Category Archives: Dignity

Getting the best you can afford

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

funeralchoice

 

When the GFG started blogging all of 6 years ago, an appalled and furious undertaker rang his solicitor and instructed him to take out an injunction requiring us to cease and desist.

The solicitor told him it didn’t quite work like that; had the GFG libelled him?

No we hadn’t. But we were doing something no one had ever done before. We were disturbing the peace, talking publicly about the funerals business on a blog, asking impertinent questions. New. Shocking. Damnable. We weren’t the national treasure back then that we are today.

It’s the internet wot done it, the greatest change agent that consumer advocacy has ever seen. It informs bereaved people and enables them to shop around. Are they all going to rush to the cheapest? Not all by any means, they’re going to buy the best they can for what they can afford. How many people use TripAdvisor to find the cheapest? Price is important of course; funeral shoppers are extremely sensitive to being ripped off. But what they’re looking for above all is value for money, and that means hunting down the best possible personal service available in their price bracket.

Ironically, that’s often one of the cheapest.

Reputation testifies to quality of service, which is why undertakers prize it so highly. But it’s not enough any more for them to rely on word-of-mouth because funeral shoppers can now research more effectively on the internet where customer reviews are reckoned more reliable than haphazard hearsay. They like to make their minds up for themselves, not rely on the heads-up of a neighbour or the testimonials on an undertaker’s website. Everyone has those, so they tell you nothing.

The internet is the new maker and breaker of reputations.

The best undertakers have nothing to lose and everything to gain by embracing this. awlymn-logoAW Lymn publishes all essential information online, including prices. It also publishes, monthly, its client feedback. It is alone in doing this.

At present, the nationwide consumer reviews site is Funeral Advisor, funeral-advisor-logowhich is gaining traction not because it has a marketing budget of millions but because funeral shoppers need it to work and are therefore making it work. It is credible because it is sponsored by the National Death Centre. It doesn’t carry much info on prices, though.

Which is why there’s room in the market for a price comparison site and, as it happens, we now have one: FuneralChoice. I know the people behind it. They are everything you’d hope. FuneralChoice is a labour of love which hopes to find a way of becoming sustainable by proving its value.

FuneralChoice’s’s coverage is nowhere near national, but it’s spreading. I decided to look in London and typed in a postcode: SW1P 1SB. This is what I got. Click the pic to bring it up to full size.

funeralchoice2

Effective, isn’t it? I decided to go with Leverton’s. It’s not the cheapest, but look, it’s recommended by the Good Funeral Guide, which is notoriously hard to please. As for Evershed’s, the cheapest, I wonder if its clients love it? I can’t tell because FuneralChoice doesn’t enable client reviews and Evershed’s hasn’t asked us to accredit it. Shame, that.

You notice how Co-op Funeralcare and Dignity cluster at the most expensive end? It’ll be the death of them.

The ideal is a website which enables browsers to determine value by measuring price and other info against customer satisfaction — a capital-intensive instrument calling for big databases and complex software.

On the horizon there is RightChoice, a sophisticated instrument which is in the final stages of development. Definitely one to watch.

Does this spell the end for the GFG and NDC as consumer resources? Far from it. People buy a funeral far less frequently than they eat out, go on holiday and buy a car. Their knowledge of the market is close to zero. So there will always be a need for guidance by informed observers of the industry. Our knowledge and expertise are indispensable.

Our relationship with price comparison websites will be symbiotic. Our reviews of undertakers we recommend greatly enhance the info they carry. They in return publicise us and our recommended funeral directors.

It all helps put customers in the driving seat where they belong.

RightChoice

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Dignity makes a difference

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Dignity figures

Capital expenditure at foot of page

 

And today’s difference is that between Dignity plc’s capital expenditure in the 52 week period ending 27 Dec 2013 – £12.4 million

and capital expenditure in the 52 week period ending 27 Dec 2013 – £1.4 million

This saving of £11 million is huge in the context of declared quarterly profits of £25.4 million. Had Dignity maintained capital expenditure at 2013 levels, profits would be down by… 40 per cent?

You can read the full document here.

Your interpretation of the figures would be very welcome.

Digfigs

Click the pic to bring it up to full size

 

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Don’t expect Dignity to solve funeral poverty

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

getty_rm_photo_of_dog_biting_mans_ankle

 

Yesterday we let the interns loose on the blog and they impulsively passed on an appeal to readers to write to Mike McCollum of Dignity plc and ask him to do his bit in the fight against funeral poverty.

What they conspicuously failed to do was identify a single reason why Mr McCollum and Dignity should feel any moral obligation whatever to alleviate funeral poverty. Is anyone clamouring for Harrods to eliminate the need for food banks? Or for Waterstones to supply the children of needy families with Penguin Classics?

Sure, a great many people feel the big six energy companies should be doing more to alleviate fuel poverty, but this goes with a conviction that the energy companies overcharge because the energy market is not free, open and competitive. The funerals market, on the contrary, is free to the point of free-for-all. Dignity sells its funerals at a premium. Is a Dignity funeral the MacBook Air of funerals? Is it a high value product? Don’t answer, it’s irrelevant. People buy them, end of. They can buy cheaper if they shop around.

While Dignity ploughs its high-end furrow to the delight of its shareholders and the enrichment of Mr McCollum — that’s capitalism — there are hundreds of undertakers working with people who struggle to scrape together the price of a funeral. These undertakers are performing what is essentially a social service. They are decent folk who care, and they are beggaring themselves with tiny margins and bad debt. They’ve been bearing much of the brunt of the way things are since the shrinking of the Funeral Payment. By doing so, they’ve arguably been doing no more than postponing a crisis at their own expense, putting off the day when, as a country, we are compelled finally to sit down and sort this problem.

