Trends: Opening the Box

Cremation, competition and consumer demands are reshaping the casket industry. Can it survive?

In the spring of 2005, a glossy black trailer 53 ft. long began wending its way on a national tour. It contains a singular exhibit: the latest and coolest in casket designs from the country's leading manufacturer, Batesville. The exhibit opens with the Maserati of departure vehicles--the 540-lb., $18,500 Marsellus 700 Masterpiece. Although the Marsellus defines tradition (Ronald Reagan was buried in one, but then so was the Notorious B.I.G.), what follows focuses on the four trends that have rocked the casket industry: obesity, personalization, cost competition and cremation. Local funeral directors wandering through the exhibit examine the politely titled Dimensions...

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