business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Forget the old adage about death and taxes being the only sure things. Change has everything beat and it’s not even close anymore. Even death is being impacted.

Well, not so much death as the way we do funerals, burials and the other things that follow death.

The Washington Post reported Monday on the tidal wave of change hitting the funeral home industry. Thanks to myriad societal issues—environmental concerns, the far-flung nature of families today—funerals simply aren’t what they use to be.

The article details how funerals - like so many other things in life - are becoming a completely new experience.

Increasingly, those last rites are less somber and more a reflection and celebration of the person being laid to rest, with at times raucous parties, favorite foods and even, in one specific case, parting comments by Jerry Seinfeld. Now we might not all get the Seinfeld touch, but the odds are increasingly likely that cremation and not burial is in our future.

The article details the incredible shift to cremation and cites many reasons, among them worries about the environmental impact of burials and the reality that families are so far flung these days that no one is pushing for a single gravesite to visit. In fact, there are businesses springing up around the new opportunities including the possibility of human composting (can Soylent Green be far behind?) and even converting remains into jewelry and other keepsakes.

The funeral industry seems to be taking a pro-active approach to this challenge that should resonate with any business today. As one director told the Post, “Services are more life-centered, around the person’s personality, likes and dislikes. They’re unique and not standardized. The only way we can survive is to provide the services that families find meaningful.”

Funerals are hardly the only industry facing such existential, pardon the expression, life and death challenges. Consider how legalized sports gambling, soon to be a reality in many arenas and stadiums, might impact the incredibly large and lucrative world of bookies and underground betting. (Estimates are that Americans illegally gamble around $150 billion annually.)

I’m betting that bookies won’t be looking for ways to create “meaningful” experiences like the funeral homes, but perhaps we already know how this turns out. It’s not that long ago that the only casinos in the country were in Las Vegas before state after state found ways of legalizing gaming in various ways. Yet as I find on near constant travels, Las Vegas seems to be doing just fine.

Then again, today’s Las Vegas is nothing like the city Moe Green imagined back in the 1950s. Sin city is now home to fabulous restaurants, hotels that explode travel concepts and an incredibly booming conference and convention clientele. And the city has done it all while maintaining its allure as a kind of shady playground (“what happens inn Las Vegas stays inn Las Vegas”) even while increasingly catering to families.

It’s a reminder to all businesses that staying relevant in the midst of fast-changing times requires incredible focus on what people really want from you and finding new and better ways to deliver that service than ever before.

Because if you want a sure bet this is it: more change is coming. Even death can’t take a holiday from that.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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