retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

The New York Times had a story over the weekend about a startup company, Undertaking LA, that is part of a broader effort endeavoring to challenge traditional end-of-life-related businesses, "encouraging more family involvement in end-of-life rituals, including home funerals and cremations that loved ones can watch, called witness cremations."

Since opening, Undertaking LA has "taught people how to wash and dress bodies, and when necessary, stem the flow of bodily fluids. If they receive a question like the one above, they explain that if mourners want to hold a vigil at home, ice packs or dry ice might be required to help preserve the loved one’s remains."

The story notes that "in the last decade, a small but growing segment of the funeral industry has begun catering to those who want a more natural, intimate end-of-life experience. Home funeral advocates and practitioners link their movement to the home birth, hospice and environmental movements."

There's a financial component to this. "The national median cost of a funeral and burial arranged through a funeral home for an adult in 2014 was $8,508," the Times reports, while "by contrast, the cost of a do-it-yourself home funeral can be $100 or less." According to the story, "Undertaking LA charges $996 for its home funeral service, which includes a three-hour home visit, a service fee, supplies, assistance washing and dressing the body, and guidance on cremation and burial options — but not the burial, cremation or cemetery plot. It charges $340 for a three-hour consultation on how to care for the body and complete the necessary paperwork and $1,470 for a witness cremation. Its modest selection of coffins includes a willow one for $1,370."

The broader message is that the traditional gatekeepers for end-of-life rituals and procedures - the funeral home business - is going to have to find ways to compete in a marketplace where traditions are being challenged.

Just like pretty much every other business.

Though, to be honest, I'm not sure I want to be washing and dressing dead bodies.

Still, it is an Eye-Opener.
KC's View: