The Good Funeral Guide Blog

The Co-op is dying, long live the co-op

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Outside a Co-operative Funeralcare funeral home

 

“Every private equity company in the country has been in touch to try and buy its funerals operation.” Lord Myners

  In recent times the Co-op’s reputation has been kept afloat by sentiment fostered by its of-the-people-for-the-people origins, fortified by ‘ethical values’ and holier-than-thou policies on fair trade. Fondness has blinded people who should know better to its executive infirmities. Scarcely a day goes by without the announcement of fresh horror at the top. And the bad news stories about Funeralcare just keep on coming:

 

Mirror

Source

With a £2 billion loss behind it for the last year alone, and strife at the top, the viability of the ‘Group’ is now in doubt.

The GFG has earned a fair amount of hate mail for the way it has campaigned against Co-op Funeralcare. We’ve done so more in sorrow than in anger. No need for a detailed analysis of where it all went wrong, the bare bones tell the story.

Funeralcare offers a very poor deal to funeral shoppers — something all the sentimentalists who’ve tenaciously viewed the Co-op through hogwash-smeared spectacles must now acknowledge. At a time of funeral poverty and ever-rising costs its social purpose seems to have gone AWOL, the pursuit of profit remaining its sole purpose.

The predicament of the Co-op Group is dire. If things don’t get better the Co-op’s banks will have no option but to seize its assets and sell them off. Funeralcare remains vulnerable therefore to circling venture capitalists (see quote above). Under new management it could relaunch as a corporate predator — a dreadful legacy. 

And a harsh but necessary lesson for all those sentimentalists who suppose that a co-op is intrinsically better equipped to do business than a plc. The lesson we must hope they have learned is that there is no point in trading as a co-operative if you can’t get a better deal for your customers. If you can’t do that, your co-operative is a failure no matter what ethical values it signs up to.

The good news is that if any activity lends itself to a social enterprise business model it is the provision of funerals. No other model can compete. One of these days someone is going to get it right (and Dignity is going to go to the wall). Whether it’s member-owned or worker-owned, it’ll do more than walk like a co-op and talk like a co-op, it’ll act like a co-op.

FOOTNOTE: The GFG does not seek to make a name for itself by naffing people off. We exist to look for good news wherever we can find it and put bereaved people in touch with the best suppliers of goods and services. We like the co-operative model so much we even developed our own — here

24 comments on “The Co-op is dying, long live the co-op

  1. GMT

    Wednesday 26th March 2014 at 8:53 am

    Some excellent remarks on here over the past 24/48 hours,
    As Lucy has mentioned security guards answering calls, and what the company thinks that employ the guards, to be honest it is probably in house, it used to called loss prevention some time ago and they were employees of the coop.
    I can only imagine its now called multitasking and if by using people on a night shift can save the company £2,000 a month then lets face facts, its going to happen.
    Again Lucy mentioned the fact the coop had some great people working for them, I agree with that and keep in regular touch with some, on the other hand I know some that are prepared to load the gun and let someone else press the trigger, A backbone and set of balls are easily located in most food outlets, shame certain people cant find these items.

    Andrew you have suggested I have details on my window and website, two great minds think alike, its in the pipe line as we speak, If Tesco can name Asda, Morrissons can name Sainsburys in price wars then more Independents should name the Coop and Dignity in a like for like service.
    Mind you some Independents are just happy to go with the flow and not rattle the apple cart, as long as they make a living.
    Probably raising my head above the trench again here but when a Independent can offer the same service as the Coop and still save a family over £1,000 this has to made public knowledge, we both use the same coffin supplier, we have the same clothing, we use the same crematoriums and churchyards, the same Ministers. A hearse at the end of the day is a hearse, does it matter if one is 30 years old and another is brand new.
    As long as its clean and respectable it will suffice.
    I will be happy to offer my estate car if a family had money issues or just didnt want one, there is no law that states a hearse has to be used.

  2. andrew plume

    Tuesday 25th March 2014 at 9:54 pm

    Charles righty said (above):

    “…..The lesson we must hope they have learned is that there is no point in trading as a co-operative if you can’t get a better deal for your customers. If you can’t do that, your co-operative is a failure no matter what ethical values it signs up to….”

    Well, following that (and on pricing) this immediately takes Funeralcare, Anglia, East of England and Southern Co-op, immediately out of the equation

    andrew

  3. andrew plume

    Tuesday 25th March 2014 at 9:45 pm

    and ……….flash back a year or so ago, a Coop employee posted on here regarding my large number of posts expressing dissatisfaction with the performance of the mighty (sic) Funeralcare. Nothing has changed since then to make me any happier, the same old shoddy and rip off shortcomings continue (such as the above) and there are little signs of this stopping. Of course, prices continue to rise, well they have to don’t they………..?