Because, we remind ourselves, the Funeral Payment was brought in (by a Tory government) to enable everyone to buy a decent funeral. We have such a long history in this country of state subsidy for funerals that it has become an automatic expectation — a right. If that has now changed, then the government has a duty to register the change and explain it. You can’t just pull away a prop and expect people with no money to carry on as if it were still there.

Nor can you expect undertakers to perform a commercial service at a price which prevents them from making a living commensurate with the value of that service. Good undertakers offer a high value service and deserve to make a decent living. It is folly and distraction to expect them to take one for the poor. If Dignity lowers its prices, does that make its funerals affordable? No. If it subsidises low-cost funerals at the expense of its wealthier customers, is that fair? Of course not. The cheapest undertaker in the country cannot provide an affordable funeral for someone who qualifies for a Funeral Payment. So while it may give passing pleasure to have a go at the fatcats, let’s not mistake righteous indignation for impotent fury.

And while we’re about it, let’s stop wilfully missing the point. Two factors which inflate the cost of funerals can easily be addressed. First, cremation can be carried out much more efficiently. Second, we can start re-using burial plots. To do so wouldn’t make funerals affordable for all, but it would make a decent-sized dent. Squeezing the undertakers, on the other hand, won’t make a blind bit of difference. There are enough already working for next to nothing.

The root cause of funeral poverty is political. The impact is social. The solution needs to be radical and will not be advanced by waving a bleeding stump at Mr McCollum.

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It’s your line to Mike McCollum

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

MikeMcCollum_316197c

 

Church Action on Poverty and Quaker Social Action are holding an event which will bring together charities, communities, policy-makers and the funeral industry to seek joint solutions to the growing problem of funeral poverty.

They say: “It’s really important that all sides are represented at the event and participate in finding solutions. Unfortunately, Dignity Funerals – the largest corporate owner of funeral directors in the UK – has declined every invitation sent to them.”

They’d like you to email Mike McCollum, the ceo of what is probably Britain’s most expensive undertaker, and tell him he really ought to get down there.

Come on, Mike, make an effort and try and look good. The GFG’ll be there. We can talk about what to do with your share options.

Please send Mike an automatic email and explain why it’s so important he attends this event and gets involved in finding solutions to funeral poverty. Click here.

Shares

 

NOTE to the uninitiated: a LTIP is a long-term incentive plan. The above is the third coponent of their total package and is not awarded automatically

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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

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Dignity marches on

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Dignity

 

The Times has reported Dignity plc’s results here(£). Briefly:

Pre-tax profits are up 15 per cent to £52.9 million.

Prepaid funerals contributed £6.7 million of this.

The bonus pool is £2.5 million and all fulltime staff have been given ‘a payout equivalent to’ £1000.

Final shareholder dividend of 11.83p a share, an increase of 10 per cent on last year.

Market share now 12 per cent.

68,000 funerals conducted last year, up from 63,200 in 2012

In the last year, 40 funeral homes and 2 crematoria acquired.

Share price rose 13p yesterday afternoon to £15. City slickers well pleased.

Dignity’s position is, of course, vulnerable to consumer awareness of its relatively expensive  funerals and its relationship with Age UK; and to disruptive intervention in the crematoria market on the US crematory model.

Over to you, Mr Plume.

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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

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Don’t charge, don’t care?

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Heaviside

 

Chvonne Heaviside

A mother whose son was stillborn is calling for an investigation after his ashes were not returned to her for over a yearreports the Northern EchoA spokesman for Speckmans Funeral Service, part of Dignity Funerals, said: “We collected the cremated remains and returned them to the funeral home with the intention of contacting the family but unfortunately a member of staff did not follow our usual procedures and this did not happen. A senior manager visited Ms Heaviside to profusely apologise for this oversight and assured her that our procedures have been reinforced so that this does not happen to another client.

An incident of negligence like this can sometimes be an indicator of institutional negligence. This being so, it is entirely permissible to speculate on what other negligent conduct may go on at Speckmans, and therefore the entire Dignity plc operation, that we don’t know about because it doesn’t reach the press.

Baby funerals are carried out under contract. They normally don’t make any money for a funeral home and, where they don’t, may be an invidious duty — a nuisance. And so we are entitled to speculate, without over-exciting Dignity’s libel lawyers, whether the failure to put Ms Heaviside in touch with her baby’s ashes was simply because no one could be bothered. We are entitled to wonder what other carelessness might have been accorded to other babies in Speckmans’ care. 

Corporate funeral directors customarily respond to a scandalous incident by promising to reinforce procedures. Were it the case that the staff at Speckmans had slipped up because no one cared enough, it is unlikely there would be the remotest chance that reinforcing procedures might incentivise them to give a damn from now on. 

 

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Dignity and impudence

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

ageuk

 

I get a lot of email that goes straight into the cyberrecycling bin. This, though, possibly warrants a response. 

Hello Charles, 

How are you? I hope you don’t mind me getting in touch. My name’s Izabela and I work for a digital marketing company called Greenlight helping to spread awareness about Age UK. As you blog is entirely devoted to Funeral Planning, I was thinking you may be interested in the information about the Age UK funeral plans  www.ageuk.org.uk/products/products/financial-products–services/funeral-plan/ 

I thought that could be something potentially  interesting for your readers and perhaps you can find this information useful in the future when creating new content. 

Let me know I you have any questions. 

Kind regards 

Izabela Kawecka

Lifestyle Outreach Specialist | Greenlight

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