Look what’s cooking.

Fran Hall

 

There’s something afoot in funeral world. Letters have been pinging into the inbox of funeral directors around the country advising them of a shiny new entrant into the world of undertaking.

“Over the next few days you may read about a new funeral company called Hospice Funerals LLP.  It has been set up by St Margaret’s Hospice of Somerset in order to allow local hospices to extend their care to the local community by providing a caring, transparent and personal funeral service..”

A joint operation between St. Margaret’s Hospice and Memoria, this partnership is, at first glance, a match made in heaven.

Expert end of life carers join with expert provider of state of the art crematoria and low cost funeral services to offer communities across the UK a new, better alternative when it comes to funeral arrangements.

But let’s take a closer look.

Memoria’s CEO, Howard Hodgson, is well known in the funeral world. Here’s a little background, taken from an article by Tony Grundy in 2015:

‘For example, in a classic UK television documentary some years ago, former undertaker and entrepreneur Howard Hodgson told of how he led the transformation of the industry through a combination of acquisition, consolidation, value innovation and cost management. In his book ‘How To Become Dead Rich’ Hodgson set out his vision of how to run his funeral business as economically as possible, with an efficient set of local operations providing up to several funerals in a day, making much better use of facilities such as cars, storage and sales facilities. Alongside this he pioneered a more extensive range of services, optimising the average price.

This hugely widened operating profit margin and increased return on net assets. This vision became the model of the Great Southern Group, which Hodgson sold out to and which, after a period of being owned by US company Service Corporation International, is now called Dignity, one of the UK’s top players. These changes also reduced competitive rivalry in the UK market, where a higher proportion of the market had previously been fragmented, made up of ‘mom and pop’ independents.’

St. Margaret’s Hospice announced their plans earlier this month, without mentioning their new partner. The role of funeral director was advertised at £36,000 plus car. One of their existing charity shops is being converted into suitable premises in Taunton – a town in which there are already 12 other undertakers.

The Hospice Funerals website states:

HOSPICE FUNERALS’ VISION

To provide all hospice communities with the choice and experience of hospice funeral services that uniquely reflect the dedication, warmth and reputation of the hospice movement – an extension of exemplary hospice care – caring, transparent and personal.

HOSPICE FUNERALS’ MISSION

To bring choice, quality and affordability to families in our communities, so that they can celebrate the lives of loved ones with a unique and individual funeral that respects their wishes. This is achieved by only engaging highly trained staff with unwavering attention to detail and compassion – so ensuring a caring, transparent and personal funeral to all whatever their budget.

This sounds absolutely wonderful.

Although the top benefit for hospices electing to become a provider listed in another part of the website is:

‘Participation in a new enterprise that will deliver sustainable and growing income going forward and thus helping to bridge the considerable funding gap that stands between government funding and the annual needs of the hospice.’

And in the brochure for ‘hospice partners’ it clearly states:

The partnership will operate as a franchise scheme. These are the facts:

  • Hospice Funerals signs an agreement with the partner hospice (the partner Franchise Agreement – samples available)
  • The hospice partner will be entitled to operate exclusively within the defined area
  • A hospice partner can acquire more than one area if it so wishes
  • Hospice Funerals will give each partner a demographic survey providing a death profile of the granted area and will be able to advise the partner on this issue
  • Hospice Funerals will issue a list of products and prices that the partner will need to purchase in order to create their funeral service.
  • The hospice will be supported to deal directly with these suppliers, shop fitters ad other trades. This means that Hospice Funerals is not involved in the invoice chain and so is making NO margin on the set up of the unit.
  • Hospice Funerals support you with a turnkey service and are on hand throughout the set up period, signing off the premises when complete.
  • Thereafter, the location will be inspected prior to opening and all snagging signed off.
  • Hospice Funerals will select, train and manage the partner’s funeral staff, while being accountable to the partner.
  • Memoria will also carry out the majority of funeral administration for the partner.
  • Memoria will also install and teach the partner’s funeral director how to operate a bespoke software system for making funeral arrangement.

Hmm. So, perhaps not quite so in line with the hospice movement set up to look after the dying and their families by Dame Cicely Saunders then.

