What is the Current State of the Funeral Home Industry? An Interview with Glenda Sheffield, Part One

A funeral home director offers her thoughts about the funeral home industry and its changing landscape

Today SevenPonds speaks with Glenda Sheffield. She is the founder, owner and Senior Director of Sheffield Funeral Home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She has been in the funeral home business in one capacity or another for more than 30 years. Included are her insights into the business, particularly how the industry has changed since she has been involved and new directions the industry is headed in.

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Credit: gsheffieldfuneralhome.com

Lucas: How did you come to own your own funeral home?

Glenda Sheffield: Before I owned a funeral home, I worked in the industry for over 20 years. I initially thought about becoming involved when I was in junior high. Back when I started, I wanted a job where I would be relatively safe from getting laid off. Eventually, I got knowledgeable enough that I wanted to become a supervisor. And then, when I felt confident in my skills, I began searching for funeral homes that I could purchase. When I eventually found the space where my company is now, I learned that my former boss was good friends with the owner at the time, and I got into contact with her about purchasing it. I’ve owned it since 2002.

Lucas: I know many funeral homes in this country are family-run operations as opposed to corporate entities. I’ve always had this vision of a funeral home being “the family business.” Is your funeral home family-operated?

Glenda: The short answer is no. I really started it by myself. Very rarely do I have family members help out. I currently have three part-time employees. That being said, most funeral homes are indeed family-run. They are generally passed down from generation to generation. A person’s grandfather may have started it, and just stays in the family.

Lucas: My guess is that people generally prefer these smaller, family-style funeral homes. Have corporations tried to buy you out?

Glenda: People definitely prefer the smaller, family-run businesses. Corporations are colder, and their prices are higher. They are more about the money than about helping the family. And they really have no compassion. Family businesses are much more connected to the community and all.

To answer your question, no, corporations have not tried to buy me out. My business is too small to gauge the interest of the bigger companies. They usually go after the larger funeral homes, ones that do hundreds of funerals a year. I do about 55-60 funerals and cremations a year.

Lucas: What’s the biggest way the industry has changed since you started?

Glenda: I would say the biggest difference is that more and more people are changing over to cremations. Traditional burials involving body preparation, funeral service, casket, etc. can be very expensive, and a lot of people just don’t have the money anymore.

Lucas: How often do people come to you to pre-plan their own funeral?

Glenda: It is very common. In fact, I just had five people come to me to pre-plan in the past week. Generally, it’s people who are terminally ill and want to make it a smoother, easier transition for their family. I really try to encourage pre-arrangements. It depends on the person though, whether they want to pre-plan or not. Some people think that if they make these arrangements they will die right away, or they really don’t even want to think about it. Lots of people don’t want to be reminded of anything unpleasant. The ones who are interested in pre-planning are more realistic about it, in that they are accepting of what is going to happen and aren’t afraid to confront their mortality.

Photo of a green burial

Biodegradable casket
(Credit: environmentalecho.com)

Lucas: I know that a lot of people around the world are really pushing for green burials these days. For our readers who don’t know, what is a “green” burial?

Glenda: A green burial is one that uses environmentally-friendly materials throughout the entire process. It’s about harming the environment as little as possible, perhaps even benefiting the earth. The materials used for both the caskets and urns are biodegradable. We don’t put concrete or metals into the earth or use chemicals like formaldehyde. The website FinalFootprint.com offers many green funeral products. The site has numerous photos so you can get a good idea of what the products look like.

Lucas: Do many people know about green burials?

Glenda: From my experience, not so much. I never have people come to me regarding green burials. That’s one thing that I really want to do for the community: I always try to let people know about green burials and cremations. What they are, why it is an important new development in the mortuary world, and so forth. It’s not that people aren’t interested, it’s just that they don’t even know it is a thing. I will try to mention it when I talk at churches and other community gatherings, and when families come to put together a burial or crematory service.

Check back next week for Part Two of our interview with Glenda Sheffield, in which she talks further about green burials, as well as new developments for her funeral home that are coming for the new year.

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