To our valued families and friends, this blog was created to be informative for you, the consumer and bring you to better understand the funeral industry while making aware those things that could jeopardize your decision making process.
"Funny Things People Do When Shopping for Caskets"
SOLID COPPER CASKET
In 1996, a young lady called me on the telephone and wanted to know if I could help her find a register book for a funeral. She stated that she just lost her Dad and the funeral home wanted over $150 for the guest register book. I gave her a source that would sell her a nice register for $19.95 plus $2.75 for the funeral inserts. She thanked me. But then I asked her if she had time for me to ask her a few questions. She said no problem.
I asked her if she would mind telling me which funeral home was conducting the service. She told me. It was a very expensive establishment.
"Have you already purchased Dad's casket?"
"Oh, Yes. It is a beautiful copper and perfect for my dad. Then she went on to describe the casket in detail."
"Do you mind me asking how much you paid for the casket?"
"Not at all," she said. "We paid $6,500."
"Suppose I told you I could get you that same casket, same manufacturer, delivered to the funeral home in three hours, and the funeral home has to accept it. And it would only cost you $3500, a savings of over $3000."
She responded, "Oh, my mother would never go for that." She hanged up the telephone.
Wait a minute, Ken. You are stating that she was upset about paying $100 too much for a register book, but paying $3000 too much for a casket was no problem?
That's right. It doesn't make sense. But why was she not interested?
The answer is that she knows how much a register book should cost.
She has no idea what a casket should cost.
Some funeral homes buy caskets for less than $600 then sell them for $3000. In 1994, it was a lot worse. Competition has helped bring prices down. Education of consumers has also helped.
Another aspect of casket shopping is that not all caskets are alike, even though they are described the same on funeral contracts.
The following comments are simply my observations and opinions:
In general, metal caskets are in six categories: least expensive is 20 gauge steel, then 18 gauge, then 16 gauge, then Stainless Steel, Copper, and Bronze (the most expensive usually). The most expensive casket I know of in Houston is copper coated with silver. Over the last 10 years its price has ranged from $86,000 to over $107,000, absolutely outrageous. Hey, someone will want it and if they don't have it, the family will go somewhere else to get it.
Wooden Caskets start with poplar, birch, pine, pecan, oak, maple, walnut, and mahogany. The poplars are also available in veneers. There are even fiberboard caskets.
All caskets can be used for cremation, including the metal caskets. While cremation is usually done with the body placed in an alternative container (funeral home lingo for cardboard box), funeral homes would prefer that you purchase a cremation casket. "Hey, this is your dad we're talking about. You mean you are going to have him cremated in a cardboard box?" Before it was an alternative container, now it is a cardboard box. Most are cremated in the alternative container, but we are getting off on a tangent. Back to caskets.
The two most popular caskets are 20 and 18 gauge caskets. In my opinion, if you purchase anything more expensive, you are throwing your money away.
I will limit most of my discussion to 20 and 18 gauge caskets.
The difference between a 20 and 18 gauge casket is the difference between a mid-sized car and a luxury sedan. Or it is the difference between a subcompact and a luxury car, depending upon the funeral provider and the merchandise purchased.
In most moderately priced and expensive funeral homes, the least expensive casket is designed to be unappealing. The funeral homes can buy very attractive 20 gauge caskets or they can buy very unappealing 20 gauge caskets. the manufacturers sell both.
Question? Why would the manufacturers make unappealing caskets? Because the funeral homes want them. When you place a $1300 price tag on a casket that looks like something you wouldn't be caught dead in, the $3000 casket does not look so expensive.
One funeral home in Dallas, Texas names its least expensive casket, "The Oswald". No one is going to purchase The Oswald. It is ugly, sad gray cloth covered with a linen look interior. The hardware is made out of plastic so cheap you can see the screws through the faded plastic. But it sells for over $1000. If a family had to purchase the Oswald because that is all they could afford, the funeral home would probably give them a free upgrade because they probably don't want the Oswald to be shown at the funeral with other families in attendance. Realistically the family who cannot afford the Oswald has absolutely no business at that funeral home. It is over-priced and outrageously manipulative an d the funeral director will use this casket in every way possible to his or her advantage.
