Category Archives: Co-operative Funeralcare

Tom Quixote

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Tom Quixote from Matthew Hayes on Vimeo.

 

 

Family funeral director Tom Crean has spent the last 30 years tilting at windmills. Tom Quixote tells the story of his struggle against the corporate takeover of the North American funeral industry, during which he has had a run-in with Hollywood, saved a cemetery and beaten the conglomerates at their own game.

WINNER – Best Film (Jury Selection) – 2013 Annapolis Valley Short Film Festival
WINNER – Best Screenplay – 2013 Annapolis Valley Short Film Festival

Will The Co-operative Group throw Funeralcare to the wolves?

Sunday, 10 November 2013

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On 2 July this year the Co-operative Group’s executive team visited Rochdale. The chief exec, Euan Sutherland, tweeted: “Spent the day at Rochdale Pioneers Museum with the Exec immersing ourselves in Co-operative heritage. Fantastic, inspirational, relevant”.

All very heartening if you’re one of those who inclines to the view that capitalism is essentially sociopathic, and that therein lie the seeds of its destruction. 

Disillusionment with capitalism does not in itself boost the credentials of co-operation. The history of consumer co-operatives is not especially glorious. They tend to start well then lose their way, demutualise, play copy-fatcat.

The history of worker co-operatives shines more brightly — as John Lewis and Waitrose testify.

Ethical values in themselves are no determinants of commercial fertility. The history of ethical values demonstrates that, actually, they are best exemplified by those people who renounce material things. Had Gandhi been driven everywhere in a Rolls Royce and dressed in a Prada suit, the story of Indian independence would read otherwise.

For this reason, the words ‘ethical business’, attractive as they are, have something of the flavour of an oxymoron.

But this is what The Co-operative Group claims to be, ethical, never more stridently than in recent weeks from amidst the twisted wreckage of its wretched bank. It is now 70 per cent owned by its creditors, including a bunch of American hedge funds. Rather than die of shame it instead proclaims new life: “By continuing to have regard for the highest standards of ethical principles we are more committed than ever to ensuring the Co-operative Bank remains just as special for years to come.”

Ethical schmethical. The bank has lost the title to call itself a co-operative in the sense of a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise. To call itself co-operative is now patently misleading and is rightly being legally challenged.

Where did it all go wrong for The Co-operative Group (as opposed to co-operative values)? The Daily Telegraph reports ceo Euan Sutherland conceding with refreshing honesty that “the organisation has lost it way, and, referencing the founding Rochdale Pioneers, that its recent controversial history was not what the organisation was set up for.” You can easily see the shades of the Pioneers nodding in sorrowful assent.

Whether or not, fuelled by the Rochdale Principles, The Co-op can in the future succeed in its core mission of enabling working people to buy those things that they would otherwise be unable to afford we shall have to wait and see. We simply note that, at a time when there is increasing anxiety about funeral poverty, Co-operative Funeralcare has offered no lead and generated no initiatives. Nothing.

The Pioneers surely would have.

Having said all of which, it may already be too late to lose any more sleep over the way Funeralcare has fallen short of — betrayed, some would say — its ethical values. Because it’s beginning to look as if, in order to bring the Group back into profitability, The Co-operative Group may be about to shed its funerals operation and throw it to the capitalists. The same Telegraph article tells us:

Mr Sutherland, who took control of the mutual from May 1, said that in order to reduce the current £1.3bn bank debt, it must look to productivity, efficiency, and selling some of its assets. Divisions which will not be sold include its food retail business and its pharmacy business, it is understood. Non-core arms are thought to include the funeral business and its security business, but Mr Sutherland would not comment further.

Given the deep loathing with which the top chaps at Funeralcare regard the GFG (good morning, Mr Tinning), we can forgive you for supposing that we’d celebrate this with a day at the races. But we emphatically wouldn’t. First, our politics here are pink. Second, we’d deplore the impact of this on the many excellent people in Funeralcare, especially on the shop floor (not the management). When Sutherland talks of productivity and efficiency, he’s using the language of the time and motion man. We can only imagine the effect that ‘efficiencies’ are having on good men and women right now.

