Casket Merchandising Four Common Issues in the Funeral Showroom

By: Bucky Stevens, Thacker Casket Company
Sunday, July 16, 2023

Throughout my career in the funeral industry, I have been fortunate to visit hundreds of funeral homes across the Southeast. Whether I’m in Virginia or southern Mississippi, I have enjoyed getting to know funeral directors, learning more about their business, and discussing the changing times in the industry. Consistent among all professionals I have encountered is their unique dedication and compassion for their industry and customers.

Through conversations with these remarkable professionals, I have learned that each funeral home does things differently. Differences could be in call volume, location, cremation rate, or something as small as hearse color (Olympic gold was the best). Nonetheless, throughout my travels, I have seen a few reoccurring issues in funeral home showrooms

Merchandising
The ability of a funeral home to merchandise its selection room is critical for family satisfaction and profitability. If a family selects a casket out of your showroom, you want them to feel they received value for both the product they are purchasing and the amount
they are paying for that product. You want to make this process as seamless and easy as possible.

That is why it is important to offer caskets at different price points and build a visual value progression as the retail price increases. I’ve walked into selection rooms and seen a 20-gauge casket with desirable colors and swing bar hardware cost less than an 18-gauge ordinary color casket with stationary hardware. It doesn’t make sense from a visual value perspective.

Why would the consumer choose to pay more for a less attractive casket with less visual value? In other words, I need to see why I am paying more for a casket! Showrooms should be based on four main premises: Controlled eye appeal, earth-tone colors, upgraded colors, and themes. It is far too common to walk into a showroom and see a higher eye-appeal casket cost less than lower eye-appeal caskets which can be confusing to a family selecting a casket.

Is There Value in Gauge?
Are you aware that the difference between a 20-gauge casket and an 18-gauge casket is approximately .83 millimeters? .83 millimeters!! The difference in the gauges is roughly the width of a sheet of paper. Is this something that your families see value in, in today’s market?

Does gauge actually matter to your families? Do the majority of your families even understand gauge in regard to selecting a casket out of your showroom? Throughout my travels in the Southeast, the answer has predominantly been a resounding “NO!” Families no longer value gauge the way they once did.

Through thousands of conversations, I have concluded that there is often a disconnect between what a family wants in a casket and what the average funeral director values in a casket. In the industry, directors and sales consultants discuss things like gauge, stationary vs. swing bar hardware, or preferences of interior shirring. We often lose sight of the fact that families will only
be making funeral arrangements a few times in their lives. Most families want a casket that looks good but doesn’t cost them an arm and a leg. Consumers buy caskets based on three things: color, eye appeal, and price, often in that order.

Frequently it will be a casket that a family member connects with based on the deceased’s life. I have heard families say things like, “Dad loved navy blue!” or “Mom would be so happy with those crosses in the panel, she loved Church!” Sometimes it helps to almost take yourself out of the industry and think about what family’s value, instead of the things we talk about and deal with every day. Base your showroom selections on what the customer wants and with that mindset, watch it flourish!

Does your Showroom Work for Your Business?
Recently I was consulting with a funeral home on how to increase the profitability of the showroom. Through discussions, I found the directors were having to leave the showroom and choose a casket out of their vendor’s catalog. The owner told me that over 50% of families that walked into the showroom couldn’t find a casket they connected with and had to buy out of the book.

In reviewing the showroom, the funeral home had twenty spots on their selection room floor. Out of the twenty spots, five were at a stainless steel, copper, or bronze level. That is 25% of his total showroom offerings. In discussing his annual casket sales, he sold just over 100 caskets last year, with two sales coming from those five spots. As a result, those five spots comprised a total of 2% of his annual sales.

Given these results, it was obvious he needed to go to his vendor and change some selections in his showroom to offer more units his families could connect with. He concluded that his current showroom wasn’t working for him or his families. Is your showroom working for you?

Consumer Math
During funeral arrangements, one of the most important things for a funeral director to accomplish is to make the process as easy as possible. This family is arguably having one of the worst weeks of their lives as they just lost someone they love. The last thing they want to be doing is selecting a casket.

That is why I strongly encourage funeral homes to end their retail prices with the same last two numbers. This helps the family in comparing retail prices in the selection room. Personally, I recommend my funeral homes end all their retail pricing in 95. In my mind, $2,995 sounds so much better than $3,000. I understand the difference is only $5 but it just sounds much less expensive.

Using this consumer math helps your families be able to compare retail prices by dropping the last two digits of the price. For example, let’s say your families are comparing similar caskets. One retails for $2,795 and the other for $2,495. It is easier to determine the difference is $300.

I recently went into a showroom that did not use this philosophy. The first casket we discussed had a retail price of $2,412. $2,412? I asked the owner how she came to that retail price and she said it was based on an across-the-board markup. I see this in many showrooms I visit through my travels. It is a common misstep and an easy one to make.

The prices are based solely on the business of selling caskets rather than an understanding of what the customer needs when he is making a selection. I know this sounds simple, but you can actually make this difficult time easier on your families by ending your retail prices with the same numbers. Trust me, it works!

Over the years it has been easy to lose sight of what’s going on in your showroom. It’s a common issue and one that can easily be fixed. I have learned that a simple rule of thumb in any business decision is keeping the customer in mind first.

Whether you are determining how many or what type of caskets to include in your showroom or establishing pricing across selections, following a few simple concepts rooted in easing the process for your families, can transform your business!

Bucky Stevens joined the Thacker Caskets sales team in September 2015. Bucky was named the Salesperson of the Year for
Thacker Caskets in 2016, 2017, and 2022. Before Joining Thacker, Bucky worked in sales in multiple industries including healthcare and industrial chemicals. He also spent time in education as a Business & Marketing Teacher in Richmond, VA, and is a lifelong native Virginian.

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