    I’m not at all opposed to the Cooperative movement per se. It’s just that on the funeral side, F’care and some of their Regional colleagues have displayed a ‘flagrant disregard’ for “funeral poverty issues” and constantly press ahead with their superior arrogant attitudes etc etc. Coop’s should stick to food, pharmacies and travel, the funeral business particularly from F’care no longer fits and is unsuitable for their client base and the social role model. For all intents and purposes, F’care is being run ‘as a Plc’, it just doesn’t have a London Stock Exchange listing. It’s no different at all to Dignity and with it’s structure is ready and waiting to be absorbed by a large Private Equity outfit, who will hopefully then take a very sharp knife to all of the management waste

    F’care have some quality loyal employees, these are all at the coal face and have no say in management and pricing. On the back of a vast advertising campaign, the Cooperative Group have made much of cross selling and all of the bountiful joyful loveliness that they continue to bring to the communities that they serve (sic). The continual propaganda machine from Coop Towers continues to say that ‘we’re good for you” and all of that irrelevant jazz etc etc, in other words ‘we’re really terrific, delivering low and good value prices’ and after all, most of their loyal customers are sucked in by all of this stuff. And then, we have ‘the sting’ in the shape of the Funeral biz. This all consuming goliath with their vast prices (and often shabby offerings), goes against the grain in what they deliver. Ask around out there readers of this blog, take a straw poll of people that you know, you’ll find that without a doubt the majority have nil idea that the cosy cosy lovely local Coop offer such expensive funerals, when in fact “funeral poverty” should be at the forefront and their ‘vast economies of scale’ should be shunted back towards the client and not funding the continual lifestyles of George, David, Sam and their overpaid colleagues at Coop Towers. Socially, senior Management have totally lost their way, it’s all profit at the punters expense

    Memo to Private Equity firms: please take F’care off the Coop’s hands, pay as low as you can for the business, ditch as much management as possible etc etc

    andrew

    PS – if F’care & Co had kept their prices on or around those of the Indy’s; addressed and eradicated the shameful mess up’s (frequently reported on this blog); avoided constantly blowing their proverbial as to how brilliant they are; and ditched all of the unnecessary local and board management, then I for one, would scarcely be bothered to appear on here………………

  4. Tuesday 25th March 2014 at 10:55 am

    Prices in the window, on your website, Facebook and Twitter….yes please! I am not ashamed of what I charge for my services and have nothing to hide.
    I charge per hour for those wanting to do most of it themselves and support them in any way while they do.

    The bigger companies can’t or won’t do this. It infuriates me that if you go onto their websites, you get through to a national site and a “enter your postcode here to find your local branch” box.

    If you call them out of hours, you get through to a call centre. Who would want to discuss funeral arrangements for their Father with someone in a call centre?

    In Oxford, the Co-op has just sold one of it’s branches to Dignity….I think this is just the tip of the iceberg.

    I can see a private equity company buying up the lot in the not too distant future. They will either run it as a private firm, but I could also see them splitting everything into “regions” and selling off the regions.

    Or, I can see the Co-op selling off the smaller branches to Dignity and just making Dignity bigger.

    While there is in-fighting in the Co-op and selling out to Dignity, this should be the time that smaller independents should make the most of it all.

    We should be shouting from the rooftops that in general we are cheaper than the big companies and give a more personal service.

    • GMT

      Tuesday 25th March 2014 at 11:19 am

      HI and good morning Lucy,
      Call centers, now that is good topic of conversation, during my years at our local Coop all FDs office bound were asked to participate in the out of hours answering the telephone rota, some declined but the majority of us agreed as it was part of the job description.
      The duty FD would finish work early go home, relax with a cup of tea or coffee and at 17.00 the last person in the main office would transfer the main phone over to the duty FD, calling them to confirm the transfer was done.
      next working day the first person in the office would take the phones back and again confirm with the duty FD that the transfer back was complete, also taking all messages and first calls.
      This worked until staff left and there replacements did not need or want to do any out of hours cover, Along came the call center, I was never a fan and aired my views and opinion on more than one occasion, white collar senior management were happy to pay in excess of £2,000 a month to a firm probably 200 miles from our nearest location.
      Now I am reliably informed the cut backs have meant the call center has gone, and the night security men in head office have had a crash course in dealing with bereaved families and are handling all the out of hours calls.
      lets be honest they are being paid to work a night shift. is this right or wrong.

      • Tuesday 25th March 2014 at 4:17 pm

        Call centres have their place, but not in the funeral industry.

        If I was arranging a funeral, I would want to speak to someone who I will see the next day to make arrangements. I want to speak to someone who knows the answers to my questions. I want to speak to someone who is going to look after me.

