thought of cremation urns may seem morbid to some, however, anything, including
grief, can stimulate our creative energies.
Creating a niche in the $21 Billion Funeral Industry
With an average funeral cost of $10,000 and the industry boasting a size of $21 billion, according to the latest numbers, itís no wonder that some craftspeople have set out to tap the funeral market. But despite the size of the industry, making handmade funeral accessories is still very much a niche segment. With so many manufactured products available, artists are facing a challenge when it comes to carving out their own niche in the funeral industry. Yet many still find the effort well worth it.
Louise Pentz actually found herself running up against the law when she wanted to advertise her ceramic cremation urns. It seems that in Nova Scotia (and possibly in other Canadian provinces and U.S. states) itís against the law to advertise the sale of containers for human remains to the public. "You can make them and sell them," she says, "you just canít advertise what they are."
With 30 to 50 percent of Nova Scotians choosing to be cremated, there seemed to be a market niche worth exploring. After all, Pentz had been a successful production potter for more than 30 years and adding a selection of custom made covered vessels to be used as urns was a simple transition.
That was four years ago, and soon after she began producing the urns she learned about the prohibition on advertising. "People shouldnít get the idea that this is an easy business," Pentz says. "Its really, really hard."
"Funeral directors really donít want people to choose cremation since they can make substantially more money with conventional casket burials," she adds. In some locations they have successfully lobbied lawmakers to make cremation more difficult. Funeral establishments do offer a limited selection of factory made funerary containers, but theyíre not very appealing, possibly in an effort to dissuade potential buyers. "You certainly wonít want to put your mother in one," Pentz says.
Pentz has a Web site (www.fineurns.com) where she sells a small number of urns and its legality has yet to be challenged. Sheís also sold them from her own gallery near Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. "Sometimes itís a little tricky," she says. "Iíve had people shopping for wedding gifts who chose an urn because of its size and beauty. Iíve had to tell them what it was made for, and theyíve always chosen something else."í
The idea of placing the remains of a loved one in a ceramic urn goes back thousands of years. "How better to honor someone youíve loved than to preserve their ashes in a beautiful handmade clay vessel." Pentz says. "Urns of clay have been the traditional burial containers for millennia."
As no two people are alike, no two urns are alike. With much care and attention to detail, each piece is shaped, colored, fired and polished. The colors of the urns range from vibrant and dramatic to earthy and subtle. Choices include red, green, blue, gold, copper, yellow and bronze or any combination of these colors. The urns come in three sizes and range in price from $150 to $375 (Cdn.).
Pentz isnít the only craftsperson whoís chosen to add a funeral line of work to her inventory. Keith Lahti from Chloe, W.V., has been making and selling custom-made, one-of-a-kind cremation urns for the past two years. The earthenware and stoneware urns are made one at a time, with no molds, and are never duplicated. "My intent in making the urns is to infuse a sense of ancient mystery and ritual into our fast-paced and technology-oriented lives," he says. "They embody an undefined hint of the sacred and mystical."
Initially, Lahti sold his cremation urns by word-of-mouth to friends and neighbors. A new Web site (www.handmadecremationurns.com) launched in December 2005 has attracted some inquiries, but no sales to date. An effort is being made to achieve a better placement on major search engines. In coming months, Lahti plans to contact funeral directors and veterinarians (he also makes urns for pets) in his area to establish a sales and distribution network. Since his urns are handmade one-of-a-kind pieces, they are priced accordingly. To personalize the urns (at a small additional cost), Lahti offers a small brass plate to bear the name of the deceased individual or pet. As a sales incentive he also offers free shipping in the continental U.S.
H.A.L. Woodworking is a family fusiness that hand crafts solid wood products including cremation and pet urns. In business for 27 years, its workshop is located next to its retail furniture store, Hendersonís Country Furniture, in Forest, Va. All products are made of solid woods such as oak, pine, walnut and cherry. All items are sealed and finished with a furniture grade finish.
A Web site (www.halwoodworking.com), launched September 2002, has increased sales. The company now receives orders nationwide producing a much broader customer base than it could achieve at its store. The Web siteís search engine rankings have steadily improved. H.A.L. Woodworking cremation urns recently ranked number 2 on Google and number 35 on Yahoo.
John OíNeill has a ceramics studio in historic downtown Frederick, Md. Although heís worked in clay for 25 years, heís only been making cremation urns for a year. His work is all hand-thrown on the potterís wheel. Each is an individual art piece, with no two exactly alike. The cremation urns are decorated and finished then bisque fired, glazed and fired again. "This is a long process by hand," OíNeill says, "but it allows the natural beauty and flow of the clay to come through."
OíNeill Stoneware Design (www.oneillstonewaredesign.com) offers cremation urns in three styles - Sierra, Dakota and Keepsake. Each comes in a variety of colors and the Sierra and Dakota come in a pedestal version. In additional, he offers custom urns made to a customerís specifications. Prices range from $450 to $600.
In 2005, OíNeill attended a national convention of funeral directors where he made numerous contacts. The result has been the establishment of a sales and distribution network (Funeral Home Partners) that includes 72 funeral establishments in six states. "I have found funeral directors to be friendly and open to offering quality handmade ceramic cremation urns to their clientele," says OíNeill. "There are a growing number of individuals and families who are seeking cremation for themselves or their loved one. Many funeral directors are responding to this change and view it as establishing new traditions ." END OF ARTICLE
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