COVID Changes COVID affected the funeral industry in deep and permanent ways. While it didn’t increase the raw percentages of cremation, the undeniable attraction of direct cremation for many families is an area worth of consideration. COVID required funeral homes to adopt technology in a way they otherwise wouldn’t have, and it made people think about funerals and end-of-life planning as they maybe hadn’t for 100 years. “Everybody was like, ‘Hey, you can’t have a funeral. You can’t have people gather, you can’t do this.’ So, they were doing direct disposals and then just trying to plan a party for later,” Murphy said. As it became clear that wasn’t a trend that would reverse, what Murphy calls the “merchandise issue” became a fact of life for funeral directors. Finding a way to help families grieve and memorialize became a more difficult problem. Still, he said, that’s more a funeral director issue, it shouldn’t affect loyalty to the supplier. For one thing, distributors play a massive role in funeral home sales. CFSAA has members from every industry that sells to funeral homes. In addition to casket manufacturers, there are embalming fluid producers, hearse companies and stationery companies. If it gets sold to a funeral home, it’s represented in the CFSAA. While many of the biggest casket manufacturers have boots-on-the-ground salespeople, not every brand representative works for the brand. In many cases, Murphy said, said, funeral homes might not even know they’re dealing with a distributor. “I think the first thing that really entered my head was there’s a lot of different balls in the air on this one,” Murphy said. “There are factors that are affecting this coming from a whole lot of different angles and places, and I didn’t really realize this until I started posing this question to funeral directors.” He checked in with some of his members and even took the opportunity and brought it up among four funeral director friends over a couple of beers . “I said, ‘Hey guys, as long as we’re here and as long as the beer is flowing, let’s talk about this,” he said. “And I got some answers that I didn’t expect.” Murphy said the fourth was the youngest and least experienced of the group. He didn’t have a hard line opinion on his company’s choices, but brand loyalty wasn’t something he thought about much. “‘I like the people that our firm buys from, but I am open to any and all suggestions, and I’m really open to any and all price quotes,’” he told Murphy. Four Perspectives on Loyalty Murphy’s funeral director friends were three men and a woman with a range of experience in the industry. Their responses may provide some insight into what the casket industry faces over the next several decades: The first was a 40-year-old first-generation funeral home owner. He had been in the business less than a decade and his answer was direct. “He said, ‘I buy everything from China and I’m not loyal to anybody,’” Murphy told me. The second guy owned a multi-location funeral home. Murphy said he was a sixth- or seventh-generation owner and recounted his story: “He said, ‘My dad was fiercely loyal to his vault supplier and to his casket supplier, the other suppliers, maybe not so much. But the main ingredients, the casket and the vault, those are the people that we are really loyal to. My dad was so loyal he would never, ever think about changing suppliers,’” Murphy said. The son, however, had no compunction about shopping price. When Murphy asked him why he simply said, “Because Dad wasn’t chasing margin and I am. I’m going for price, and I’m going to go wherever that price is.” The third funeral director works for a larger funeral home company, one big enough to be able to negotiate price with certain lines. She told Murphy that price was a factor for her as well and that buying local, in her experience, didn’t have the cache people seemed to think it has. “Quite frankly, the consumer doesn’t care,” she said. “Only once in my career, which is about 13 or 14 years, did a family ever ask if the casket was made in Indiana. They’re looking at this exterior, and they’re looking at the beautiful wood, and they’re looking at the nice interior, and if it has a ‘MADE IN CHINA’ stamp on the bottom of it, they don’t care.”

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