Federation of Funeral Coop’s Visit to UK Provides Valuable Lessons

| Health |

A visit by a delegation from the Federation of Funeral
Cooperatives (two elected members (Réjean Laflamme and Steve Bourassa) and two
employees(Alain Leclerc and Annie Normandin)) to England to view the facilities and meet with the directors of some English funeral cooperatives has proven to be a valuable learning experience.

The funeral cooperatives network in England comprises 14 organizations managing a total of 140,000 deaths per year. It is a principal funeral management group in England that holds 22% of the market. While in England the delegation visited the Co-operative Group (842 service points, casket plant, monuments, flowers, etc., and 100,000 funerals per year) and the Midcounties Co-operative (69 service points, 3 monument plants and 8,000 funerals per year), and attended the annual meeting of the funeral cooperative managers of England (200 persons attending). To follow are some of highlights taken from the trip:

Eco-Cemeteries

The delegation visited two natural burial grounds, or “eco-cemeteries”, developed by the Co-operative Group (Hinton Park Woodland and Poole & Wimborne, with respective surface areas of 14 and 30 acres). In short an eco-cemetery involves the interment of ashes, and to a lesser degree, bodies (with no embalming, and in a “green” casket), offering families the option to plant a tree of their choice, from a vast selection, on the plot of the deceased. It would be relatively easy to develop a similar approach to cemeteries in the Canadian context, the space necessary for such a cemetery may be as little as 10 acres. To do this, a group could make use of part of a religious cemetery. The cemetery derives a significant amount of its revenue from the trees purchased and benches paid for by the families. Landscaping of the site is thus financed by the users.

Sale of Monuments

The two cooperatives visited also retail funerary monuments. The monuments purchased are pre-cut and imported from China. The work of the cooperative simply consists in the inscription and installation of the stone. Sale of monuments is lucrative, with a profit margin of close to 20%. In Quebec and PEI, a few cooperatives sell monuments directly and receive a commission from the distributor. At a minimum, acceptance by a greater majority of Canadian cooperatives of this revenue generating option should be considered, while the delegation supports review of a network supported approach to uptake this business model.

More to Take Home: A Meeting with the Funeral Co-op Directors

Both cooperatives share an ambitious staff training program. The program is divided into 20 units, which the employees take as supervised self-directed training for a period of 30 to 40 weeks. Prior to this training, the Midcounties Cooperative offers an introductory session focused on cooperative values.

The marketing strategies for the two funeral co-ops are grounded in co-op values. The cooperatives offer  members a point system based approximately on 1% of purchases.

In terms of environmental sustainability, the headoffice of Midcounties has installed solar panels for electricity generation; the amount of electricity generated at any given moment is displayed on a electronic board in the waiting room.

In short, the group was highly impressed by their visit to England and states that much can be learned by Federation of Funeral Cooperatives from their new English friends. The Midcounties Co-operative manages 8,000 funerals, which is much the same number as the Canadian Federation of Funeral Cooperatives network. Simon Fisher, the general manager of the Midcounties Co-operative Funeral Service, was in Canada October 14 to 21, 2007. He had the opportunity to visit the cooperative facilities in Summerside, Wellington, New Glasgow and Stratford in Prince Edward Island, plus four funeral cooperatives in Quebec.

Federation of Funeral Cooperatives

548, rue Dufferin

Sherbrooke, Québec J1H 4N1

Telephone:(819)566-6303, ext. 22

Fax:(819) 829-1593

E-mail: normandin.fcfq@reseaucoop.com

Website: www.fcfq.qc.ca