It’s a franchise scheme, dressed up in the hospice’s clothes, making money for both the ‘hospice partner’ and Memoria alike.

Here’s what we think.

It’s hard to criticise the idea of the much loved local hospice continuing to care for those who have died after death (albeit charging for this part of their service, while everything else until the last breath is taken has been free of charge.)

Why wouldn’t you choose to use them?

Hospices are pillars of the community after all, caring for the dying in the most wonderful way. And your money will be going to help support this admirable cause instead of lining the pockets of those men in black, the stereotypical undertakers.

It’s easy to see what a brilliant idea this is – piggybacking on the reputation and respect held by the hospice to give an immediate advantage over the funeral directors who are so widely and relentlessly pilloried in the media as greedy, money-making vultures who prey on the vulnerable bereaved.

With the helpful assistance of the self-serving life insurance companies generating fear of soaring funeral costs in their annual cost of dying reports, and the media focus on funeral poverty (driven by high charges from corporate funeral businesses including Dignity, Howard Hodgson’s baby, plus austerity cuts and shortage of space impelling local authorities to keep raising the cost of cremation or graves), funeral directors en masse are tarred with the same brush.

The public won’t take much persuading to look elsewhere for help with organising a funeral. And it’s available to everyone, not just hospice patients – again, from the Hospice Funerals website:

‘It is important to note that it is intended that everyone needing the services of a funeral director will be able benefit from the caring, transparent and personal service offered by Hospice Funerals. Therefore, our services are available to everyone in the community – irrespective of whether or not they have been a hospice patient.’

Well, not quite everyone.

This from Howard Hodgson’s letter to funeral directors yesterday:

‘The Directors of Memoria have no desire to compete with its funeral directing clientele. Therefore, in order to prevent a conflict of interest, it has been contractually agreed that NO Hospice Funeral operations will be set up within a 20 MILE RADIUS of ANY existing MEMORIA crematoria. 

This agreement will be on going and so will prevent funeral directors within the declared 20-mile exclusion zones from facing this new competition now or in the future.

We hope this act demonstrates our loyalty and gratitude to ALL of our funeral directing clients, whose close working relationship we highly value.’

Nice of him to consider how funeral directors might feel about this idea, although only the ones who operate in the vicinity of one of Memoria’s crematoria. The rest of the funeral world is clearly fair game.

What concerns us about this genius return to the world of funeral provision by Howard ‘How To Become Dead Rich’ Hodgson is what it will do to the wonderful, dedicated, desperately hard-working, ethically run, generous, kind and principled undertakers who have devoted their lives to starting up and running small businesses to serve their communities.

They are everywhere, working day and night to do the absolute best for the families they care for, often living hand to mouth and struggling to stay afloat as the corporate companies relentlessly target them by opening branches nearby. Many of them can be found here on our recommended funeral director list. We applaud and salute them for what they do, and we fear for their future with this latest new player in the game.

These really good people don’t have the massive marketing budgets to pay for TV advertising and PR campaigns, unlike Dignity, Co-operative Funeralcare and now Hospice Funerals, but they are providing vital services for their communities. And they are offering real, informed choice.

Hospice Funerals could spell the end for many of these artisan, genuine, small undertaking businesses, people who have been battling against the corporate expansion into funerals for years, as money men have scented the opportunity to get rich by taking advantage of economies of scale. The Hospice Funeral idea is likely to be a pressure too much for many if it spreads around the country.

If this idea were vision-driven, altruistic. non profit making, a real community venture motivated by a genuine desire to really make a difference to our society , we’d respect it, we’d be completely behind it and we’d be promoting it as far as we can reach.

But it’s not, it’s a clever, clever commercial move.

Maybe the public, those who volunteer and fundraise and support their local hospices might see it for what it is, but probably most people will just think it’s a great idea and not give it any more thought.

And sadly, we expect that the advent of this new hybrid beast is likely to be greeted with delight by hospices around the country as a means of generating the much needed income to keep them afloat. Without thinking about the wider implications.

We’ll find out tomorrow – it’s on the agenda at two high profile hospice meetings, the Hospice UK National Conference in Liverpool and the Legacy Foresight Workshop in London 

We’ll be at both events.

16 thoughts on “Look what’s cooking.