But did you know that some very beautiful 20 gauged, non-protective caskets can be purchased for less than $850. Chrome hardware, a beautiful glossy finish, with a triple fold panel in the head panel. Very simple but very attractive also.
The Oswald, if it were a car, would be known as the "loss leader" or the "ad car". Whoever sells the ad car loses his job. It is there to get the customer in the door so you can sell them the more expensive products.
There are a lot of games played in the casket selection room. Here are some things you can do to protect yourself:
1. Do Keep the Casket Price List Handy. By Federal Regulation, the funeral home is required to give you the casket and outer burial price lists before you set foot in the casket selection room. Do not fold up the casket price list and place it in your wallet or purse. Keep it out.
2. Do Make sure you see every casket on the price list. Many casket show rooms are set up so you see the most expensive merchandise first. If you keep asking to see the less expensive merchandise, it gets embarrassing. That is the funeral provider's intent.
Another factor is called the fear factor. Families don't like casket selection rooms. I call this technique "When the Widow Bolts." The game goes like this. The widow sees the most expensive merchandise but the salesman drags his feet. Soon she becomes uncomfortable but she will not admit it. Then she asks to leave to go to the restroom or some other excuse. Wild horses couldn't get her back in there. But the least expensive caskets were never seen. Soon her children are asking, "Mom, what casket did you like?"
"I really liked that Walnut or the Copper." The children will do anything to get Mom the casket she wants. But it will be very difficult to get her back in the casket selection room. And the funeral sales person knows this. If the family pressures her to go back in a make a more reasonable selection, the funeral salesman will come to her defense. "You should not pressure your mother like this. If she doesn't get what she wants, she and you will regret it later."
Ken, are you making this up? "No." One of my first clients went through this situation. She bolted after about 3 minutes in the casket selection room. "I need to go." And believe it or not the exit door was left open and in full view at a strategic point for her to make her exit. "I just need to go to the bathroom." When she returned from the bathroom, she was very nervous. I then asked her if she had made up her mind on the casket. She stated that she liked the Walnut which was over $5000. I then challenged her to go back in the casket selection room and showed her that there were several other caskets on the Casket Price List which she had not seen. Then she stated she was afraid. She said, "Vampires." This wonderful lady had seen too many horror movies and was also afraid she would come across a body in the casket selection room.
I then assured her there was no reason to be afraid. "The preparation room is on the other side of the funeral home. And no funeral home would be stupid enough to let you come across a body accidentally in the casket selection room. Besides, think of them as wooden coffee tables. Would you pay $5000 for a Walnut coffee table?"
"No way," she says.
I assured her, "I will be with you the whole time. I will not let anything happen to you." She slowly went back in and fell in love with a beautiful poplar casket for $3000 which we later negotiated to $1800. Had she not gone back into the casket selection room, she would have spent another $3200 on just the casket.
If she had gone back in and still wanted the Walnut casket, that would have been fine. But it would have been her choice, not a manipulated event.
This incident brings us to my next point:
3. Never visit the casket selection room alone or simply with your family or spouse. Have a friend, or another more objective party, go with you to the funeral home and cemetery. The casket selection can be incredibly emotional. And in an emotional state of mind even when you are suspicious that the funeral salesman is playing games, you will not pick up on the game as well as someone with you who can step back and observe what is happening. You also have another witness if the sales person uses illegal sales tactics. And yes, it has been my experience that Federal Trade Commission violations occur regularly, especially in the casket selection room. And often sales people are unaware that they are breaking the law. It sure helps negotiations when they realize you are familiar with the law and more than one person saw it happen.