Third, we regard the funerals business as pre-eminently suited to a social enterprise business model. We’d like to see Funeralcare given another chance to get it right and be what it says on its tin.

The Sunday Times has been told by Sutherland that “every private equity group in Europe” wants to buy Funeralcare, but that he is not minded to sell.

Time will tell. The man needs to find £500 million fast. If he’s minded to sell, let him talk to an excellent worker’s co-operative that we’ve long thought would make a very good fist of it. Tune in, please, John Lewis. 

You’ve been ad

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Coop ad

 

How good to see three local family undertakers in Devon club together to advertise themselves. Really nice, professional piece of work — proper job as they say down there. (Click it to make it bigger.) 

(First one of you wins a cigar)

Vultures circle over Funeralcare

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

vulture1

 

From Sky News: 

The Co-operative Group has rebuffed a string of takeover approaches for its funerals arm amid a controversial restructuring of its troubled banking division.

Sky News has learnt that buyout firms including CVC Capital Partners, the controlling shareholder of Formula One motor racing, and Montagu Private Equity, a former owner of the Dignity funeral planning business, are among a large number of parties to have expressed an interest in acquiring the Co-op unit in recent weeks.

The prospective buyers have all been rebuffed by the Co-op, whose new chief executive, Euan Sutherland, has made it clear that he does not want to part with any of the mutual’s “crown jewel” assets.

The precise value of the Co-op Funeralcare business is unclear, but analysts expect that it would be worth hundreds of millions of pounds if it were to be sold.

More

 

 

 

A Co-op good news story

Saturday, 27 July 2013

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You may remember the case of Lisa Mullan, whose father chose to be buried at Crossways woodland burial site but, because of an administrative muddle, ended up being buried somewhere else. 

We’ve just heard some good news from Lisa.

Co-operative Funeralcare sector manager Jack Walsh subsequently invited Lisa’s mother to a meeting. There, he gave her £200 (the 20% admin charge retained by Martin Chatfield of Crossways); a written apology; and a bunch of flowers. Lisa’s mother has donated the £200 to the North Wales Mountain Rescue in honour of her husband. 

Well done, Co-op! We hope that Lisa’s family will now be able to grieve her father freed from the distress brought on by the way his funeral arrangements had been handled. 

ED’S NOTE: We understand from Martin Chatfield, at Crossways, that he has not yet had any contact from the Co-op. To his costs were added, you may remember, the cost of cutting his holiday short, including unused accommodation and a special flight home. We very much hope that the Co-op will attend to him next. 

How they wear you down

Sunday, 16 June 2013

I first heard from Lisa Mullan when she wrote to me on 23 Feb 2013: 

My father was told he had terminal lung cancer in May 2012 and had around 6 months to live. He subsequently purchased a Funeral Care Plan from the Cooperative Funeral Care, Plympton, Devon and requested he be buried at the Crossways Woodland Burial site. A Mr Richard Parson, Hub manager of the branch, sent my father’s cheque off to Mr Chatfield [the owner of Crossways] to purchase a plot in May. 
 
When my father sadly passed away in November, my mother and sister went to the funeral home to be told my father did not have a plot. The confusion had arisen as Mr Parson was away on holiday and could not confirm the purchase and also Mr Chatfield was also away on holiday and could not be instantly contacted. This was Tuesday 6th November. Whilst this was unfortunate timing, contact was made with Mr Chatfield, and by Thursday 8th November the Coop had received an email from him confirming the time and date of the burial as 20th November, at 12:45pm. This would have been seen by the Coop staff on the Friday morning at open of business.
 
On that Friday my mother popped in to the branch to ask if they had heard anything from Crossways. The Coop version of events differs slightly with each telling and currently stands that my mother was told Crossways had not confirmed and to take the weekend to visit both it and another burial ground at Yealmpton and decide where she would like to bury my father.
 
