Navigating the Impending Storm in Funeral Service

By: James Fletcher, Matthews Memorialization
Sunday, July 16, 2023

I’ll never forget the cold Friday evening when I received a frantic call from my uncle. “There’s been a plane crash behind our house. The woods are on fire!” The year was 2012 and at that time, I was not only a full-time funeral director, but our county’s chief deputy
coroner.

The next two days would be spent combing through the wood line where the single engine Cessna had fractured, creating a debris field going deep into the forest. While the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was interested in recovering the wreckage to determine what caused the accident, I was there to collect human remains.

As time passed, I all but forgot about this case until the FAA issued their final report. What had caused the aircraft’s right wing to strike a tree only fifty feet off the ground? To our surprise, it wasn’t the aircraft’s fault. The plane was in perfect working condition. The reason for the accident was the error of the pilot. He knowingly traveled into a dark and inclement situation without an understanding of how to use or read the instruments in the aircraft. He took to the air without a plan.

Prior to the advent of aircraft instruments, pilots were forced to fly by sight and intuition. This is where the phrase “flying by the seat of your pants” originated. Pilots relied on the sensation of their weight shifting in the seat to determine how to control the plane. While that June have been the only option for the Wright brothers and the early pilots of WWI, there’s no need to fly that way today.

So, what does this have to do with funeral service? There is no doubt that funeral service is facing turbulent weather. Our industry, like all others, has experienced the pains of a 40-year high in inflation. In January 2023, it cost $1.16 to buy what $1.00 bought in January 2020 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2023).

From increased payroll, healthcare, fuel, and merchandise costs, funeral homes are not immune to the same financial hits that the rest of America has taken over the past several years. With death rates at all-time highs during the pandemic, the impact of inflation June not have been full felt, but as death rates return to pre-pandemic levels, the reality of higher operating costs will
be felt.

The other front that continues to challenge funeral service at the same time is the continued growth of cremation and the decrease in revenue associated with it. According to the Cremation Association of North America (CANA), the cremation rate for the U.S. was 57.5% in 2021 (CANA, 2022). The projected rate for 2025 is 63.6% and for 2030 is 69.8% (NFDA, 2022).
Research published from the National Funeral Directors Association and other industry analysts report that families who choose cremation spend roughly 30% of what families who choose full “traditional” services. There is no denying that these factors of high inflation and rising cremation are a challenge to today’s funeral service operator. Today, funeral home owners and
managers cannot afford to fly by the seat of their pants. Now more than ever, the owners and managers sitting at the controls need to be prepared. The community and funeral home staff are depending upon their ability to navigate through these storms.

But there is a silver lining to these storm clouds ahead. More tools are available to today’s funeral home owner than ever before. Consider the number of tools that Matthews Aurora™ Funeral Solutions alone brings to the industry:

CompassTM – This analytical tool helps funeral homes determine if their current merchandising plan will hit their financial targets. Does a funeral home have retail pricing mistakes? Are there prohibitive gaps in their product assortment? Are arrangers presenting merchandise as intended? Considering that the casket sale alone often makes up a third of the contract, you can’t
afford to not have a plan. When trying to determine where you stand, and how to get where you’re headed, there’s nothing better to use than a Compass.

I’ll Remember You® (IRY) – As already mentioned, the number of families choosing cremation will continue to grow. While that trend cannot be reversed, we can take reasonable precautions to protect a funeral home’s revenue. IRY helps funeral arrangers educate cremation families about their choices for service and memorial merchandise. IRY often increases cremation contract revenue from $400 to $800. That’s an increase of 12% to 21% based off Federated Fiducial’s average cremation contract.

Technology Solutions – Whether it’s Arranger, Family Connections, Advisor, or the Catalog App, when it comes to tools in the bag, Matthews Aurora™ Funeral Solutions has the necessary technology solutions to get the job done. The NFDA had this to say regarding

“Consumers are increasingly shifting to online funeral planning. Approximately 40.0% of NFDA-member funeral homes offer the option to make cremation arrangements online (a significant increase from 25.2% in 2019). In addition, 28.2% plan to offer online cremation arrangement options within the next five years” (NFDA, 2022).

Professional Development ¬– In an ever-changing environment like the death care industry, it’s challenging to keep your staff on the cutting edge. Matthews Aurora ™ Funeral Solutions can provide online and in-person staff training in relevant industry topics.

New Memorial Products – As contract revenue decreases because of changes in death care, it’s imperative that new revenue streams capable of bringing value to the families are found. Additionally, they serve at increasing a funeral home’s bottom line. Matthews Aurora™ Funeral Solutions continues to keep a pulse on industry trends and is committed to bringing these
new revenue enhancers to funeral homes. Although storms lie ahead, if you’re prepared, they’re survivable, especially if you have the right tools.

James Fletcher is a Regional Sales Director for Matthews Aurora Funeral Solutions and is a former Funeral Director and Chief
Deputy Coroner. James resides in Florida and Indiana with his family.

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