« Indiana Law - More on LCJ Meth series | Main | Indiana Decisions - 7th Circuit posts three today »

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Economic development - New Castle casket store marks a change in funeral industry

"New Castle casket store marks a change in funeral industry" is the heading to an interesting story today in the Muncie Star-Press. Some quotes:

Owner Tony Beck knows that his Indiana Casket and Monument Sales store isn't a typical downtown business, but already the novelty of a shop that sells caskets, headstones and urns has turned heads in New Castle.

And he likes that.

But more importantly, he says, is the fact that grieving families now have a choice of where to buy some of the most expensive supplies for a funeral.

Up until 1994, all caskets were bought and sold at funeral homes. It was one-stop shopping and a convenience for survivors, but the Federal Trade Commission said it also gave funeral home directors a monopoly on the business. That's why the commission changed the rules.

Now caskets and urns can be bought online, even from discount stores like Costco and the Internet auction site eBay. They also can be purchased from a retail store like the one in New Castle.

"When a family loses someone and is in grief, shopping is the last thing on their mind," Beck said, "but the savings on a casket can pay for a monument." * * *

A funeral ranks as one of the three most expensive events in a person's life, after the purchase of a home and paying for a wedding. Studies by the National Funeral Directors Association have pinpointed the price of an average funeral at more than $5,000, though even that fee doesn't include the price of a cemetery plot, monument or vault.

Beck said the lettering painted on the front windows of his business tells the story - 30 to 50 percent savings.

Funeral home directors weren't happy with the FTC's ruling 10 years ago, and Beck said most aren't friendly when he delivers a casket to their door. By law a funeral home can't turn away a casket from a third-party retailer, even if they sell the same model.

More about caskets. The Batesville Casket Company, headquartered in Batesville, Indiana, "is a subsidiary of Hillenbrand Industries and is the leading manufacturer of metal and hardwood burial caskets. We are also a leading provider of cremation urns and caskets, as well as related support services."

Here is an ad for a company called buycaskets.com, self-described as an authorized Batesville Casket dealer, selling caskets nationwide over the internet, with "guaranteed free next day delivery." Here is a Costco ad. It cautions: "Currently caskets can only be purchased from and shipped to addresses in the following states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon and Washington."

Here are some more articles about Indiana casket manufacturers:

  • From an article on IU's Kelly School of Business list of Indiana's top entrepreneurial firms: "C.J. Boots Casket Co. of Anderson in four years has found a successful niche in the manufacturing and distribution of customized wood caskets. Boots learned of the demand for his product after taking over the job of building wood caskets for members of his German Baptist Church. He sees Indiana-based Batesville Casket Co. as his primary competition."

  • From Inside Indiana Business (story includes a video): "Back in the 70s and 80s oversize caskets were hard to get and poorly made. Special size caskets were made by hand, and without much regard to quality or integrity.

    "In 1985, in Lynn, Indiana, Forrest Davis quit his job as a welder in a casket factory and began Goliath Casket, Inc. He and his wife Mary, saw the need to produce a quality oversize casket. The company started in an old converted hog barn by offering just two sizes and one color. From those beginnings, the company expanded rapidly to a full range of sizes starting at 29 wide, up to 52 wide, and up to 8 feet long."

  • From Cincinnati.com, a story last June 17, 2003 titled "Old company high-tech player: Casket maker renowned for Web activities." Some quotes:
    AURORA, Ind. - This historic river town will never be mistaken for a high-tech mecca, but it lays claim to being one of the most innovative suppliers in the funeral industry.

    Family-owned Aurora Casket Co., which has called Aurora home since 1890, has been recognized as an industry leader for adopting Web-based initiatives aimed at its funeral home customers and the families they serve. * * *

    Because Aurora is privately held, Barrott said the company can invest in new technology without the pressures for return on investment that its larger, publicly held rivals face.

    Aurora employs about 900 people, including 500 in Aurora. It was started in 1890 by John Backman, with 30 employees making wooden caskets by hand.

    An interesting fact I noticed in reading about several of these Indiana casket manufacturers is that only within the past few years have they added hardwood caskets to their lines, or gone back to including them. Recall yesterday's entry (2nd item) about Indiana's hardwood industry.

    Posted by Marcia Oddi on December 28, 2004 12:26 PM
    Posted to Indiana economic development