Even now, in early 2009, the entrepreneurs are still at it; confident that if they can just come up with the winning idea, they can hit it big. Just after the turn of the year, I received the proposal below. It came from one Bill Valentine, a rounder I knew in Minneapolis, back in the day. It came in an envelope with a sticky-gooey label so I know it was a mass mailing to everyone he could think of. Perhaps you’d like to invest?
Off-shoring, outsourcing, downsizing, and all the rest of the corporate gyrations we see today can only mean one thing; the end of remunerative work as we knew it. Consequently, I’ve been tossing and turning, trying to think of something I might do to better my situation without having to crawl into an office where I would earn my pay by kissing the fat, fleshy behinds of my superiors.
What follows is a business plan for a sure-fire enterprise that can neither be off-shored nor usurped by the H1-B crowd. What is it, you ask? This: A nation-wide chain of crematoria catering to the lower economic stratum – a cadre whose numbers, as the news attests, grows by the day. As the ranks of the baby boomers age and swell, and as their retirement funds are ravaged by the tanking economy, a burgeoning number will be unable to afford the traditional casket, embalming service and plot. What to do? What to do?
Why, incinerate the bodies, of course! Cremation at once does away with the traditional high priced funeral, with its garish trappings, dismal organ music and cloying floral stink. Under my plan, indigents, borderline paupers and the naturally thrifty will be able to dispose of their dearly departed with minimal expense – highly desirable in these uncertain times. As death is inevitable, and another Depression seems inevitable as well, there is a desperate need for cheap, reliable disposal of human bodies. With the plan outlined below, we have a way to fill that need.
Our company will be called Loving Flames and for only $399.95 (plus tax), we’ll pick up the cadaver, provide a tasteful shroud and a paper mache “casket” with the company logo pressed into the top, deliver it to our facilities, burn it up, grind the leftover hunks of burnt bone and ship off these cremains (i.e. “ashes”) by UPS Ground to any address in the USA.
Our initial plant (crematorium) will be sited in south Minneapolis, an area where land is cheap. And as poverty is chronic in those parts, it will not only providing us with a customer base that’s close at hand, but a labor supply as well.
How it works. To make this low-end business stunningly profitable, I propose Loving Flames use innovative, state-of-the-art technologies as well as a sophisticated marketing program, and plain old common sense. Let us examine each phase of Loving Flames’ funerary service.
First, the pick up and delivery. As for the hearse, I see no reason to blow a lot of money on a Caddie. A good low-end station wagon will do just fine, so long as it’s black. As most automobile designs remain unchanged for several years running, we can buy less-costly used vehicles and no one will ever know.
Freddy Farquart, MBA, our vice-president of marketing, says we’ll want people to know it’s Loving Flames that’s coming down the street so he plans to install a gas jet in lieu of the wagon’s hood ornament (the tank of propane resides in the passenger’s side foot well). When the Loving Flames driver turns onto the customer’s block, the jet is ignited and left burning until the body has been picked up and he or she has driven out of sight. Also, as rigor mortise can be a problem if the decedent expired with arms and legs akimbo, we’ll equip each wagon with stout straps and a come-along.
The crematorium. Because we anticipate a high volume of business, an old under-utilized warehouse would be an ideal site. Redecoration and revamping would include:
• A 2-oven retort (“retort” is the industry’s name for “oven”) employing fluidized-bed technology. With 2 retorts, production can be maintained at a P.01 grade of service, a demand that will be generated by our aggressive marketing campaigns (more on this later).
A fluidized bed is not only fast (ten minutes per cadaver) it’s highly economical. Once the “fluid” (a stream of ground-up cadaver tissue) has been ignited, forced air is all that’s required to keep things going. What’s more, our fluidized bed technology will prevent all the greasy black smoke produced by conventional retorts, smoke that must either be re-burnt in a thing similar to a catalytic converter (and at great cost in fuel!), or released to the atmosphere, causing enormous P.R. problems in the community. To ice the cake, a fluidized bed doesn’t need expensive natural gas, as do conventional retorts. Indeed, a fluidized bed retort can initiate the burn with inexpensive bunker oil and still not stink up the place.
Moreover, because the cadavers are being introduced to the retort as a “fluid” via a small nozzle, the combustion chamber is quite small – no larger than a Weber Bar-BQ grill. Thanks to this small size, the retort can be maintained at high standby temperatures, much the way a pizza oven is kept warm overnight. Not having to heat and cool the retort between cadavers will provide tremendous economies of scale in speed and fuel consumption.
• A cryogenic tank in which to immerse and solidify the bodies. We are in the process of conducting a cost/benefit analysis to see which cryogen is best for our purposes. So far, liquid nitrogen holds the edge but final results won’t be available for another week or so.
• A rotary crusher to reduce the frozen bodies to particles suitable for our fluidized bed retort. Our engineers say particles the size of Kitty-Litter granules should do just fine.
