Diabolical liberties, that’s what they’re taking

Charles Cowling

Brown

 

Cardboard coffin by Greenfield Creations

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.” Matthew 23:25

It seems appropriate to wax biblical in the matter of undertakers’ mark-ups for, verily, the people do tremble with ire and their eyeballs do start from their sockets whenever they discover that what they’re buying has got a little bit slapped on top.

These are the same people who readily accept that anything else they buy has been marked up to what the market can stand. Go to a restaurant. Price up the food on your plate. What would it cost you at Tesco? Call for the manager. Demand in a commanding tone to know why you are paying £25 for food you could buy for £4.83. The manager will speak of the cooking and the waitering and the washing up and the manifold overheads of running a high street premises. He may even conclude by saying, “If you don’t like it, cook your own or go to the kebab house on the corner.” He may even say something more direct. 

What’s the markup on anything? Answer: the normal retail markup is 50 per cent — ie, double the cost price. That doesn’t mean that an undertaker pays £100 for a coffin, charges £200 and takes £100 to the pub. Gross profit is what is left when overheads have been taken out. You’re unlikely to get much change from £100. Fashion goods, luxury items and Apple gadgets carry a much greater margin and no one gets into a moralising tizz about them.  

The cost of a coffin is no benchmark of an undertaker’s charges.  Cheap coffin = overhead cost absorbed by professional fee.

The best way to benchmark an undertaker’s charges is to get a quote for the job from your nearest Dignity plc undertaker and compare it with quotes from others. Seriously good value starts at Dignity minus £600. While you’re about it, take http://quotecorner.com/revia.html account of the value of great personal service. There is no reason whatever why an undertaker shouldn’t say “I charge more because I am worth it.” Let the market be the arbiter of that. 

Up in Scotland there’s a hoo-ha about the markup on cardboard coffins. One undertaker is charging £580. Scotmid charges £245. A Scotmid spokesperson said: 

“The cardboard coffins that we retail for £245, we buy in for between £80 and £100. Then we have other costs, VAT, delivery, we have to engrave the plate, line the interior, then we have to mark up the price as well. The cardboard coffins are not popular, we sell very few, and we have to mark the cost up or we wouldn’t be a business.” 

Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont accused funeral homes of “profiteering” at the expense of grieving families. He said: “This seems like a heavily excessive mark-up which would not be tolerated in other industries. Grieving families are probably in the worst possible frame of mind to spot this, and that’s perhaps why it happens. Funerals are not a cheap occurrence and with profiteering like this, it’s easy to see why.”

The use of the word ‘profiteering’ is highly subjective. Bereaved people are uneasy about the commodification of deathcare even though they don’t want to do it themselves. They think the normal commercial rules should be suspended. Well, they can’t be, not if you’re going to create a market for it. Even undertakers have to eat. You can’t have it both ways. 

Instead of berating undertakers for avarice and instilling in funeral shoppers a sense of grievance and entitlement, it would be far better for the likes of Mr Lamont to comment sensibly and urge consumers to shop around. As that Scotmid spokesperson said: “We have to mark the cost up or we wouldn’t be a business.”

Within a mile or two of any undertaker who is out to rip you off is one who isn’t. That’s the good news. Get it out there, Mr Lamont. 

Full story here

 

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NelsonKristieAndrew HicksonRosieAndrew Hickson (Kingfisher Funerals) Recent comment authors

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Nelson
Guest

It’s actually a cool and helpful piece of information. I am
happy that you shared this helpful information with us.
Please keep us informed like this. Thanks for sharing.

Kristie
Guest

I love this article. While there are certainly some out there charging hugely and not being worth it, this is not the case everywhere. For some reason, around death, people think you ought not to be making money. There are plenty of other goods and services we pay (and pay handsomely) for. A nice restaurant, an excellent hairdresser, a relaxing holiday, a business coach, interior designer, etc, etc , etc. But around death is often the idea that it should be all altruistic and charity-like and either free or at cost. I was once told that my work is my… Read more »

Rosie
Guest

Quite Kristie, Surely it is when you need to make profits for shareholders too, that a problem arises. When I opened a natural burial ground back in 2000, it was Interesting that at my open day for local FDs, severeral from the groups came to me and told me that I was too cheap, missing a trick and that I had a premium product to capitalise on. They just couldn’t understand that I wanted to be affordable for everyone, competitive and most importantly not part of the negatively perceived industry. 7 years later I had the busiest and best NBG… Read more »

