Weekly Briefing/teitelman/dt1st/mark2nd

The success of any enterprise over a long period of time depends a great deal on the flexibility of its owners. Armstrong Family Malloy-Mitten Funeral Directors has survived for over 95 years by being able to change with the times. Owner Bob Armstrong spoke with Karen Teitelman about keeping up with the business environment.

We've been around since 1903. It's a family operation my great grandfather founded the business. I'm fourth generation and have been in business myself for about 23 years. We are a full-service mortuary. However, we specialize in cremation and burial of the ashes at sea.

This has been the busiest year in our 95-year history, and rather than fight change we have tried to accommodate and embrace it. Used to be, you'd have a Catholic funeral director, or a Jewish one, and people went to funeral homes of their own faith. This is changing. Others in our industry have fought this, but we have embraced it and have hired people to fill those requirements.

We have hired ethnic staff members and we provide services that fulfill the desires of respective ethnic communities. Probably two to three times a week, we ship a case (body) to Central America, the Philippines and the Middle East. We've also tried to accommodate people with services and merchandise accustomed to their needs and culture.

In addition, people want smaller funerals. Society is increasingly secular. People don't go to church like they used to, so rather than wanting a traditional funeral with a body in a casket, they want cremation with a memorial service. A direct cremation is much less profitable for a funeral home. A traditional casket funeral runs an average of $3,000 to $4,000. Cremation can be anywhere from $500 to $1,000. We charge $488 we cut our cost and became a low-cost provider.

We've also seen tremendous consolidation in our industry. Probably one-half to two-thirds of all funeral homes in Southern California are owned by corporate interests. The names of the mortuaries are maintained, but the business is run by large chains. This has worked in our favor because when corporations purchase an existing firm, they traditionally raise their prices. We have been able to maintain a relatively reasonable price structure. This helps because people are increasingly shopping for this type of service, where they weren't 30 to 45 years ago.

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