Death in America is a $15 billion a year industry. That includes funeral homes, crematoriums, and cemeteries, but excludes related costs such as headstones and crypts. It is expensive to die in the United States. The average cost of a funeral is $7,323, according to The National Funeral Directors Association. The addition of flowers and a burial plot raises that number closer to $9,000. Almost 2.5 million people died in the United States in 2008, and 1.8 million of these bodies were placed into coffins that were sold.

The death industry is a tale of two economies. A relatively few large companies, most of them publicly traded, control most of the businesses that sells caskets and granite for memorials. The rest of the death industry is made up of many modest businesses. Most of the 19,500 funeral homes in the country are small operations, often owned by the same families for generations. There are more than 120,000 cemeteries and many of these belong to families, nonprofits, and religious institutions.

Death has become more democratic, particularly over time and especially in America. Centuries ago Egyptian pharaohs received elaborate funerals and entombments which would cost  many millions of dollars by today’s standards. The typical Egyptian was fortunate to have a modest burial. Centuries later, bishops were sealed in crypts carved with their likenesses. Their congregations were filled mostly with people whose final resting places were unmarked, and who were buried without coffins and certainly without  rings or mitres.

Today, nearly all of the deceased receive some sort of burial or cremation even if it is paid for by the state. The cost of land and the current overcrowding in cemeteries, along with changes in perception, have made people consider cremation.  Cremations are less expensive than the cost of caskets and plots. John Ross, the executive director of the Cremations Association of North America, claims that a crematory fee is $1,400 which includes a modest urn. Bob Fells, acting CEO of the International Cemetery  and Cremation Funeral Association says that 36% of Americans who die now are cremated. That number is expected to rise to 56% by 2025, although it is hard to imagine how anyone could forecast a trend of that sort so precisely. Most of the funeral business will be decimated if the cremation trend does continue.

Death, like so many other businesses, has been changed by the internet. Wal-Mart sells caskets online at a discount, sometimes as much as two-thirds of  their retail prices. They are shipped to funeral homes.  This competition is another factor that will erode the margins of the traditional funeral industry.

24/7 Wall St. analyzed  the death industry. Much of it is dominated by a few large companies. The tens of thousands of smaller firms that compete with these public corporations have been affected profoundly by their business practices and pricing. The firms that have started to change the industry through e-commerce will certainly leave a larger and larger mark on the sector as each year passes, transforming the American way of dealing with its dead.

Here is the 24/7 Wall St. Ten Companies That Control The Death Industry:

Hillenbrand, Inc. (NYSE:HI)

  • Interesting Fact: Sells 45% of caskets sold in the United States
  • # of Employees: 3,200
  • Most Recent Quarter Revenue: $212 Million
  • Most Recent Net Income: $20 Million

Hillenbrand sells more than 800,000 of the 1.8 million caskets sold in the United States each year. In addition to this, the company sells cremation containers and urns. All of Hillenbrand’s funeral products are sold under their Batesville Casket Company brand, which was founded in 1906.

Service Corp. International (NYSE:SCI)

  • Interesting Fact: funeral and cemetery market share in North America of roughly 12%
  • # of Employees: 13,087
  • Most Recent Quarter Revenue: $533.2 Million
  • Most Recent Net Income: $18.8 Million

Service Corp. International owns more funeral homes, cemeteries, and crematories than any other company in North America. At last count, the company operates 1,254 funeral service locations and 372 cemeteries in 43 states, Canada, Puerto Rico, and Germany.  SCI also sells a variety of merchandise including caskets, vaults, and urns.

Walmart (NYSE:WMT)

  • Interesting Fact: Caskets come with monthly payment terms
  • # of Employees: 2,100,000
  • Most Recent Quarter Revenue: $101.9 billion
  • Most Recent Net Income: $3.6 billion

Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, helped begin the trend of selling low-priced caskets online. The company offers the $995 “Dad Remembered Steel Casket,” with “18 gauge steel high-gloss silver-blue finish.” Walmart is taking a share of the death care industry away from funeral homes and related companies.  According to the casket industry, the impact of the big box retailers is still small.  Other industry experts suggest otherwise.

