Casket manufacturing, as an industry, didn't develop
in the United States until the 1800's. Prior to
this time, local funeral directors, then known as undertakers,
typically operated the town furniture store and,
in addition, built caskets on an as-needed basis. By
the late 1800's, casket manufacturing developed as a
distinct business and the manufacturers devoted their
efforts to the production and sale of coffins and caskets.
Generally, casket manufacturers operated in
local and regional markets until well into the 20th century.
Products provided by the early
industry included cloth covered
caskets, hardwood caskets and
metal caskets (some with inner
liners and "glass sealing" mechanisms).
By the early 1950's, it is
estimated that there were more than 700 casket
manufacturers with more than 20,000 employees in
the United States.
In 1950, more than one-half of all caskets sold were
cloth-covered caskets. Hardwood caskets represented
about 18% of the industry's unit volume and
metal caskets comprised the remainder of the adult
market. Children's caskets represented about 6% of
the total market.
After the Korean war, sheet steel became more readily
available and the industry's metal manufacturing
activity and metal casket production grew rapidly. By
the mid-1950's, metal caskets represented more than
one-third of industry production and, by 1960, one-half
of the industry's unit volume. By the mid-1970's,
metal caskets comprised two-thirds of the industry's
volume. The change in product and consumer demand significantly affected the industry. Metal manufacturing
required greater capital investment in manufacturing
equipment and facilities. Metal stamping,
welding, grinding, sanding and finishing (painting)
equipment was required. Later, emission limits established
by the Environmental Protection Agency added
cost for emission control equipment required to minimize
emissions that were deemed hazardous to the
environment. In addition, national distribution systems
came into being assisted by the growth of the
interstate highway system begun in the mid-1950's.
Small, marginal manufacturers found it increasingly
difficult to compete effectively. By 1967, the Census of
Manufacturers reported that there were 523 entities in
the industry with 16,800 employees. By 1992, the
number of casket manufacturing entities reported by
the Census of Manufactures had shrunk to 211 producers
with employment of 7,800 persons. In 2003, the Bureau of the Census reported 147 establishments with payrolls; shipments were valued at $871,520,000; employment was 5,885 and the total industry payroll was $160,192,000.
The growing cremation rate adds to pressures on industry manufacturers and distributors by reducing the potential market. For decades, the cremation rate in the United States was less than 4%. However, in the early 1970's the cremation rate began to increase as a percentage of total deaths. By 1980, cremations represented 9.74% of deaths; in 1990 17.02% of deaths resulted in cremation; in 2000 nearly 25% of the deceased were cremated; and in 2006, the cremation rate was projected to be 33.53%. As a result, the market for traditional funerals with traditional caskets has actually declined and in 2007, CFSA estimates that about 1,729,500 of 2,380,926 deaths resulted in the use of a traditional casket. The market declined at a time when, in spite of consolidation, production capacity exceeds demand for the product.
While several primary casket manufacturers build
their own hardware and make their own interior designs
and panels, a few companies provide decorative
and functional hardware for the remaining casket
manufacturers. Another small group provides interiormaterials for the casket industry, although many
manufacturers and some distributors manufacture,
sew and install their own interior cloth linings, bed and
pillow covers, and head and foot panels.
In the 1960's, National Casket Co. and Boyertown Casket Co.
were publicly traded on the Philadelphia and New York stock
exchanges, respectively. In the early 1970's Hillenbrand Industries
(HB), which owns Batesville Casket Co. became a publicly
held company (NYSE), Gulf & Western Corp., from the late
1970's until 1982 owned several casket companies. It divested
its casket industry assets in 1982 to AMEDCO, Inc., which traded
on the NASDAQ exchange. AMEDCO was sold in 1986 to Service
Corporation International [SRV: NYSE) and became known
as the funeral supply division of SCI, which later acquired the
assets of Boyertown Casket Co. In 1990, SCI divested itself of
the funeral supply division. Casket production assets were acquired
by private investors who renamed the division The York Group,
Inc. With a public offering of stock in April, 1996, The York
Group joined Hillenbrand Industries as the only remaining publicly
traded companies with interests in casket manufacturing.
The assets of the York Group were acquired by Matthews International
Corporation (MATW) in December, 2001.
In the 1950s, almost every casket company manufactured
cloth-covered caskets. Today, there are no
more than 30-35 companies manufacturing such
products. Most of these companies manufacture for
local markets. Several companies manufacture most
of this product line with regional or national distribution.
Because production is concentrated, most caskets
tend to be standard products. Smaller manufacturers
continue to produce custom products for their customers.
In addition, many distributors offer custom products
with installation of special exterior hardware and
interior panels. Personalization is an increasingly significant
aspect of casket production and all major
manufacturers offer personalized embroidery for interior
casket panels and additional features to personalize
the casket as the family of the deceased may
In 1982, the Federal Trade Commission classified
casket manufacturing as a concentrated industry with
significant impediments to entry of new companies.
Substantial capital is required to purchase existing
manufacturers or to become a new manufacturer in
the industry. There are seven companies that stamp
metal casket components (K-D parts) and less than a dozen manufacturers assemble well over 90% of all
metal caskets sold in the US. It is estimated that
three companies produce more than 70% of all caskets
Further complicating entry into the industry are discounting
practices and demands that reduce available
margins needed to recover capital costs. Large publicly
traded funeral home chains demand discounts
from their suppliers and similar demands are increasingly
made by other customers. While several large
manufacturers are able to comply with the demand for
discounts and special product lines, it is difficult for
most industry entities to meet those demands. New
entrants find it even more difficult to compete, given
the capital cost associated with developing a new
business in casket industry.