The Casket Industry originated in the United States in the 1800s. The local funeral director, known as the undertaker then, typically operated a furniture store and built caskets too. In the late 19th century, the industry developed as a separate entity, with manufacturers devoting their efforts to the manufacture and sale of coffins and caskets.

Manufacturers and their markets generally were locally based and small. This was the norm for the industry well into the 20th century. Products by the late 19th century included cloth-covered wood caskets, metal caskets (some with inner liners and "glass sealing" mechanisms) and hardwood caskets. Through the early 1950s there were more than 700 casket manufacturers in the United States. Total 1950 industry employment is estimated at 20,000.
In 1950, more than half of all caskets sold were cloth-covered. Hardwood caskets represented about 18%, and metal caskets comprised the remainder of the adult market (about 25%). Children's caskets represented about 6% of the total market.

The 1950s saw changes in the industry. After the Korean War, sheet steel became available to industry manufacturers and metal casket production grew. By the mid 1950s, metal caskets comprised more than one-third of industry production and, by 1960, just under one-half of the market. By the mid to late 1970s, nearly two-thirds of all caskets produced were metal caskets

The industry was significantly affected. While cloth-covered caskets could be produced at nearly any facility with limited capital requirements, metal caskets require a greater investment in stamping, bending, cutting, grinding and painting equipment. Changes in product demand, cost of capital, and development of companies with national distribution systems in the late 1960s and 1970s significantly affected what had been a local and regional industry. Massive consolidation occurred in the industry. Small manufacturers found it difficult to compete effectively. By 1967, the Census of Manufacturers reported that there were only 523 in the casket industry, with employment of 16,800. In 1992, the Census of Manufacturers reported 211 producers in the industry, with employment of 7,800. The Casket and Funeral Supply Association suggests that industry employment is less than 9,000 and that the total number of entities, including many small distributors, serving funeral directors is less than 300 in 1997.

In 1996, seven companies manufactured metal casket components (tops, ends, bottoms and sides) for their own use, while several others manufacture for casket manufacturers. The total metal casket market in 1996 was estimated at about 1.3 million units, including 20-, 18- and 16-gauge steel products, stainless steel, and copper or bronze caskets.

While several primary casket manufacturers build their own hardware and make their own interior designs and panels, a few provide decorative and functional hardware for the remaining casket manufacturers. Another small group provides interior materials (cloth and specially designed interior panels) for the casket industry, although many manufacturers and some distributors manufacture, sew and install their own interior cloth linings, bed and pillow covers, and head and foot panels.

National Casket Co. and Boyertown Casket Company, in the 1960s, were the first publicly traded companies on the Philadelphia and New York stock exchanges, respectively. In the early 1970s, Hillenbrand Industries, which owns Batesville Casket Co., became a publicly held company [NYSE]. Gulf & Western Corp., from the late 1970s until 1982, owned several casket companies. It divested its casket industry assets in 1982 to AMEDCO, Inc. which traded on the NASDAQ exchange. AMEDCO was sold in 1986 to Service Corporation International [SCI: NYSE) and became known as the funeral supply division of SCI, which later acquired the assets of Boyertown Casket Co. In 1990, SCI divested itself of the funeral supply division. Casket production assets were acquired by private investors who renamed the division The York Group, Inc. With a public offering of stock in April, 1996, The York Group joined Hillenbrand Industries as the only remaining publicly traded companies with interests in casket manufacturing.

Casket manufacturing is concentrated among a few companies. The Casket & Funeral Supply Association estimates that a dozen or so companies manufacture more than 90% of all metal caskets, although some 30 companies assemble metal caskets. Hardwood caskets are manufactured by about a dozen companies. Another 10 or so companies occasionally manufacture some although casket manufacturing is not their primary business.

In the 1950s, almost every casket company manufactured cloth-covered caskets. Today, there are no more than 30-35 companies manufacturing such products. Most of these companies manufacture for local markets. Several companies manufacture most of this product line with regional or national distribution.

Because production is concentrated, most caskets tend to be standard products. Smaller manufacturers continue to produce custom products for their customers. In addition, many distributors offer custom products with installation of special exterior hardware and interior panels.

Entry Requirements: In 1982, the Federal Trade Commission noted that casket manufacturing was a concentrated industry with large capital investment required for entry into the business. Since then, entry costs have increased significantly. A complete set of dies to manufacture a casket shell could cost as much as $1 million, not counting the cost for the necessary stamping equipment. Similar investments are required in the hardwood segment of the industry, where primary manufacturers buy rough lumber, air and kiln dry it themselves and invest in material handling equipment, dust collection and management systems, etc., as well as all the other equipment associated with large woodworking operations.

Further complicating entry into the industry are discounting practices and demands that reduce available margins needed to recover capital costs. Large publicly traded funeral home chains demand discounts from their suppliers and similar demands are increasingly made by other customers. While several large manufacturers are able to comply with the demand for discounts and special product lines, it is difficult for most industry entities to meet those demands. New entrants find it even more difficult to compete, given the capital cost associated with developing a new business in casket manufacturing.

The Market: Although it would seem that the market for caskets should grow as the number of deaths increases due to an aging population, this is not the case. The market is limited to total deaths minus body donations and casketless cremations. Casket manufacturing was confronted with a declining market in the 1970s, when health-care improvements and the availability of antibiotics resulted in a decline in deaths. Increasing cremation rates since 1980 have created a stable to declining market for the last 15 years. Total casket production in 1996 is estimated at less than 1.85 million units, including 60,000 containers specifically designed for use in cremation. In 1980, sales were estimated at 1.8 million caskets.

