The Changing Trends in the Funeral Industry

by M-Gillies

Ryan M. Lee is also the author of a new book called A Day in the Life of Death which he wrote about his experiences in the funeral industry.

There’s a story here, one with a moral. There’s also an old cliche for businesses, it’s that cost-effective saying that change for change’s sake is rarely a cost-effective path for a business to follow. And we shouldn’t forget that popular idiom, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

However, as Charles Darwin once wrote, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives. Nor the most intelligent that survives, it is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

Much in the same vein that people fear death, the funeral industry fears change; and much like death, change is inevitable. As Ryan Lee, best-selling author of A Day in the Life of Death, editorial contributor to Funeral Business Advisor Magazine and owner of Ryan M. Lee Mortuary Consultants explained, “Ignoring the demands of your consumers will certainly spell disaster for any company.”

Likening this to Schwinn bicycle, Lee explains, “When was the last time you heard any kid ask for a Schwinn bicycle? Once a dream of every child, and the dominant brand, the Schwinn company paid no heed to their market trends and ended up on the bankruptcy auction block in 2001. Schwinn was content and conducting business as usual, all the while, company after company surpassed this industry titan.”

And to that degree, Lee sets the tone for an industry that is slow in adapting to the marketing trends of a new generation. “Funeral directors in general are kind, compassionate and service oriented,” Lee said. “However, funeral directors are also too quick to utter the phrase, because we have always done it that way, when responding to a query about their business operation. In today’s markets, funeral homes are forced to make the decision to either maintain the status quo or embrace the necessary changes to remain relevant to the buying public. Now, if that seems like a tale of the bogeyman hiding under the bed for local funeral service providers, Lee also points out that, “The fact that over 10,000 funeral homes in the United States have closed in the last decade only serves as an introductory glance to an industry galvanized in complacency.”

To further illustrate this point and bridge the gap between the chasm of business and service, Lee points out that a funeral is a business, which exists to provide a service in exchange for money, just as a doctor, dentist, attorney and accountant would. However, in an industry that is open for diversity, funeral services are seeing a slew of competitors. “Funeral homes will either determine themselves to be professional service providers or retail merchants that are simply order takers,” Lee said. “With retailers and wholesalers like Wal-Mart and Costco now selling caskets online and other merchandise just as readily available through trusted internet providers, it is more important now, than any other time in industry history, for funeral service professionals to differentiate themselves by their individual skills, talents, knowledge and abilities.”

Though, roughly two decades ago, a different sort of change swept through the funeral industry. It was in the form of a war for control and dominance in the funeral service sector. A war which came swift but ultimately ended just as quickly with the dramatic financial demise of corporate-owned chain funeral parlors, particularly that of Loewen and Service Corporation International (SCI). As Lee notes, “The way that Loewen and SCI went about business is very different than the way other service industries expanded into markets. SCI and Loewen grew by acquisition, they would buy anything and everything they could. This ultimately weakened them as companies and led to the end of Loewen.” Because of frequent bidding wars the two companies got into, both companies would significantly overpay family-owned funeral homes. Despite Loewen winning in the bidding war, they were ultimately consumed by their own debt, leading the company to file chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1999.

While SCI managed to dodge the bullet and was able to pick-up the Loewen Group properties after Loewen’s failure, it was only after the conglomerate figured out their brand strategy that the company was able to look to future endeavours. During the 1980s and 90s, SCI spent a lot of time trying to hide who they were from their consumers, however, now they are able to capitalize on their size and market themselves as “Dignity Memorial, North America’s largest provider of funeral, cremation and cemetery services.”

But industry controversy doesn’t end there. While it isn’t a secret that the funeral industry is changing, there is a catalyst in the way that funeral services are being held, and while this new change may seem like a minor trend, it’s quickly proving to be a growing phenomenon. Whether they want to admit it or not, technology is shaping the funeral industry and if used properly, funeral homes can benefit from utilizing the service.

“Website usage by funeral homes and cemeteries is often an overlooked marketing goldmine,” Lee said. “Sadly, technology is not being embraced by the industry as quickly as the consumer is demanding. Funeral web-casting and multi-media tributes ought to be available at every funeral home, a funeral home that does not provide these services may as well tell their consumers they are so outdated that they still use rotary phones.” With the increasing popularity of Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr (to name a few), Lee stresses the importance of embracing technology not only as a means of adapting to the changing market but to maintain a stance of relevance.

“Funeral homes really need to incorporate more technological products and services into their offerings,” Lee said. “Consumers are demanding these products and services, and if we as an industry fail to meet the demands of our consumers, we fail to be relevant in a family’s effort to memorialize their loved ones, (making) our industry’s role relegated to ‘Disposition Service Professionals’.”

Even Lee notes that many funeral home websites are wasted spaces floating in the internet’s magical world of social connection. “I, an industry professional, with hundreds of contacts in the industry recently had a technological truth revealed to me,” Lee said as he explained of a recent death in the family, which occurred more than two thousand miles away from him, in a town that he’d only been to once, over six years ago for Thanksgiving. “When I went to the web to research the local funeral homes I learned that each of the three funeral homes in town had websites, but was disappointed to learn that each was nothing more than a generic site containing staff biographies and a detailed history of the firm dating back to the 1800′s. “Not a single page offered differentiations from their competitors or detailed unique services provided by their facility and staff. There was not a single sentence on any of the websites that offered general consumers useful information. Honestly, who really cares where Fred went to high school or that your firm was the first to offer matching horses in 1885. Fred probably doesn’t care, so why would your clientele?”

To assist funeral homes in embracing the current changes sweeping through the funeral industry like a technological tsunami, Lee has formed a nimble team of industry experts intently focused and qualified to address all of the operational and financial management needs of funeral home and cemetery clients with the Ryan M. Lee Mortuary Consulting Group. “We provide unique services that assist funeral home owners and managers increase profitability to improve their quality of life,” Lee said.

Through the Ryan M. Lee Mortuary Consulting Group, clients learn of effective ways in cutting costs, increasing revenue without ‘breaking the bank’, as well as assisting corporate clients in developing and implementing marketing campaigns and sales strategies when bringing new technologies, products and services to their mortuary and cemetery industry.

To contact Ryan M. Lee Mortuary Consulting Group, interested individuals can call the toll free number at (855) RYAN-LEE or email at



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