Thoughts about Dignity PLC from a reader

Fran Hall

 

 

Over the weekend, one of our many readers posted a comment on a previous blog post about Dignity PLC’s report on what they tell us people ‘assume, want and expect from funeral directors.

We thought this comment deserved elevating to a post in its own right. So here it is. (Sorry about the illustration of a female in pink shorts as a reader though, we’re pretty sure it’s not an accurate depiction but it’s the best we could find).

‘Although this piece isn’t about “Quality and standards” and “Regulation” it is about the Dignity business.

I’ve long since ‘had it’ with the constant media spiel that Dignity dispenses, Nothing other than a total smokescreen aimed solely for the benefit of City Institutions/Brokers/Pension funds etc etc. who are only interested in profits, reducing overheads plus a healthy balance sheet, who on the whole know absolutely nothing about the Funeral and Cremation Industry. Those actively involved all of course employ ‘Analyst people’ with an interest in economics, figures whatever who regularly run a line over Dignity’s figures, i.e. expensively employed ‘bean-counters’.  Those Dignity figures will tell them one thing only, exactly how Dignity are performing. What this doesn’t do of course is to give any idea of what the remainder of the Industry are up to.  Said Analysts etc should spend an equal amount of time in looking at this excellent blog since without it, how can any comparisons be drawn……………….?

Consistently Dignity have taken a swipe at the Independent opposition by using the term “fragmented” without ever explaining the use of that term. Put simply, following results last year and earlier this year (together with the Share Price tanking) Dignity realised that they had to do something and as ever that involves a mandate in favour of an expensive Management Consultancy outfit, since that’s the sort of mandate that the Square Mile expects, Corporate Governance you know and again adding to the costs of a Funeral…………………….

Let’s have a look at their Crematoria as it’s not just the pure Funeral side of the business that I suggest is alos suffering, it will not be long (if not already) that they start to feel a real pinch in this area.  For many years no new Crematoriums were built but over the past 10 + years, thanks to Westerleigh and Memoria that position has significantly changed.  Take the fairly new Cromer Crem as an example, this has a forecast 1000 funerals pa. Previously the nearest Crem or should I say Crem’s were both in Norwich, both owned by Dignity.  We all know that the standard Dignity Crem fee is approx £999 so that’s an almost certain annual loss in turnover of £1M from those two locations alone. Memoria also have another operation (Waveney Memorial Park) south east of Norwich which must have added to the ‘Cromer loss’.  All in all Dignity must be taking a large hit in Norfolk, considerably in excess of the £1M already mentioned

Their Oxford operation I suggest is literally haemorrhaging. A few years ago Memoria opened a new site near Abingdon, all of those funerals would previously have taken place at Oxford.  This operation, the South Oxon Crem (shows as per their diary,) 21 funerals during the coming week, admittedly an exceptional amount and 11 next week.  Assuming 800 funerals pa, that’s another £800K that’s not rolling into Dignity’s coffers. Meanwhile down in East Devon, the now mature Southern Co-op funded East Devon Crem has taken a considerable amount of funerals away from what was a very busy Dignity operation in Exeter. That site alone has probably taken 500 funeral pa from Dignity.  Basingstoke is another. The recently opened Test Valley Crem near Romsey has almost certainly affected Basingstoke, say 450 pa (and possibly more)

I’ve highlighted five Dignity Crem’s, which have almost certainly in total shown a Revenue downturn pa of at least £3M, probably more. Memoria and Weterleigh Crem’s are all cheaper than Dignity, so it’s not just the Dignity Funeral side that’s having a marked effect on ‘Funeral Poverty’, it’s their Crem’s too.  I suggest that said Analysts may care to take this into account as well since the number of new Crem’s being built will almost certainly not decrease. Dignity have a monopoly/near monopoly with their Crem’s located in the Brighton, Chichester, Crawley and Leatherhead areas, all very busy but are at risk to new ‘operations’

I ‘sped read’ through the recent media hype that they’ve issued, gawd how much did that cost………..  There’s something about under-performing Branches and something else about separating the Branches from the Mortuary/Vehicle bases,  Funny that, since I thought that that had always been their business model.  And on under-performing Branches this is a ‘token offering’ to the Square Mile, those that current “u-p” are exactly the same as those that did, say five years ago, their under-performance has been mollified by consistently large price increases across the board.  I know who some of them are and would be really surprised if there are more than 30% of the entire Dignity Branches who are significantly profitable.  The plain truth is that what’s happened to Dignity during the past twelve or so months had been a long time coming,  a very long time and the Management have surely been fairly arrogant during this time, in that “…..it cannot happen to us….”.  Prices have consistently been ramped up to a level which cannot be justified and for whatever reason they just hadn’t accepted the power of the web and the constant on-line flow of information re prices etc from opponents, that’s pure arrogance in itself.  Going back to “Corporate Governance”, the current main Board have seven members, there’s only one who has long term experience of the Industry, I suggest that they’re no more connected to the Industry than your average daily commuter

Where is the business going…………….?  Can it go any further – closing a few Branches here and there makes no difference, surely they cannot increase the Crem fees again…….?   It’s a massive business with much middle management.  I could go on I really could……