On the Monday my mother rang the Coop again for news on whether they had heard anything from Crossways and was told that they had not but the funeral could be postponed. We had already had the date confirmed as the 20th and so postponement was not an option as family had made their travel arrangements. My mother panicked and, gently guided by the Coop staff, she opted to book a plot in Yealmpton where the subsequent funeral was held and where my father now lies. 
 
In dismay at the lack of communication from Crossways, my sister took the time to find out their governing body and wrote a complaint to the Natural Death Centre. We were then shocked to discover that Crossways had indeed confirmed all arrangements and we had not been informed. 
 
To further complicate matters, Mr Chatfield had been away on holiday and his return flight was hit by a baggage handlers strike, so he had to pay to fly back earlier than scheduled with another airline. 
 
I am currently in discussions with the Coop. Initially after a face to face meeting with Mr Parson I was reimbursed the mileage money my father had paid for the hearse to take him to Crossways and was also expecting communication from him regarding exactly what had happened and how this miscommunication had come about. My mother received the money, but I heard nothing from him regarding the circumstances in which the lack of information had taken place. I then wrote to him again and asked to be reimbursed for the 20% administration fee Crossways charged on the refunded monies for the plot, an apology for my mother and the £300 for Mr Chatfield’s flight.  I have since been in contact with the regional manager, Mr Adrian Smart, and am waiting for him to provide me with details of his manager. Needless to say, all requests have so far been refused.
 
This whole situation is a cause of stress and upset to myself and my family and also to Mr Chatfield who has lost out financially but also has a complaint against his name and reputation. 

 

I replied with what I hope was helpful advice and a warning that the process of seeing the complaint through was likely to be drawn out. 

 

On 16 May Lisa wrote to individual senior managers at Funeralcare in Manchester and informed them, among other things, that: 

 

I am seeking to recover costs … and as your Regional Manager has failed to attend to the matter in nearly four months, I appeal to you to take this further. 

 

Lisa sent the senior managers a timeline: 

 

24th May 2012: My father paid for a Tailor Made Funeral Care Plan at the Co-op Funeralcare in Plympton, Devon (hereafter known as Plympton). His contact was Hub Manager Mr Richard Parson. His wish was to be buried at the Crossways Burial Ground in Okehampton (hereafter known as Crossways) and Mr Parson sent a cheque for £835 to pay for the plot to Mr Martin Chatfield on his behalf. The “Grave Details” specify Crossways.

 

25 May 2012: Payment for plot received by Crossways.

 

6th November 2012, 0140: My father died.  0900: My mother received a call from Plympton inviting her to come in.  10.00: My mother and sister attended this appointment and were assisted with information pertaining to administration of a late relative. They also discussed initial funeral arrangements and were informed my father did not have a plot booked. Mr Parson was away on holiday and could not clarify the situation and unfortunately so was Mr Chatfield. Apparently repeated attempts to contact him by Plympton were unsuccessful. pm: My sister managed to speak to Mr Chatfield who would contact the UK to check plot status. Stiil no contact between Mr Chatfield and Plympton.
 

7th November 2012, 1245: Email from Plympton to Mr Chatfield requesting he inform them of plot status.

8th November 2012, 1231: Email from Mr Chatfield to Plympton stating the existence of a plot for my father and potential accommodation of a funeral any time after 18th November 2012. 1353: Email from Plympton to Mr Chatfield requesting a burial at 1245 on 20th November 2012. 18.16: Reply from Mr Chatfield to Plympton confirming time and place of burial. 

9 November 2012, 0900: My mother pops into Plympton. It is suggested she look at both Crossways and a burial site at Yealmpton, Devon (hereafter known as Yealmpton) over the weekend and inform Plympton of her decision on the Monday. As far as she is aware, funeral arrangements are for 20th November 2012 but contact with Crossways has not yet been established.

