The Importance of Casket Customization

Editor’s note: This editorial by Christopher J. Boots, C.J. Boots Casket Company, originally appeared in The Funeral Business Advisor.

If I told you that I commissioned a national survey of 1000 consumers and they were asked to give 10 words that came to mind after they heard the word “funeral”, would you agree that it’s likely one of those 10 words would be “casket” or “coffin”? Although I’m a casket maker, I would agree that the funeral isn’t about the casket; however, I do believe the casket is about the funeral. The self-proclaimed experts who speak in seminars at conventions are leading you astray. Like it or not, the casket is important. As a consumer, if I’m paying $1,000 or $15,000 for the funeral of my loved one, every part is important to me. I want to know I’m getting a great value for every dollar I spend. Don’t tell me a part or any part of this funeral is not important.

There was a time when funeral directors were passionate about caskets, and rightly so. Casket companies did a great job of providing product and information to be passionate about. The pendulum has swung the other way; caskets have become a commodity sold out of catalogs and off computer screens with little or no chance the family can perceive any necessary value (deficient in Casket Buying 101). It’s almost like purchasing a casket has gone back to the beginning days of Henry Fords’ first automobiles, “you can have any color you want, as long as it’s black.” Walk through any convention and go from booth to booth and you are sure to see the same old same old. I’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on conventions and the question always comes up, “what’s new and different?”

Marketing and sales professionals have told us for years that a consumer chooses to spend less money on a purchase because the consumer doesn’t perceive adequate value in the purchase. We are not exempt from this thought process. The fruits of inadequate value are low merchandise sales, high cremation, elimination of “service,” price shopping, etc. Fred Funeral director walks away thinking “people don’t care.” I would argue that people do care. My fear is that we’ve become complacent and settle for the status quo. If Chevrolet still built Impalas like they did years ago, I’m guessing consumers wouldn’t pay much for the same old Impala. Today, automobile prices are higher than ever, new styles and designs prompt the consumer to spend more than they would like to, but do so because they perceive greater value.

The psychology of purchasing doesn’t change for funerals. It’s the same for every aspect of the marketplace. If a higher value is perceived, then people will pay more. People can buy coffee at any fast food joint, but a significant number of consumers prefer Starbucks. It’s still coffee at both places, however, Starbucks offers an experience and taste where people are willing to pay more money. Years ago, Marsellus Casket Company taught funeral directors that “people will spend as much as 15-20% more on a purchase if the family feels educated on their purchase.” Education helps increase value perception.

The first concept to be addressed is old ideas and bad attitudes which assassinate the motivation to step out and think differently about everything; but for the purpose of this editorial, especially caskets. I’m driven to embrace new ideas, new thoughts, new designs, believing differently and shunning negativity.

Caskets can be crafted in a fashion where they create a connection and tie emotion to the deceased. A farmer being buried in a casket reminiscent of old weathered barn-wood, the family of a hunter or outdoorsman selecting a casket made of rustic hickory with tree bark and camouflage, the lady who loved horses in a casket with real horseshoes and galvanized metal horse images on the corners, an antiqued worn black casket for those who appreciated the beauty of old furniture all their life, an old pine with blacksmith hardware, hand-hammered clavos accents with saddle suede and leather, even the simplicity of an old raw pine box; all of these are examples of style and design that create a connection and emotion for anyone who attends the funeral knowing the life of the deceased.

The old idea of customization being demonstrated by simply changing the head panel or placing a sticker on the corner is not enough to truly create value. You must dare to be different. You will know you have made a heartfelt connection and created value when people talk for weeks following the service. Maxine, for example, was buried in a casket with Ball canning jars on the corners proudly displaying photos of she and her family. It was so fitting because everyone knew that one of her greatest pleasures in life was canning from her garden. When customization is demonstrated like Maxine’s, family and friends will be talking about how your funeral home went above and beyond the call of duty. My friend, you will then be a hero!

Christopher J. Boots, founder and president of C.J. Boots Casket Company, holds memberships in CFSA, the Indiana Funeral Director’s Education Foundation, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, Indiana Manufacturers Association, the Indiana Funeral Directors Sale Supply Club, and is School Board President for South Madison School Corporation. Chris provides leadership and direction for the company and is the primary source for the company’s product development. He can be reached at 877.4CJ.Boots.