Tom Jokinen is a writer from Winnipeg who is writing a book about the modern funeral industry.  If the name sounds familiar, it’s because we featured a question from him in the post Could You Survive Without Disposition?

This time, Tom writes:

I’ve been looking at the mini-explosion of commercially available teddy bear memorial products, most of which are ‘plush urns’ I guess you’d call them (I saw a few at the ICCFA in Vegas last spring, I’m sure there’ll be more in Vegas next month). Anyway, I wanted to be sure I understood the concept of your product: the client sends clothes that have some meaning and you make the bear… but do you or can you also accomodate cremated remains, like in the Huggable Urn, say?

Do you have any thoughts on the use of a teddy bear as a keepsake urn, pro or con or both? I’m asking because I really want to dig deep on this one, people I talk to about the concept flip back and forth on it: they are intrigued, then repulsed, then attracted, then confused… as usual, I suggest you never really know what’s meaningful until someone close actually dies, you can’t always judge these things with distance. So that’s why I’m asking you: what do you make of the commercial ‘teddy bear explosion’, from the point of view of someone who deals with people on the front lines?

Our Treasured Memory Bears are, indeed, made from clothing provided by the client.  Because of it, each bear is unique and cannot be made until ordered.

We can, and will, if asked, include cremated remains or a small urn in a bear.  We have not yet been asked to insert an urn, but several of my clients have asked us to make sure we include a pocket from the clothing on the outside of the bear because they plan to insert a picture, a lock of hair or jewelry.

I’ve already investigated the steps necessary to include a keepsake urn in a bear.  Without making the family send the keepsake to us, we’d ask the size of the urn and make a pocket on the bear to accommodate it.  The family could insert the urn when they receive the bear.
If we ever build a larger clientele of funeral homes re-selling our product, we might consider selling our own urns and inserting everything in our workshop.  But I don’t want to ask a family to send me a portion of cremated remains because #1 – most of my clients don’t know me before they call me and #2 – most families don’t want to handle bare cremated remains.

Do I think the plush teddy bear urns will be effective or be “embraced” by the public?  As cremation increases, the need to offer a wider range of urns also increases.  But I can’t see it being more than a niche product.  Meaning, in the current form, plush bear urns will never rival traditional urns.

Why?  Because people still want an urn that says “there’s a dead person in here.”  Teddy bears are often thrown away after a few years or are given to charity.  Can you imagine the grief you’d feel if someone accidentally gave away your grandfather’s remains because there was a Christmas Toy Drive going on?

The other part is simply economic.  People don’t know how much a regular urn costs, so a 200 or 300% markup by the funeral home is accepted with little resistance.  But teddy bears like this are made in small batches (maybe a few thousand pieces at a time) and will, therefore, cost the funeral home more than a regular teddy bear.  I’d guess they wholesale around $15-30 each.  Keepsake urns can be bought for as little as $6 each in quantity.

But that still means that the funeral home will charge between $63 and $108 for a teddy bear.  The consumer, knowing that teddy bears usually only cost $15 to $25, will be reticent to buy what amounts to an extra urn.  (I’d be concerned about bears made to hold entire remains – they’d be huge!)

And while I don’t believe plush urns will grow to more than a niche product, they are already a profitable business for several urn makers.  The folks at Huggable Urns sell the teddy bear pictured above for $99.95.  They also offer bears with detachable wings ($149.95), cats ($90.00), dogs ($99.95) and pillows ($95.00).