10-11 November 2012: The family inform relatives and friends that the funeral would be held on 20th November 2012

12 November 2012, 1100: My mother speaks to Plympton to be told there is still no word from Crossways but the funeral could be postponed until they had. Various: Phone records show several phone calls to myself and my sister from my mother. Unfortunately no one was home to take them. Midday: My mother confirms with Plympton that the burial should be moved to Yealmpton and agrees to pay an extra £950 for the plot and grave digging. 1451: Email from Plympton to Mr Chatfield informing him of my mother’s decision and requesting a full refund of the £835 my father paid for the plot. 0900: Mr Chatfield paid £300 to a second airline and started returning to the UK two days premature of his original departure date due to an unforeseen baggage handlers strike with his original airline. 2100: Mr Chatfield discovered the email from Plympton cancelling the burial.

13 November 2012: Mr Chatfield spoke to Mr Parson to express his displeasure but promised to refund the plot money minus a 20% administration fee.

20 November 2012: My father’s funeral at Plympton and Burial in Yealmpton. The requested donations box was not present before or after the service in Plympton.

25 November 2012, 1552: Email from my sister, Caroline Fielden, to Rosie Inman-Cook at the Natural Death Centre to complain about Mr Chatfield’s conduct in not contacting Plympton to arrange the burial at Crossways that my father had requested and paid for.

27 November 2012, 1245: Email from Rosie Inman-Cook to my sister informing her that Mr Chatfield had indeed confirmed the burial, returning early due to the aforementioned strike to be present.

29 November 2012, 1941: My sister forwarded to email from Rosie Inman-Cook to Plympton and requested sight of emails from 7th and 8th November to confirm this. She never received a reply.

Early December 2012: I was informed of the above and agreed to take it further. I arranged to meet Mr Parson on a trip to Plympton that month. I also rang Mr Chatfield who immediately forwarded the pertinent emails from 7th and 8th November.

12 December 2102, 1230: Meeting with Mr Parson to explain entire incident. He claimed not to be aware of any of it and needed to speak to his staff. We arranged a further meeting for the following day. There were several points regarding anecdotal evidence that Plympton had been rather persuasive in steering my mother to use Yealmpton and not Crossways for the burial.

13 December 2012, 0900: Second meeting with Mr Parson. We discussed various anecdotal evidence. He did not, however, say he had discovered exactly why my mother had not been informed that Mr Chatfield had confirmed the time and date of the burial. This, in my mind was the sole reason for reconvening the meeting. Mr Parson agreed to reimburse the mileage money my father had paid for the hearse to drive to Crossways, offered to help me with full reimbursement from Crossways should they refuse and let me know via email exactly how the confusion had arisen.

End December 2012: A cheque for £112 was sent to my mother to reimburse mileage.

4 January 2013, 2207: Email from me to Mr Parson explaining my disappointment at not hearing from him regarding the confusion.

7 January 2013, 0813:  Email from Mr Parson to me stating he thought we had sorted the problem and when he would be contactable by phone.

7-9 January 2103, various: Tried to contact Mr Parson by phone but to no avail.

9 January 2013, 2133: Email from me to Mr Parson requesting Plympton reimburse the 20% Crossways administration fee, issue a full apology to my mother and reimburse Mr Chatfield the £300 he was obliged to pay to return to the UK.

11 January 2013, 1020: Email from Mr Parson re-stating that Plympton were not at fault. Inclusion of the Funeral Arbitration Scheme Leaflet.

12 January 2013, 1943: Email to Mr Parson stating that I will be taking the matter further.

13 January 2013, 0900: Phone call to Co-op Funeral Care Customer services. Matter discussed with the member of staff who sent the mileage cheque to my mother. 1700: Contact from Mr Adrian Smart, Regional Manager overseeing Plympton. He promises to investigate the issue and phone back. 

18 January 2013, 1713: Email from Mr Smart. Attached letter details incident as he has understood it and the Arbitration leaflet. An apology was made for contacting my mother so soon after my father’s death but not for withholding information from Crossways.