4. Do not let another funeral home representative separate family members during the sales process. This is especially important if you purchased a pre-arranged funeral plan. Several funeral homes have gone to double-teaming the family. Here is an example:
The husband and wife purchased a pre-arranged funeral plan over 10 years ago. The husband just passed away and the family is at the funeral home. The sales person suggests that they look at the caskets again. Mom really doesn't want to go into the selection room and the salesperson prompts her to complete some paperwork while her son and daughter take a look at the casket. The salesman doesn't want Mom in the casket selection room either. The salesman then shows the children the most unattractive casket in the contract category that Mom and Dad purchased on the pre-arranged funeral plan. Then the salesman waits for their reaction. The salesman will possibly add, "You know Mom and Dad were pretty frugal and were probably watching their finances closely. It is probably all they could afford." Then comes the classic, "We could use this casket, but don't you think your Dad deserves a nicer casket?" Then one of the daughters will probably chime in, "We need to get Mom in here so we can discuss this."
The salesman then jumps in, "Wait a minute. You are not going to burden your mother with this are you? She has enough on her mind and it could be embarrassing for her. Let me show you what is available." The salesman then proceeds to talk the family members into a "more fittin casket" for their dad. He may also use a lot of guilt on the family member who was too busy to visit or help out. "You know this is the last thing you can do to really honor your Dad." TRANSLATION: "Where were you when your sister needed your help taking care of Mom and Dad?" The family ends up spending another $3000 on the casket.
Keep in mind that the objective of the salesperson is to upgrade the funeral. The casket is a big ticket item. And don't be surprised if the salesman suggests that they go look at the cemetery lots Mom and Dad purchased (a higher ticket item with a larger commission percentage for the sales person). And yes, the family will probably get a tour of the mausoleum while Mom is kept busy. If Mom goes along, the son or the wayward party, will really get the pressure applied.
Mom may discover that the casket is nicer than she remembered. She may suspect that someone paid to have it upgraded. She may never find out; but, if she does, it will be too late to do anything about it. Once Dad is in the casket, you bought it.
Remember. Do not let them separate your family in the sales process. This is also referred to as the discovery phase: Find out the hot buttons in the family. Who has money? Who has money and guilt? Who is really angry? Who really loved Dad the most, but does not have any money to spend? Generally the family member that wants the most expensive merchandise is not the one paying for the funeral. There is the exception of the family member who wants to blow a big wad of cash to show how much he cares. The sales staff and manager will be looking for these "flags" and capitalize on them.
How do they justify these tactics? "The family will appreciate us later because this is the last thing they can do for their loved one. If we let them go cheaper on the funeral, they will always regret it and will blame us for not letting them know that nicer arrangements and merchandise were available. And we made it affordable for them! We are in the people business - helping families get what they want and what their loved one deserves. They will thank us later."
5. Do write down the gauge, manufacturer's name, and color of the casket and any distinctive designs in the casket selection room. Why and how will this information become handy? Here are several reasons to get this information and write it down:
Suppose you see a casket that you fall in love with, but it is in copper with a $5000 price tag. Ask the question, do you have a casket catalog we could look at? Then after you see the catalog, ask the question, does this casket come in 18 gauge? (It would probably be about $2000 less expensive). The real answer is "Yes" in many cases; but the funeral salesman has a choice at this point. He can tell the truth; or, he can lie. If he says, "No", he is probably telling a lie. Even if he says "Yes" he will probably add but I don't think we can get it here in time (another lie). If you keep running into road blocks, find an excuse to go to lunch for an hour or so. Then call Ken Lambert with the description. He will find it for you in the gauge you desire if it is possible. But even if the exact replica is not available, there are several manufacturers with remarkably similar models. Ken can probably find it in an 18 gauge and often for less than $2000 retail.
Then you have other choices. You can go back to the funeral home and get them to get the merchandise and match the price or lose the sale to a third party. Note - It is illegal for the funeral home to refuse third party merchandise, refuse to help you because you purchased the third party merchandise, nor can they tack on a casket handling fee.
