Services Above and Beyond
By: John Onstott
I want to state at the outset of this article that I am proud to have been a part of the funeral service industry since 1973. I appreciate Doug for posting this article as a way to assist you in understanding both the funeral service industry and the process you may one day encounter as a family member. In the past 100 years of funeral service in America, there have been very few major changes. Before going any further, I’d like to list what my partners and I feel has been the most significant:
- The movement of funeral visitation from homes to the funeral homes;
- The addition of chapels in funeral homes;
- The 1984 Federal Trade Commission “Funeral Rule”; This was a major change. The “Rule” had many initiatives, but the biggest reform was requiring funeral homes to produce a General Price List, containing all the possible charges in an itemized format. I mention the “Rule” because all the items, while necessary, require additional expense to produce, print or store.
- The rapid rise in the cremation rate; Cremation rates continue to climb and, in many communities, it is well over 50%. The rise in the cremation rate has also seen an increase in the number of funeral homes specializing in cremation, thus making it a more cost-effective option.
- The advent and growth of Funeral Corporations, known by some as “consolidators”; In the early 1960’s corporations began buying up smaller funeral homes, consolidating services in “clusters”. Because these companies are publicly held and their stock traded on the national exchanges, their primary fiduciary responsibilities are to the shareholders, which can add to the consumer’s cost.
- The offering of prefunded, prepaid funerals; This is a major development that has greatly benefitted both the consumer and funeral home. In meeting with a licensed Preneed Funeral Planner, an individual or couple can, in advance, select all services and merchandise for their own funerals so that their wishes are not only known but paid for. It also freezes the costs of the services and merchandise, eliminating the burden on family members who may not know exactly what their loved one would have preferred.
Funeral home directors are by nature conservative. We have no desire to put ourselves in the limelight. Our sole aim is to support the family and friends. Because we don’t dare make a mistake in the way the public is served, change has not come quickly or easily. The above six events have all had a direct effect on costs and more importantly how communities are served by funeral homes and directors. It’s not a big number, but the changes have significantly altered our services.
As you might imagine, one of the groups funeral homes work with are churches and synagogues. Long before becoming an ordained minister, I had come to the conclusion there was perhaps a more gratifying way to work with this group, benefitting both the religious organizations and the client families desiring their funerals in a church. With this goal in mind, my two partners and I, along with several ministerial advisors, decided in December of 2016 to open and operate a different kind of funeral home.
This was the genesis of A Sacred Choice. Our model is unique, asking churches, synagogues, and others to refer their members to us. So far, we have done no advertising, working solely through churches and friends and families we’ve already served. We do not mark up or take profits on any items of service or merchandise. Our only profit and the way we are paid is through a modest initial charge found at the bottom of the contract and price list under the heading of Basic Services of Funeral Director and Staff.
We do not have a large building or staff, and no cars of our own to provide families. We encourage families to drive themselves, but if they wish, we rent transportation and charge them exactly what we are charged. Upon request, we will provide the invoice.
Since we do not mark up any of the merchandise and services, there is no fear of “upselling” or merchandising. It makes no difference to us which casket or urn is selected because we make no profit on it! We purposely keep our overhead low and allow each client family to decide what they prefer.
A Sacred Choice has no contracts with any cemetery, and, therefore, if asked for advice in choosing a property, merely recommends options to the client family. Regarding cremation, many churches now have a columbarium to receive ashes. Many people are comforted by the idea of their ashes being interred at the church where they have received a great deal of comfort, peace, and joy.
Additionally, families are advised to have a visitation of one to two hours prior to the service instead of the night before. By having it before the service there is no need for refreshments and guests who come from out of town can often come in and go home the same day. Many of the families we serve choose to have a private committal prior to the public memorial service followed by a reception in a fellowship or parish hall or their home or restaurant.
Experience has taught us that most people do not enjoy going to a funeral home, even to make final arrangements. Bery, Lace and myself, therefore offer to meet families in their homes or the homes of their loved ones. It is not unusual for us to meet client families at a restaurant or other venue away from the funeral home.
Should a client family choose a different site for the service, we promise to have open channels of communication with the family, and the church and staff; alerting them to the progress of planning the service that we are responsible for and leaving the church or chapel service to the planning of the pastoral care team and minister.
Recently, our marketing efforts were expanded to begin working closely with hospice organizations and companies wishing to provide this type of concierge service to their employees at no cost to the company. Bery, Lacey and I invite you to review our website, www.asacredchoice.com, and contact us with any questions. Our phone number is 713-637-4933 and is answered 24 hours per day every day of the year. It is our honor to serve and assist with the utmost respect individuals and families during a crucial time. We believe funeral service is built on personal relationships, developed over time, fostering trust and a sense of comfort to the families we serve.
President & CEO, A Sacred Choice