        I don’t want to speak to a member of the security team who although “trained” to answer calls, but really hasn’t the first idea of taking that initial call from someone who has been recently bereaved. How on earth could they possibly help me?
        More importantly, how on earth could the security company allow this to happen?

        I genuinely think that there are some amazing people in the Co-op. I was lucky to be trained by an amazing funeral director and still keep in touch with some of the people still working there.

        I have no doubt that if I ever needed anything, I could make a call and they would bend over backwards to help me.
        The management on the other hand…well…that is a different story.

        If they went back to retaining staff that really are fantastic and restricted management to those that had worked their way up from the bottom in the funeral division, then I would be genuinely worried about my company….the Co-op would be a force to be reckoned with.

        However, while they continue to bring in middle and senior management from the food division or hire people from a PR background or a former manager of a biscuit factory, the Co-op will continue on a downward spiral.

        All those middle and senior managers are looking at it from a purely business perspective…and lets face it…it isn’t working.

        If the Co-op ever got it’s act together, it would be an amazing company and I for one am hoping it doesn’t. It would give me sleepless nights!

      • andrew plume

        Tuesday 25th March 2014 at 7:32 pm

        “night security men”, on ‘the emergency call rota’, totally awful, shocking, this is what your local Coop – presumably East of England feels about future clients, is it…………, GMT?

        all with the intentions of profit and not consumer care……yet another example of Coop arrogance and their besotted belief in themselves……..maybe you should add this lovely little fact to your window price list and also your website

        let’s face it, if this is the way that all Coop’s are going, then they’re providing plenty of ammunition for the competition…………

        regards

        andrew

    • andrew plume

      Tuesday 25th March 2014 at 8:19 pm

      Hello Lucy

      imo, every Indy should openly display their prices and compare them with the Corporates. Past attitudes to reluctance in doing so, should be ignored, the Indy’s have to do their bit to raise the serious concern “of funeral poverty”

      ……….yes, the Corporates will and have no interest in acting ‘as advisers’, it doesn’t maximise profits and their arrangers haven’t and will not be trained for providing such a service. After all, why should they……….(sic)

      Call Centres are 101% inappropriate for the funeral industry. Dignity will pipe up and add that this means that you can book a slot at one of our Crem’s 24 hours a day, terrific, really, big deal……………

      I’d assumed that said sale of that Coop Branch to Dignity was because they owned two of the three trading outlets in that location and it was for trading standards/fair trade reasons etc etc

      I’m 101% in favour of Private Equity buying Funeralcare, splitting it up and selling what they can to Dignity. Taking F’care out of the market can only assist in dealing with the “funeral poverty” issue. It will further expose the cost of a Dignity funeral and hopefully will bring down their market share, hopefully, hopefully………

      Finally, I would love to see more smaller Indy’s open up, part of the problem, I suspect is property costs, not easy at all and after all the Corporates have their ‘financial war chest’ always available

      regards

      andrew

      • Wednesday 26th March 2014 at 1:42 pm

        Andrew….I am quite happy to do a price comparison with other funeral companies and within the next two weeks, I will have all of our prices in the window.

        I think that most independent companies won’t want to do this because it may spark a price war…something which has already happened with the supermarkets.

        I have heard both the Co-op and Dignity to agree to carrying out a funeral at under their estimated costs just to “steal the funeral away from the other funeral director.”

        If by naming these companies in my window sparks this kind of “price war” I will loose.
        Most independents are priced at the lowest they could go while still making enough money to keep the business running. I know I certainly have….so a price war would sink most people in my position.

        But…and this is a big but….if independents don’t do something, they will sink anyway. We have nothing to loose by comparing prices with big corporates. We can’t moan about something if we are not prepared to stand up and do something about it.

        As for the branch that was sold to Dignity….it was the only Co-op branch in that town, so it can’t be down to trading standards/market share.

        As for funeral poverty…this is something I take extremely seriously. I can’t afford to run my business at a loss, but there are ways I can help people.
        For example, I give them as much help as possible to arrange what they can themselves and then charge per hour for everything they need me to do.
        They too have the option of not having a hearse and using my Passat estate (with full wood deck in the back) instead.
        I am also looking at other ways/avenues that can be explored in the way of a low cost funeral loan with the local credit union as well as writing to my local MP about this issue.

        While the NAFD has certainly been a driving force in this area, I just don’t feel they have got very far. Is it time then that the funeral directors that frequent the GFG band together and lobby Government too?

        • Wednesday 26th March 2014 at 3:39 pm

          Lucy – this should be a separate post. Charles – can you start one please?

          • Thursday 27th March 2014 at 9:55 am

            Which part, Andrew? We have touched on all these areas from time to time — they are recurring features. If there’s something here you want to develop, please do and I’ll post it separately. Same for you, Lucy. I love it when other people relieve the tedium of me and Richard Rawlinson. Well, me, anyway.

