Are you in or out?

Charles 14 Comments
Charles

 

It’s not often that you see a funeral entrepreneur on Dragon’s Den, but last night’s show shone a brief spotlight on an enterprise which, in an industry unaccustomed to innovation, is likely to elicit responses ranging from ‘It’ll never work’ to ‘Tcha.’ Theo Paphitis ruled himself straight out, no messing. But it turns out that death spooks him.

It’s one of those online planning sites (you know, the ones that never make it) with a twist. It’s more than a just passive repository of funeral wishes. It’s also a service comparison website which enables consumers to find the funeral director who’ll give them what they want.

The idea is that you plan a funeral online (with plenty of help), and your plan is then sent anonymously to all funeral directors in a geographical radius set by you. The funeral directors respond with a quote and a pitch. They name a price and they also say why they think they are best for the job. They can link to their website and anything else that makes them look good – third-party endorsement, a video clip on YouTube, whatever. You then choose the funeral director who seems both nicest and best value, and from there on it’s face-to-face and personal. If it doesn’t work out, you go back to the website and choose someone else.

How does it pay for itself? This is the bit that funeral directors are going to hate. You buy a coffin from the website at a cheaper price than you are likely to be able to buy it from a funeral director. The website pockets the margin.

Want to know more? Go to the website and try it out for yourself. It’s called CompareTheCoffin.com. Yeah, yeah, what’s in a name?

Is it likely to catch on? Don’t ask me; I don’t have a business brain. But I’d hazard a guess it stands a good chance of establishing a niche. More and more people are shopping around for a funeral. CompareTheCoffin does all the legwork for them and still almost certainly enables them to make a saving. It seems to have something of the win-win about it, for best funeral directors, too – but, as I say, don’t ask me.

I must declare an interest, though. When the originator of CompareTheCoffin, Steven Mitchell, approached me at the conception stage and asked me to write some text for his website, I did some drilling down, not in a Paphitis way, but into the ethics of it. I satisfied myself that, yes, this is an ethical business idea, Steven is a good guy, as is his web developer Akmal (this is a rare partnership between a Jew and a Moslem), and I set about earning a few meagre pence as a day labourer.

Whether or not CompareTheCoffin is a runner is something you are in a far better position to judge.

After last night’s show the CompareTheCoffin website came under what looked like sustained cyber-attack, which may perhaps be rated flattery. If it’s back up after its drubbing you can find it here. Catch the Dragon’s Den show here

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Jon Underwood
10 years ago

Looks like a good site. Your writing is so distinctive Mr. Cowling that I expected to see ‘POSTED BY CHARLES’ at the bottom of every page.

Kingfisher
10 years ago

It’s very interesting this, and I see lots of very positive ideas in this website. What concerns me is this concept of tendering our funerals to funeral directors who aren’t going to get the sale of a coffin out of it. I suspect that the vast majority of FD’s will immediately turn down the suggestion. Coffins are, after all, subject to major mark-ups by FD’s, so they stand to lose a lot. That’s all good news for the few independents around who would be happy to help Steven out, but perhaps it’s not quite as many as he may think… Read more »

Charles Cowling
10 years ago

Interesting points, Kingfisher. Rather than turn down business, would it not make more sense for FDs to stop burying so much of their profit in their coffins? In the case of CtC clients they can tender at a price which reflects this loss of revenue. I think it’s a mistake to suppose that most people’s most important criterion is to find the cheapest undertaker. Everybody knows what to expect from the cheapest – in anything. What people are looking for, above all, is a human being they like and trust. This is a service industry. Let’s not forget that it’s… Read more »

Steven Mitchell
10 years ago

Dear all, I thought I’d add my comments, basically to say that I believe funeral directors have nothing to worry about, and everything to gain. The object of the bidding system is provide leads for business that the funeral director would have had no chance of getting, and therefore this is full business opportunity. Yes loosing the profit on the coffin is a bit of hit, but nowhere near as big a hit as not getting the funeral all, and good FD’s do see at that way. With ~ 50% of the market consolidated with 2 big players, (and those… Read more »

