Operations

Funeral Transportation Becomes More Nuanced

Tom Halligan
Posted on April 15, 2016

Alpha Limousine’s fleet of white stretches is often requested for minority funerals.
Alpha Limousine’s fleet of white stretches is often requested for minority funerals.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Alpha Limousine owner Terry Kurmay joked that Florida is the land of “newlyweds and the nearly dead.” Fortunately for Kurmay, he’s tapped into a lucrative niche that keeps his fleet of white stretch limousines booked solid for weddings and funerals.

Ethnic Variation
Serving West Central Florida since 1983, Kurmay has honed relationships with regional funeral directors who specifically need white limousines often requested for ethnic minority funerals. In many African American communities, and among other ethnic groups, funerals are celebrated as joyous occasions with white limousines the preferred color for the service. Increasingly, funeral home operators outsource transportation services rather than incur the cost of owning and maintaining a fleet that sits idle most of the week.

Kurmay, who has established partnerships with funeral homes throughout the St. Petersburg-Tampa Bay region, maintains a modern fleet of white stretch limousines that often do double-, even triple-duty on Saturdays.

“Our white stretches go out around 8 a.m. for funerals and in the evening they are used for night outs,” he says. “Often, we may have one stretch do a funeral in the morning and another in the afternoon, then bring it in for a refresh, and send it back out again in the evening for an event or nightlife booking. They keep our chauffeurs busy working 10-12 hour days and the vehicles pay for themselves.”

In addition to white or black stretches being used for funerals, depending on the ethnic or religious connotation of the deceased and family, funeral directors also outsource for sedan, van and mini- bus services to transport funeral staff, relatives and friends to the service, cemetery and luncheon.

“We even use a white Hummer stretch that seats 18 people, and people are fine with that,” Kurmay says. “A funeral is a conservative business and you have to be respectful and work with the staff to take care of the family.”

Terry Kurmay says his white stretches can be on the road all day doing multiple funerals and weddings.
Terry Kurmay says his white stretches can be on the road all day doing multiple funerals and weddings.
Stiff Competition
Kurmay notes the funeral transportation business can be highly competitive. He charges an hourly rate based on a three-hour minimum. “Sometimes, if it’s a military funeral, or a policeman killed in the line of duty or even a child, the funeral can take five to six hours.”

Although Kurmay’s business is 65% corporate, the funeral business generates consistent revenue and also drives affiliate and customer referral work for other transportation services. “We have established relationships with funeral directors over the years and they’ll refer us to other funeral directors who need transportation services and family members will call us for transportation, like an airport run, because they know we provided good service at the funeral.”

Because most funeral homes are family-run operations, Kurmay and his staff market their funeral services to new funeral directors, which has resulted in new business deeper into central Florida.

The trend among funeral homes is to outsource all transportation services, says funeral director Stephen Kemp.
The trend among funeral homes is to outsource all transportation services, says funeral director Stephen Kemp.
All In Black & White
Stephen Kemp, president of Haley Funeral Directors in Southfield, Mich., has seen the industry change over the decades, especially transportation. In the 1960s and 1970s, many minority funeral homes would have their own fleet colors — some would be gold over white, black over white, navy blue, and even one was robin egg blue. But that’s all changed. Today, funeral services are less elaborate, and there are more cremations, with exclusive use of black or white limousines. “In fact, today we serve more as event planners for the family to facilitate everything from transportation, the luncheon and special requests,” he says.

It’s also important for limousine operators seeking to get into the funeral transportation business to understand different cultures and customs, and special requests to provide personal service. For example, in the Detroit metro region, Kemp says he serves numerous ethic groups, including the Latvian, Lithuanian, Nigerian (Ibo, Yoruba, Urhoba, Hausa-Fulani and other tribes), Hmong and Vietnamese, Jamaican, Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese speaking), and Filipino communities, as well as others.

Like many funeral directors nationwide, the trend is to outsource all funeral transportation. “A firm like ours that does 250 services, I rent because I don’t see the need to own limousines, sedans, or even a hearse. When I look at the books, it’s a colossal waste of money to own a fleet and see it sit in the parking lot.”

Kemp, who also sits on the board of directors of the National Funeral Directors Association, explains the general rule in the industry is when a funeral home performs about 300 services a year, that’s the point to purchase a hearse. “The big operations that perform more than 1,000 services, they have a fleet of hearses and limousines.” Another reason to outsource transportation to limousine companies is he can count on providing professional chauffeurs and new and reliable vehicles to serve his clients.

Venerable Vans
In addition to stretches and sedans, Kemp is seeing more directors use limo buses and Sprinters to transport both the casket and the family, especially if the funeral caravan has to travel out of state for the burial.

“That’s really efficient, and at our last convention there were Sprinters converted to carry the casket below the seating area, so they all ride together. They’ll have a bar, flat-screen TV and DVD, and snacks to make the journey more pleasant and comfortable.”

Operators who have cash-flow issues, take note. Kemp says he also contracts out transportation services for picking up the recently departed to transport to the funeral home for around $200, which is paid by the family upfront.

Related Topics: business opportunities, funeral business, funeral vehicles, special events

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