10 February 2013, 2114: Reply to Mr Smart detailing the reasons I believe my mother was misled by Co-op staff.

11 February 2013, 0944: Reply from Mr Smart stating he cannot respond at this particular time but I will hear from him in due course. I have never heard from him or anybody else from the Co-op again.

Today, 16 June 2013, I received the following from Lisa: 

Hi Charles, 

I have reached an impasse with the Co-op. They insist on concentrating on the Tuesday (my father died) and the Friday (where they reckon they told my mother about Crossways, but really all they seem to have done is told her to visit both plots) and not on the following Monday (when she was told they still hadn’t heard from Crossways and the funeral could be postponed). Jack Walsh (the sector manager) has offered to pay 10% of the Crossways admin fee as apparently they have communication from Martin Chatfield stating as much, even though we only received 80% reimbursement (not that I begrudge Martin the 10% as he is out of pocket too). 
 
Jack Walsh is apparently now writing to my mother about his findings and it will be interesting to see what happens there. However, I would now like you to, if you can and want to, publish our story.

Funeralcare for sale?

Monday, 3 June 2013

business-for-sale-sign1

 

The capital shortfall at the Co-operative Bank is estimated to be somewhere between £1–1.8 billion. This debt has been downgraded by Moody’s to junk status. The Co-op is going to have to sell assets in order to pay it off. 

Here’s the news for Funeralworld. Today’s Daily Telegraph speculates as follows: 

Further asset disposals are under review. The bank has already announced the sale of its life insurance business and the parent Co-op Group may be asked to sanction the disposal of other assets that range from funeral parlours to farmland.

Things could get interesting. 

 

Where did it all go so terribly wrong for the Co-op?

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Co-op Logo 001

 

The GFG is relentless in its criticism of Co-operative Funeralcare for two reasons above all.

First, we believe that Funeralcare does not operate in accordance with the vision Rochdale Pioneers, who would be dismayed, at a time of rising funeral poverty, to see the way Funeralcare treats the poor. Instead of focussing on its core purpose, namely, to enable working people to buy what they would not otherwise be able to afford, Funeralcare’s latest utterance was a trifling press release, billed as “new research”, about the use of mobile phones at funerals

Second, we fail to understand how a business can apply economies of scale (hub mortuaries, car pools, peripatetic funeral conductors) and come up with a standard funeral price several hundred pounds more than most independents. 

Despite this, The Co-operative Group continues to be held in great affection — so the bad news about the Co-operative Bank, whose debts have been downgraded to junk status, was not greeted by Occupy protesters and the sort of howling vilification reserved for other banks in trouble. 

I had an email the other day from Edgar Parnell, onetime Chief Executive of the excellent Plunkett Foundation, which was so helpful to us when we were developing our community funerals initiative. Parnell, whose life has been dedicated to the co-operative movement, has long deplored the errant ways of some co-operative societies, and he is clear in his analysis of where so many of them have gone wrong. His analysis of the regrettable state of The Co-operative Group is, in our opinion, persuasive. This is what he said: 

Many will have been shocked by Friday’s news that the Co-op Bank chief had resigned following the downgrade of the bank’s debt, this as a sequel to the abortion of the Bank’s plan to takeover 632 branches from Lloyds Bank.  Ostensibly, the causes of these events have their origins in the financial downturn, problematic loans and the increases in the sums of capital that will be required to be held to meet new regulations in the banking sector. However, the underlying issues run much deeper than this. 

The management of the Co-operative Group appear to believe that they are running a conventional business, with the aim of profit maximization, that just happens to be owned by members rather than by investors. Whereas they need to be clear that the function of all co-operatives and mutuals is to intervene within the marketplace in the best interests of their members. The Group’s management either do not  fully understand, or choose not to adhere to, the underlying essentials of the model of enterprise required for any form of co-operative or mutual to be successful. 

