Cremation Services or Traditional Funeral – Why Not Both?

In 1949, retired American Army Captain Harold William Atkins was working part time at his father’s Pensacola, FL, ice cream shop. After noticing several customers ordering ice cream cones with two flavors stacked atop one another, he began working on a device which could dispense two flavors, in equal measure, at the same time. As the inventor of the enormously popular chocolate/vanilla twist cone, Atkins understood 65 years ago what many funeral professionals today continue to wrestle with: sometimes, customers want two seemingly incompatible things at the same time.

For the last several years, funeral professionals have divided client families into two categories: those who choose traditional services and those who choose cremation. Unfortunately, this polarized approach exposes a fundamental flaw in the way many view final disposition, compelling funeral professionals to streamline their service offerings and reduce complicated end-of-life planning to only two choices. As cremation rates continue to rise, however, more and more families are electing to hold traditional services while still selecting cremation as a means of final disposition.   

The rising rate of cremation services is certainly not a new trend in the funeral profession. According to the Cremation Association of North America (CANA) survey results published in the latest edition of The Funeral Director’s Guide to Statistics, the national cremation rate will surpass that of traditional burial in 2018. In the same anthology, a 2014 survey completed by Nixon Consulting Group found that the average cremation sale had increased 6.9% over the previous year.

What does this mean for funeral professionals? To start, it may be an indication of a new trend, moving away from the traditional concept of direct cremation toward more complete (and profitable) service offerings. It may also be the result of differing motivations for those who choose cremation.

Our 2015 policy owner survey found that less than half of individuals who incorporated cremation into their prearrangement did so as a means of controlling expenses. Rather, most respondents selected cremation for reasons that had nothing to do with cost – efficiency, mobility, family tradition or simply personal preference. These individuals may be better served when presented with your full range of service offerings rather than just the bare-bones, direct cremation package.

Unlike Harold Atkins, funeral professionals can meet the diverse needs of their client families without having to invent new service and product offerings. For many cremation services, memorial merchandise, visitations, funeral luncheons and even caskets can play an active role in honoring a deceased loved one. Many of these items are already included in your service offerings and could easily be included in those services you offer families who choose cremation.

The most successful funeral home owners will tell you that they take pride in offering exceptional service to each and every family, no matter how odd the request. I recently spoke with John Williams, a third-generation funeral director at Winans Funeral Home in Maysville, OK, who affirmed his choice to enter into the funeral profession, noting that it is his calling to serve families to the best of his abilities. “At Winans, we operate as one big family, and we treat and serve each family like they’re our own,” he explained. “We’re committed to offering every family every option, every time.”

As cremation continues to gain popularity, it is important that funeral professionals adopt a similar approach when planning cremation services. Rather than dividing families into categories based on traditional burials or cremation services, focus on offering both choices, in equal measure, at the same time.

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