Dying for Dollars

As the death-care industry booms and consolidates, Houston's Service Corporation International is leading the way

Maybe that's why SCI and the other consolidators are so profitable: they have tapped into a social tradition that requires a certain image. Just as at weddings, where families want to project an image of prosperity, no one wants to hold a cheap-looking funeral. Mix that desire with inevitable feelings of guilt that prompt the bereaved consumers to spend freely, and you have a business recipe for assured profitability.

Thus, as the local bank, grocery, hotel and bookstore have been taken over by out-of-town chains with little or no connection to the local community, the locally owned funeral home may, in the long run, become another anachronism. Just as birth has been moved out of the familiar confines of the home into the sterile (in both senses of the term) hospital environment, death may also be falling into the hands of the corporations.

The shareholders of SCI couldn't be happier.

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