Download PDF version (153k) The full article is available as a free PDF document.
For the past 83 years, four generations of McQuestions and their caring employees have helped grieving Milwaukee-area families by being on time and offering a product that protects their loved ones in secure and durable concrete. Concrete burial vault producers must be ready every day. To the McQuestions and more than 600 other concrete burial vault producers in the United States, trends in today's attitude toward death have created a future of challenges and opportunities. Traditionally the burial-vault industry has been a profitable one consisting of family-operated producers calling on locally owned funeral homes and cemeteries to offer onsite service and quality products. But vault producers can see change lurking in their future. First, there's a potentially diminishing market for caskets due to changes in religious and cultural practices. Then there's the upheaval occurring in vault producers' traditional client base due to nationwide consolidation of funeral-home ownership as well as a new skirmish in the perpetual jurisdictional battle between cemetery owners and funeral directors. Even with these concerns, the industry is alive and strong. Local producers have formed strong trademarked, nationwide marketing alliances offering products to meet the ever-changing public attitude. The National Concrete Burial Vault Association has continued its strong national promotion of concrete as the vault material of choice, supported by the vault certification program. An increasing number of deaths, however, does not suggest a parallel increase in traditional burials or resulting vault sales. Cremation is gaining acceptance. Vault producers have responded by offering funeral directors new products such as precast concrete urn vaults that protect cremation urns. The image of concrete's strength provides grieving family members peace of mind that remains are protected. By the 1820s several generations had filled local church or municipal cemeteries creating a need for more and larger public or non-sectarian cemeteries. While helping the funeral business to grow, the expansion also opened the door to fraud. To eliminate health problems and to protect consumers and businesses alike, state legislatures enacted statutes governing burials. Over time, these rules and regulations separated functions of cemeteries and funeral directors and helped establish the working relationship between the two groups. The regulations also helped concrete burial vault manufacturers identify their customers. Many large corporations are now buying funeral parlors and cemeteries. Local cemeteries trying to avoid acquisition are supplementing their income by assuming more of the offerings traditionally handled by the funeral director, including selling concrete burial vaults and gravesite services. One way vault producers avoid the conflict is by rising above it. Through their national marketing alliances, vault producers offer much more than plain concrete. Producers offer a range of vault styles allowing families to choose how to honor their departed. This article also explains why cemeteries require burial vaults, how vaults are produced and tested for strength, and a mortuary glossary. Keywords: burial, vault, NCBVA, Lake Shore, Charleston Trigard, Doric, Eagle Burial Vault