Croaking Caskets: Consumer's Reduce Their Spend to The Bitter End

Benjamin Franklin -- who would most certainly be a blogger if he were alive today -- is famous for having popularized the phrase "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." And as a logical extension, I've always been struck by how the business of death has appeared to not only be resistant to market fluctuation, but also likely to continuously expand as population increases. Enter the biggest economic downturn in 70 years and consumers have now begun to focus their new found frugality on the casket industry.

Back in Ben Franklin's day, coffin making (the six sided version) was a welcome and steady sideline for local carpenters and cabinet makers in the small towns and villages where most people lived. Now no longer a cottage industry, casket making today is big business. And while not a death knell just yet, theWSJ chronicles the impact of doing death on the cheap and states that "some casket makers worry their business is hitting a dead end". Quoting the example of Marc Kruskol, a 52-year-old publicist in Palmdale, CA, The Journal says "He doesn't want a casket burial regardless of how strong the economy is ... When he dies, he wants to donate his organs and be cremated. Traditional burials are a waste of cash, he says. 'It's like taking a bag full of money and burying it'." Mr. Kruskol appears to epitomize the nail in the industry's ... you get the idea -- sorry but the puns are too irresistible.

With "the average cost of a traditional burial [at] $7,200, compared with $1,400 for the crematory fee, some form of memorial service and an inexpensive urn", according to the article, it's little surprise that "the pace of cremations in North America has typically grown at about one percentage point a year". But as consumers increasingly decide to recycle their body parts and send their residual earthly vessels up in smoke, casket manufacturers are not lying down. With revenue down nearly 4%, casket makers are offering super cheap boxes for the daisy pushers, urns for ashes and also diversifying by acquiring manufacturers of factory equipment.

So while consumers are "earning a penny" right down to their final spend, the casket industry is heeding the market and another bit of Ben's advice: "He that blows the coals in quarrels that he has nothing to do with, has no right to complain if the sparks fly in his face."

William Busch

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