Chasing growth to the detriment of the real interests of the membership has proved to be the downfall of major consumer co-ops in many countries in Europe*. Executives often seek to pursue a growth strategy because it means a bigger empire, more status and higher pay for them. The correct response to expansion proposals, including merger proposals, should always be to focus upon what is best for the membership and most likely to result in the achievement of the purpose of the enterprise. When co-operatives grow, in terms of the number of members and/or turnover, they are frequently beset by multiple problems. They lose sight of their original purpose, are prone to switch towards serving the interests of senior executives or cliques rather than those of the bulk of their members. As a consequence, they come to be regarded as irrelevant to the lives of their members and in the worst case they are hijacked by self-interested groups. 

If co-operatives and mutuals are to carry out their function and achieve their purpose then it is vital that all involved have a clear understanding of:

  • ·         The member-controlled enterprise model
  • ·         The organizational risks inherent within the model
  • ·         Their economic basis
  • ·         The specific requirements of MCEs in terms of their leadership, organization & governance, management & accounting, financing, human relationships, and the public policy framework required 

A video (12 minutes) explaining the ‘Member-controlled Enterprise model’ can be viewed at: http://s.coop/1myuo 

More information is available at the Member-controlled Enterprise website at: http://s.coop/1bcyi 

Examples:  two European consumer co-operatives that failed to understand the nature of the risks involved in following inappropriate growth strategies 

Dortmund-Kassel, Germany: Coop Dortmund started in 1902 with 349 members, one shop and two employees; following successive mergers it became Dortmund-Kassel, an enterprise with 500,000 members, 350 supermarkets, 16 department stores and 74 business centres, employing 15,000 staff and with a total turnover of DM 2.5 billion. In 1989 approximately DM 45 million was invested in shop modernisation, 31 new shops with a surface of 25,000 sq. m., and the expansion of 12 shops. In 1998 Coop Dortmund-Kassel collapsed and was eventually liquidated. The reasons for this failure are attributed to the management seeking to follow practices and methods more appropriate in investor-driven organisations, i.e. the exclusion of members from goal-setting and policy decisions; full autonomy of the professional board; measurement of success by growth, market share, volume of turnover, profit and shareholder value; and corporate methods of fundraising to attract investor-members (promising high return on invested capital in the form of share dividends). One result of this strategy was to reduce members simply to passive shareholders and ordinary customers. 

Konsum Austria: In 1995 Konsum Austria became bankrupt. It had slipped from being known as the ‘Red Giant’ on the retail scene and having 25% of the Austrian population as members. In 1978 the process of merging all of Austria’s consumer co-operatives into a single national society commenced. Unfortunately, the management was left to run the new super-co-op, which began chasing market share with little regard for its position as a member-controlled enterprise.

Enerprise Diagram

If small is beautiful, look lovely

Thursday, 4 April 2013

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There isn’t a single successful business in Britain that doesn’t seek to grow through mergers and acquisitions. Consolidation, they call it. It’s a factor of competitive capitalism. Or greed, if you prefer. Whichever. The bigger you are, the more efficiently you can trade. Efficiency enables you to bring your prices down, blow off competitors — and hey Tesco.  As Roberto Mancini, manager of Manchester City FC, would say, “Ees normal”.

So far so bad for Britain’s independent undertakers. Your days are surely numbered. Consolidation is under way. There’s no future for plankton in an ocean ruled by whales.

If you don’t believe it, consider the fate of our brewers. In 1900 there were 1,324 distinct beweries in England. By 1975 there were 141. Ees normal.

The technological development that made this possible was the invention of keg beers, which are sterilised and lifeless. They have a much longer life than living cask beers. They do not need to be kept so carefully, they can be transported for longer distances and they’re cheaper when they get there. Under the influence of advertising, consumers in the ’70s were easily persuaded to enjoy just a limited number of national brands. The little breweries could not afford to advertise. Older (elderly) readers of this blog will recall with misty eyes the halcyon days of Watney’s Red Barrel and Double Diamond, the Co-op and Dignity of their time.

The development which is making it possible today for the big players in the deathcare market to burn off the independents is, of course, the pay-now-die-later funeral plan whereby you stitch up tomorrow’s market share today. The adoption of embalming from America has arguably been a useful technology, too.

