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Death Becomes Him

A new funeral home tries to start a price war.

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You can’t cheat death, but with funeral director David Keller’s help, you might be able to cheat some of the cost associated with dying.

Keller’s dream is to see affordable funeral costs across the city. Last week, he opened High Point Funeral Chapel on Summer Avenue, claiming the lowest prices in town. He hopes his prices will force the competition to lower theirs.

“Funeral service has gone to extreme greed,” said Keller, who expanded his business from a mortuary removal service to a full-service funeral home. “I pay the same thing for dry cleaning and vehicles as [the corporations] do, but I don’t have someone sitting fat and happy in Houston or Canada to please. All our money stays local.”

The city’s largest funeral home, Memphis Funeral Home, is owned by Service Corporation International (SCI) out of Houston. Memorial Park Funeral Home on Poplar is owned by Canada-based Loewen Group. Besides the new High Point Funeral Chapel, the only white family-owned funeral home is Canale Funeral Directors. Most black funeral homes are still family owned.

In an interview with the Flyer in 2003, E.C. Daves, president of Memphis Funeral Home, said corporate funeral homes could offer lower prices because they have “strength in size.”

“It’s just like the average independent can’t bring Wal-Mart prices,” Daves said at the time.

Daves would not offer comment for this story. Managers at Memorial Park Funeral Home also declined comment, stating that “it would be against company policy to comment.”

But Keller disagrees with Daves’ high-volume, low-price theory. After several years running Mid-South Mortuary and Removal Service, he was given an inside look at what corporations were charging compared to their costs. For instance, Keller charged $90 to remove a body, but the funeral homes sometimes charged customers up to $300 for that service alone.

Now that he’s in the full-service funeral business, Keller says he’s lowered prices as far as he can and still turn a profit to pay his employees, who also happen to be his closest friends.

Family Funeral Care, which is owned by SCI, claimed the lowest prices until High Point opened. For a basic funeral without embalming, a chapel service, or a vault, Family Funeral Care charges $3,630. For the same services, High Point charges $2,400. The national average is somewhere around $6,000, according to the National Funeral Directors Association.

“We do want to be profitable like any good business, but we aren’t going to take the cake and the ice cream too,” says High Point’s marketing manager Shane McElveen.

Keller also hopes to encourage community involvement in funeral homes. High Point is planning an annual candlelight Christmas ceremony, Santa Claus visits for kids, and an Easter service. On July 31st, they’re hosting a grand opening with live music and a $5,000 funeral giveaway.

“Some people may think it’s macabre to bring life events into the funeral home, but I think it’s our job to celebrate life,” said Keller. “I want the funeral home to be a pleasant experience.” 

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