Crafting A New Direction: Interview With CFSA President Rodney Robinson

Editor’s note: CFSA President Rodney Robinson of Southern Craft Manufacturing was recently profiled in the “Ask The Expert” section of the January 2018 edition of American Funeral Director magazine. The article is reprinted here.  For more information on the magazine, go to

Summary: Caskets have long been a part of Rodney Robinson’s life. He began his career in the casket industry in 1981,following in the footsteps of his grandfather, father and uncle.

In 1994, he started Southern Craft Manufacturing, which prides itself on blending old world craftsmanship with modern manufacturing techniques to create a full line of 18- and 20-gauge steel caskets and brush-finished caskets. In November 2017,Robinson took on a new role – president of the Casket & Funeral Supply Association of America.

We recently chatted with Robinson about being a third-generation casket manufacturer, how manufacturing has changed and what the future holds.

 Patti Martin Bartsche reports.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I am the president of  Southern Craft Manufacturing Inc. My wife of 37 years, Tina, and I started the company in 1994 . Our home and company are located in Loretto, Tennessee, approximately 90 miles south of Nashville, Tennessee.  My family history in the casket industry dates back to the 1920s.

As a third-generation casket manufacturer, did you feel an obligation to follow in your grandfather’s and father’s footsteps or is this something you always wanted to do?

I did not feel any obligation to follow my father, grandfather and uncle in the casket industry. I did, however, recognize the many opportunities I have been blessed with since I first started with Wallace Metal Products in Richmond, Indiana, in 1981.

You’ve been working in the industry since 1981. What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the nearly four decades since?

Consolidation in the funeral industry has brought about the most change. When I began in 1981, there were hundreds of companies located throughout the country manufacturing caskets for their local funeral home market. Today it would be hard to name 25 domestic companies in our country who actually manufacture caskets.

Southern Craft Manufacturing was incorporated in 1994. What went into your decision to establish this new company?

I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to start Southern Craft Manufacturing in a region that had a rich heritage in casket manufacturing. Because of consolidation, a number of companies relocated to other areas of the country leaving a substantial market and available employee base equipped to fill the needs for metal burial caskets in our regional market.

Southern Craft Manufacturing is known for blending “old-world craftsmanship with modern manufacturing techniques.” Can you talk a little bit about this?

Manufacturing any burial casket is labor intense.  We produce products that are not just cookie-cutter designs. We have upgraded our processes with the latest technology in painting, metalizing and printing.

What do today’s consumers want in their caskets?

Our customer base demands choice. Variety must be available to retain and expand our market.

How important is the ability to offer families custom options?

This is our niche. If you do not offer custom and personalization options, you close the door on vast opportunities in the market.

What are the biggest challenges facing casket manufacturers today?

Casket manufacturers, as do all manufacturers, face the lack of available quality drug-free employees first of all. Competition has always been there, but we are bogged down more and more with regulations that the offshore competition does not experience. I feel, though, that our greatest challenge is to remain a valued option in the celebration of the life of our customers.

How are organizations like the Casket & Funeral Supply Association of America helping casket manufacturers (and funeral suppliers) meet today’s challenges?

You cannot get any better connections with industry leaders than through CFSA. When you do not belong to a good, well-organized and managed trade organization, you miss the ability to connect with your industry peers and really know what trends are moving in your marketplace.

We hear a lot about the cost of a funeral, so how can casket manufacturers and funeral professionals increase perceived value for families?

We must do all we can to offer our products and services to families honestly, openly and in a knowledgeable way. We have to listen to what the consumer is asking for. We cannot continue to force preconceived products and processes on our customers. Access to information, we all know, is greater than in the past. Our companies must be equally as informed.

Cremation has now topped 50 percent nationally. How is the casket industry responding?

Our industry is traditionally slow to change. In recent years I know that – now out of necessity – we are offering new ideas and products aimed at filling the demands of the consumer. Many quality caskets are made to allow our customers to have a body present and still choose cremation without the high cost of a casket used in a traditional burial.

What does it mean to be elected president of the CFSA?

The CSFA has had an extraordinary history of leadership from all sectors of the funeral supply industry dating back to 1913. It is an honor to follow many of my mentors in the position.

What do you want funeral professionals to know about CFSA?

I would like today’s funeral  professional to know that the CSFA exists to provide them with a group of knowledgeable, industry-leading  companies. Our members are ready to assist them with the challenge of providing a meaningful remembrance and celebration of life.

What do you hope to accomplish during your term?

I hope to increase membership in this organization and continue creating value for both the funeral professional and, most importantly, the families they serve.

What do you hope is the legacy of Southern Craft Manufacturing?

My hope for the legacy of Southern Craft Manufacturing is that we always provide for our employees and customers the best that we can.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Don’t say what you do. Do what you say.