So what happened to Watney’s Red Barrel and Double Diamond, younger readers may ask. And where can I get some?

Well, just when the big brewers thought the field was theirs, something interesting happened. The Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) happened, the tables were turned and, sorry younger readers, the victorious keg beers were poured down the drains of history.

Camra’s campaign stimulated an appetite for well-made beers and choice. It appealed also to romantic values — and the great British pub is nothing if not steeped in nostalgia. In the words of James Watt, managing director of craft brewers BrewDog, “People want something better, something ethical, and something made by passionate people … I think there is growing disillusionment with products which are generic and mass-produced.”

He’s right, of course.  The total number of breweries in England is back up from 141 to around 700 and rising. Which is why Camra is credited as the most successful single-issue consumer campaign of all time. In economists’ jargon, economies of scale have been trumped by economies of scope (choice). The big brewers can’t compete with the micro-breweries, most of which brew a variety of ales, because the production of small batches of cask beers does not fit profitably into scale production operations.

Camra, you may think, restored beer to its Golden Age. You’d be wrong. One of the reasons why keg beers were able to gain such traction was because most small brewers back in the day made ale that was cloudy, sour and full of sediment. Pretty horrible stuff, much of it. Today’s micro-brewers are of a far higher calibre than their forebears. The Golden Age of ale is, in fact, now. Camra didn’t turn the clock back, it wound it forward.

Is it possible that Britain’s independent undertakers might buck economic orthodoxy in the same way as the micro-brewers and chase off the purveyors of keg funerals?

They have a lot going for them. Like the micro-brewers, and unlike makers of, say, artisan cheese, they can compete on price with the consolidated undertakers. Better still, so incompetent and greedy are the consolidated undertakers that indie undertakers are universally cheaper. It’s absurd! The big players could fight back by starting a price war — but the likelihood of their doing so seems small. The micro-brewers are able to compete because of Gordon Brown’s 2002 Progressive Beer Duty (alternatively known as Small Brewers Relief), a 50 per cent reduction in beer duty for those breweries producing less than 5,000 hectolitres of beer. Indie undertakers need no such leg-up.

A great many of today’s indies are as good as it gets and much better than the generality of smalltime undertakers of the past. They have a lot in common with our micro-brewers: they’re intelligent, savvy and skilful — a new breed. They are characterful, individualistic and very much their own people, a welcome contrast with the corporates who tend towards bland homogeneity in spite of some excellent staff at branch level.

Because indies are passionate business owners, they are prepared to work incredibly hard. They offer a service which is of and for their community. They offer a quality of personal service which is everything a funeral shopper could want. Personal service does not fit profitably into scale production operations. 

It is unlikely that a Camref (the Campaign for Real Funerals) could achieve for undertaking what Camra has achieved so rapidly for beer, the thirst for the latter being the stronger. What’s more, most funeral shoppers have no idea that there are such brilliant indies out there.

So it would be good, perhaps, to see our best indies walk with more of a strut, make more noise about what they do and take the fight to the keggists. A well-kept beer is good for drinkers; a well-kept secret is no use to funeral shoppers. 

ED’S NOTE: Real ales are brewed for all occasions and come with all manner of characterful names. They include: Tactical Nuclear Penguin, Bitter Bully, Posh Pooch, Festive Totty, Gonzo Porter, Ragged Bitch, Crop Circle, Summer Lightning, Bishop’s Farewell, Truffler Dry, Bad Elf, Torpedo Extra IPA, Naked Ladies, Storm King, Hop Wallop and Bonkers Conkers.

So far as we know, no maker of real/craft beer brews one specially for funeral wakes. There’s a big market here. If you can’t brew one, can you at least suggest a good name?

People’s undertaker doing fine

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Nail coffin

Wholly non-relevant photo

 

The Co-operative Group reports that, for the 53 weeks ended 5 January 2013, funerals revenue was up 6.4% to £348m, with operating profit up to £60m from £55m. 

 

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