By: Kristin Burton On: August 15, 2017 In: News Comments: 0

Casket personalization can take many forms.  In one memorable case, it was frogs. It was at the funeral for a college professor who had dedicated his career to studying frogs, according to Danielle Thacker, vice president of sales and marketing at Thacker Caskets. The family wanted a frog-themed funeral service and had requested a green casket with a “Going Home” insert panel featuring frogs instead of doves.

Thacker was able to accommodate the request – and so the family got what it wanted, and the funeral director and Thacker earned another satisfied customer. “The growing personalization trend is a direct result of families looking outside religious traditions and seeking alternative ways to conduct services, either through the actual service conducted or through the merchandise purchased,” Thacker said. “Some people want something over the top and extravagant, and some want something simple. Our job is to give the family the range of options, and then let them decide how to memorialize their loved one.” Thacker is not the only casket company offering families choices.

Personalization is a growing component of any important life celebration, so casket manufacturers are working to ensure that those mourning a loss have ample choices to put a personal mark on services. “We’ve become accustomed to having things ‘our way,’ whether it’s a cup of coffee, personalized invitations for a birthday party or even how we watch television,” said Paul Holzman, director of marketing for Batesville. “That behavior is carrying over into other parts of (people’s lives), including funeral service.”

Personalization of caskets and other funeral products has been available for many years. Still, however, families often aren’t aware of options available to them, or the cost of taking advantage of those options. “Families learn about these things from a funeral arranger who makes a suggestion or shows them something in a selection room,” said Marty Strohofer, vice president of marketing and product development at Matthews Aurora Funeral Solutions. Because of this, Strohofer recommends funeral directors show families caskets with custom interchangeable corners and embroidered panels or customized cremation urns. “They are idea generators,” he said. “One of the challenges is helping families see the possibilities that exist.”

Holzman echoes the need for funeral professionals to inform families about their options. Even families who have planned funerals before might, in their grief, fail to express their thoughts or wishes. “That’s why it is so critical for the funeral director to walk every family through their portfolio of options, to ask questions and to listen, so they can help the family make informed choices,” he said. “We customize our homes. We customize our cars. Why would we think people wouldn’t want to customize their funerals?” asked David Hazelett, president of Astral Industries. “It’s up to funeral directors to lead. The family will instantly grab it up.”

Research done by Batesville shows a large percentage of consumers did not recall anyone explaining options to them. If they had been given a choice, these consumers would have made different choices. Hearing about options after the fact left consumers feeling shortchanged, Holzman said. A key to integrating personalization into caskets as well as funeral services is to remember “personalization is a process, it’s not a product,” Holzman said.

“The arrangement process is so stiff,” he said. “I have these 42 questions that have to be answered, where I could probably learn a lot more if I said, ‘Show me five things that represent your dad.’ If you give them the space to share memories with you, then you can say, ‘Well, we can do this.’” Batesville’s research has also shown that, when it comes to personalization, there is a lack of understanding about cost. Even when options are included in the cost of the casket, many consumers assume they will cost extra, research has shown. This, again, highlights the need for funeral directors to spell out information on personalization options. Those seeking personalization these days have a wide variety of options and price points from which to choose.

While some go for one-of-a-kind caskets individually created by artists – think of a casket fitted out with fins to resemble a ’57 Chevy or one with a roulette table serving as the lid – most families want something more traditional, but with personal touches, Strohofer said. This is often the result of a desire to maintain a dignified somberness for a funeral event plus the practical considerations of obtaining a casket in a timely manner, he said… [click here to continue reading]

This article was originally published in the August 2017 issue of American Funeral Director.