Innovative crematory eases tough choices with online services

November 16, 2016
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Originally Published on Crains Tampa Bay

It’s not a line of work that gets a lot of attention, but the funeral-and-cremation industry is evolving rapidly as the nation undergoes dramatic demographic and generational shifts.

Ocala, Fla.-based Right Choice Cremation has been paying close attention to those societal changes. The company – a subsidiary of Orlando-based Foundation Partners Group, one of the county’s largest privately owned funeral operators – offers online cremation planning and payment and recently opened a new location, its fourth, in Brandon, a suburb of Tampa. It also has offices in Graniteville, S.C., and Bossier City, La.

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Danielle Dougherty has been in the funeral and cremation industry for 12 years and manages Right Choice’s Brandon office. “Right Choice is a unique business developed with the consumer in mind,” she said. “We did research and found that families were wanting to do things in a convenient way for themselves. They wanted to be able to simplify cremation arrangements. Offering online arrangements does that for them.”

Dougherty referred to Right Choice as one of a “select few companies that allow families to plan and pay for cremation arrangements online in the comfort of their homes while providing a full refund if they are not satisfied.” What makes it unique, she explained, is its commitment to around-the-clock customer service. People who are interested in Right Choice’s products and services can reach one of the firm’s funeral directors at any time via a live chat app on the company’s website.

However, Dougherty said that online interactions are not meant to entirely supplant face-to-face consultations. Customers are welcome to visit the Right Choice office and make arrangements for themselves or a loved one without going anywhere near a computer.

Regardless of which way customers make arrangements, “we will be in touch with them each step of the way,” Dougherty said. “We reach out to them to let them know where we are in the process.”

Right Choice’s general manager, Tamara Burkey, has spent the bulk of her career – 35 years – in the funeral-and-cremation industry and keeps a close watch on trends. As the baby-boom generation ages, she said, the ratio of traditional funerals to cremations is nearing 50-50. According to the Cremation Association of North America, or CANA, the U.S. cremation rate jumped from 26.2 percent in 2000 to 48.6 percent in 2015. CANA projects that it will rise to 54.3 percent by 2020. “And as baby boomers get older, deaths will rise,” she said, meaning “that trend is going to tilt toward cremation.”

Burkey said the Tampa Bay region stood out as an ideal market for Right Choice’s latest location. “The attractive thing about the Tampa area is that it has a nice population mix of seniors and young people starting families,” she said. “It’s not just seniors making arrangements. It’s shifting now to younger baby boomers. We are cognizant that we need to reach that group, too.”

Dougherty said Tampa Bay’s sizeable “snowbird” population makes it a natural market for Right Choice Cremation. “A lot of the times, the family is not here” to make arrangements in person. “Or families don’t feel the need to come in. It might not even be necessary for them to come in and meet with a funeral director.”

The shift from burial to cremation also brings with it new preferences for how funeral and memorial services are conducted, Burkey said, noting that people are opting for more informal celebrations of life rather than “a dimly lit parlor with ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ playing in the background.”

Such changing tastes, she added, also represent a market opportunity for forward-thinking companies like Right Choice. “I’ve wanted to see change in our industry,” Burkey said. “For years, the funeral profession ignored the people who chose cremation and focused on those who chose the casket and service. It’s not just about the product – it’s about serving families.

“I’ve been a licensed funeral director for 35 years,” she added, “and what we offer is so different. Our offices all look very similar. They are bright, welcoming, and very modern. We don’t have rooms full of caskets and urns. All of our products are displayed on a monitor. It has a nice ambiance, and people feel comfortable.”

Thanks to being part of Foundation Partners Group, Right Choice owns, operates, and regulates its own crematory. Because of that, “we know cremations are done with dignity and families are put at ease,” Burkey said.

Burkey said Right Choice also offers innovative financial products to customers designed to bring further peace of mind. These include travel protection and a prearrangement pricing guarantee.

“If you move to, say, Idaho, if you have the travel protection, we will arrange the cremation for you,” Burkey said. “This is because there are some remote areas of the country where they don’t have crematories. And if you prearrange for yourself or a loved one, once you take out your plan, those funds go into a trust. You are guaranteed it will not cost more. It’s locked in. Prearrangements and travel protection can be incredibly important.”

Right Choice’s basic cremation packages start at $780, depending on location. For more information, visit www.rightchoicecremation.com.

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