Big Business of Cemeteries
Cemeteries and the Funeral Rule
Cemetery Marketing Tricks
Resolving Disputes with Cemeteries
Famous Memorial Buildings
The “Big Two” Grave Marker Manufacturing Companies
Grave Marker Installation Games
Assuring Good Care for Grave Markers
Watching Out for the Consumer
Purchasing Grave Markers in Maryland
Shopping Tips for Memorials
The Cemetery & Funeral Industry
Does the Funeral Rule Cover Cemeteries
Headstone Manufacturing Process
The “Big Two” Grave Marker Manufacturing Companies
Industry is More Than Meets The Eye
At first glance, it may seem that the making of grave markers in the United States has resisted the trend toward consolidation that has all-but killed the small, “independent” proprietor in many of the country’s other industries. Family run monument makers abound; industry groups estimate there are more than 9,000 of them across the country. And, whether they sell directly to the public or operate as whole sellers, these establishments continue to be most suitable for customers wanting heavily customized markers. Hiring a small local company continues to be, almost always, the most effective and inexpensive way to build a large, meticulously designed grave marker.
But that’s just part of the story of America’s grave marker industry.
Many people today are not necessarily interested in large, meticulously designed grave markers. Further, many cemeteries today discourage them because, well, mowing the grass around them can be laborious. Consequentially, the most popular grave markers today are relatively small, simple, and flush to the ground. These types of markers lend themselves to national companies who can take orders via the internet or telephone and deliver in a few weeks to just about any cemetery in the country. These companies simply offer a selection of ready-made designs, and customers seem to like them despite the minimal customization available.
This is where what we call the “Big Two” grave marker manufacturing companies come in.
Matthews International based in Pennsylvania is one of the largest death care wholesalers in the United States, and it is the nation’s largest supplier of these flush to the ground headstones. Granit-Bronz, an offshoot of Minnesota’s Cold Spring Granite Company, is the second largest maker. If you are considering buying a flush-to-the-ground granite marker with a bronze plaque, chances are strong that you are considering a product from one of these companies.
Memorials.com, the company responsible for this site, sells grave markers made by Granit-Bronz. As with other on-line retailers, we sell Granit-Bronz markers exclusively, but that is neither by our choice nor at the request of Granit-Bronz. Simply put, Matthews International will not allow us or any other establishment that is not a cemetery or licensed funeral home to offer their markers. In general, the only way for the public to buy a Matthews grave marker is through a cemetery or funeral home.
The Matthews policy of refusing to sell to on-line dealers and other retailers has less to do with quality control than the company will probably admit. Selling grave markers requires no technical expertise and, in fact, most funeral homes and cemeteries will probably be hard pressed to have someone on their staff more knowledgeable about simple bronze on granite markers than any other retailer. No, the reason for the policy probably has to do, mostly, with industry tradition. Matthews prides itself on having been a whole seller to funeral homes and cemeteries for at least 100 years, and, for many of those decades, its customers became used to having monopoly-like control of the industry. For much of the 20th century, cemeteries and funeral homes kept their retail prices artificially high by requiring their customers to purchase items such as grave markers, urns and caskets directly from them. When federal laws changed forcing funeral homes and cemeteries to allow customers to buy some products from competitors, Matthews’ customers were not keen to change their ways. They quickly found that, while they could no longer legally pressure their customers to pay their inflated prices, they could simply – and legally -- apply the pressure to Matthews instead. Matthews’ leaders undoubtedly understood that, despite the new laws, if they chose to sell their products to establishments that are not funeral homes or cemeteries, they would likely lose their traditional clientele. That was the industry’s attempt at keeping competitors effectively shut out of the industry.
Granit-Bronz, meanwhile, does not owe its history to the death care industry. Its parent company established itself as a provider of granite for construction materials and other such uses well before the company delved into making grave markers. Accordingly, Granit-Bronz is not so vulnerable to threats of boycotts from funeral homes and cemeteries if it chooses to sell to competitors – which it does, of course.
Today, while Matthews remains the largest national wholesaler of grave markers, Granit-Bronz is its toughest competition. And, ironically, many cemeteries and grave markers have even begun to offer Granit-Bronz markers to their customers.
To date, Memorials.com has found no other reliable companies that have set up systems for selling simple bronze-on-granite markers nationally. To be sure, when such a company comes forward, it will certainly find an active market and it may even help drive prices lower by inspiring Matthews to change its policy about selling only to “authorized” dealers.