Chinese caskets proving to be a hard sell.

Chinese caskets

Malamas at a client’s storage facility in Gardena, Calif. If he finds a minor defect in a casket, he’ll often gift it to a needy widow.
Photographer: Julian Berman for Bloomberg Businessweek (via Bloomberg Businessweek)

Sourcing Chinese caskets at a fraction of the cost of US made versions seems like a no-brainer for cost conscious consumers. Turns out, however, that’s not necessarily the case.

According to industry estimates, 95% of all casket in the US are higher priced versions made right here at home. Of course, depending on your point of view, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It keeps manufacturing at home and is good for the economy. But shouldn’t we be looking at value for the dollar?

A recent article published in Bloomberg Businessweek explores the effort being made by one Las Vegas entrepreneur, Jim Malamas to carve out a piece of the $1.64 billion casket market by turning to China to supply product to his casket business.

By importing from China, Malamas has followed a well-worn outsourcing playbook that’s upended markets for American-made goods from electronics to bedroom furniture. Working with four factories outside Shanghai, he imports 40-foot containers holding 64 caskets apiece and sells them to funeral homes and regional distributors for a fraction of the price. There is plenty of potential: In the U.S., caskets are a $1.6 billion business.

And yet since that night in the Mojave, Chinese casket imports haven’t gone as planned—for Malamas or anyone else. His revenue has stumbled. Where almost every other American manufacturer has failed to keep Chinese exports at bay, the casket industry has succeeded. Through aggressive litigation against importers, xenophobic admonitions to consumers, and good old-fashioned palm-greasing of funeral directors, Big Casket has made sure that 9 out of 10 Americans go into the ground in boxes made in the USA.

Read the full story: Rest in Peace for Less With Caskets Made in China

Malamas had early success with $3 million in sales during 2008, his third year in business. Since then, however, he has faced lawsuits, perceptions about quality, and patriotic sentiment. Still, he hasn’t given up on his concept and he is preserving. Malamas is sticking by his belief that the market will eventually embrace the lower price Chinese caskets.

Whether or not you feel importing Chinese caskets is a good idea or not depends entirely on your perspective. According to the advocacy group Funeral Consumer’s Alliance, the industry needs to change in order for the market to open up to lower cost imported alternatives.

“The funeral industry has had a goddamn easy ride for the last 150 years,” says Joshua Slocum, the co-author of Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death and executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, a Vermont nonprofit. “Why aren’t as many caskets imported as Chinese dishware? It defies all known rules of supply and demand.”

Others, decry the poor quality of imported caskets.

The casket business has railed against imports since the earliest days of Internet sales. “The caskets you get online are inferior, yes they are,” Pat Lane, then-spokesman for the California Funeral Directors Association, told Wired in 1999. “Let’s say your next-door neighbor dies, and the family buys a casket online. We put her in the casket, take four steps up the stairs at the ceremony, and Mom falls out the bottom.

The battle between Chinese caskets versus home grown versions is far from over. Ultimately it will be up to consumers to decide what’s right for them.

Resources related to Chinese caskets

Funeralwise.com Guide to Funeral Products

The Difference Between a Coffin and a Casket

FTC Funeral Information for Consumers

One Response to “Chinese caskets proving to be a hard sell.”
  1. Douglas Brown says:

    We have been looking into buying caskets ahead of time. I did not know that there was such a high market for United States made caskets, but I guess that it makes sense. Personally we don’t really care too much where they are made from as they all are going to serve the same purpose. Thanks for the post though it was an interesting read. http://www.losangelescasketcompany.com/

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