The funeral industry has undergone a shift in recent years that is unlike what many other industries have experienced. Like many industries, business trends can change at the drop of a hat. However, the trend towards cremation is one that has happened gradually over time and is not one that should have caught anyone by surprise. Nonetheless, the trend towards cremation has begun to accelerate in recent years and there is no end in sight.
Many times, it is economic conditions that are the biggest culprits, and the economy is often the catalyst that will not only cause a shift in general consumer demand, but also in the demand for the products and services that an industry offers. But in the funeral industry, both are true.
Over the past 20 years, the United States has experienced extended periods of economic growth. But during that time span, there have also been short periods of economic turmoil, resulting in mild and major recessions. For example, during the economic downturn of 2008 (caused by the housing bubble and subsequent speculative lending practices of both banks and mortgage companies), we saw a noticeable increase in cremation rates. However, it didn’t just start then, the need and desire for cremation services has been on a steady trend upward since 1995.
Current cremation rates are expected to increase from a current rate of approximately 56% and peak at a high of nearly 80% by 2035. So, if the trend will continue upward, what are you doing (or should be doing) now or prepared to do in we continue to see a spike in cremations?
To help answer this question, Funeral Business Advisor magazine recently sat down with 4 prominent vendors and asked them to address this issue and give their guidance and advice on cremation and green burial. We started off by asking these suppliers why they felt it was important for funeral homes to embrace cremation as this trend continues on an upward trajectory.
Barbara Kemmis, Executive Director of CANA (Cremation Association of North America) has her own thoughts on the matter. “Cremation is the new tradition in the United States,“says Kemmis. “While many families don’t understand all of the options available with cremation, they are choosing it anyway—for a variety of reasons.”
“This means that if you want to best serve your community, it’s time to get proactive,” explains Kemmis. “Examine your product and service offerings and what your team is saying about cremation.”If you don’t think what you see or hear is getting to the core of what you families want, then make changes!”
Are there trends within the trend? “Green burial is an emerging trend, so it is the perfect time to embrace it,” continues Kemmis. “This is an opportunity to establish yourself as the green burial expert in your market. Research where the nearest natural burial or hybrid cemetery might be and add green products to your selection rooms. Scattering tubes, biodegradable urns or even bamboo cremation containers are easy to add and may serve as a visual cue that you provide green options.”
Kemmis concluded by saying, “The other important step is to educate your community on the options available when choosing cremation. Show them that you are the one who can help create a unique and personal experience to honor the life of their loved one. Cremation rates will only continue to rise. If you do not embrace that reality now, you risk becoming irrelevant.”
According to Andrew Clark, Chief Customer Officer of Foundation Partners Group, he looks at the cremation rate and says you should use caution and not forget about such a large portion of the deathcare market. “With the current cremation rate at approximately 56 percent nationwide, not offering cremation services can mean alienating a large portion of the population,” says Clark. “We all entered this profession to serve families and today, with the shifting market dynamics, we are seeing more and more families request cremation services.”
Clark continues, “Recent studies show that cost is not the primary factor in a family’s choice of cremation. Other factors include environmental concerns, shifting cultural traditions, religious faith, etc. I firmly believe that funeral professionals will need to embrace cremation to meet the needs of families today and into the future.”