Roughly 3,000 of 22,000 funeral homes are owned by large corporations. Houston-based Service Corporation International (SCI) is the biggest owner, claiming a 14% share of revenues from afar, while still allowing local management and control. Other giants include Carriage Services, and Stewarts, who own thousands of them and cemeteries.
Prices at the busiest of them could rise as much as 35% in some areas, following the acquisitions. While some are excited about the mergers that bring additional finances and services, others worry that the corporations won’t provide the same quality of service, as given by a family owned funeral home.
As of 2007, there aren’t a lot of visible differences between the family-owned funeral home and its corporate-run competitors. Even with part of the cost being funneled to another company in another state, many are still a locally owned and managed parlor. The prices may be slightly higher or customers may be subtly urged to purchase packages, rather than simply a cremation or a casket.
Since 1984, there have been heavy regulations mandated by the government in a document otherwise known as “The Funeral Rule.” Therefore, there are certain protections for bereft families and they cannot be overtly pushed into buying anything unnecessary or beyond their budgets.
Secondly, branding has become part of the corporate appeal. Twenty-four-hour “compassion hotline” services are marketed on television, some targeting Latino viewers or other specific demographics. They choose new names like “Dignity Memorial” or “Forever Remembered” to be marketed from coast to coast.
Websites will become more elaborate and marketing techniques could begin to edge out the smaller competition. However, many argue that the appeal of the family-owned parlor will never die because people generally associate higher levels of care and fairer prices from the independents.
Thirdly, big companies with big money can sometimes offer better musical arrangements, more funeral flowers and more elaborate memorials. Some directors can even offer videographers who will put together a multimedia presentation for guests at the wake or memorial.
Another newer service being offered by funeral homes/laboratory partnerships is DNA storage, which can help with paternal tests, family genealogical history studying and disease screening. The price for this service is about $295 for DNA retrieval and 25 years of storage. These services are valuable to some, but could one day usurp all the little funeral homes that can’t accommodate these extra, high tech goodies.
Typically, the mourning families don’t care whether a funeral home is owned by a corporation or a family, when it comes down to the day of loss. Therefore, it’s a good idea to check out local ones and cemeteries and discuss things like cremation or funeral expenses beforehand, and get these things in writing! While it seems sort of morbid to think about it, thinking ahead can lessen the financial burden later on.
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