Event Trends in the Funeral Industry

Today we're going to talk about funerals. Maybe not the most obvious topic an event platform. But there is a big shift from traditional funerals to 'events' as a funeral.

Kevin Van der Straeten
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Hi Jan, welcome to the studio.

Thank you.

Today we're going to talk about funerals. Maybe not the most obvious topic an event platform. But if I'm not mistaken, we see a big shift from traditional funerals, like we had them before, to more and more real events as a funeral.

Indeed, where funerals, the last 100 years, were quite standard. People were choosing for religious reasons. For a church or a local place to have the funeral. We see that the shift is going to more personal funerals. So people try to do something that fits more to the personality of the person who died. So there we see that, in some places, people like to do something more particular. Something more special. Because most funerals are quite a standard package. And you go to a funeral manager and you ask them to do something, a cremation or a burial and then they arrange something for you. These days there are more options to choose from. For a funeral. And of course, when something is chosen, it gets more popular. As other people see that there are more possibilities, these days.

And more and more similarities start to appear, between a funeral and a traditional event. Because you're not going to the same venues anymore. Do something different. Maybe have a tent in the garden. Maybe have a caterer and so on. And then we're talking, more and more, about an event.

Indeed. Before you had a church. Or another room where we could do the ceremony. But these days people choose a less obvious place.

Some like a private space. Or the places that we know from traditional events. Like a beautiful park. Maybe a castle. Or a beautiful building where we can do something. Or the places that we use for marriages. It's a bit the same places that are getting more popular for funerals these days.

And then, of course, you have to arrange everything. Because most of them are blackboxes. Or don't have the classic things that we need for a funeral.

But if you look at a traditional event, you have, best case, months in advance to prepare and so on. But a funeral...

Well, I don't suppose you get months in advance to start preparing. It needs to go very fast. Isn't that difficult to do?

Yes, normally you have between five and ten days. It's the most classical period within which we arrange a funeral. Of course it's a short term. It is quite difficult. But in our branch we're used to doing and arranging everything in such a short period. So it makes us a very flexible company. And the people we work with are...

They know that if we call them, it will be very short notice. Most of the professional partners to work with, they know that if we call them, it will be for five-six days later. Of course they also know what will be their exact possibilities. Because most of them will have their schedule ready. So they will know if they still have the capacity to take something extra for a funeral.


And are most event companies or businesses open to this kind of opportunities?

Yes, you see that it's quite difficult. Because not every venue would like to have a coffin in the area. So, they're more open when we use people who have been cremated. So, yes, it will...

We still feel that there's some special atmosphere. And not everybody's happy to arrange funerals in their spaces. But that is something that is changing. And I think that's one of the reasons why more and more people are looking at having an event funeral, let's call it that way. Instead of a very traditional ceremony. The same for everyone. Once you've been to one of those special funerals, you feel the atmosphere, you see the difference and, of course, you can make it so much more personal. And once someone has visited one, they want to have the same for their own. So and then they start talking about it with family and friends and so, when something happens to them, we see that: oh yes, once he told me he visited one funeral, he would like to have the same.

It's like what we do when we go to a marriage for example, we say: oh, this was nice. Very well done. I liked the catering. I liked the setting. I liked the agenda. I want to have the same for me. That's what happens with funerals also.

But that's something you also mentioned before we started shooting this interview. It's that mentality is changing and that now people are talking about funerals.

In the past, yes, it was a taboo to talk about such things. But now people express what they want for themselves. When they leave.

That also creates a new dynamic, I suppose.

Yes, people that die now, about eighty-ninety years old, they used to live very basic.

People that die young or are going to die in the next twenty years, they used to have a very much different life. We all want to have a more extravagant life. So that's something that we see in the funerals as well. Because most funerals need to reflect the personality of the person that died.

Now, an event, as a funeral, is nothing totally new. If you look back, Kings and very prominent people already had, kind of, events. But now, I understand, it's also for normal, regular people. Doing such things.

That's correct. When something special happened, like an accident where a lot of people died, you will see that there are ceremonies that are more organized than the classic ceremonies.

And then you have the prominent people, like somebody who was famous. These people, they had a very special funeral before. But now, more regular people, just like you and me, they start to do  something. And yes, that's more particular. That they want to have it well organized.

Can you give, from your experience, some examples of funerals you say: okay, that was original, that was something nice?

Yes, we did several things. So, most of them are in a private atmosphere. And we also had one for a baby, that the parents were...

They lost their child and we organized it in the garden of a castle. And we went with the parents. We went to visit the venue. We went to see how it was. We arranged everything on the side. And then we booked the technical stuff. The catering. We arranged everything for the ceremony. The music. So it was actually like a classic event.

You're more and more an event agency then?

Yes well we're starting to be a small event agency, indeed.

Are there legal limitations to what you can do?

There are some legal limitations. But of course, when you stay within, for example Flanders, there are more open borders between the different regions. So you can do a lot of things. You're not bound to your community where you live. And that's something that lives, still, today. That people try to or think they need to arrange something within their own community. That's not correct.

But hasn't that also something to do with the time pressure? You lose somebody. Then you need to: oh, hurry, hurry. Find a funeral company who can help you. Oh, there's one in the next street.

Yes, it's more proximity. Because, people they don't have the experience, of arranging a funeral. So what they do, is they think about the first they know. And most of the time it's some company which they pass by or they heard about from somebody else.

But why wouldn't you drive fifteen-twenty minutes to a better company who can arrange more things for you?