  1. To the trustees of all hospices in the UK – Jerome Deschamp – Blog

    […] on our blog post about the advent of Hospice Funerals have been overwhelmingly against the idea of hospices entering […]


  2. Fran Hall
    Mary

    I hope the hospice charity does not make a loss from entering this business venture. Buying any franchise is risky and this one particularly so. And, yes, the hospice movement has a great name but it does not mean you would hire a funeral director from them and particularly not for someone who had not had hospice care.

    Is this deal already signed? If not, to the funeral director who considers he was lied to higher up the page, what a shame these people bring the charity into disrepute but I do not see how it will do any better than any other funeral director setting up in competition in a small town.


    Fran Hall
  3. Fran Hall
    David Holmes

    A thought occurs, the RNLI is another great British institution – well loved by the public, who each year raise many millions to support its work.

    So imagine if they set up as boat repairers, fixing the boats they recover from the high seas. How long do you think they would be held in high regard by those they rescue?

    Perhaps that’s of no consequence, when it’s so much easier to imagine the profits they could make fixing all those engines and sail gear?


    Fran Hall
  4. Fran Hall
    Tracey

    Reading the information provided by the Hospice Funeral website there is the usual packaged offerings. The ‘Distinguished’ package which is the entry level attended funeral has to use a ‘Memoria’ Crematorium of your choosing – however on closer inspection with St. Margaret’ Hospice being based in Yeovil and Taunton the nearest Memoria owned Crematorium is in Cardiff a minimum of a 2 hour drive away, not very helpful for local families wanting a low priced simple cremation, or those not wanting their loved one moved around the country.

    I would also be interested to know that using the old St. Margaret’s ‘Charity Shop’ as a funeral home will they be paying business rates or as they are running it as a NFP charitable fund they are exempt ?

    With Memoria’s heavy involvement, the salaries and setting up costs of the funeral home – how long will it actually be before the hospice sees any ‘profits’ into their charity fund?

    I also noticed on the job application website for the funeral home in Yeovil – the funeral director will be primarily responsible for the achievement of its costs and revenue ‘Targets’ ! How very corporate.


    Fran Hall
  5. Fran Hall
    John Porter

    Fact and froth. It behoves on anyone connected with funerals to examine the verbal statements and work out if Hospice Funerals’ figures stack up or not. I encourage this in-depth look because the launch may attract considerable media attention. This could be exactly what Hospice Funerals intend. It is the cheapest form of marketing! Their approach will divide opinion amongst funeral directors (or unite it?), funeral celebrants, crematoria providers and hospices. A DEEP and RIGOROUS examination of the facts will prevent us from surfing on the turbulant waves of hearsay and opinion.


    Fran Hall
  6. Fran Hall
    Tom

    One word sums this up, unethical. It certainly is on the hospices part.

    When I came into the funeral profession in the 80’s Howard Hodgson was very much active. Then along came Great Southern Group, then PHK, then Plantsbrook and then along came SCI before they rebranded into Dignity. Yet that seed was planted by Howard Hodgson – its long term butterfly effect damaging the very name of the funeral profession.

    As a qualified FD this saddens me as it goes against every principle a hospice should stand by. Also it will create anxieties with the patients on an emotional and mental level.


    Fran Hall
  7. Fran Hall
    James Convery

    I share similar views to comments made by Lucy, Richard and David. In addition, the Hospice Movement in the UK has a very special relationship with the British public. This relationship has been gained as a result of their wonderful holistic end of life care work, their equally wonderful staff and the public perception of their independence, transparency, reliability and honesty – this must be maintained. However, by removing the independence element particularly by becoming corporate slaves (franchisees) will inevitably have a toxic effect on said relationship and sadly negatively impact their charitable and bequest income – a downward spiral forcing the franchisee to become even more corporate / franchise dependent and as sure as ‘eggs are eggs’ the focus of each hospice will shift away from the service user.


    Fran Hall
  8. Fran Hall
    Ann Lee

    We have read with interest the comments on this website.

    Hospice Funerals is a natural extension to the end of life care we provide to our patients and their carers. We want to continue to work closely with the industry so together we can offer choice, affordability and an end-to-end funeral solution to those with life limiting illnesses. For example, we will be looking for partners to provide burial and cremation services where we don’t have facilities.

