In death, as in life, baby boomers want to do it their way. And the death industry is gearing up to meet this demand as the generation that bucked authority customizes how it dies.
Boomers, who never lost their youthful taste for rebellion, want to control every detail of their "stairway to heaven" up to and including buying "pre-need funerals" to prepare for the inevitable. The industry also is responding by consolidating to take advantage of economies of scale as boomers age.
"If you look at the boomers, they've sort of changed everything as they've moved along the consumer spectrum," said Clint Fendley, analyst at Davenport & Company LLC.
"We're personalizing everything," said Nathan Smith, founder and president of 'Til We Meet Again, a custom casket and urn company. Smith opened his flagship store in Wichita, Kan., three years ago. Today, he has four stores around the country and franchise agreements for more than a dozen others. "There is such a huge demand for this product," he said. "The baby boomers are driving this."
Smith said the extent of personalization can be significant. One customer, a "self-professed hippie that was stuck in the '60s" ordered a casket with an exterior that looked tie-dyed, Smith said.
For this "born to be wild" generation, Smith said motorcycle-themed items are popular. "We have urns that look like motorcycle gas tanks we can custom paint to match their bikes," he said. "We've done a lot of caskets with hot rod flames or painting them to match the bike."
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Smith has licensing agreements with entities ranging from pro sports teams to Orange County Choppers to the Vatican.