But by this time, if the salesperson is not cooperating or changes his tune and becomes nasty, you may decide that, "You know, I am really starting not to like these guys. I thought they had a great reputation, but in several instances I feel we were going to be ripped off. I really did not like the way they played the game with Mom and how they separated us." About this time, you will call Ken Lambert and ask, "Ken, is it too late for us to switch funeral providers? Mom and Dad had a pre-arranged funeral plan, but can we switch?" You would be amazed at how easy it is to accomplish everything you want to do. And if you decide to stay with the original funeral home, if you are properly coached, you and Ken will make them fight for the opportunity to continue to serve your family. Very seldom does Ken bluff. He means business and he loves coaching families especially after the family is really interested in playing this nasty game. Before, the family really was not in the game, now they are ready to play hard-ball. A family in this situation will get the nicest funeral and the best price and the funeral home will be begging them to allow them to do business with their family. The family in this situation will save thousands of dollars, usually over $5000 and they will get a nicer funeral. But the real benefit is the family's pride in knowing they kept control and got what was best for their Dad at the best price. They established a Memorial Fund for Dad's grand children with the money they saved. Now that is honoring your loved one!
You know the best way to honor Dad? Making sure that his best friend (his wife) is not taken advantage of after he is gone and he is no longer able to help her and that the money she has left to live on is not sucked away by the funeral salesman.
Here are some other things you can do to ensure success in the casket selection room.
6. Do use the casket comparison checklist when shopping by telephone. By telephone shopping you can generally figure out quickly if the funeral provider is in your price range.
7. Don't assume price and quality go hand-in-hand. Some expensive funeral providers have cheap and poor quality merchandise and service. Some beautiful, professionally run funeral homes are very inexpensive with high quality merchandise and services. Remember - Shop by phone; then, go see what you are getting.
8. Advise of Friends can be very misleading. Unfortunately, when it comes to funerals, most people do not know what they are talking about. I was giving a seminar to some ladies at a nursing home and one lady told me, "Ken, I never encountered the situations you described. I was very pleased with the way they treated me and my family. I sent my neighbors there." I then asked her if she minded sharing with us what she paid for her husband's funeral. She stated, "Well you know funerals are expensive. I paid just under XXXX." The lady next to her gasped. The other said, "Oh, my gosh." Then silence as the realization crept onto her face that she had been taken for a ride. I tactfully went on with my presentation.
9. Don't Let Them Wear You Down. A pastor recommended a lady to me last year. She just lost her husband. There was some life insurance but not really enough to do what she wanted to do. I helped her negotiate the funeral with another funeral provider at the same cemetery but with all the services at her church. I saved her over $5000. But his children by a previous marriage had gone to the first funeral home and insisted on going there and promised to pay the additional cost. She gave into their demands and thanked me for my help. A week later she called me and said she got stuck with the bill and the funeral ended up being even more expensive than previously thought. She had to go into her savings because there was not enough life insurance. "Ken, I should have listened to you. They just wore me down. I wanted you to know." Had this lady stuck to her guns and put everyone on hold for a few hours so she could think, maybe to get some rest and set things up the next morning, she would have saved over $5000 and got exactly what she wanted. The family ended up getting almost the identical funeral, but the funeral home manipulated her, used the animosity of the other family members, and jointly look this dear lady to the cleaners. Sarcastically, they really honored their dad by taking advantage of his second wife.
When telephone shopping for caskets, you need to get the price of seven caskets over the telephone. The price of these caskets will give you an overall feel for how they price all items.
1. The least expensive 20 gauge non-protective casket
2. The least expensive 20 gauge protective casket
3. The most expensive 20 gauge protective casket
4. The least expensive 18 gauge casket.
5. The most expensive 18 gauge casket.
6. The least expensive solid poplar wood casket (not veneer).
7. The least expensive oak casket.
These caskets will give you the overall view of merchandise costs throughout the funeral home.
The Casket Price List
The Casket Price List gives you a listing of all the caskets the funeral home carries on hand or that can be ordered within a few hours. The list is itemized by type of casket: bronze, copper, stainless steel, wood, and various grades of steel; and each casket's specific price. Casket prices vary considerably between funeral homes even though there are only a few casket suppliers.
When shopping for caskets it is important that you understand several differences can occur in the same categories depending upon a particular funeral home's marketing and sales strategy.
I am not trying to tell you what kind of casket to buy, I am just trying to help you understand and purchase the casket you can afford. Dont be manipulated, shop arround and follow your budget. Find and use a facility that is affordable to not just some, but to everyone.