BtoB

Funeral hub goes live

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David Daly entered the funeral home business some 37 years ago, and for all that time he’s bought his embalming fluids, makeup, hearses and tombstones through catalogs and sales reps. It’s been a step-by-step process, one suited to his tradition-bound industry.

But as consolidation and ensuing tough times have hit the `death care' business over the past decade, Daly, like all undertakers, is now seeking to decrease the amount of time and money he spends on purchasing.

Starting early next month, Daly, president of Evergreen-Washelli Cemetery and Funeral Home in Seattle, intends to do just that on the Web.

Funeral Exchange Online, Dallas, is launching a b-to-b e-hub that will connect funeral homes and cemeteries with industry suppliers, such as casket makers. The Dallas-based company is targeting an industry that spends some $20 billion a year on supplies. But the industry’s members are a fragmented group whose fixed ways have until now generally kept them from buying online.

Catching up

‘‘Yes, it’s an industry a little behind in technology. These people still conduct business in the old way,’’ said Todd Abrams, Funeral Exchange Online’s founder. ‘‘But we saw a way to streamline business practices and want to offer them a better way to access a global marketplace that they couldn’t before.’’ Abrams, who grew up in a Tottenham, Ontario, funeral home, was formerly VP-marketing at Eisa.com, an Internet service provider.

Funeral Exchange Online ar-rives as the funeral industry is undergoing its most wrenching transformation in recent memory. Giants such as Service Corp. International of Houston are snapping up thousands of funeral homes, leaving independent undertakers with anemic margins. At the same time, more families are opting for cremation, a cheaper alternative to casket burials.

Time-saving benefits

Daly said he hopes buying online will save him time by putting all the suppliers’ products in front of him on one screen.

‘‘Let’s say I wanted cremation boxes--boxes you place the body in while it’s awaiting cremation,’’ he said. ‘‘There are a half-dozen suppliers across the U.S. If I went through the magazines and gave them all a call and waited for answers, it could take me a couple of hours.’’

Abrams said that while time savings are one benefit of the e-hub, its key value is cost savings. He reckons that by aggregating users’ purchases, Funeral Exchange Online will save up to 20% on everything from urns to caskets. While caskets average $1,300, some can cost as much as $10,000. The exchange will make money by charging suppliers a transaction fee of 4.5%.

Funeral Exchange Online plans to attract users by posting content, such as articles from funeral trade publications, stock and financial news. It will also offer a chat room and educational information from mortician schools, Abrams said.

Reaching a new audience

Paul Gabriel, a former general manager of Service Corp. International and now a Phoenix-based death care consultant, said Funeral Exchange Online could be a boon to suppliers, giving them better reach. As for undertakers, he has a mixed view of what the hub’s effect will be. ‘‘It’s going to make them more efficient,’’ he said. ‘‘But I don’t know if a funeral director’s job is going to get any easier.’’

Funeral Exchange Online is beginning to market to draw in both suppliers and undertakers. Its executives are doing the trade show circuit, and ads are running in magazines such as Mortuary Management and Canadian Funeral News. (The exchange is open to Canadian users and will likely be made available throughout Europe by next year, Abrams said.)

The company has also struck a deal to integrate its exchange throughout PurchasePro.com’s network.

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