SCI Funeral Director Not Worried By WalMart?

November 8, 2009
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image I think it is too early in the game to start bucking the fact that Walmart could have an effect on the casket sales in the US. Less than a month into there viral marketing campaign through Internet articles, and we have yet to go one day without having to hear about Walmart selling caskets. Will Walmart have an effect on the caskets sales in the US? I don’t think we can say for sure, but I do think it needs to stay in the back of our minds as a concern. One thing we can do to slow the effect is continue to enforce the value of the funeral service. If there is one thing Walmart can’t sell it is funeral service, and this is the most important part of the grieving process. Helping client families understand the value in the funeral service will lead them to seeing the value in the merchandise displayed at the service – devaluing the discount caskets found at WalMart. WalMart can NEVER match the value funeral directors provide families. Below is an article from The Southtown Star in Chicago stating comments from a funeral director dismissing the possibility that Walmart could effect US casket sales.

Wal-Mart’s new slogan could be “Save money, Live better … And die cheaper.”

The discount retailer recently entered the $11 billion funeral industry by offering caskets to its online customers.

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Local funeral planners are not worried the newcomer to the world of third-party casket providers will affect their business.

“It’s a lot more convenient to go through a funeral home,” said Larry Michael, marketing director for Service Corporation International, owner of Blake-Lamb funeral home in Oak Lawn.

Michael estimates that fewer than 5 percent of Blake-Lamb’s customers go with an outside casket vendor.

Most of Wal-Mart’s caskets cost between $1,000 and $2,000, with the priciest one, the sienna bronze casket, going for $2,899. Caskets ship within 24 hours and shipping costs average $100.

When all is said and done, Michael said, you could lose time and peace of mind to save a couple hundred bucks going through Wal-Mart.

“We offer a metal casket starting at $995, very comparable to Wal-Mart’s offering,” Michael said. “It’s one less step to go with a funeral home’s selection.”

The federal government requires funeral homes to accept third-party caskets.

Mike Gill, co-owner of Brady-Gill funeral homes in Tinley Park, Lemont and Evergreen Park, said funeral homes have been dealing with third-party caskets for 15 years.

“Wal-Mart may be new to the industry, but the idea is not,” he said. “Like anything else these days, you can get caskets online. Wal-Mart is just a bigger name.”

Warehouse stores such as Costco and independent retailers such as Impressive Caskets also offer caskets for sale.

What you don’t get with a third-party casket, Gill said, are the services of the funeral director.

“Is Wal-Mart going to answer the phone at 3 in the morning? Is it going to sit down with your family and talk about your needs?” he said. “Is it going to rush to replace a casket that is perhaps damaged in delivery?

“Anybody can sell a casket,” he said. “Our services are an important part of what we do.”

Gill said if you’re buying independently, you should know exactly what you want and need.

For example, he said, if your loved one is over 300 pounds, you may need a special casket.

The average customer, he said, spends between $700 and $2,000 on a casket. And, despite Wal-Mart’s reputation for low prices, it does not necessarily offer the cheapest caskets.

“We have a metal casket that costs $695,” Gill said.

Gill said he doesn’t blame people for wanting to trim funeral costs. Most of his customers are budget-conscious.

“If you want to see significant savings, consider cremation,” he said.

The cost of cremation is about $270, he said, while the average cemetery burial is about $3,500.

And if you decide to go with cremation, Gill pointed out, you won’t be able to get a rental casket for the visitation service from Wal-Mart.

However, both Costco and Wal-Mart do sell urns on their Web sites.

Wal-Mart can expect competition from retailers such as Impressive Caskets in Oak Forest.

“We can deliver the same day,” manager Frank Rossi said. “Wal-Mart can take 24 to 48 hours.”

Impressive Caskets has been in business for 12 years and serves the Chicago area and northwest Indiana.

Everyone, he said, is trying to be careful about how they spend their money these days.

“The main reason people come to us is to save money,” Rossi said. “They can save up to $1,000 (compared with some funeral homes), depending on what they like.”

Source: Southtown Star

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