- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Bulk shredded cheese — check. Windex concentrate — check. Box set of “Harry Potter” books — check. Coffin — check.

Costco Wholesale has started selling coffins and discounted funeral services, giving new meaning to the phrase “one-stop shopping.”

Costco, an Issaquah, Wash.-based wholesaler, on Monday began test-marketing coffins in two stores near Chicago.

One was sold as of Wednesday morning, and shoppers have reacted well to the coffins, said Gary Ojendyk, vice president general merchandise manager at Costco Wholesale.

“We are always looking for new business opportunities … that we believe can show tremendous value for our customers,” Mr. Ojendyk said.

The coffins are made and shipped by Universal Coffin Co. of Michigan. Made of steel, they are available in six colors including lilac, blue and silver and are lined with crepe fabric in colors that correspond with the chosen finish.

“We have very, very low expectations because its only been out and available to the consumer for two days,” said Edward Jones, Universal Coffin’s general manager. “We’ve had a lot of phone calls from consumers and we expect the sales to increase.”

Like the rest of Costco’s 4,000 items, the coffins are discounted. The coffins sell for $799, including shipping costs to any funeral home within 75 miles of the store.

Coffins at Competitive Coffins in New Jersey sell for $1,399 and $1,799, said owner Scott Despirito.

The Costco coffins are displayed at a kiosk in the general merchandise section of Costco. A cut-away portion of the coffin is displayed so customers can see both the lining and outside of the coffin. Orders are taken at the cash register, where the coffin is ordered from Universal Coffins and shipped to a funeral home.

Also available to Costco members are funeral services discounted 20 percent. By calling Preferred Funeral Choices, an Ohio company founded specifically to work with Costco customers, members can pick a local funeral home, give the company all the funeral details, and have them sent to the funeral home.

Although Web sites such as www.funeraldepot.com have been offering discounted funeral products for years, Costco is the first wholesaler to do so.

The idea to sell the coffins at Costco has been in the works for about a year, Mr. Jones said.

Costco doesn’t know if or when it will offer the coffins throughout the country. The Chicago test will determine any expansion, Mr. Ojendyk said. The length of the test is undetermined.

The funeral-services industry considers discount coffins and funerals at wholesale stores, such as Costco, a good thing, said Robert Fells, general counsel of the International Cemetery and Funeral Association. The Reston trade group represents about 6,300 members who are part of the funeral profession. Calling the association pro-consumer, Mr. Fells said he thinks the discounted services will be good for everybody.

“It will have a downward effect on prices and give consumers more choices,” Mr. Fells said. “Ultimately, this is good for the consumer.”

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