There’s an additional dimension which never seems to be mentioned regarding the level of a Dignity funeral and the knock on effects that this has towards “funeral poverty”.  Put simply, with Dignity feeling that they can keep their prices at X and X for the different aspects of a Funeral and if the ‘market’ continues to accept them, then it’s pure logic that other Corporates (who are also based in or around Dignity Branches) feel that they can also charge those amounts. On this blog, Co-operative Funeralcare have made a number of appearances, the third largest Corporate i.e. Funeral Partners have to date made just the five appearances on here.  FP have grown significantly during the five or so years and seem to be in very much an ‘avaricious expansion mode’ with 160 shops (or thereabouts) to be precise.  Clearly no ‘mom and pop business’.  FP are no different than Dignity or F’care when it comes to on-line pricing, in fact they appear to be the most secretive.  Later this week I’ll be posting on here current prices for both Dignity and FP for Funerals in the same location. Two highlights (sic) will be the cost of a local removal and for supplying a hearse. I’ll also throw into the mix, comparable prices from a mature local Independent

Finally I had intended to write something along these lines six or so months ago but as the ‘Dignity Plc issue’ per se has again appeared on here, felt that this was a good a time as any to go into print.’

Andre

 

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Public
Guest
Public

Your point about so many more crematoria being built over the last ten years or so is significant. I wonder how many of them are on greenbelt land and also not really needed. The land value sky rockets when permission for development is granted on previously almost valueless greenbelt land. So, if it is the big corporates who owned the land in the first place (and I don’t know whether it is or not), although the profits from cremation will drop as the business is split across more and more less efficient crematoria, the value of their property portfolio will… Read more »

ANDREW PLUME
Guest
ANDREW PLUME

If you are contemplating having to arrange a Funeral for a relative or a close friend and have concerns regarding the content of this blog (regarding Dignity Plc) i.e. and as to the likely costs, then here is a link showing all of the shops/branches currently owned by Dignity:-

https://www.dignityfunerals.co.uk/funeral-services/arranging-a-funeral/find-a-funeral-director/

And if you also have concerns as to which Crematoria that they own, then here are details:-

https://www.dignityfunerals.co.uk/crematoria-and-cemeteries/crematoria/find-a-crematorium/crematoria-index/

regards

ANDREW PLUME
Guest
ANDREW PLUME

My ‘hope’ that Dignity wouldn’t push the price of their Cremations into four figures has inevitably not materialised, fourteen of their locations now exceed £1,000 with prices ranging from £1,070 to £1,025 Here are a few interesting comparisons (all for the same time slots):- City of London. 8.30am to 10am – £466; and 10am to 6pm – £864; Putney Vale – again as per C of L – £297 and £599; Mortlake – £365 and £595; and Golders Green – £310 and £690 I’ve deliberately chosen London Crem’s which on the face of it (despite the price of real estate… Read more »

ANDREW PLUME
Guest
ANDREW PLUME

And as promised………………… I’ve chosen a location in the Southern part of England where all three Corporates are represented. The Corporates have four shops and the Indies have eight. The Indies have easily the largest cut of the cake (in the number of Funerals conducted) These prices include removal and washing, professional charges plus a hearse and one limo. They do not include the price of a coffin, Crem fees, Doctor’s fees and/or anything else. They are all identical ‘Traditional Funerals’: Dignity – £4,265 (inc Removal: £990; Hearse £695) FP – £3,020 (inc Removal £630; Hearse £730) Strong Local Indie… Read more »

Jonathan Taylor
Guest
Jonathan Taylor

To plagiarize a leading politician: ‘Dignity plc… for the money, not for the funeral’.

George Easte
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George Easte

Surely your correspondent ‘Andrew@ is using a nom-de-…oh.

ANDREW PLUME
Guest
ANDREW PLUME

no not a “nom-de-……” simply a case of me not including the ‘w’ when I was performing a ‘cut and paste’…………….

andrew

George Easte
Guest
George Easte

Surely your correspondent ‘Andrew’ is using a nom-de- …oh!

Liza
Guest
Liza

In some fields with predictable demand etc being large leads to economies of scale and price reductions. Because of the unpredictable nature of death and the individuality of each case that’s simply not possible and he corperates just seem to be adding massive overheads which do nothing to keep people out of funeral poverty. The necessity to drive internal costs down to keep shareholders on board seems to be leading to some of the things like branch closures and centralised mortuaries which I think are an attempt to instigate some economies of scale and drive internal costs down. I wouldn’t… Read more »

Lucy
Guest

I think the time for corporate funeral directors and their practices are slowly coming to a halt. More and more people ask who I am owned by because they want to make sure we aren’t part of some big corporate machine. All that seems to be happening with national chains is that they are seeking to industrialise funerals even more than they already have done. Big, mass mortuaries (probably on an industrial estate or close to it) per county is how I read their report. Closing smaller offices that aren’t making money because independents are popping up close to them… Read more »

Tophat
Guest
Tophat

Andrew Davies who was up until his retirement the operations director for Dignity and was an executive director.

He has since retired and his new replacement Andrew Judd who has funeral experience has been given the title of Director of Funeral Operations.

This is not a main board appointment so it is a shame to see that on dignity’s main board there is very little if any funeral experience directors now.