Leap Of Faith

Planning your funeral -- or somebody else's -- is becoming more comfortable

Arranging a burial is never pleasant, but fourth-generation funeral director Arthur O. Phaneuf is making it easier. In 2003, the owner of Phaneuf Funeral Homes & Crematorium and the Cremation Society of New Hampshire, both in Manchester, began selling cremations online. "We had a Web site, all our prices were online, and people were calling us after they saw what we offered," says Phaneuf, who runs the companies with his sister, Michele Phaneuf-Plasz. "Then we said, 'Why not let them buy cremations online?' I was willing to take a leap of faith."

Now Phaneuf, a former consultant with Deloitte & Touche, is a true believer. Online sales counted for $220,000 of the Cremation Society's 2004 revenues of $2 million. In the first half of 2005, the Cremation Society's Web site, www.csnh.com, generated an average of $15,000 a month. "There are lots of people out there who don't want to come into a funeral home and would rather handle these things in the comfort of their own homes," says Phaneuf.

Phaneuf estimates he has spent about $20,000 to upgrade the Cremation Society site to handle e-commerce. Annual costs run about $2,500 to a Web developer, plus about $5,000 to a local technology company for maintenance and to expand disk space to handle the orders. He spent $10,000 to train his 10 full-time and 10 part-time staff to use the site, and about 80 hours working with developers and designers. Next up: A site upgrade that will automatically ask customers if they need flowers or an urn when planning a cremation. "People wonder if you can really do e-commerce in our industry," Phaneuf says. He's proving that you can.

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