It’s been a busy month at J C Atkinson and we’ve recently returned from exhibiting at funeral shows in Boston and Paris. At both events, our new Pathway coffin drew a lot of interest and it got me thinking about how the role of the coffin in funerals is evolving and the appetite of international markets.
Stateside, funeral directors look after around 2 million ‘calls’ or deaths each year and the majority of these are burials, though cremations are on the rise. The custom generally is to use an American style casket, the type we import and use occasionally in the UK. These are crafted in metal or wood, detailed and polished to a fine finish. Our Pathway coffin converts well into a casket shape but here the detail is in the imagery and the story that tells, not the shape and surface. This is because what the Pathway does is to invite people in, draw them closer and celebrate the life contained within, rather than just the craftsmanship alone.
Introducing the Pathway to the US market at the NFDA Funeral show in Boston is a significant step, given the size of the market and its established custom but the Pathway is new and offers something no other coffin or casket design does; the opportunity for friends and family to collaborate in its design across its separate side and end panels, and possible the lid.
Explaining the ‘collaborative event’ of friends and families co-creating the Pathway in Boston was not without its challenges. Having visited the US and a number of funeral homes in previous years I’m aware of how traditional the US market is and that picture caskets have not really taken off. But it is this shared experience that makes the Pathway so special and different.
Anyone can design a panel from wherever they are in the world. Each guest uploads their contribution online, be that a simple picture, a montage, drawing or words. As a blank canvas, anything is possible and often each person invited to contribute won’t know what other guests have designed. Our in-house design team curates and tidies the designs, once received, and they are then shared with the funeral director and arranger for approval.
I believe funerals should have a special moment; I call it a ‘Spielberg moment’. We all recall the scene in ET when Elliot’s bike leaves the ground, or the moment Jaws attacks the boat, these are truly memorable and unexpected events which make the film great. A funeral, with a personal and significant moment is also special and as such will be greatly valued. The Pathway is one way which we can facilitate this. Imagine the family and guests, as they gather, having not seen one another’s contribution. The Pathway enters and is viewed for the first time together, each member taking time to see their own contribution and the other seven, passing comments on the panels, interacting and remembering the depicted events and the life of the person within.
At the show in Boston (the significance of the city to British and US History most will know), we mirrored this Spielberg effect by displaying a casket with pictures of significant US events and landmarks. It proved an excellent talking point and a great opener for conversation. I took the opportunity to let them know their independence won from the British was merely temporary and we would be back; the humour flowed and was good-natured, our exchanges warm and convivial and all I talked to understood that the Pathway offered more than a picture casket.
Our conversations were not limited to the US, the show had many international visitors and we secured leads in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Nigeria and Ireland. Boston is a beautiful vibrant city, it was autumn, or ‘Fall’ as they call it and the trees with their fantastic golden browns glistened in the seasonally low sun. Not as impressive as the Lake District of course, but a close second! We look forward to returning to the US next year, and progressing the business further.
Julian M Atkinson
Hollywood in Boston – marrying drama with tradition