With the advent of being able to buy a casket virtually anywhere: Walmart, Costco, storefront resellers, and Amazon, cheaper alternatives became rampant in our industry. With that boon of DIY casket purchases, another budget service began to pop up – low-cost cremation providers. There seems to be one in all of our markets where advertised rates are as little as $495. They’re staffed by inexperienced people and keep their practices close to the vest. While most local funeral homes maintain a competitive relationship, we’re still all colleagues willing to help each other when needed. In my own personal experience, the local low-cost cremation firms keep to themselves and exist only to undercut traditional funeral homes. Are they here to help families while disrupting tradition? While the cost may seem beneficial, it’s generally not the case. Low-cost crematories are sometimes (not always) rife with hidden costs, additional charges and “pay more for better service” add-ons.
In the Atlanta area where Rollings is based, we are inundated with firms such as these. In a study of a few different self-advertised low-cost cremation firms, I found that the average cost advertised was $828, with the lowest being $595 and the highest $1,095. Starting with the lowest, I took a closer look at what is actually covered for almost $600. According to the website, procurement of death certificates, gathering of obituary information, and the cremation fee is covered, along with identification of remains. A basic cremation container is also provided. Further review of their general price list (GPL) states that removal of the deceased from the place of death is another $595 (add $5 a mile if you die more than 10 miles away too). That’s a nice little “oh yeah” once you call for their self-advertised “cheapest cremation in Georgia.” At a minimum you would be in for over $1,300.
For the second firm, it’s not much different but it’s a little better. They advertise a low cost of $795, and it clearly states that the transfer of remains is included (and they give you 40 miles). This includes the cremation container (I’m not going to sugar coat this – that means a $9 cardboard box) and filing of death certificates (that means they file; you pick up and pay for them at the county yourself). The fine print also states there is an additional cost for an “after hours” transfer. So, die during office hours and save yourself a few bucks. The kicker to me is that to get this price, everything is done online. To some that’s fine since most consumers do virtually everything online these days. For the Silent Generation and the Baby boomers, this may be a hurdle. I see lots of firms, funeral homes included, going this route, and with good reason. In this provider’s case, if you want to come in for a meeting with a director, the price is $1,095.
The last firm is the most expensive but also the most transparent. Their $1,095 advertised cost includes all services, transfer (within 50 miles), filing of death certificates, identification, and online obituary (circling back, both places above charge upwards of $100 to place your obituary on their website). Above that their minimum cremation container and basic plastic urn will put you at around $1,250 out the door. Their costs are the most easily understood according to their website; transparency is key in my humble opinion.
When reviewing these facilities, I cannot help but feel like they (at least two of them) are pulling the wool over the eyes of the consumer and baiting and switching them. In our experience as funeral directors, how many times has a family asked the removal cost on the first call – especially in the middle of the night. So, the idea would be “bring the body into our care, tack on the removal fee, and they’re stuck.” They lay in wait for the proverbial mice to scurry by and strike when the bereaved is most vulnerable. That’s one man’s opinion of course, regardless of my experience in the industry or not.
Let’s face it, these kinds of facilities are here. Will they last though? Some will and some won’t. I know one of the firms above does over 500 calls a year in my immediate area. The best thing you can do as a funeral home that offers cremation is educate your families, be transparent with costs, and win them over with the value of your service. Many funeral home direct cremations may run anywhere from $2,000-$4,000, but if you explain these costs fully and show them the value of your firm, you run a much better chance of not losing calls to these shyster locations. Keep their GPLs on hand and learn them. Explain to your families “they may advertise $795 but adding up their costs, you’re looking at almost double that.” From my personal experience, this method has won families over time and time again. Build value and rapport with transparency, kindness, and integrity.