This may seem a little odd or morbid, but please hang with me, because there is a vitally important business concept here that can help you. When my dad died last month, I was thrust into the funeral industry as a consumer for the first time. It was obviously an emotional time, and I didn’t know what to expect. I’m sure some of my subscribers have been through this, and if not, the time will inevitably come.

My dad had written that he wanted to either be cremated or buried in something very simple. My dad’s wife wanted something nice, so we deferred to her wishes as the person closest to him. Although the casket wasn’t top of the line (that would be the kind with the “permanent seal”, gold leaf trim, etc.), the price tag was $4,000.

In providing my small business consulting services I meet a lot of great people. Interestingly, I’ve recently struck up a virtual friendship with Jane Hillhouse who owns a company called Final Footprint. We met through our membership in the Green America Business network. Her company provides eco-caskets and green burials.

Final Footprint offers a beautiful selection of caskets and urns that are available through funeral homes or direct. “Whether a simple pine or cardboard box, or an artfully crafted coffin made from bamboo or willow, all of our caskets and coffins display a simple elegance and respect, not only for the deceased, but for the earth. All are made from low impact, sustainably harvested materials. All are non-toxic and safely biodegradable. “

I sure wish we had known about Final Footprint when Dad passed away last month. Jane’s caskets run around $1,000 plus shipping and they’re made from sustainable, renewable materials. This would have honored my father’s wishes, as the frugal, environmentalist that he was. There are millions of deaths in this country alone every month, which represent an awful lot of material resources, not to mention the energy to produce them and the high financial expense for the survivors.

Jane is doing what entrepreneurs do: taking an existing category and adding something new and desirable.

What’s new: there is as we know a huge trend toward green, ecologically responsible products and the funeral industry is ripe for options in the sustainable category!

What’s desirable: people are paying through the nose for caskets, at a time when they are extremely emotionally vulnerable. In this recession, people are paying attention to pricing and if you offer a high quality product like Jane does, for a much lower price, that’s a market advantage.

So Jane takes an established products in continual demand – burial caskets – and makes them green and less costly. A recipe for success!

In their great book, The Knack: How Street-Smart Entrepreneurs Learn to Handle Whatever Comes Up, Norm Brodsky & Bo Burlingham say, “There is nothing more expensive than educating a market.” They believe that the ideal business is one where the concept has been around for a long time. The casket industry is certainly well-established. It’s not a new and revolutionary product category.

The authors say another criteria for a successful new business is that the industry is not only established, but also in some way out-of-step with its customers. Again, Jane has identified a demand that millions of eco-conscious baby boomers and their parents have for simpler, less toxic, more natural products for end-of-life times.

How can you take what you do in your business and add something new, something that people will need or want? The trick, of course, is that often your customers don’t even know they need or want something – we have to be clever enough to see the gap.

There are needs and wants all around us. Don’t reinvent the wheel, just find a better, cheaper or faster way to get people what they need and want. The world would be a better place if we all took regular time to think, not just do. So I encourage you to carve out an hour and brainstorm and daydream about how you could do just that in your current business or organization.


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