The Good Funeral Guide Blog

Coffins on the shopping channel

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Newcastle undertaker Carl Marlow has, by his own accounts, been quiet for the last five years — busy building his business. For his fellow undertakers this was too good to last. Carl has never been one to take the view that the best way to achieve change is to work within the industry, and this is only one of a thousand reasons why the industry hates him. He’s a free radical and a bloody good servant to those he looks after. When it comes to offering choice he goes the extra mile: “You don’t have to have a hearse, you know. That’s two hundred quid you can put behind the bar afterwards.” I love Carl.

Now he wants to offer advice to cost-conscious, self-reliant funeral consumers and sell them coffins at affordable prices.  He says, in that disarming, conciliatory way he has: “I think funerals are a con. Too many people in an emotional frame of mind are paying too much money and there’s no need for it to be so expensive. It feels like a bit of a closed shop, and I’m trying to open it up a bit. We’re hopefully going to be putting coffins on shopping channels like QVC. We’re putting an application in and seeing if they come back to us. We’re not trying to be controversial. We’re trying to make coffins more of an everyday purchase and demystify the whole funeral process.”

Few people have done as much for the cause of death in the community as Carl. He likes to photograph his coffins, not in hushed and dignified surroundings, but in everyday contexts. He tells me he has raised eyebrows and smiles recently, carting coffins around the city, posing them against graffiti-covered walls and the like.

Having spent a happy half- hour on the phone to Carl I just had to tell you about it. The name of the new business is the Coffin Company. It launches any day. I’ll be sure to tell you when it does.

10 comments on “Coffins on the shopping channel

  1. Saturday 29th January 2011 at 8:16 pm

    Hey Eric, I have also looked at the website and cant find the “Punk” one. I really want to see it and hope they put it on soon.

  2. Saturday 29th January 2011 at 8:10 pm

    Well done Carl !! I watched you this week on BBC1 Look North and loved the Punk Coffin and subsiquently have been on your new website. People need to look at this because I have never seen anything like it. Great interview and best of luck….Eric

  3. Thursday 20th January 2011 at 11:52 am

    […] directors are making these choices available, companies such as Greenfield Creations in Essex and The Coffin Company soon to launch in the north east, sell direct to customers wanting cheaper and more sustainable […]

  4. Thursday 20th January 2011 at 10:45 am

    Good luck Carl. The industry has to change. Part of that change is giving the customer more information and more confidence in dealing with the funeral director. Death and funerals should be openly discussed and the choices made known. To be able to get a good value and well designed coffin from Carl and similar companies is important in changing an industry that is too set in its ways at the moment.

  5. Thursday 13th January 2011 at 10:32 am

    Very good point, Maggie. But what a wonderful slimming discipline! “I’d love to but I mustn’t — I’ll never be able to get into my coffin.”

  6. Maggie

    Thursday 13th January 2011 at 9:35 am

    It seems like a good idea – but what happens if, when the time comes, the coffin doesn’t fit – after all, as a nation we are getting bigger by the day – can I send it back for a bigger size?

    Looking forward to seeing the QVC presenters getting their tape measures out!

  7. Jonathan

    Wednesday 12th January 2011 at 10:47 pm

    Shame on them indeed, Nicola; but as the president of the NAFD (I forget her name) said to me at last year’s funeral exhibition: “If a manufacturer sold coffins to the public, I’d never buy another coffin from them again” (or words to that effect; if you’re reading this, Madam, forgive me if I’ve misquoted you).

    The gist of her argument was that she couldn’t make enough profit to pay her staff without marking up the coffin. What she didn’t say was that if she charged a realistic fee for her time instead, she’d look bad against the competition, and you have to admit she has a point… a point on a viscious circle of fear and secrecy in an industry constricted by superstition and other of our lower human traits.

    The more reason we need the likes of Carl, unafraid to bring death out into the open (and burn it on an outdoor pyre).

  8. Wednesday 12th January 2011 at 10:35 pm

    Sounds like a sound bloke. I hope he makes a fortune.

    I also liked the idea of that coffin that you can use as a bookcase, until The Time Comes.So then I can say “It’s bookcase time, my dears. Time to move those books and lay out the Complete Works…”

  9. Nicola

    Wednesday 12th January 2011 at 7:04 pm

    I love Carl too!
    And what would be even better is if he could get UK manufacturers to provide him with his products so he didn’t have to ship everything in from China.
    When I worked as a funeral arranger for a (sadly corporate) FD’s, I couldn’t believe how many coffin manufacturers wouldn’t supply direct to the family. Shame on them…

  10. Wednesday 12th January 2011 at 7:04 pm

    Can’t make it enough, old bean. Let’s get the dead back where they belong: among the living. Death is coming home, it’s coming home…

  11. Jonathan

    Wednesday 12th January 2011 at 6:44 pm

    I asked Carl, at the Green Funeral Exhibition, for a price for a cheap cardboard coffin, normally £200-300. “Fifty quid”, he blithely told me, “no-one should have to pay more.”

    Most families just pay whatever their friendly funeral director asks, in the event, but that’s the point; demystify death (see post on Cafe du Fin de la Vie below) and the funeral could become a community-owned event once mort…er, more.

    I’ve made that comment before, haven’t I?

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