Batesville makes caskets, right? They’ve been making them for a while. They make a lot of them. They have lots of customers and they have an impressive distribution system in place.

According to Ryan Thogmartin from Connecting Directors, Batesville has just bought the intellectual rights to Goria Corporation, a company that, until the sale, made molded vaults from what I suspect is some type of plastic or polycarbonate or other rigid but lightweight material.  Here’s the letter from the Goria website that describes the sale:

To our valued customers and supporters:

For the past five years, Goria Corporation has been pleased to produce and sell our patented Eonian™ and Endurance™ burial vaults to funeral service providers across the country. During this time, we’ve gotten to know many funeral directors who appreciate our revolutionary products and share our commitment to delivering value to families.

My purpose in writing today is to advise you of a change in our business. Effective November 16, 2009. Goria sold the molds and intellectual property rights on which our vaults are produced. Goria has closed its burial vault business and have ceased all manufacturing operations and will no longer be a supplier of burial vaults. For a number of reasons, we felt the time was appropriate and are confident we made the right decision in choosing the reputable organization we sold too.

On behalf of my family and our staff, we appreciate your business and are thankful for the support you have given us.If you have questions about our selling the molds, patent rights or closing our burial vault business, please feel free to contact Pierre Goria at info@goriacorp.com or call 336-697-0189 ext. 301.

I met Pierre a few years ago at an expo and he was excited about using rotational molding of plastic to transform the way vaults are made and sold.  Because of the lower weight, he was able to create his vaults in one factory and ship them across the country for a reasonable cost, making competition with concrete vault companies possible and profitable.

So let’s get back to the part where Batesville spends some cash to buy his molds and intellectual property.  See, his company makes a lot more than vaults.  So he didn’t sell them everything, just the vault part of the business.

Does it mean he no longer wanted to make vaults?  Does it mean that no one else will make these kinds of vaults?  Not necessarily, on either count.

Now, I haven’t spoken to Pierre, but I know how excited he was about his product and how convinced he was that funeral homes would see the benefits of his kind of vault.  And I know that if Batesville is serious about shifting the industry toward a mass-produced, centrally-manufactured vault, selling his intellectual property was a great way to get the product into the marketplace in a big, big way.

From a businessperson’s view, he made a great move.  Batesville has the resources to push the product in a much-greater way that he ever could have.  They have the means to compensate him for his hard work to create the product and begin marketing it.  Even better, he still owns his original company.

Ryan Thogmartin brings us a great perspective from the vault world when he states:

Maybe the story interests me more because I am also in the burial vault business, but regardless, if Batesville decides to take on burial vaults they could make a big impact on the burial vault world. Just think of the ramifications, if Batesville switched all their customers over to using their burial vault?

What do you think the impact could be?

Well, Ryan, I think it’s going to have a big impact.  I doubt that Batesville would have spent cash to acquire this knowledge if it didn’t intend to use it to create a product line. 

Yes, sometimes companies buy a product to kill it, but Goria wasn’t competing with Batesville because Batesville doesn’t make vaults.  Yet.

In fact, if Batesville had never intended to enter the vault world, they would have little reason to even know that Goria existed.

In my estimation, Batesville either wanted to get into the vault business and decided that buying the intellectual property outright was easier that fighting a protracted patent battle later or saw this as an easy way to add a product to their already-impressive distribution network.

So yes, Ryan, I think the vault business is in for a big shakeup.  Most affected, I think, will be vault companies who sell a large amount of product to the corporates, as they will be the easiest for Batesville to convert in large numbers.  Batesville clearly already has a wide-reaching relationship with management at the corporations, so convincing them to make the switch won’t be hard.

But what about all the unafilliated firms?  How will Batesville convince them? 

First, maybe Batesville doesn’t need to convert that many to create a viable product line.  I’m sure that the business from SCI alone would make it highly attractive to launch the product.

And once the product is launched and used in some funeral homes, others will try it out.  If Batesville can deliver a similar level of customer service, I think smaller vault companies have reason for concern.

But that brings us to the biggest issue facing any business:  how good is your customer service? 

Someone can always create a cheaper product, copy your product features or create a better product.  And that may convince some folks to switch.  But for a repeat purchase, such as vaults or urns or caskets, the delivery experience and customer service are very, very important.

Batesville deals with funeral homes now.  What happens when they have to learn to deliver to cemeteries?  How will they interact with cemetery staff?  In smaller cemeteries, who will handle the opening and closing?  Will they sign up a bunch of small vault companies to sell their product?  Can Batesville handle the customer service for so many new customers, like the cemeteries who will be in line to buy their vaults?

There are a lot of questions still to be answered.  And to be fair, I rushed this post out with very little preparation, so you’re getting my “stream of consciousness” ramblings here.

It will be interesting to see how Batesville rolls out their line of vaults, which I think is inevitable.  Even more interesting will be the reaction of current vault sellers.

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