Bloomberg Business Week
October 24, 2013
In the death-care industry, as practitioners call it, SCI casts a long shadow. Based in Houston and publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange (NYX), it operates more than 1,800 funeral homes and cemeteries in the U.S. and Canada. It has 20,000 employees and a market capitalization of $4 billion. For 40 years, SCI has gobbled competitors as the pioneer consolidator of a fragmented industry. Although it has overreached at times, suffering a corporate near-death experience after a late-1990s debt binge, SCI is hungry once again.
“This summer they bought the Quattlebaums,” Zahn says, referring to an established family-owned funeral home catering to the Palm Beach elite. With that acquisition, SCI controls 8 of the 14 businesses Zahn considers rivals. “Then,” he adds, “there’s the Stewart deal.”
“The SCI-Stewart deal may make sense at the corporate and Wall Street level,” says Mark Duffey, Everest’s chief executive officer, “but it’s not necessarily good news for consumers.”
SCI is already too big for its own—or its customers’—good, argues Josh Slocum, executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, a nonprofit in South Burlington, Vt. The chain, he adds, generates “more consumer complaints than any other company we hear about.” SCI has also faced accusations over the years of shoddy cemetery practices that show disrespect for the departed. In a class action scheduled to go to trial in Los Angeles in November, plaintiffs allege that out of eagerness to jam too many coffins into a crowded memorial park, SCI employees damaged and desecrated existing graves.