Photo showing the viewing gallery at the Going Home Cremation Service, Maryland
In all so-called advanced cultures, funeral practices are becoming less elaborate. All this talk of baby boomers reinventing funerals as bespoke, themed, accessorised, more or less lavish performance events can seem to make good sense — but baby boomers, who by now have buried and cremated many thousands of parents, ain’t, experience now tells us, buying in to all that. Recession or no recession, the dying express the wish to keep it cheap and simple; and those left behind seem content to fall in with that. When people fall into conversations about funerals, the proudest boasts are made by those who spent least.
Where a funeral dwindles to its essentials — the body of a dead person and the body of people who cared about him/her — there’s not much margin for an undertaker. But where the expanding market is the one for cheap funerals, that’s where an undertaker needs to hang out. You need to do more funerals for less to make your business pay, of course – if you can get em in the first place.
So the earnings ceiling for an undertaker is getting lower and lower. This is especially evident in the US, where once comfortably-off morticians have been banjaxed by the rush to cremation. Growing impoverishment ought to act as a disincentive to new entrants. But the market in Britain remains saturated with undertakers because they are motivated by vocation rather than acquisitiveness. Altruistic people thrive on adversity; it strengthens their humanitarian resolve and enhances their sense sainthood.
Which is why the smart money is now increasingly going into crematoria and natural burial grounds of 20 acres+. Here profits remain fattening. Dignity and the Co-op are moving in bigtime. Bibby, the corp behind GreenAcres, is showing no interest in buying out undertakers.
There’s a race on to buy out council-owned crematoria and build new ones – they’re going up everywhere. Here’s a bubble that’s going to end in rubble. Where low cost scores highest with consumers, and at a time when funeral poverty is stalking the land, it won’t be long before people wise up to the fact that the cheapest cremation provider is the one who cremates most economically by blazing round the clock 365 days a year (not 250 as at present) in a standalone plant with a viewing gallery set in a very few nicely appointed acres. There’s nothing to stop anyone from building one of these now. In the US they’re called crematories. That’s what we need: crematories, not more crematoria.
By how much would efficient cremation bring down funeral costs? The US gives us some idea. You can arrange a direct cremation in New York for £860 including all undertaker’s fees. The cremation part of that comes to just £265. In Florida you can buy the complete direct cremation package for £525. In Maryland, using a particularly nice-looking crematory, you can buy the complete package for £618. And in San Diego you can do the whole thing for just £416 all in.
Go figure, Bibby. You read it here first. Send us a bung when it all comes good.