    We believe our modern, personal, transparent, affordable service, offering quality and choice to patients, families and carers in the area will be of huge benefit to the community. The profits generated from funeral services operated by the hospices will be re-invested into their local communities to enhance the care and support they provide to people with life limiting illnesses.

    We cannot comment on the Age Concern case, but as with all Funeral Directors we will be providing a full service, including pre-paid plans. The provision of such services will reflect the values that have made St. Margaret’s and the hospice movement a highly respected brand.

    We don’t have the funds for major advertising and marketing campaigns like some of the funeral service providers. We are all about offering a modern, personal and affordable service that offers more choice in the local communities that we serve. We will continue to operate within our organisational values, which are important to us. As we are patient-centred and will always put the patient and their families first, we will continue to focus on compassion and respect whilst providing support and information.

    I am disappointed in relation to the personal comments made about our chosen partner, Howard Hodgson. This is made even more surprising as Howard was a finalist for the Good Funeral Guide Lifetime Achievement Award in September 2016 and 2017. In addition, at The Good Funeral Guide Awards Ceremony in September 2017 Memoria’s South Oxfordshire Crematorium won the award for The Best Crematorium in the UK.


    Fran Hall
    1. Fran Hall
      Nick Gandon

      They do say that the only things for certain in this life are death and taxes. Oh, and that other certainty… nothing stays the same for ever!

      This somewhat unusual combination of services under the “same roof” takes some getting use to, though the more I think about it, the more logical it becomes. I’m surprised that it hasn’t been attempted before.

      Is it a conflict of interest? Perhaps. Although, until fairly recently, many of the emergency ambulance services in the USA were provided by funeral homes. I guess that if you needed an ambulance urgently, you wouldn’t give a monkeys who was providing it… as long as it turned up!

      Personally speaking, I don’t see this as a huge issue. It represents change, it is innovation, and without doubt, a very astute business manoeuvre by Memoria. At the end of the day, people will instruct whichever funeral service they choose. There may well be winners as well as losers. That’s life.

      It will be most interesting to see how things pan out.


      Fran Hall
    2. Fran Hall
      Lucy Coulbert

      I think there are a few points that the majority of people will pick up on.

      The first, a huge conflict of interest. Given the amazing local hospices I have near me can’t and won’t recommend one funeral director over the other (and quite rightly too!) and given you don’t have national advertising budgets, I assume that to mean that the funeral director owned by the hospice will be advertised within the hospice or gently mentioned when a member of the family collects the death certificate. How is that unbiased or completely ethical? Why would funeral directors who have given generously to the fundraising efforts of the hospice continue to do so?

      The second point is that everything is quite cloudy in terms of operation but this could just be me not really understanding.
      So a hospice outlays £565,000 (£492,000 capital investment plus £73,000 of working capital) of charitable donations to open 5 offices in the first year of trading.
      Based on 5 offices opening in the first 12 months, the expected number of funerals you think you will undertake is 330 to make a net profit of £20,576 in the first year.
      Now, if you add the funerals you will undertake to the pre-payment plans, that is a figure of 504. Divide 504 by the sales figure of £1,184,905, that gives you an average, all-inclusive funeral cost of £2351.00.
      I will be extremely pleased to see that all inclusive figure on your website. That would certainly help people in a tough financial position, but forgive me for being cynical because I don’t actually think that is what the fully inclusive cost of a completely bespoke funeral would come to.

      Now, there are a few problems with this as far as I can see and yes, I am a funeral director and yes, I did start a company from scratch on the absolute bear minimum of money and practically zero operating capital. Four years later, I am still here so I think I have an inkling as to what I am about to say.

      The first is if I had made a donation to my local hospice or if my Mother died and he retiring collection was for the hospice, I can guarantee I would be livid that my donation had been spent not on immediate care for people but to set up a business.

      My main concern is with the figures because I just can’t see how they stack up. I certainly can’t see how they stack up in an area like Taunton with 12 funeral directors there already and you think in the first year 5 offices will undertake 330 funerals.
      I’m afraid I think this is completely and utterly unrealistic but so are the projections for year two and three at doubling the amount of funerals undertaken year on year.