Kingfisher
10 years ago

I’m not sure whether to deal with Charles’ or Steven’s comments first. Perhaps both at the same time … Charles knows me, so will appreciate that when I use the term “most funeral directors” I am excluding a few who are happily flexible, forward-thinking and willing to try out new ideas. I think that these few, however, make up a very very small percentage of funeral directors. Where I think this argument starts to fall apart is in the idealism. Yes, this is a service industry, but I think it is wrong to state that “what people are looking for,… Read more »

james
10 years ago

Why do I instantly distrust the site – for all its thoughtful research and good looking team? Because the entrepreneur told a bare face porkie to his prospective backer about the average cost of a funeral in the UK!
Show me the research that supports a national average cost of £6000 and I’ll reconsider, and own up to being an undertaker frightened of families buying their coffins direct (at a price not disimilar to what we charge!).

Steven Mitchell
10 years ago

Dear all I can honestly tell everyone we made nothing up, the research was carried out by Dr Kate Woodthorpe (http://www.bath.ac.uk/soc-pol/people/kvwoodthorpe.html)at Bath university. and the figure is out of date and apparently now it’s £7250. She actually said this while being interviewed by John Humphreys on Radio 4’s today programme about 3-4 weeks ago. She explains this as the total cost including things like burial plot (and maybe headstones) but it’s clearly an average, with many funerals cost much less, and some obviously costing much more. To answer the other questions, you need to put yourself in the place of… Read more »

Steven Mitchell
10 years ago

also thanks for the ‘Good Looking’ compliment – I’m assuming you’re talking about Charles?

Kingfisher
10 years ago

James is right Steven. The £6000-£7250 cost is very misleading, and causes massive waves of discomfort every time it is quoted anywhere. It might be the average overall cost of dying, perhaps including probate administration, solicitor’s fees etc etc, but it is certainly *not* the average cost of a funeral. To give you some idea, I have just closed my books for the year, so I can accurately tell you that the average cost of a funeral that I arranged was £2885.77 – I’m a little cheaper than most, but not £3000 cheaper I assure you! I’m still intrigued by… Read more »

Charles Cowling
10 years ago

I entirely agree with you, Kingfisher. And we hold in mind that these figures are produced by a commercial entity which flogs financial products to take the sting out of invidious expenses. The cost of dying = funeral+disposal+winding up the estate. Which is why death can be expensive for people who opt not to have a funeral, for it is a fact that the richer you are the more it costs to die. A median figure would give a much more accurate estimate of the overall cost of dying, I suspect. But that’s all one. A funeral+disposal should be treated… Read more »

Charles Cowling
10 years ago

Oh, Kingfisher, I meant to add: that’s an astonishing declaration of the price of your funerals. Easy does it; you’re in danger of provoking apoplexy or even aneurism in any funeral director who reads this blog.

Kingfisher
10 years ago

What’s so secret about it? You can get a price of a funeral by ringing your local FD. If you can find one who quotes £6000 I’ll eat my top hat (if I had one I would anyway).

Steven Mitchell
10 years ago

I’ve found the owner of the research – as Charles correctly said it is a finance company. I’m trying to get a copy of it. On my desk I have a coffin pricelist supplied by a very well known funeral director business showing a casket for £5800 on it’s own! and also it cultural on which type of coffins/caskets people go for and also what people are prepared to spend. Communities that you wouldn’t first think spend a lot of money on funerals – actually do. I’ve been thinking about your question; What radius around a traditional funeral director would… Read more »

Kingfisher
10 years ago

Steven, I think I’m probably coming across as negative to you. I don’t mean to. I think that any means of encouraging FDs to be more transparent is great. I have no doubt at all that you have sourced a price list showing a casket for £5800. I wonder how many of these the FD actually sells though? And of the number that they sell, how many are sold through ‘upselling’ or ’emotional selling’ – ie “Wouldn’t you want the best for Mum..?” And with the totally moral stance which CtC is taking, I presume you won’t be doing that?… Read more »