10 Trends in 2015 That Were Wake-Up Calls for Funeral Providers

January 6, 2016
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Article originally appeared on Golden Rule FH

OGR does its best to keep members in touch with the most important news stories, statistics and trends that impact independent funeral homes through OGR’s weekly e-newsletter, The Independent Insider, and its quarterly magazine, The Independent. Of the hundreds of trends we saw in 2015, the following 10 are our picks for those that give us the best clues to where we need to focus in order to serve families in ways that are more meaningful, healing and palatable.

  1. Rumors of Our Death Rate Have Been Greatly Exaggerated
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Once upon a time statisticians predicted the U.S. death rate would dramatically increase in the magical year of 2010. In fact, the death rate declined in 2010…and 2011…and 2012. What happened? We’re living longer lives due to better medical care. But wait! Recent statistics indicate declines in the death rate are beginning to flatten out due to higher incidents of obesity-related illnesses including heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Whether you think that’s good or bad news, keep in mind that the pie is not likely to get much larger. Funeral providers must distinguish themselves to get the biggest slice.

  1. The Funerals They Are a Changin’

Change isn’t new to funeral service, but it’s never changed as rapidly. Several trends played out in 2015 to suggest that funeral homes that offer cookie-cutter funerals are on their way out.

  • Themed funerals—Wearing costumes to funerals has become a thing. Attending funerals dressed with a BatmanStar Wars and Elvis theme have had meaning for loved ones.
  • Mini funerals—Some families are opting for “invitation only” funerals that include only a close circle of friends and relatives.
  • DIY funerals and memorials—Depending on how far families take it, home funerals are making a comeback. The National Home Funeral Alliance wants to cut out funeral directors entirely. Others are finding ways to memorialize loved ones in unusual ways from roadside memorials to graffiti art.
  • In lieu of funerals—Frank Gifford’s family opted to have a high profile party to commemorate his death rather than any type of funeral. A growing number of families see this as both economical and meaningful.
  1. Funeral Service’s Versions of Uber

An accepted economic principle states that every profession will reach a point when its practitioners no longer effectively respond to change. When that happens, upstart providers identify what customers dislike about traditional providers and establish business models that offer improvements. Uber is a recent example. Consumers dislike the uncertainty of locating taxis, wait times and clunky payment systems. Uber addressed each of those issues by creating an app that put the traditional taxi industry on notice.

Can the same thing happen in funeral service? Absolutely! When the next generation makes funeral arrangements, they’ll either make them online or in a facility that resembles Neiman-Marcus. They’ll opt for having ceremonies in churches, parks, hotels and homes rather than in funeral homes. They’ll look for experiences that are unique and have little resemblance to traditional funerals. Providers are already lining up to serve those wishes. Here are a few that caught our attention:

  • No arrangements room, no crematory, no prep room…no problem!—High cremation rates enable new funeral providers to serve families without brick-and-mortar facilities. Outsourcing cremation and embalming is easy (unless state regulations prohibit the practice), arrangements are made in families’ homes and ceremonies are held in churches or alternative sites.
  • Hands-on funerals–The Order of the Good Death, a licensed funeral home, encourages families to participate in preparing the body either in the funeral home or in families’ homes.
  • Better body appearance–NXT Generation Mortuary Support Services takes body appearance seriously by combining cosmetology, embalming and restorative arts.
  • Online funeral providers–Foundation Partners provides cremation services completely on line.
  • High quality, low cost providers–Bedford Funeral Home touts itself as a high quality funeral home that offers low prices; or is it a low-priced funeral home that offers high quality? 
  1. Is That a Thing In Funeral Service?

Everyone wants a unique experience, especially in funeral service, even if they don’t know what to request. We found that these one-of-a-kind options were available in 2015:

  • Moon landings for cremated remains—Shooting cremated remains into space is so last year, so a company will send your remains to the moon.
  • Send messages to loved ones after you die—In case you always want the last word, a service will arrange to deliver emails to loved ones upon your death.
  • Compare funeral home prices on line—A company publishes funeral home prices online…whether you want them to or not.
  • 3-D printed urns—If families have a picture of an image, a 3-D printer can create an urn in the shape of almost any object or person.
  • Holographic self-eulogies—Another way to have the last word—be a part of your own eulogy by creating a message to loved ones using holographic imaging.
  • Say-something hearses—Europeans have a head start on North Americans in terms of creative funeral coaches, but we’re catching up. My favorites include a tank hearse, a motorcycle hearse and acarriage hearse.
  1. New Reasons Funeral Homes Can Be Scary Places

It’s becoming more difficult to think of a funeral home as a safe haven for mourners and employees. A study published in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry concluded that embalmers are three times more likely to develop Lou Gehrig’s disease than the general population. Universal precautions and prep room ventilation are more important than ever.

As if that weren’t scary enough, some terrorism experts are warning funeral directors that groups may adopt a strategy of assassinating community dignitaries so they can attack large groups of people who gather for their funerals. Diabolical: yes. Unfeasible: no. Over 350 active shooting incidents took place in public places in 2015 in the U.S. While an active shooting incident in a funeral home seems unfathomable, a little knowledge could save lives.  Active shooter response tips video

  1. Bad Publicity: In the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time

In 2015 a number of funeral homes found themselves in the middle of public relations nightmares after community  members snapped and distributed photos of funeral coaches, with caskets in plain sight, parked in places some thought was disrespectful to the dead. Photos were taken at Dunkin Donuts,  Carl’s Jr., and Wal-mart. In response, OGR developed a Body Transporation Policy Template to help OGR members communicate expectations to their drivers and employees.      

  1. Cremation Marches On

The exact numbers may vary, but one thing is certain: cremation is here to stay. An NFDA report claims cremations will have surpassed burials in 2015 once actual data are collected. CANA’s forecast calls for exceeding the 50 percent mark by 2018. Of course, neither forecast matters to funeral professionals who already have 80+ percent cremation rates.

  1. Obituaries Get Political

Several families used obituaries to make a final statement on behalf of their deceased loved ones.  Most notable were:  1) a plea asking people not to vote for Hillary Clinton for president ; 2) a statement setting the record straight that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was innocent of deflating footballs during playoff games; and, 3) a man’s scathing criticism of government policies he claimed caused his ex-wife to die of a heroin overdose.

  1. The Big Keep Getting Bigger

The year 2015 marked several significant mergers and acquisitions in funeral service. The following are especially noteworthy:    

  1. Good (Funeral Home) Help Is Hard to Find

Funeral home owners and managers throughout North America are having a harder time finding qualified employees. Long, irregular hours and on-call responsibilities are unattractive to many potential job prospects.  The bright spot is women. More than half of all mortuary school graduates are women who are expected to eventually dominate the profession. 

Many of the developments that took place in 2015 pointed to the fact that the public calls the shots in funeral service. We must adapt. As the playwright George Bernard Shaw once wrote, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.”

1-16 Allen - 2015 Recap Quote

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