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Local start-up tries to simplify funeral ordeal for families with one-price approach

When Keith Crawford of Multnomah is chatting with neighbors and the talk turns to death, it's not because someone died.

It's because his new business venture intends to disrupt the funeral services industry.

After nearly 20 years as a designer with Nike, he and fellow Nike veteran David Odusanya started Solace in April 2018 as an alternative to what has been the American way of dying for decades.

"We're seeing a shift away from the $10,000 to $15,000 all-in package that includes grave, casket, embalming and a funeral service. People are shifting to direct cremation, which is what we do. Cremation without any additional services," he said.

Solace essentially eliminates the middleman at the funeral home with direct-to-consumer cremation services that include transport, paperwork and the return of remains within seven days, all for a flat fee. Ashes to ashes within a week. Dust to dust digitally.

Two features make Solace stand out: Its single price of $895. And the fact that all the arrangements can be made on your computer.

"We're not going for the Amazon effect," Crawford said. "This is not a cold, digital, one-click kind of deal. This is a human-centric business powered by technology. It's a tough time for people and we're just trying to help them by offering them in this part of their life things they're used to having in other parts of their lives."

Things are going well enough in its first year for the 10-employee business that Solace has opened a second office in Seattle. This part of the country is considered especially receptive to what Solace offers. In 1995, about 10% of people chose cremation over the traditional burial. That number is now 54% nationally and considerably higher on the West Coast.

There's not much competition in this sector of the funeral services industry so the major challenge, said Crawford, is marketing.

"No one wants to think about this (burial), let alone have an ad pop up or have someone mention 'Hey you thought about cremation or end-of-life services?'" Crawford said. "We're trying to come up with a way to reach people in a respectful way and not too frequently but also try to communicate what we're trying to do and how we're different."

"The good news is the world is out there looking for us. We just have to make sure they know we exist. We think about the metrics that matter. There are more people than ever on the planet. The death rate is going up and more people than ever are looking for services on their computer," he said.

And those conversations with his neighbors in Multnomah? "People tell me, 'I hope I don't need your services any time soon but I love what you're doing on behalf of families.'"


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