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Casket retailer finds consumers uneasy

John Seelmeyer

Four months after Caskets Direct started selling caskets at retail to the public, sales remain slow for the Reno storefront.

But its manager, Caroll Higgins, remains confident that the idea has merit especially for price-conscious consumers.

That’s a sentiment shared by his parent company.

Working from the office that Caskets Direct shares with The Neptune Society on Longley Lane in south Reno, Higgins sells a dozen models of caskets made by Batesville Casket Co., one of the biggest names in the business.

Prices range from $400 for a basic model to $1,700 for the most expensive prices that Higgins said are well below those charged by traditional funeral homes.

“We don’t have a $40,000 hearse sitting in the garage with payments,” he said.

Federal Trade Commission rules dictate that mortuaries must allow consumers to purchase caskets elsewhere.

At the same time that Caskets Direct seeks to compete on price with the moreexpensive funeral homes, however, the company faces some price competition of its own from Internet sellers of caskets.

Those outfits promise delivery within 24 hours if necessary at prices that run about half of those of funeral homes.

A bigger issue than price competition for Higgins, however, has been the reluctance of most people to give thought to their own mortality.

“Shopping for their needs in the funeral industry is not something that most people do,” he said.

But there are some exceptions.

Higgins recalls a northern Nevada couple who purchased two caskets years ago before the advent of Caskets Direct and kept them in their garage until they were needed.

“Most people wouldn’t do that,” he said.

While that couple might represent an extreme in planning, Higgins said people who work out their funeral arrangements including the purchase of a casket in advance have greater guarantees that their final wishes will be respected.

Caskets Direct marks a new venture for Stewart Enterprises, which operates the Neptune Society locations in Nevada, and a Stewart executive said last week the company hasn’t determined if it’s going to be a hit.

“We felt there might be a market for it, but it’s still too early for us to tell if the idea will succeed or not,” said Bill Farrar, chief operating officer for the Stewart Enterprises region that includes Nevada.

He said the company recognizes that consumers may not feel like shopping for a casket and arranging for delivery while they’re grieving the loss of a loved one, but he said Stewart hopes that lower prices and free delivery within a 30-mile radius will help consumers overcome their reluctance.


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