The growth of online startup Basic Funerals and Cremation Choices should make us consider now how comfortable we are with the idea of arranging for our own or a relative’s burial or cremation via the Internet.
The longtime tradition of working face-to-face with a funeral director and developing a relationship with a regional funeral home to make final arrangements is beginning to show signs of erosion as technological advances and the lure of convenience are spurring the death care industry to evolve.
Just like a traditional funeral provider, Basic Funerals and Cremation Choices coordinates visitations, burials, and cremations. Unlike its rivals, however, the company arranges 90% of these services through its BasicFunerals.com website.
Not making friends with its funeral home brethren, the newbie e-commerce company replaces brick-and-mortar parlors with an automated system (complete with a real-time chat feature if you insist) and bucks the industry’s revenue-generating method of upselling clients to pricier products and services. For cost-conscious consumers, such as tech-savvy Baby Boomers who are faced with planning funerals for their parents, the move is a breath of fresh air. Basic Funerals and Cremation Choices offers customers looking for a funeral more affordable options because its business model boasts lower overhead costs. It doesn’t own or operate funeral homes, manage a large staff, or maintain a fleet of hearses.
The executives who head up the death care services discounter — Eric Vandermeersch and Dominic Mazzone — are young (at 29 and 39, respectively) but they’ve been around long enough to hear that customers want more options. Baby Boomers value convenience, customization, and pricing choices. The firm, founded in 2009, is banking on the fact that people will welcome the idea of bypassing sales pitches at funeral homes to book their basic funerals over the Web.
Based in Mississauga, Ontario, the company has arranged 1,000-plus funerals through its website and became profitable in 2010 with just shy of $1 million in revenue. It operates on its home turf of Ontario, primarily, but has extended its reach to the US in Illinois and Colorado. With more than a dozen employees now (eight of which are funeral directors who work from home), Basic Funerals and Cremation Choices anticipates bookings to reach 1,500 funerals in 2011 and its revenue to hit about $4.5 million, with both figures doubling in 2012.
The success of the industry’s online funeral discounter should pique the interest of behemoth providers the likes of Service Corporation International and Stewart Enterprises, who are looking to grow their market share without costly overhead expenses.