In operation, we must do our best to prevent co-mingling of cremains (a.k.a. “ashes”) as there are some legal problems if we don’t. But again, not a problem! The soft stuff will have already gone up the chimney during the burn, so all we really have to deal with are the calcified residues of the cadavers’ bones. To do this, we stop the retort’s air jets for a few seconds and the cremains will fall to the bottom as fine dust; their removal will be much like scraping clinkers out of a steam engine’s fire box.
After cooling for a few minutes, the cremains can be safely placed in a small paper mache box, again with Loving Flames’ logo watermarked on the lid and the decedent’s name burned in below it with a laser. A call to the UPS man, and the decadent is on his or her way back home.
I can say with confidence that, thanks to our revolutionary process, if Loving Flames can pickup the stiff before 10:00 A.M., we can ship out the cremains by the Post Office’s 5:00 P.M. closing time. That’s less than a one day turnaround; something unheard of in the funeral industry.
Marketing, marketing, marketing. What can I say; history is replete with junk that captured the market, thanks to overwhelming superiority in marketing strategies and tactics – just look at IBM. There are several facets to Loving Flames’ plan:
• Franchising. It worked like gangbusters for Mickey D’s, didn’t it? It sure did. And it also worked for Midas Mufflers, Snap-On Tools and a whole bunch of other American success stories. And don’t forget Amway!
To ensure a quality operation, we are retaining T. Jefferson Snodgrass, the whiz from Hamburger U, as principal architect. He is so confident of this plan that he has agreed to work for a fee of $1.00, plus expenses during startup. He does want, as you might expect, a good bite of the action once we start rolling.
• Contracts. The key to keeping our revenues rolling in on a reliable basis is keeping our retorts going full blast. Our base load of cadavers will come from the offices of municipal and county medical examiners. In a city the size of Minneapolis, the M.E. churns through a good six stiffs each day. These are bums who died in the gutters, indigents who shuffled off their mortal coils in the charity wards of city hospitals, unclaimed victims of traffic wrecks and other unwanted and unmourned souls. In addition, many jurisdictions mandate the proper cremation of excised and amputated body parts; hospitals are not free to simply toss them in the incinerator.
To make Loving Flames the crematorium of choice, our corporate business agents (salesmen) will take care of the whole licensing thing on behalf of our franchisees. Because corporate will have the deeper pockets, we can see to suitable emoluments for the city/county contracting officers are untraceable.
• Building the buzz. For this we plan to retain J. Walter Turdson & Co., the country’s foremost P.R. flack. Their initial thoughts are to make strategic postings in the chat rooms of selected church websites and get on local talk shoes. More detailed plans will be made once we put them on the clock.
• And let’s not forget the internet. JWT will build a dynamite website for Loving Flames that includes a price comparison sheet to help the bereaved make the proper decision. The website will also include an on-line order form through Pay-Pal.
• Late night TV ads. If you’ve ever had anyone close to you kick the bucket, you know sleep does not come easy those final days of a lingering illness – which is precisely the time funerary decisions are being made. Finding someone like the late Mel Jass, who can do live commercials and be simpatico with the lower echelons is crucial. We haven’t found this guy yet, but we’re looking.
• Networking. For example, cross marketing with Purple Cross. Also, making charitable donations to houses of worship in the depressed central cities and impoverished rural communities.
• Going upscale. Some people will always want to spend a fortune on funeral services, and we need to accommodate them. Once we pound the competition into the ground, we can cherry-pick the best ones from the bankruptcy court and roll their operations into the corporation. Car dealers and banks do this shit all the time.
Startup costs and finance. Walter T. Brownlick, JD, MBA, CPA, and alumnus of three Deepak Chopra seminars, has examined our plan and estimates the startup costs to run $2.6M, ± $500k. He agrees that once the Minneapolis pilot operation in underway and has proven itself, revenues will roll in:
• With only three cadavers/day, gross receipts will be $437,950/year. According to Dr. Brownlick, a Loving Flames operation breaks even at only two stiffs/day. Anything over this minimum will be gravy.
• As to franchising fees, we should easily suck fifteen percent out of our franchisees. Dr. Brownlick asserts that, at this percentage, it will take only six franchisees to make the operation a going concern. Again, anything over this minimum is gravy.
• The IPO. Once we start raking it in, the Street will be slavering for a bite and that will be the time to float some stock. (Hey, guys, it’s never too early to visit your local Mercedes dealer and take a squint at a new S-model.)
Though I seem to be in a minority here, I anticipate a lot of push-back from established crematoria and funeral parlors. If I’m right, we need to set up an ample slush fund going in. This fund will be used to bribe state regulators and legislators and will be far more generous (and therefor more effective) than those paid by our complacent competitors.
Summary. For the mere bagatelle of $2.6 million, the Loving Flames model provides a path to wealth beyond our wildest dreams of avarice. To find out more, call 612-688-1313 and ask for Mr. Valentine.