Fun Funerals

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The "Outdoorsman" funeral calls for the area around the coffin to be festooned like a hunting lodge, complete with mounted elk antlers, bearskin rug, and gun rack.

Remember, every life is special. If you spent your spare time in a La-Z-Boy chair, you might be a candidate for a Sports Nut funeral. The coffin would come complete with a keepsake drawer, so that you could be buried with a bag of chips, a beer, and, of course, the TV remote control.

P.S. Batesville used John F. Kennedy Jr.'s burial at sea to launch a new product, the Floral Reflections scattering urn. When placed in water, the pressed cotton urn floats for several minutes, then slowly dissolves and sinks, releasing the deceased's ashes into the sea.

Coffee Table Coffins

The great American philosopher Yogi Berra once said, "Why buy new luggage? You'll only use it when you travel." At one time, people thought that way about their coffins.

But these days people think differently. Some want to make sure they go to their final resting spot with all the grandeur of King Tut. Others want to buy now and save.

You might say the funeral business is following the rest of consumer marketing. When people buy a coffin, they either want a deep discount, Price Club-style savings, or they want top-of-the-line boutique luxury.

Consumers once felt at the mercy of funeral directors when buying a casket. But now they shop elsewhere. You can buy a coffin online or through a number of low-cost outlets for under $1,000 and it will be shipped to you in less than 24 hours.

The Federal Trade Commission requires funeral directors to accept caskets from suppliers without imposing a handling fee — a law that is quite unpopular in the industry.

In the face of all the cost-cutting competition, traditional casket makers are fighting back by offering value-added merchandise. The Batesville Casket Co., which supplies 40 percent of the coffins used in the United States, now has top-of-the-line models crafted from finer metals and feature a permanent seal and personalized engravings. They can run as high as $20,000.

A typical upscale mahogany casket with velvet lining will run between $5,000 and $6,000.

But the new market realities are allowing smaller manufacturers to jump into the casket game.