      As a new company with no reputation, it takes time to build. These figures and cash projections aren’t realistic so when you only undertake 50 funerals in your first year and there is a major shortfall in funds, will the hospice then have to use the charitable donations it needs to survive to prop up their offices?

      The other part I can’t quite figure out about looking for a “partner” with you to provide burial and cremation service where you don’t have facilities? I assume that is due to the 20 mile exclusion zone from any Memoria crematorium.
      Surely that is just sub-contracting funerals to existing funeral directors? Wouldn’t it be more prudent then for that particular hospice in an area you don’t have facilities, put a contract out to tender with local funeral directors instead?

      For a second, I am happy to put ethics and morals aside and just concentrate on facts and figures. On the numbers I have seen, I am genuinely concerned that they don’t add up and valuable financial resources that they won’t get back for years or worse, actually having to subsidise their partner business from the limited donations they receive.
      Rather than booting the money they can put back into the community and help people who really need it, they would have to reduce the work they are able to do.


      Fran Hall
    3. Fran Hall
      David Holmes

      Ann, are you prepared to tell us how much you earn? I think this is relevant to the discussion, as it gets to the heart of why hospice’s are finding themselves in need of more and more annual revenue. Some of you running hospice’s are earning huge in my view unjustifiable salaries.

      Mr Hodgson has a reputation, it’s fact. Have you actually read his book?

      Like others, I feel the figures you are basing your investment on are ludicrous. There is no way you will achieve these numbers. My family has opened in 14 locations since 1992, none came close to achieving your projected numbers. Starting a new funeral business is tough, it’s tough because most families choose the familiar names and yours will not be a familiar name. You overlook one other fact, much of our work is recommendation and repeat business ( not a joke, the same families returning to us again and again over decades.) These families trust us, they will need a good reason to switch allegiance to another business and yours will be just another business, possibly touting hard for custom?

      I repeat my earlier assertion, you are making a big mistake, this will not work, it will cost you money not raise it and it will ruin the reputation of the hospice movement. What a shame.


      Fran Hall
      1. Fran Hall
        Matt

        Open statement

        I visited Anne and Claire at St Margaret’s Hospice in Taunton two weeks ago to understand their intentions as we are a fairly new family business and have made a huge effort to offer fair Funerals and get ourselves established in the local community. I have to say that two weeks ago when I visited Ann and Claire I had no idea what we all know now and who they are in bed with. I wanted to know why now and how was it to be a continuation of care from the hospice to the funeral director, because I had some concerns after I had listened to their radio interview on the local radio station. I requested a meeting and was granted one. What Ann and Clare told me was a huge pack of lies to what we all know now. I even offered them support and help because of the lies they told me. iIt’s all just us they said no third party involved at all. I was very upset that they had lied to. Claire is just another corporate power hungry person wanting to prove a point and I fear it will be at the detriment of St Margaret’s hospice. I wonder how much Clair earns a year and if this has something to do with this project. They didn’t even know if the deceased would be kept in their new funeral Home or kept elsewhere.


        Fran Hall
  9. Fran Hall
    Lucy Coulbert

    Funeral directors have always supported hospices. The most cynical reason is that you hope they recommend you or they think well of the service you provide.
    The other is the work they do is actually bloody amazing.

    My local hospice is really quite brilliant and continue to offer services to the family after their person has died.

    However, I’m afraid that the people who look after the dying really shouldn’t look after the dead. I believe it is completely and utterly unethical. Like David said, when do you happen to mention the associated funeral directors services you offer?

    Since when did funeral directors become franchises? When did it become ok for hospices to buy funeral directors franchises? When did a funeral directors company top up the income of a charity?
    Seriously, this isn’t ok.

    Funeral directors give heavily in monetary terms to hospices but so do families for the care their loved one received. If they feel pressured into using a hospice funeral director and go to their preferred company, I would imagine the hospice could kiss goodbye to more donations that way too.

    I have to say that I have found it encouraging that the feedback I have seen on Facebook by members of the public is as aghast at this news as the great and the good are in funeral land.
    Many have compared it to funeral directors getting together and starting a franchise of care/nursing homes.