Carriage Services Inc. (NYSE:CSV)

  • Interesting Fact: Carriage Services is the fourth largest publicly traded in the death care industry
  • # of Employees: 917
  • Most Recent Quarter Revenue: $45.5 Million
  • Most Recent Net Income: $859,000

Carriage Services operates 147 funeral homes in 25 states and 33 cemeteries in 12 states.  The company is a significant provider of prefunded funeral and burial services.  This allows people to plan ahead by purchasing interment rights, grave sites, mausoleums, and crypts in advance.  The company plans to increase its annual revenue by 43% by the end of 2014.

1-800-Flowers.com (NASDAQ:FLWS)

  • Interesting Fact: The site offers instructions on how to help others deal with the loss of a loved one
  • # of Employees: 2,200
  • Most Recent Quarter Revenue: $104.5 million
  • Most Recent Net Income: ($5.1 million)

A significant portion of 1-800 flowers’ revenue comes from the funeral business. The company offers a variety of arrangements, including “sympathy bouquets,” “casket sprays,” funeral wreaths, and crosses. These items are prominently displayed on the company site, as are books and guidance from a “celebration expert,” and an original video which outlines “how to express sympathy with flowers and gifts.”  According to one 1-800-FLOWERS representative, “Sympathy remains an important business for retail florists and 1-800-FLOWERS.COM works closely with…florists to help them grow their share in this category.”

Rock of Ages Corp. (NASDAQ:ROAC)

  • Interesting Fact: The largest integrated granite quarrier and manufacturer of finished granite memorials and granite blocks for memorial use in North America
  • # of Employees: 257
  • Most Recent Quarter Revenue: $15.8 Million
  • Most Recent Net Income: $2.2 Million

Rock of Ages is primarily a provider of granite used for memorials, including tombstones and mausoleums.  The company operates eight different active quarries and four manufacturing facilities.  The company’s revenue is divided between the selling of raw granite from its quarries and the manufacturing and selling of its final memorial products to 115 independent retailers.  The company was founded in 1885 and is headquartered in Graniteville, Vermont.

Stewart Enterprises Inc. (NASDAQ: STEI)

  • Interesting Fact: Stewart facilities manages funerals and burials at each of its sites at a rate that is more than double that of an average funeral home which means its operations are unusually efficient.
  • # of Employees: 4,000
  • Most Recent Quarter Revenue: $125.3 Million
  • Most Recent Net Income: $9.1 Million

Funeral homes and cemeteries in the United States perform an average of approximately 110 funerals and 150 burials per year.  Stewart, on the other hand, performs approximately 265 funerals and 320 burials per year per location.  The company currently owns 218 funeral home locations and 140 cemeteries, about 9,900 acres.  Appoximately 38% of the company’s land, a significant portion of which is located in Florida, Texas, and California, is still available for burial plots.

Matthews International (NASDAQ: MATW)

  • Interesting Fact: Largest percent of revenue comes from bronze plaques
  • # of Employees: 4,900
  • Most Recent Quarter Revenue: $256 million.
  • Most Recent Net Income: $20.6 million

Matthews International develops “memorialization products” including caskets and urns.  Its specialty is “graphic imaging” — the process of engraving headstones and plaques. Bronze plaques – an often-overlooked means of remembrance — accounted for 27.7% of its 2009 sales.  The company was founded in 1850 and is based in Pittsburgh.

Amazon.com (
NASDAQ: AMZN)

  • Interesting Fact: Amazon sells a steel embalming table
  • # of Employees: 21,700
  • Most Recent Quarter Revenue: $7.6 billion
  • Most Recent Net Income: $231 million

Amazon.com helped bring the funeral service online.  Like Walmart, the company offers caskets in more than 50 different varieties.  Additionally, it sells a steel embalming table for $1,095 and pet urns for under $200.  Many caskets are sold at 67% off the list price, thanks to a partnership with Bestpricecaskets.com.

StoneMor Partners (NASDAQ: STON)

  • Interesting Fact: Company performed 37,782 burials in 2009
  • # of Employees: 2,156
  • Most Recent Quarter Revenue: $52.1 Million
  • Most Recent Net Income: $4.6 Million

Like Service Corp. International, StoneMor Partners is a multifaceted death care conglomerate.  The company operates more than 200 cemeteries in 24 states and 58 funeral homes in 16 states.  It also sells interment rights, caskets, and other merchandise.  In 2009, the company sold 25,842 interment rights and performed 37,782 burials.

– Michael B. Sauter, Charles. B Stockdale, Douglas A. McIntyre

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Source: 24/7 Wall St.

 
 

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