The Cremation Association of North America (Chicago, IL) projects that cremations will continue to increase during the next 15 years. As a result, the market for traditional funerals and caskets may decline. The use of cremation containers and ceremonial caskets designed for cremation may maintain the market at current or nominally higher levels.

The "zero growth" environment was and is a factor in the industry's consolidation. New business may be obtained only by taking it from a competitor. Such competition reduces profitability and increases business risk for all industry members, and especially for companies where capitalization or market positioning may be less than optimal.

Caskets and cremation containers come in a wide variety of materials, designs and costs. The type of casket or ceremonial cremation container selected will determine its value and cost. Generally, casket prices range from least to most expensive according in these types:

Steel Gauges Used for Caskets:

Non-gasketed Steel Caskets are normally made of 20-gauge steel (some companies are experimenting with 22-gauge steel). Twenty-gauge steel is the same thickness used in many automobile body panels. These caskets generally are spot-welded. They are usually the least expensive metal caskets available and are usually square-cornered designs.

Gasketed Steel Caskets are made from 20-, 18- and 16-gauge steel. These caskets are usually continuous-welded at the corners or seams. In addition, they may have seam-welded bottoms, or use epoxies to ensure integrity and reduce the likelihood of entrance of outside elements into the casket. Normally, 20-gauge caskets are square-cornered; 18-gauge and 16-gauge may be square-cornered, round-cornered, or round-cornered urn designs; 19-gauge steel caskets use 20-gauge sides and ends and 18-gauge tops and bottoms.

Most Hardwood Caskets are made of solid wood, finished in a satin or gloss coat. Some may be hand polished. Their design may be square-cornered, round-cornered or round-cornered urn shapes. Typically, select woods (poplar, willow) will be the least expensive wood caskets, followed by pine, oak, birch, maple, cherry, black walnut and mahogany. Other species of wood used in the manufacture of caskets are ash, elm, redwood, cedar, etc. It takes 130 to 150 board feet of lumber to produce a typical hardwood casket. Some caskets require more wood if they are made of 3" or 4" plank material. While normally in the third cost quartile, hardwood caskets are sometimes the most expensive caskets manufactured. Solid hardwood caskets are manufactured like fine furniture. They are assembled by craftsmen; sanded for painting or staining. Some have hand-rubbed finishes.

Veneer-finished caskets are generally less expensive than solid wood caskets.
Stainless Steel Caskets are most often square-cornered or square-cornered urn designs. New products are being developed in round-cornered and round-cornered urn designs. Stainless steel caskets often are comparable in price to mid-range hardwood caskets and bridge the price brackets between cold-rolled steel caskets and semi-precious metal products such as copper or bronze.

Copper or Bronze may be found in square-cornered, round-cornered or urn shaped designs. Rather than gauge, copper and bronze caskets are measured by weight. A 32-oz. copper or bronze casket means that the copper or bronze used weighed 32-oz. per square foot. There are also 48-oz. copper or bronze caskets.

The Casket & Funeral Supply Association of America estimates that of the 1.85 million caskets sold in 1996 production by type was about:

12.5% Cloth covered caskets (including products used in cremation);
14-15% Hardwood caskets (including products used in cremation);
16-17% Non-gasketed steel caskets;
45-46% Gasketed steel caskets;
3% Copper or bronze caskets;
3% Stainless steel caskets;
3% Infant and children's caskets of various designs and materials;
.5% Composite or fiberglass products.

Other factors that affect casket cost include the type of hardware and lugs (the bars and the devices by which they are attached to the casket). Painted, stamped steel is the least expensive, while die-cast hardware that has been buffed and polished by hand is among the most expensive. Some hardware may be manufactured from plastics, such as ABS or polycarbonate
Interior materials and finishes also affect cost. Twill interiors that are heat-shirred are usually the least expensive, while tufted velvet interiors are among the most expensive. Interior materials also are made from crepe and linen materials. Specialized or custom interior options also add to product cost.

Other casket types produced include fiberglass or composite caskets, stone-covered wood caskets, etc. These are generally small market penetration products and the prices are dependent on design and production cost.

When Comparing Casket Costs Consider
These casket characteristics need to be considered when comparing costs:
Gauge of steel (20-, 19- 18- or 16- gauge), or weight of copper or bronze.
Casket design (square-corner, round-corner, round-corner urn shape).
Casket designs range from least expensive to most expensive in roughly the following design formats:
Interior materials (twills, crepes, linens, velvets); interior design (heat-shirred, sewn- shirring, tailored, tufted, special panels, etc.)
Hardware (handles than and lugs - stamped, cast, polished, painted or electroplated or vacuum metalized, less expensive electroplating).


Type of wood (salix/cottonwood, redwood, poplar, pine, cypress, cedar, oak, hick- ory/pecan, birch, ash, maple, cherry, walnut, mahogany) affects cost and value as does de sign and finish. Solid hardwoods are more expensive than veneers.

What about preservation?
Finally, while some manufacturers offer product warranties, caskets will not preserve the remains. Caskets may help protect the remains from outside elements in conjunction with an appropriate outer burial container, but no casket can prevent post-mortem decomposition.

Provided by Casket and Funeral Supply Association of America


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