And we see that there is a shift, also, that people don't take the funeral manager in their own village.

But they look for somebody who can arrange what they want. And maybe also compare what they have to offer.

Yes, of course. You have to compare. But there's a time pressure. You don't have a guide of: I want this exactly and can you make me an offer? It's very difficult and there are big price ranges between different companies, also. So you have to...

It's always good to ask for a price. But they cannot give you an exact price before knowing everything you want. So it makes it a bit difficult to do a comparison.

Do you think this trend will continue and we will be having more and more event funerals?

Yes, I'm quite sure about it, because we see...

Due to Corona we saw a lot of intimate ceremonies. And there was a time that we were limited with fifteen people only. And those ceremonies were very small, but very intimate. And the atmosphere was so special.

Of course, fifteen was really not good. You know, the small families are twenty, thirty, forty people. So, it's not good to have a limitation like that. But nowadays we see, I think, more than double of the ceremonies that are intimate.

If you look back on the Corona-crisis, one thing that happened in the event industry was going hybrid. Also having live streams and so on. That's something that you also did see in the funeral industry.

Yes, we already had a streaming option in our rooms and we offered it for free to our customers, due to Corona. And I think about 90% of our customers took the opportunity to do a live stream. And for our region, which is not a very big region, we had more than 20.000 people following a funeral digitally. So it was very much.

And that will also remain?

Yes, we still offer it for free, these days. And we see that people take the opportunity. Because some people have to work. We also offer the on demand service for the funerals. So we see a lot of viewers in the evening or the next day. Or the weekend following to the ceremony.

That's also about convenience. If you need to go to work and you can watch it later.

We all have a lot of digital meetings, so...

These days most ceremonies are still between ten and twelve. So if you have a meeting or you cannot be free. Or you have to drive one hour, two hours, just to be in a funeral for, maybe, 45 minutes. Yes, you lose half a day. But now you just follow it online. You just move aside in your office and you can take one hour off to follow a funeral.

Yes and why not do, for example, the ceremony on a Saturday evening?

Why not?

We're not used to doing that but why not?

Or even on a Sunday. We still...

Sometimes we have questions for that. The thing is that we still have the communities. We still have...

For a burial you need to have these communities. And the people for the community, they only work, really, nine-to-five. So we cannot offer everything for a funeral. In the evening. But in the private business like ceremonies, we would perfectly be able to do that on a Saturday evening. Or on a Sunday. But it will...

Maybe you don't want your weekend to be spoiled by having a funeral.

Yes, it all depends on how you look at a funeral. It's also nice, just to say goodbye to a loved one. And that we're used to...

And that may also be something cultural. We're used to it being something sad. And it is, in a way, obviously. But if I hear some friends talking about their funeral, they're talking about: oh, have a bottle of Champagne. Have a party. Enjoy yourselves.

It will be the same for me, because I always said it will be enjoying, celebrating life. And it's something worth talking about.

For about three, four years now, within our company, we really want to offer the customers, who want to have it, a celebration of life. And we're not going to make it too sad. We're having ceremonies where people laugh at the same time. Because life is not only those sad moments. We used to have so many happy moments also. So you have to remember those happy moments and not only those last weeks or months or years in somebody's life.

Did you already have a customer who was bold enough to say: okay, I want to do it that way?

Yes of course we do. More younger people, that want to arrange their own funeral. We have a lot of files, within our office of people who pre-arrange their funeral. And most of them, they prefer to have more a happy funeral. So, with Champagne. With good catering. Limited. With friends. Or big, like a party. It all depends on the person.


How does that work?

Maybe there are some viewers who say: oh, this is interesting. I also want to do that. You get in touch with a funeral service company. And you just discuss: okay, this and this is something I want?

Yes, it's like when you arrange a wedding or some other family event. You just contact a funeral office and you ask for the possibilities. They will speak through what's possible and what is not. And they can give you the costs and you can make an arrangement.

You know: the difficult thing is when you get married, it will be in the next wo years. Let's hope you don't have to arrange your funeral in the next two years. But that also happens with people who are sick.

Yes, indeed. Maybe, from your point of view, some advice for the event industry. Because you said: okay, not everybody is open yet.  On the other side, it might be a nice opportunity. Because it's not in the peak hours, most of those funerals. So for caterers, event venues and so on, this can be an opportunity.

Of course it can. And that's why we are amazed that there's still a lot of hesitation. From the event business. We would love to have more partners who are open to it. And we're planning to do a new website by the end of the year. Where we will offer more opportunities and where we will make arrangements, like events, for funerals. It is a big business and it's going to shift. The next five years there will be a big shift. And I still see that a lot of event companies are a bit afraid of coming to the funeral industry. The only difficult thing is the legislation. Because you still have to know what is possible and what's not. And of course there are some more practical things, where you need a funeral business. Because you still have a body and you have to do all the transportation et cetera.

Yes, but that's your business.

Yes, you can arrange something.

And of course, the traditional funeral managers, they don't like a second party. They want to do everything on their own. It's easy, they don't have to think about it and they get money out of it.

But that's the difference: at our company, we're still open. And we have the experience of events. So we know how to do it. And we arrange it. And that's one of the big opportunities that we have. Against our colleagues. Because we have the experience.

Okay, Jan, thank you so much for coming over and sharing your insights in this particular industry.

Yes. You're welcome.

And you at home, thank you for watching our show, I hope to see you next week.