    A few years ago at the NFE, someone there was trying to sell franchises. I believe they are no longer in business.
    My worst fear is that hospices will plough money into the “list of products” they will need to purchase before being able to operate only to find that very few people use their services on the grounds it is seriously unethical.

    Those of us who left the big corporate machines to take the leap of faith to start our own companies know just how hard it is to be the new kid on the block.

    To work harder than you ever have in your life. To have no advertising budget to let people know you are there. Literally praying to anyone/everything you can think of just to make enough money not to go bankrupt this month. Praying to anyone and everything that you earn enough to eat that month. Never increasing your prices to match the big companies because you believe what you charge is completely fair for the work you do even though that would be a quick fix to earn more money.

    And why…..why do we put ourselves through it? Because we have seen how these big machines work and we don’t want any part of it. That the words “corporate” and “funeral director” should never be uttered in the same breath.
    Because we worked for people who didn’t care and we knew that if we could just get that money together, we could show our communities how funerals should be done. How caring for the dead really meant caring. How bespoke didn’t have to mean expensive and putting control firmly back in the hands of the public rather than telling them what they are going to have.

    Franchises, funerals and hospices don’t go hand in hand. This is not quick, easy money. This is hard work, emotional investment and self sacrifice every single day.

    All I can hope for is a revolution. That the public see that we aren’t all the same bastards who want your last penny. That they will find the GFG and find their nearest good guy.
    When you use a family company, you aren’t paying for a CEO’s new Range Rover or their shareholders dividends, you are helping to make that family to pay a bill.

    I have to believe the public will be as outraged as funeral land. If they aren’t and these hospices prosper, there will be family companies who will have no choice but to sell out to the corporate machines. They will sell their dreams to the highest bidder because it will become impossible to compete with national TV advertising budgets and mail drops.
    If the public aren’t as outraged as we are, it could well be the death and near extinction of the independent funeral director.


    Fran Hall
  10. Fran Hall
    Richard Honeysett

    More than anything this reminds me of Age UKs partnership with Dignity in the provision of funeral plans – which might bring in cash for the charity – but ties it – and the people it serves – to one of the most expensive of funeral providers.

    It’s hard not to think that this proposed arrangement wouldn’t carry with it the same risks (after all very much the same people are behind it).

    This seems worse, though, in two ways. Hospices currently sit in the middle of a network of local funeral businesses. This proposal will inevitably erode trust and mutuality, closing off avenues of support and assistance.

    With bereaved families too, at what point does care and support for the dying, and impartial advice given to a family suddenly at sea after a death, turn into a sales opportunity?

    Hospices should tread very carefully indeed.


    Fran Hall
  11. Fran Hall
    David Holmes

    The hospice movement is highly valued and loved by the British public, and they risk losing this public support by doing this terrible thing. At which point in the patient journey will they introduce their bespoke funeral service? People are not stupid, surely they will simply feel their hospice, those who are caring for the sick person in the final days, are also trying to get some revenue from their misfortune?

    Most of us who have had someone we care about become a hospice patient in their last days, try to raise some money in their memory afterwards, my family certainly did. This crazy plan risks damaging that special relationship – after all, if the hospice got to collect a large cheque for the funeral after the death occurs, most of us might think we had done our bit already and not bother ourselves any further?

    All charities are finding it difficult to obtain funding from traditional sources, cuts to public spending have changed the way we fund things. My own adult social care charity has been finding innovative ways to raise money sustainably, just like everyone else, we can no longer rely on the annual cheque from the hospital trust or local authority. I understand the pressures, but some hospices seem to be almost rapacious in their fund raising plans these days, and this will surely backfire badly? Near to me, a much loved long serving hospice fund raiser was sacked by her £100,000 pa CX, because she wasn’t bringing in enough! They replaced her with a £75,000 a year fun raiser who I assume is achieving her new targets? Locally people were aghast! When we chip in for the sponsored walk, or put a donation in a tin, we now have these high salaries in mind, and frankly my family and friends have lost faith in our local hospice as a result.

    Funeral Directors are usually known to families, they like us, we are a part of the community. When the time comes, the best of us will offer families great service, transparency, openness and almost limitless choice. I cannot see hospices having this expertise, they certainly wont have the experience.


    Fran Hall

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