Andrew Hickson
Guest

Ahem…

Kristie
Guest

Maybe a bit of both. xx

Gregory Michael Taylor
Guest

Gentlemen / Ladies, I am in the middle of arranging a funeral for a bereaved lady who has asked for the best for her brother, Including a cardboard coffin all though it is a themed bespoke design, both myself and my client are more than impressed with the finished article. My charges start from £180.00 for a cardboard coffin, and from £400.00 to a bespoke themed type. After showing my client the options available for both coffins and cremated remains caskets the decission was a little easier to make. My client had previoulsy lost her Mum less than 18 months… Read more »

andrew plume
Guest
andrew plume

yes, quite Greg…………………ahem

I’ve just had a run through your website and very good luck with your business. East of England Co-op are imo way too strong in the Ipswich area and more indy ‘opposition’ must be very good etc etc

do you mind if I say that your address was not overly apparent on your site

regards

andrew

Gregory Michael Taylor
Guest

Hi Andrew, comments about my website I welcome both good and bad, I orriginate from up north and say it like it should be said, some agree and some dont, Charles has viewd my website and has made some excellent points. I dont try to upset the big boys but some how it comes very easily. Your remarks about the EOE Coop being too big in Ipswich I toatly agree with, with in the last 3 years 3 Independents have opened up and I do have it another is on the cards in the near future. The people in Ipswich… Read more »

andrew plume
Guest
andrew plume

thanks Greg, grateful for your post

as you (rightly) say it’s not difficult to upset “the big boys”

imo, the trouble with EofE Coop’s (and similar others), who may have the market share in a certain area, is, is that the more funerals that they are seen to do, then the more business that they well get

if EofE (and also Dignity) continue to display such a flagrant arrogant belief in themselves that their websites are totally absent of their pricing structures, then they just have to accept that they are totally exposed to “the flyer” route

keep going and good luck

regards

andrew

Kitty
Guest
Kitty

In our fight for transparent pricing (you can do it, you know you can) there is an additional significance when it comes to cardboard coffins. For the many people who have been told by their soon-to-be-dead family member NOT to make too much fuss and NOT to spend too much on the funeral, requesting a cardboard coffin seems the ideal way to go. It’s much more than a container for transporting the dead body. It’s a symbol of simplicity and understatement. But not if it costs more than the faux-oak/faux brass handled one.

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan

“Just get me a cardboard coffin”… there’s a false assumption isn’t there, presumably because of a false comparison with an empty cardboard box, that it’ll be cheap – if it’ll hold a sixteen stone man on a rainy day, why should it be cheap? It’s like comparing a car to a tin can. ‘Stuff my corpse in a used crisp packet, bury my cremains in an old wine flagon, don’t dress me in no fine stiffjacket nor haul me in the hoodoo wagon – if I looked down, I couldn’t hack it to see your overdraft keep your spirits flaggin’;… Read more »

Andrew Hickson (Kingfisher Funerals)
Guest

I’d love to agree with you Kitty, but for some reason I don’t.

I deliberately sell a basic cardboard coffin (like the one in the photo above) for £5 less than a basic wooden one. I advertise this openly on my website http://stneotsfuneraldirectors.co.uk/estimate-generator/ and frequently have clients say “he just wanted to be put in a cardboard box…”

And yet, when it comes to it, the take-up on cardboard coffins, despite them being less expensive, and making the statement you express so well, has been … zero.

I wish I knew why.

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan

To pick up ideas about comparing prices between funeral directors, and to follow the food analogy, it seems to me like comparing ‘identical’ meals in different restaurants. You might conceivably get the same ingredients, but still not the same meal (unless you go to a chain).

A funeral is not the sum of its parts.

trackback

[…]   […]

Nick Gandon
Guest

Stagger down the Blackpool promenade and buy a burger from Greasy Fred’s Grease Bar, and you’ll be lucky to last a couple of blocks before ….. Buy a burger from M&S, and it’ll probably be one of the best burgers you’ve ever tasted, with no unpredictable effects. Maybe that’s overstating the obvious, but there is a very good reason why I do not offer cardboard coffins to clients, unless they absolutely insist. I have nothing against cardboard coffins, as such. As predominently a direct cremation provider, you would think that cardboard coffins would be just the very thing – as… Read more »

Andrew Hickson (Kingfisher Funerals)
Guest

Where this post fails to convince is in the definition of “a cardboard coffin’. I can’t see anywhere that it defines it as a basic cardboard coffin. It’s somewhat akin to writing about ‘a tomato’ without specifying whether it’s mass produced, genetically modified, grown in 3 days and fed with weedkiller, or lovingly hand-grown, organic and nutured by Manuel from Andalucia for 6 months. The coffin shown in the picture, at 6’1″ x 22″, could retail to the public at £245 giving an almost exact 50% mark-up (I think mathematically it’s a 100% mark-up, but for clarity of keeping with… Read more »

James
Guest
James

Hello Andrew,
I think the coffin in the picture is a generic photo that Charles has used just to show a cardboard coffin. The article in Deadline http://www.deadlinenews.co.uk/2013/05/10/bereaved-families-are-paying-up-to-580-for-cardboard-coffins/ , shows a different cardboard coffin and the article in the Scottish Record http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/funeral-homes-slammed-charging-580-1881671 uses a wool coffin, which is certainly confusing things.
Which facts do you think need checking?
Regards James

Andrew Hickson (Kingfisher Funerals)
Guest

Exactly my point James. Nowhere can I see it specified that ‘a cardboard coffin’ is defined as anything other than that, so it is impossible to compare prices or mark-ups without more information. You can’t stick up a photo of a Smart Car, call it ‘Car’ and then say ‘Retailers selling cars for £50,000’ without implying that the Smart Car is selling for £50K can you?