  5. andrew plume

    Monday 24th March 2014 at 3:47 pm

    yet another typically worrying and unsavoury article regarding shortcomings at F”care

    I hope that it wasn’t the embalmers themselves who were given ‘the tin tack’, when it should have of course been the considerably unnecessary local management

    bad bad stuff yet again

    andrew

  6. Monday 24th March 2014 at 3:28 pm

    We are seeing that here too with a new Co-op tiny office opening opposite the other smallish independent in town. We have not, hitherto, had a window in which a price let could be displayed, however we are expanding into the unit next door over the next month or so, giving us a suitable window and you can guarantee there will be a price list going in it!

    • andrew plume

      Monday 24th March 2014 at 3:47 pm

      excellent

      the only way to go

      andrew

    • andrew plume

      Monday 24th March 2014 at 4:18 pm

      F’care are obsessed with ‘the Branch opening programme’…….completely obsessed…….all it does is to increase their costs across the board

      and as I continue to say on here, Mrs Average shouldn’t have to contribute to this etc etc

      andrew

  7. GMT

    Friday 21st March 2014 at 11:46 am

    Funeral shoppers, I like the sound of that so down to earth.
    Times are changing in this profession Charles and for the better, we will still get the traditionalists but people ( Funeral Shoppers ) are now very conscious about what a funeral is going to cost, and to advertise your prices is a must.

    I have a business facebook page, with every post i put at least 1 of my prices on it, the All inclusive Uncomplicated Cremation for £1,992 with nothing else to pay guaranteed gets a lot of comments and is very popular, the fact the posts get shared also takes me up and down the country to assist a family,
    not being a fan of facebook at the beginning as to be honest I dont wish to see what my nephews and niece get up to at 4.00am on a Sunday morning.
    But at the end of the day its social media and the way forward.

  8. Friday 21st March 2014 at 11:30 am

    Big taboo for undertakers but certainly not for funeral shoppers. Who on earth are they in business to impress?

    • andrew plume

      Monday 24th March 2014 at 3:48 pm

      actually Charles, just themselves – total internal naval gazing and much pleasure in ‘our ongoing success” etc etc

      best

      andrew

  9. GMT

    Friday 21st March 2014 at 11:03 am

    Very good point Charles,
    I am the only Independent in Ipswich that does have a price list in our window cant for the life of understand why the rest of the independents dont do it, some are very traditional and have followed in fathers and grand fathers footsteps and the thought of advertising your prices is probably a big taboo.

  10. Friday 21st March 2014 at 10:37 am

    6th Rochdale Principle: Co-operation Among Co-operatives

    ‘Co-operatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the Co-operative Movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.’

    More here: http://www.goodfuneralguide.co.uk/2012/01/co-operatives-co-operate-up-to-a-point/

    I think there’s a mathematical equation (or something) GMT in this strategy of speculatively opening branches alongside an established independent or a branch belonging to another co-op society. Every one that succeeds covers the cost of several that fail. All the independent needs to do is post a price comparison table in their window — but none of them ever does.

  11. GMT

    Friday 21st March 2014 at 10:29 am

    Good Morning Nick,
    Can you see Funeralcare selling out, who can possibly afford to buy them out…
    They used to have a Gentlemans agreement with smaller Coops that they would not trade near each other, now in Bury st Edmunds Funeralcare have a office, the local Coop have a office, and the latest rumour is a closed Pub recently purchased will be transferred into a Funeral home again by the local Coop.
    More of interest in our local community is the fact the local Coop have announced they might have to close a convenience / food store as a Tesco have recently converted a pub into a Tesco Express, rumours in mission control have suggested the closed convenience / Food store is ear marked for a Funeral Home again owned by the local Coop, This store is not 25 yards from a Independent Funeral Director.

    • andrew plume

      Monday 24th March 2014 at 4:24 pm

      ah yes GMT, Bury St Edmunds

      now, as you know, F’care already trade there as ‘Bury and District Funeral Service’, no doubt with ownership being carefully hidden in their shop window

      ………but of course. Dignity already have three branches in B St E too, way way time for Trading Standards/OFT etc etc to get involved, talk about saturation policy and of course all three Dignity shops trade under different names

      regards

      andrew

  12. Friday 21st March 2014 at 9:09 am

    If Funeralcare was to “sell-out”, I wonder what the new owners, if anything, would change?

    • andrew plume

      Monday 24th March 2014 at 3:50 pm

      Hi Nick

      this would be one very very large debt for ‘a Vulture Capital’ business to swallow/maintain/service etc etc and inevitably the result would be an increase in the price list, which of course is way way too high already

      regards

      andrew

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