Thinking outside the box about funerals

John Eric Rolfstad thinks the world is ready for a new kind of send-off.  “Baby Boomers will soon make the lion’s share of funeral arrangements,” says Rolfstad, executive director of Peoples Memorial Funeral Cooperative in Seattle, USA. “Pomp and circumstance are for royalty. Baby Boomers want good value, simplicity and convenience.”

For those living in the Puget Sound area, membership in the funeral co-op makes sense. You can purchase a lifetime membership for $25. You can also join on behalf of a family member upon his or her death. A cremation package starts at $649, including an alternative container and basic urn. An open casket burial, including a metal casket, goes for $3,299. By contrast, the National Association of Funeral Directors reports that the average American funeral costs $7,300.
“Last year, the co-op handled 1,068 funerals, making it one of the five largest funeral homes in the state of Washington,” Rolfstad says. Cremations, which make up 93 percent of Peoples’ business, are growing in popularity because they cost significantly less, and in today’s mobile society, cemetery visits are less practical.

The co-op reported sales of $1 million in 2009, and issued $164,000 in patronage dividends, though it ordinarily has distributed dividends in the form of discounts on funeral arrangements. “We basically broke even as a result of our low price structure,” Rolfstad says.

The co-op’s parent association, People’s Memorial Association, was formed in 1939 as a memorial society to provide affordable cremation and burial. For six decades, PMA served its members through a local funeral home. But that mortuary became part of a large multinational corporation, leaving PMA with no funeral home. Northwest Cooperative Development Center offered the association guidance in how to start a co-op, and PMFC launched in 2007.

Today, all 80,000 members of the association are also member/owners of the funeral co-op. The association works statewide to provide consumer education and advocate consumer-friendly laws. The co-op is based at a Seattle funeral home, but the association also serves rural members by contracting with 23 other funeral homes across the state. “The co-op model takes the profit motive out of the equation,” Rolfstad says. “Families can feel the difference.”

Source: DailyYonder- Alternative co-ops are taking root.