homes might evaluate their casket suppliers.

Why Should You Measure the Performance of Suppliers Funeral directors, inundated with a multitude of daily tasks, struggle to find the time to do things like properly measure how a supplier is performing.  This had only been compounded thanks to the pandemic.  However, there are several reasons why this task is worthy of a funeral director’s time and consideration.  Evaluating any of your supplier’s performance allows you to:

  • Gauge actual results against your expectations
  • Administer agreed upon service and delivery levels
  • Choose partners for increased business in the future based on their past performance
  • Modify your purchasing habits based on accurate information
  • Create and administer some type of “penalty” based on performance

The more caskets your firm is purchasing, the greater the reason to implement some type of program to measure performance. However, even small to medium-size firms also find that this information can be critical to their continued growth since casket suppliers can play a key role in their future success of the firm.

What Things to Measure in the Performance of Suppliers

To quote the astronomer and mathematician, Galileo, “Measure what can be measured and make measurable what cannot be.”  You should identify the items that you can measure.  Measurable items may vary based on your funeral home’s operations - your inventory policies, the role of the supplier, and many other potential factors.   It can be overwhelming to sift through your requirements and narrow down what truly matters for your funeral home.  However, in the end, the factors will likely include:

Product Quality 

To many funeral directors, quality is king.  But has the quality level of caskets that have been received at your funeral home dropped over the past month?  Are you still receiving impeccable caskets – or has the fit and finish of the models been diminished?  As your supplier may have struggled to keep the production lines moving, has the quality of the final product suffered?  If your firm has been accepting less than perfect caskets due to the pandemic, you’ve created a new quality standard for your firm and the families you serve.

Distribution 

As more and more funeral homes move to online arrangements and reduce (or eliminate) caskets from their selection room, the need for reliable casket delivery becomes even more paramount.  Most funeral homes want a company that will readily deliver a casket, especially when a situation comes up on short notice.   Take a moment to think about how your casket company has performed in the face of COVID-19.  Were they always there to “have your back” or were they noticeably absent when you had an issue?

Fair and Transparent Pricing – As more and more funeral homes post their prices online, having a handle on just what you are paying for caskets is key, especially if you post your prices online.  Does it take an accountant to determine the actual price of caskets from your supplier?  With casket companies offering upfront discounts and year-end rebates, determining the true price of caskets can be a real chore.  And sometimes to receive these discounts, you had to sign a multi-year contract that locks you into that supplier for several years.  In these uncertain times – this may not be a good idea,

Along with fair and transparent pricing, billing can be an issue for funeral directors.  Are the invoices you receive from the casket company simple and straight forward or does it take a mathematician to figure them out? 

Product Line – Given the way casket prices have risen over the years, funeral directors need to be in a position to cost-effectively provide families with a casket that fits the financial situation of a family, and also a casket the family is proud to display their loved one, even when direct burial is required.

Along with a wide product selection, how often is the company out of stock on the caskets you regularly order?  This can be a real issue when it comes time to fulfill a preneed contract.  What good is an expansive product selection when the models you display online or in your selection are always out of stock or not available?

Sales Representation – since visits to your funeral home have been curtailed, what has been your interaction with sales representatives?  Have they been calling to simple “check-in” to see if you need any caskets?  Or have they provided you with solutions to pandemic-related issues you have encountered – regardless if they were casket-related or not?

A good casket representative, from a manufacturer or a distributor, can be a valuable resource for a funeral home.  Does the sales representative know and understand your operations?  Do they bring solutions that can help your funeral home operate more effectively during these challenging times?  Does the sales representative “go to bat” for you when there’s an issue with their company or do they take the company side?

Customer Service – What happens when you need to call the office with an issue?  Do you get a “real” person right away or do you encounter an automated phone system at the home office?  And when you talk to someone, do they solve your problem, make excuses, transfer you to another department or simply comment that they will look into it and get back to you – but never do?

Think about how you have been treated when you have an issue with other companies like your bank or another local retail operation.  Shouldn’t you expect the same TLC from your casket supplier?

Made in America – We live in a global marketplace where similar industries such as furniture, textiles, and automotive have all transitioned to embrace the cost-saving advantages in global manufacturing.  Interestingly, most domestically-produced caskets source parts like hardware and interiors from overseas in the assembly of their caskets.  Conversely, many import casket manufacturers obtain most of the woods for their hardwood caskets from the US and use American paints for their metal caskets.  In the end, you must ask yourself, how important is it to my families that they buy a product manufactured by an American company?

Putting the Plan in Place

Also, the supplier performance measures you choose should:

  • Be few in number (perhaps 3 or 4 critical-to-quality areas)
  • Not require excessive time or resources to manage
  • Motivate the supplier to meet and exceed agreed-upon targets

A Final Thought

At the end of the day, selecting the company from whom you want to purchase a casket is a business decision to be made by each funeral home.  My intent with this article is merely to bring to light factors that go into this business decision; not to start a debate about domestically-produced v. global-sourced or big v. small.  If I caused you to think differently about how you purchase caskets moving forward, then I have helped.

 

 

 

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