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It's true that we offer continuous food and beverage service in our ICFA Convention Expo Hall, but if what you really want out of a funeral and cemetery show is a great meal, go to France. I spent several hours at Funéraire 2005, which took place in Paris in November, and I still can't get over how much eating and drinking and socializing went on. At one point, it was 11 a.m. and someone was offering me a glass of wine!
But that's just how they do business. Companies devote almost as much floor space to their food service section as to their merchandise. Some of the exhibits look like restaurants. People spend a lot of time at each booth and it looks like a lot of relationship building goes on—if you speak French, which I don't.
I met a man from a funeral service company in New Jersey who handles a lot of international shipping—repatriations—and was there to develop relationships with Europeans in the funeral business.
Funéraire is different from the expositions put on by the ICFA or NFDA. It seems to be an event held independent of any group, though there were seminars.
I had talked to Dave Jones from Matthews Bronze before I went, and he put me in touch with a woman who would be at the Matthews exhibit at Funéraire. She walked around with me and helped translate when I wanted to ask questions about a product.
The exhibits are geared for the European market (obviously), so even though I found the show interesting, there weren't many products I wanted to buy.
I did find some reliqueries—which is a new term for me. They are miniature bronze pieces that hold a little bit of cremated remains or some hair, and they're works of art, created by the lost wax method. The company has a distributor in Montreal, so I bought about a dozen for my funeral homes to see how they'll be received.
I had never seen anything like these reliqueries in the United States, and of course that was the reason I went to this show, to try to find something new to bring back to my business.
The caskets I saw were very traditional in shape and form for the most part. They are smaller and narrower than the ones in the United States—Europeans are smaller than Americans overall.
Cremation is popular, and Europeans seem to be questioning the value of funerals. I talked to a woman from Italy who said this is happening there. I was surprised to hear that, because in the United States, Italians are seen as very much into the traditional funeral. She said it's an economic issue that Italy became a poorer country when the switch to the euro was made, and people now have less money to spend on funerals.
Tips for getting more out of a 'foreign' show
My brief visit to Funéraire 2005 was worth the trip—it certainly was educational—but it could have been better. My advice for anyone considering attending a funeral and cemetery exposition in another country:
• Allow plenty of time, which I didn’t do—going was a spur-of-the-moment decision made after I found out there was no Funéraire 2006 (it's held every other year). I spent 48 hours in Paris and was probably in the expo hall a total of about eight hours.
Something like this will probably be a once in-a-lifetime trip, so plan carefully.
• Try to go with someone who can speak the language. Unlike Americans, most Europeans can speak two or three languages, but that doesn't mean most of them speak English. The show was interesting, but I felt like a bit of an outsider. Most of the materials were in French. So even if you had a simple question, the language barrier was a real issue.
• Don't go with too many expectations, especially of finding a lot of products you'll be able to use at your funeral home or cemetery here in the United States. I was hoping I'd be able to find a number of products I'd be able to sell in New York, and I was disappointed.
A lot of the companies I saw don't do business in the United States, or if they do (Biendan, for example), we already see them at American shows. I talked to one guy about an urn I liked and he said he could ship it to the United States if I would order 900. I don't need 900 copies of one urn!
I got lucky, though. Trifac, the one company I found that had something I really wanted—very nice bronze miniatures—distributes out of Montreal.
I do think as long as your expectations are realistic, it's worth a visit to Funéraire or any show you haven't been to before. I probably won't return unless I happen to be in France at the time, but I am planning to attend an exposition in England in 2007.
You never know when you're going to find something new. Very rarely does something new find its way to your door—you need to get out and look.