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The dark side: Find stories in the financials of death


From specialized caskets to DIY funerals, find a story in the business of death.

In the month of October, dark themes reign – even, sometimes, for financial writers.  And if ever you’ve wanted to feature the business of death, there’s no time like the next few weeks. 

When you think about it, death care, as the industry calls it, is the last purveyor of goods or services that most of us will require.  And with a little creativity, you can fashion a lively business feature on just about any beat, from small biz to careers to marketing to green business to technology. 

Yes, business-of-sports writers, even you:  How about a feature on the best-selling pro or college team licensed caskets  – for, as they say, those die-hard fans– in your area?  (About the only beat I couldn’t find a tie to was the casino/gambling sector, though hopefully someone will.  I do recall once attending a lecture by a former Las Vegas-area coroner who said you wouldn’t believe how many people die of natural causes in Vegas or even en route on planes; apparently gamblers’ paradise is a popular final destination. )

Conveniently enough, the National Funeral Directors Association’s annual conference just wrapped up in Charlotte, N.C. You can glean a lot of story ideas from the online conference information.  And here’s an article from the Charlotte Observer, “Death and dollars: Funeral industry faces changes, works to adapt,”  that does an excellent job of rounding up funeral industry challenges and opportunities.  The growing popularity among cost-conscious consumers (and their survivors) of cremation, for example, is a big bugaboo for death care providers; check out the admirably detailed effect on revenue and margin described in the article.  What are your area’s funeral directors offering in terms of value-added services to offset the revenue they lose through cremation?

Check out the Charlotte Observer’s sidebar, too — trends in the funeral industry include larger caskets, the opportunity to save a loved one’s DNA (health care writers, there’s an angle for you) and the ever-popular pet funeral industry.  Most macabre, perhaps, is the notion of liquefying bodies — a purportedly more eco-friendly and cheap way of disposal than either cremation or burial.   Are American consumers ready to be turned to goo and flushed down a drain, as ABC News reports, in the name of the environment and cash savings?   Tech writers and consumer reporters could report on the cost and availability of this option in your market.

Be sure to peruse the industry association’s journal, The Dirctor, for more ideas.  Who knew, for example, that funeral homes must buy a license for the songs they offer mourners for background and for during services?  As the playbooks enlarge (it was startling to see “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd listed as a popular choice at one parlor I patronized in recent year) the costs must be growing; what other niche-specific concerns do funeral operators deal with?

Other story angles include:

Green or DIY funerals & burial sites.   As this article notes, home and family-directed death care and funerals are an option; you might start with area hospice organizations to find people who choose to care for their own dead loved ones, either for economic, spiritual or environmental reasons.  (And how are funeral directors acknowledging and perhaps changing to meet this market halfway?)

Mortuary science as a career.   According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the market for funeral-industry professionals is growing at an average pace; here’s a great series of color-coded maps showing distribution of employment in this sector throughout the United States.  Why so sparse or prevalent in your area — another question worth answering.

In addition to licensed funeral directors themselves, don’t forget that there are a lot of small-business and career profiles to be found among subcontractors, from the cosmetologists and beauticians who are on call to funeral homes, to the companies that make and deliver mortuary supplies to dealers in new and used hearses.  I even heard an anecdote lately that some hearse collectors, if their vehicles are in decent shape, hire out to funeral parlors for late-night pickups of clients who die at  home.  Now that’s a basis for an entrepreneur profile!

In Beats, Economy, Featured, Green | Sustainability, Small | Private | Non-profit.

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