by William Sampson
firstname.lastname@example.org NICHE MARKET
Efficiency and custom machines
aid casket manufacturer
New England Casket Co. uses technology and innovation to make
a high-end product in an increasingly competitive field.
The woodworking factory in East Boston, Massachusetts, has lots in common with big cabinet and furniture operations. There is a rough mill area dimensioning stock, CNC routers, moulders,
and a line of roller conveyors moving
product from manufacturing through
finishing and shipping. But it’s not furniture or case goods you see rolling by. It’s
finely made wooden caskets.
This is the New England Casket Co.,
an award-winning family-owned manu-
facturer that prides itself on efficiency
and quality in an increasingly competi-
tive arena. Through the use of custom
machinery and processes designed
to reduce production labor without
shortchanging product excellence, the
company has developed a strong national
business over 80 years and three genera-
tions. Part of its success is focusing on
markets that other casket manufacturers
might avoid, such as all-wood, no-metal
caskets for Orthodox Jewish funerals
and super high-end lacquered wooden
caskets for prestige funerals.
Custom, but quantity
Lou Tobia Jr., who is vice president of the
company and grandson of its founder,
explains that the wooden casket manufacturing industry represents a small segment of what he describes as the “death
care” industry. Trends toward cremation and metal caskets have cut into the
wooden casket market. Today, there are
1. 5 million casketed deaths annually in
the United States, which is down from
2 million just five years ago, Tobia said.
And of those, metal caskets account for
70 percent. Most casket manufacturers
are assembly-line operations, not inter-
ested in special orders. His competition
comes from three major U.S. manufac-
turers, some smaller outfits, and imports
from China. “We try to do the stuff those
guys don’t want to do,” said Tobia.
That includes making custom size caskets, such as wider than usual to accommodate bigger people. But at the same
time, the New England Casket Co. business model is selling to distributors who
stock caskets to sell to funeral homes.
When a funeral home needs a casket,
they need it right away, so Tobia works
with distributors to match their needs on
a timely basis, using its own small fleet of
three semi-trucks with tractor trailers to
deliver finished caskets to distributors.
Building wooden caskets is comparable
in many ways to building high-end
wood and upholstered furniture. The
company mills its own lumber, focusing on nine different species. From the
computerized rough mill, wood goes into
a sophisticated production system that
New England Casket Co. has three C.R. Onsrud CNC routers. They all feature custom fixtures for holding unusual shaped casket parts.