SCI To Get More Than Half of Las Vegas Funeral Market Share

September 10, 2009
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Funeral industry giant Service Corporation International is poised to take more than half of the market through its deal to acquire longtime local stalwart Palm Mortuary.

A company spokesman confirmed that Ken Knauss, whose family bought Palm 50 years ago, announced to employees about three weeks ago that he had agreed to a deal with Houston-based SCI for undisclosed terms. No public announcement was made by either company, but it was first reported in the industry newsletter Funeral Service Insider.

The deal will include all six mortuaries and five cemeteries, a cremation service and the King David Memorial Chapel and Cemetery for Jewish funerals. A closing date has not been set.

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SCI, the largest player in what it calls the deathcare industry at $2.2 billion in revenues last year, will have taken over 56 percent of the valley’s services when Palm is added to the three other homes it already owns, according to state death records. Close to 80 percent of burials would have gone through SCI, according to the same records.

Further, the deal will bring all eight of the cemeteries in town under the control of Houston-based companies, including SCI and rival Carriage Services Inc., including one Carriage manages for the city.

“From the service aspect, I am not necessarily concerned about the deal,” Lee said. “But I would like to see more competition for burial space.”

He noted that Palm, in business as an independent for 83 years, and SCI-owned Davis have been strong competitors over the years.

David Walters, owner of Desert Memorial Cremation & Burial, does not foresee major changes in the market.

“Even though Palm was family owned, it was pretty much a big corporation and run like one,” he said. “They had both funeral homes and cemeteries, similar to Davis (also owned by SCI). So I’m not sure there’s going to be much of a change at all.”

Phillips said Palm’s operations will continue as before, with the name remaining in place. However, SCI has put both Davis and Thomas & Jones under its Dignity Memorial label.

Knauss, who declined to be interviewed, did not prepare a statement detailing why he sold. He is the second generation of the family that has owned Palm since 1959. His father, Charles, is retired from the business.

But Phillips has noted two trends that have started to pinch the industry. National statistics have shown a declining death rate due to a population lull between the World War II generation and the baby boomers, who are still too young to die in large numbers.

In addition, the recession has also been felt.

“Generally speaking, families are choosing what they can afford these days,” Phillips said. “They are not spending on anything extra.”

Palm started in 1926 at a downtown location now occupied by the Golden Nugget by Gene and Anna Parks. Anna Parks was the first female in Nevada to become a licensed funeral director.

The first expansion was only temporary. The construction of Hoover Dam was not allowed to proceed unless there was a funeral home close by. This prompted the Parkses to rent a house in Boulder City in 1933 as a funeral home to meet the requirement.

In 1946, the Parkses sold to two other businessmen, who moved the location to North Main Street in 1957, where the corporate office is today. Two years later, Charles Knauss took over Palm and began the expansion that eventually placed locations throughout the valley.

Contact reporter Tim O’Reiley at toreiley@lvbusinesspress.com or 702-387-5290.

Source: Las Vegas Business Press

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