David Barrington
Guest

Excellent point Andrew,

David Barrington
Guest

Although I think £580 is a ridiculous markup for a cardboard coffin. I also think that politicians should think twice before mouthing off about funeral directors. Successive governments have ignored the plight of the poorest individuals in our society and have left the cap on the funeral payment from the social fund in place for over 10 years, this means that currently even after the funeral payment has been paid most families have a balance to pay of around £1000 to settle a funeral account. The companies that end up looking after families such as this are small independent funeral… Read more »

Poppy Mardall
Guest

Great article Charles!

Linda
Guest

Funeral directors can ‘sell’ a number of products at trade price but then hide the mark up in ‘professional fees’ swings and roundabouts. We all have overheads they just vary from one FD to another and what profit margins we chooose to make. Clients should shop around but often don’t, its a time of great distress so they will go with recommendation or who they have used previously, here in the NE the Co-op can do no wrong even after cremating the wrong person! I have been critisised for having prices on my website and in my window, from other… Read more »

Michael Jarvis
Guest
Michael Jarvis

The very fact that this issue has to be raised yet again is an indictment of a (sizeable) portion of the funeral trade and their pricing practices. Some eight years ago I was approached by a young widow who had asked an undertaker to supply a cardboard coffin for her deceased husband who had suffered a fatal fall while carrying out DIY at their new marital home. A few weeks beforehand they had seen a piece I had recorded for a regional TV station on eco-friendly coffins and he had said to her that a cardboard coffin would be his… Read more »

David Barrington
Guest

Hello Michael,

The funeral ombudsman was created by the Co Op when they fell out with NAFD they funded it pretty much.

Dignity also fell out with the NAFD following the TV programme in the 1980’s, I can’t remember what that was called. They used the FOS for a while to reassure it’s clients.

When both of these companies rejoined the NAFD the funeral ombudsman service was surplus to requirements.

David.

Michael Jarvis
Guest
Michael Jarvis

Thanks, David. My point about the defunct Funerals Ombudsman Service was really that it had received very few complaints. I seem to remember that Prof. Woodroffe made the case that the cost of running the operation was minute if one divided it by the annual number of funerals. The detractors, of course, chose to divide the cost by the number of cases handled which produced a widely different figure. What always fascinated me was the paucity of matters referred to it. People who would storm into a department store to complain about a faulty electric kettle are seemingly far less… Read more »

Fran Hall
Guest

Charles, am I correct in thinking that some companies supplying coffins directly to the public have both a public price and a trade price, enabling businesses to add a reasonable mark up to be comparative to that paid if someone were to be buying directly? Seems fair to me as a normal business practice, and would look good if transparent pricing were ever to become the norm, but this clearly doesn’t cater for those companies marking up a cardboard coffin to a price higher than their standard stock of MDF veneers – the default and obviously preferred (by the company)… Read more »

David Barrington
Guest

Fran,

As Charles says anyone who marks up a coffin to that price doesn’t really want to sell it or alternatively didn’t want the funeral in the first place. Maybe they’ve got too much work.

Of course we don’t know what the professional fee is when you add it all up the bottom line may have been cheaper than everyone else.

This is why it is important for the consumers to shop around and make sure they are comparing like for like. By asking for the same spec and comparing the total cost.

David.

Charles
Guest

Hear hear.

TonyB
Guest
TonyB

The difference between a restaurant and undertakers (in the UK) is that the restaurant is required to display its prices outside the premises. Once you’re inside it’s too late. Dignity would scream at being required to put prices on its websites, but why not?

andrew plume
Guest
andrew plume

but sadly

Dignity and three other large Corporates, Funeralcare, LM and Funeral Partners

all take the same attitude………………………………..

a total absence of ‘prices’ on their websites

it’s all fairly arrogant stuff imo

andrew

andrew plume
Guest
andrew plume

in passing, I have to give some credit to: Funeral Partners who following the debacle(s) that were screened on National TV last year, have drastically overhauled their website and have also come out with a very necessary detail (which i’ve commented on the absence of before) in that they now disclose details for all of their branches:- http://www.funeralpartners.co.uk/content/fsp-funeral-directors well done to them………………..however (yet) more middle management have been recruited…………………and still no details for their prices………… c’mon guys buck the trend amongst the Corporates or is it because of the past relationship with a now wholly owned subsidiary of F’care, perhaps?… Read more »

David Barrington
Guest

Why is it too late once your through the door?

I regularly take funerals from the larger companies when the client realises how much it is going to cost.

Consumers shopping around is much more prevalent these days than it was.

Which is good as it makes it much easier to talk to the relatives and tell them why we are different.

David.

Ariadne
Guest
Ariadne

Speaking as a cook as well as an occasional celebrant, it can also be cheaper to buy your own raw ingredients and bang it out from scratch, rather than pay £4.83 to Tesco for a ready meal. But then you’d have to be willing to do the work, in addition to shopping around. This is the thing. As far as funerals go, if only there were greater access to the range of, er, produce in the first place! I like going to restaurants and I understand why you have to stump up. But with cars and coffins and christ knows,… Read more »