Weddings and funerals in 2012

Started Sep 7, 2012 | Discussions thread
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Michael Thomas Mitchell
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Weddings and funerals in 2012
Sep 7, 2012

A recent death in the family brought me into a funeral home recently in which the deceased, while once one of the home's owners, was now a client. As such, the director talked a bit more freely about the "business" of the mortuary business. The economic parallels with the wedding photography business were interesting to me.

A dozen years ago, he said, business was very good. The average, middle-class American purchased a traditional burial and service for their loved one. The bought quality caskets, vaults, and stones. They bought plenty of extras, such as nice signature books, musicians for the funeral, and limo service for the family. They didn't spend lavishly, he said, but bought quality first and shopped for price last. And although cremations were very inexpensive (several hundred dollars), less than 2% chose it. Because of this, it was not uncommon for funeral homes to outsource the service.

Fast forward to today. It's all about price. People call and inquire about price before actually coming in. When the prices startle them, they ask about cremation. Cremations, he claims, are chosen for about half of their clients. Funeral homes which did not previously have crematories on-site have now built them. For traditional burials, the interest is ever more in cheaper caskets, vaults, and stones, and fewer options for the services. (In talking with florists, I learned that sales in flowers for many funerals is about half of what it was ten years ago.) And while they have gone up in price on cremations, he says they will likely have to go up even more in order to offset the losses from the traditional burials and remain in business. And to frustrate matters even further, the business has become increasingly nationalized, compared to the local, family-oriented standards of the past.

Like weddings, funerals are very traditional and yet also very discretionary, and both are something which people are simply wanting or needing to spend less on. I've done four backyard weddings this year alone, with all of clients siting a desire to control expenses. And while my booking rate is very solid (a strong year in terms of the absolute number of weddings), the amount spent on each wedding is down significantly. Album sales have taken the hugest hit, and that is even after including cheaper albums in my lineup. For example, twelve years ago, I could get a thousand dollars for a nice Art Leather album, where today many are reluctant to even look at a far less expensive press-print book. They love my designs, but they are controlling costs first and foremost.

Just as with funeral homes, we wedding photographers are no longer providing an "essential" service. Cheaper services are available and an increasing number of clients are choosing them.

Anyway, the parallels were interesting to me.

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