Monday, June 11, 2007

Niche Marketing: The Hispanic Package

What is the "Hispanic Package?" Hint: it has nothing to do with Marc Anthony in tight pants.

It's actually a special program offered for around $3,000 and up by Brown's Christian Funeral Services, in Arkansas, which to me illustrates one of the fascinating things about the business world in America: its ability to find niche markets and make money out of them. As explained in this NY Times story, thousands of Mexican immigrants (legal and illegal) die in the USA each year and repatriating their bodies has turned into a new specialty within the funeral industry.

“For Mexicans, the bonds of the family unit are very strong,” said the Rev. John Brown, who ministers to Hispanics at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Conway.... “The bond is broken when they go to work in the United States. It is restored in death.”

In Mexican immigrant neighborhoods throughout the United States, collection boxes to help pay for the repatriation of a body are placed in grocery store windows....

Mexican consulates negotiate discounts with funeral homes, and help in other ways. There is a clear benefit for Mexican politicians to be seen helping migrants in their final homecoming, spurring some Mexican state governments to help, too. The government in the state of Michoacán promises to pay for the transport of returning bodies from any point in Mexico to the deceased’s hometown in Michoacán.

Inevitably, haggling arises. The Mexican foreign ministry authorized the consulate in Little Rock to pay some $20,000, nearly half of the consulate’s budget this year for body transfers, to cover the full cost of transporting to Mexico City the bodies of seven illegal immigrants from Oaxaca who died last month in a highway accident in Oklahoma....

Agustín García, who runs Funerales García in Mexico City, has a large share of the mortuary trade from the United States by visiting funeral home conventions there to pick up business on the receiving end.

“I have arrangements with 150 funeral homes all over the United States,” Mr. García said. “I receive about 2,500 bodies a year. I receive them in Mexico City and take them anywhere in Mexico....”

For illegal immigrants, some of whom pay $2,000 to $3,000 to be smuggled across the border through the Arizona desert, the return trip in a coffin can be more expensive than the journey into the United States.

Typically, the cheapest “Hispanic Package” at Brown Christian Funeral Services in Little Rock, which includes pickup, embalming, dressing, a $660 coffin, the shipping container and airfare, costs $3,444. The funeral home offers a discounted package for those who are subsidized by the consulate. But during holidays, when the airlines are full, it costs an additional $688 for airfare.

Whatever your opinions are about immigration, it's sad to think of people coming here to try to better their lives, but ending up with their family, friends, and home country's government all pitching in to send them back in a coffin... unless you're in the funeral business and making a nice buck off it.

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