Posted by Charles
Commentators on Mr Maiden’s letter to the Funeral Service Journal (here) deploring some coffin manufacturers’ willingness to sell their boxes direct to the public did not find in favour of Mr Maiden’s practice of burying some of his service charge in an excessively marked-up coffin. The latest score is 26-0.
James Leedam summed it up well when he offered Mr Maiden this counsel: ‘Charge a commercial rate for the time and care you take to make sure that everything runs faultlessly on the day and for the service you take pride in – much of which is not apparent to the consumer. Don’t be embarrassed to mention all that you do – proudly justify your charges. Don’t hide costs in the inflated price of the coffin – you’ll get found out.’
It’s not that Mr Maiden, let’s be fair, is being slippery and sly in doing what he does, it’s that he exhibits commercial timidity. In this he is not alone.
Kathryn observed: ‘I can see why it’s not such a sacrifice for undertakers to offer their ‘services’ for ‘free’ in the context of babies’ and children’s funerals if they’re charging £££ for a small box.’ If undertaking is a proper, respectable commercial activity, why would you not charge for babies’ funerals?
Which focuses on the question: Can undertaking ever be a respectable commercial activity?
And the answer is yes, of course it can. Can’t it? You offer to do for others what they can’t or don’t want to do, and you charge them for it. This is mainstream stuff. Isn’t it?
It’s not necessarily how consumers see it. They don’t silently accuse plumbers of preying on the misery of others, though plumbers certainly profit from just that. Undertakers, with some shining exceptions, have never managed to dispel the perception that what they do is exploitative of the bereaved. It is a perception which Mr Maiden and his kind only reinforce.
But it’s not all their fault. The public’s refusal to engage with the reality of what undertakers are there for compounds the dysfunctional relationship.
People ask, ‘Do undertakers sit by the phone hoping that someone is going to die?’ Well, of course they do — though they’d rather it wasn’t anyone they know. That’s not the same thing as causing people to die. Get real.
People — educated people — ask what really goes on at a crematorium. You lay it on. You tell them about lids prised off, bodies crammed into cremators, and the rusty white van out the back waiting to take the coffins away for re-use. And they exclaim, spellbound by such pornography, ‘I always thought so!’ And you shout back, ‘If you always thought so, what are you doing about it?’
Where do we go from here?