Eight Thoughts on my HATE / LIKE Relationship with Corporate Run Funeral Homes
If you aren’t aware of the corporate monsters in the funeral business, let me introduce you to Service Corporation International (SCI, also known as “Dignity” funeral homes and cemeteries). SCI is “based in Houston and publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange (NYX), it operates more than 1,800 funeral homes and cemeteries in the U.S. and Canada. It has 20,000 employees and a market capitalization of $4 billion” (Paul M. Barrett). SCI is in a ongoing exchange with the Federal Trade Commision in an attempt to aquire Stewart Enterprises, the second largest funeral corporation; a deal that would effectively give SCI an additional 400 locations, and — what many argue — a violation of federal antitrust laws.
Just to be clear, I — like most independent funeral directors — don’t like corporate run funeral homes. I think they’re bad for consumers and they hurt the already injured public perception of the funeral industry by perpetuating the money-hungry mortician stereotype.
But, I want to be fair in my treatment of corporate run funeral homes. Here are four reasons I hate them and four reasons I like them.
FOUR REASONS I LIKE THEM:
One. New blood in the business
One of the greatest benefits that comes out of Corporate Funeral Homes is that they give first generation funeral directors an opportunity to enter and shine in the funeral industry. If you’re entering the funeral industry, corporate is a great place to find a job in an otherwise difficult market of family businesses that tend to only hire from within.
I know that many of you reading this post right now work at corporate funeral homes and I just want to say that the funeral industry needs you. You bring fresh perspective, hard work and heart to this trade. Perhaps the greatest testimony to your ability and talents is this: theoretically, a corporately run funeral home shouldn’t work. A “machine” shouldn’t be able to serve people in their most human experience. But, it does — to a degree — work. And the only reason it works is because the saving grace of corporate funeral homes is because of YOUR dedication.
Many say that corporate tends to pay their employees better than independent funeral homes.
Three. The Hours.
Independent funeral homes aren’t always managed well. For about seven years of my life, I was on call 24/7 except for two days out of the month. That’s right. I got two days off a month. There were times when I’d work 21 days straight, and I was on call for 24 hours of each of those days. No time for a personal life. No time for a vacation.
Corporate tends to be better run, having shifts and more days off for the staff.
Four. Vertical Movement.
Climbing the management ladder at an independent funeral home is difficult if not impossible. Like working for any family run business, the children of the owners always take precedence. You can work at a funeral home for 50 years and you’re still not able to earn the job that the owner’s 25 year old son is given. It sucks. And corporate is a great place to reward those who work the hardest.
FOUR REASONS I HATE THEM:
One. Some businesses are meant to be small.
Our family has served the Parkesburg and surrounding communities for over 150 years. We know our people. We grew up here. We shop here. We go to church here. If we did something wrong, it’d be in the newspaper the day before we did it. Our roots go deep. Heck, we’re related to half the local population.
If you take that heritage away and the interconnectedness we share with this community, you take away a key part in our ability to serve Parkesburg. Some businesses are meant to be small. Some businesses are meant to be local. Like a herd of cows trouncing through a garden, corporate funeral homes in a small community can end up doing more harm than good.
Two. Macro over micro economies
Most corporate funeral homes have some degree of price standardization. This is all well and good, except with those price standards have been determined in wealthier areas of the country. When a corporate funeral home focuses on macro economies you have big city price setting that gauges the small towns.
Three. Money over service.
Back in 1993, Robert Waltrip (Chairman of the Board of Service Corporation International [SCI], which owns more than 2,100 locations) stated that people who don’t buy his company’s stock “just don’t like money.” When you go corporate, money and satisfying your stock holders are your bottom-line.
This monetary bottom-line is what produces the upselling, the “salesman” mentality and the overpriced merchandise. And this – this corporate need to satisfy the stock holder – perpetuates the public opinion that funeral directors are just a bunch of greedy sticklers.
“An SCI funeral cost 42 percent more than a funeral at an independently owned funeral home.”
And this one, “Seventy-three of the priciest 100 (funeral homes) in the U.S. are owned by SCI.” (VIA Paul M. Barrett)
That’s a problem.
Four. The Insatiable Corporate Hunger to GROW
Death is one of the must human experiences. And it needs to be served with the most of human of professions. Corporate, by definition, is a non human entity. It’s very unhuman … robotic … machanical … and alien. The mixing of a corporate entity and the most human of experiences is as dangerous as unleashing Godzilla into a city. The only saving grace — as I mentioned previously — is that these funeral home monsters hire wonderful people. And if it wasn’t for these people, the damage would be even worse.
Our funeral home is content with who we are. We have no desire to buy another location; nor do we want to put our competitors out of business. We make a respectful and honest living and we’re happy with it.
Corporate, though, is — like a monster — never happy. There’s always a desire to grow … always a desire to buy up another family owned funeral home. Think Wal-Mart. Sometimes growth – especially the growth of a monster – is a bad thing.