Home Online glasses Amazon vet hopes his business will become “the Warby Parker of the coffins”

Amazon vet hopes his business will become “the Warby Parker of the coffins”


These days, life is lived online. Learning. Go out together. Work and worship. So why not, at least to a small extent, die?

That’s part of the idea behind Titan Casket, a growing casket business co-founded by Bellevue residents Josh and Elizabeth Siegel. Josh Siegel, an Amazon alumnus, and Titan CEO Scott Ginsberg, a coffin industry veteran and another co-founder, hope to build what they describe as “the Warby Parker of the coffins,” a mattress Casper for that final rest.

“There was a real opportunity to disrupt an industry and help consumers,” says Josh Siegel, who spent 10 years with Amazon making sure the big, big-ticket items sold on the site got there on time.

“Funerals are changing,” he continues. “The generations who are planning funerals now, your Gen Xers and Millennials, expect to make decisions online.”

Over the past decade, direct-to-consumer businesses have undermined traditional industries that had not made the leap from the brick and mortar market to the online market. Warby Parker did it with glasses. Casper, Helix, and others have done the same with mattresses. Amazon, of course, started selling books online.

Titan, with four warehouses, claims to be Amazon’s largest casket supplier and the country’s largest direct-to-consumer casket maker. Ginsberg says the company offers a wider variety of caskets than most funeral homes – it’s a little giddy to remember a purple casket with a green interior that was recently shipped. The key differentiator, however, is cost.

Having been in the casket business for two decades, Ginsberg describes a system in which a handful of manufacturers and large funeral home chains defraud mourners. Although estimates vary, mark-ups between 200% and 500% on caskets are common in the industry. Although customers were permitted under federal law to purchase their own coffins, nearly all of the 1.5 million people buried in 2020 in the United States were buried in a coffin purchased by a funeral home.

In Washington state, consumer rights activists have been successful in pushing lawmakers to allow more funeral freedom. Home funerals, DIY caskets and, more recently, “green” burials in which a deceased person is buried without embalming or a concrete vault have all been legalized.

Still, Ginsberg says, the coffin costs are excessive.

“People are paying too much for their coffins, way too much,” he says. “And this industry hasn’t really changed in 100 years.”

The funeral industry – the suppliers, including casket makers and funeral home operators – has grown into a $ 20 billion a year business, according to industry estimates. But, while the death rate in the United States is expected to rise as the baby boom ages, incomes decline as more and more people choose cremation.

As of this year, the average cost of a funeral with a visitation, ceremony and burial was $ 7,848, according to a study conducted by the National Funeral Directors Association. (Cremation reduced that total by about $ 900.) The association’s estimates show that annual cost increases have not kept pace with inflation.

This does not mean that there is no money to be made. Hillenbrand’s Death Care Services branch, which has been estimated to controls 47% of the US casket market, generated $ 225 million in profit out of $ 623 million in revenue in 2021, according to the company’s latest annual report.

These profits, coupled with a consolidation trend that has moved hundreds of family funeral homes to corporate ownership, have led some to the view of Ginsberg and Josh Siegel – that bereaved are being robbed.

Dutch Nie sees his industry differently. Nie, a second-generation funeral home operator and treasurer of the National Funeral Directors Association, describes his work as service to the community. In his case, it’s Ann Arbor, Mich., Where he and the staff at Nie Family Funeral Home & Cremation Services, consisting of seven full-time employees, operate two funeral homes.

Selling coffins directly to consumers is not a threat to his business, Nie says. Costco has been selling caskets for over a decade and, Nie said, most funeral homes have prices tailored to their communities.

Nie is skeptical that online outfits can replace the basic service offered by funeral homes – bereavement and bereavement assistance. Growing up in the company he now inducts his sons into, Nie makes a distinction between the two.

“If you go through loss, you are going to grieve,” says Nie. “But grieving is a little different; it is the external expression of this grief that helps you go through the grieving process.

“Filling out online forms will deal with the disposition of the deceased. But it will not meet this human need.

At Titan Casket, Ginsberg and Josh Siegel argue that they’ve found a way to guide bereaved people through buying caskets, as Ginsberg puts it, “so they don’t let emotional loss turn into financial loss.” . Like Siegel’s former employer, they focus on prompt delivery and customer service while offering caskets at prices ranging from $ 699 to $ 2,499. Siegel says it works; the company has quadrupled in size over the past year.

“The way Amazon approaches any new business, there are a lot of lessons to be learned, starting from the customer,” says Siegel. “This philosophy is no longer limited to Amazon.”