At Musgrove Willow you can go and watch the coffin being made — and even lend a hand.
There’s a big coffin show on at Chiltern Woodland Burial Park this weekend. I can’t make it, sad to say. If you can, it looks good. And Chiltern is a lovely place.
Coffins are what visitors to the GFG website most want to know about. Brits are really into coffins. Does any country offer a bigger range? I don’t think so.
It bugs consumers that they cannot buy direct from most coffin manufacturers because the funeral directors ‘persuade’ manufacturers not to sell to them. It bugs consumers that funeral directors slap the biggest margin on coffins they can get away with. It probably bugs the manufacturers, too. It bugs consumers when they learn that funeral directors bury some of their professional fee in their coffin prices. This all adds up to a feeling that they are being cynically diddled when their defences are down.
But, here’s the point, even a normal retail markup would likely be reckoned unfair. It is observable that the same people who are wholly happy to pay for a meal out when they could buy the food on their plate for 5x less at Tesco cannot see why the same rule should apply to coffins.
It is related to a general feeling that funerals are too expensive. This is a problem for funeral directors, because they are not. Funeral directors need, therefore, to work extra hard to demonstrate that they give value for money. One of those ways is to be hyper-transparent about costs.
But I think there’s more to it than that. Why do consumers feel that the normal rules of retail do not apply to coffins? The answer may be that funeral consumers have a particular feeling about the coffin: it is the last beautiful, personal gift they can buy for the person who has died. They would like to feel that they chose it and bought it and gave it to the funeral director to put their dead person in. Or that they chose it and asked the funeral director to get it for them. They see the funeral director as agent, not retailer. Above all, they want to own that coffin.
If there’s anything in this – and I’ll be interested to find out if you think there is – then funeral directors will do well to sell their coffins at more or less cost and justify their professional fee in terms of: specialist expertise + hours + overheads expressed as an hourly rate, like any other professional. This need not make them feel insecure. They do things other people can’t or won’t, after all.