Rest in Peace for Less With Caskets Made in China
Armed with cheap Chinese imports, a Las Vegas entrepreneur takes on Big Casket.
When Jim Malamas finally sat down to dinner with Steve Tzelalis, he knew his cousin was tired. Tzelalis had been up since 4 in the morning and working his shift at a Las Vegas strip club since 6. Haggling with liquor distributors. Glad-handing the daytime crowd. Auditioning talent. Malamas knew he would be in no mood to drive a casket into the middle of the Mojave Desert.
A peppy Greek Canadian with heavy bags under his eyes, Malamas, 58, owned a local company called ACE Funeral Products. A buyer in Los Angeles had missed a 4 p.m. deadline to have a casket shipped by FedEx. Meeting him halfway, in Barstow, Calif., would be a five-hour schlep. But ACE was young and feisty—one David up against the Goliath that has controlled the industry for decades. If a body needed a box, ACE was going to deliver. “This is a customer service business,” Malamas told Tzelalis that night, sometime in the middle of 2009. “Sometimes you gotta suck it up.”
Malamas and Tzelalis tucked into their food as they waited for the buyer to call and arrange the meeting, and when he did, Malamas signaled for the check. Tzelalis sighed, his belly full. “I’m coming with you,” he said.
The company truck, an old U-Haul that Malamas had retrofitted with load-bearing shelves, sat in the restaurant lot. In the back lay a knockoff of the most popular casket for women in North America: the Primrose, made of 18-gauge steel with a crepe interior. The three major casket manufacturers that dominate the market sold the U.S.-made item for as much as $1,500. Malamas built his almost identical model in China, advertised it online, and charged $408. It was, after all, only a casket; it just had to look good for one day.
As the cousins turned south onto Interstate 15, night fell on Vegas. Casino lights pulsed on the Strip. At the edge of town, they passed the Silverton and the Grandview—buffet specials and $2 blackjack. And then: desert.
Tzelalis drove, and Malamas strained to be heard over the engine, which topped out at 55 mph. Revenue was doubling annually. How could they sustain that growth? What was ACE’s next move? As they got close to the rendezvous, Malamas’s phone rang every few mile markers.
Tzelalis pulled off at Exit 198 and cut the engine on the north side of the freeway. There was nothing but a few derelict signs and a shuttered gas station. The only light came from the stream of headlights on I-15.
The buyer pulled up in a Chevy Suburban. His name was John Kirk, the president of White & Day Mortuaries, a string of five L.A. funeral parlors. He had brought some extra muscle. Even without a body, a Primrose weighs 180 pounds. The four men shook hands. Tzelalis chuckled.
“What are you laughing for?” Kirk asked.
“If California Highway Patrol comes by,” Tzelalis said, “they’re gonna think there’s some shenanigans goin’ on.”
After the men transferred the casket, they snapped a group photo, shook hands again, and returned home—the buyer to his corpse in cold storage and a funeral the next morning, and Malamas to his base of operations and his war on Big Casket.
By importing from China, Malamas has followed a well-worn outsourcing playbook that’s upended markets for American-made goods from electronics to bedroom furniture. Working with four factories outside Shanghai, he imports 40-foot containers holding 64 caskets apiece and sells them to funeral homes and regional distributors for a fraction of the price. There is plenty of potential: In the U.S., caskets are a $1.6 billion business.
And yet since that night in the Mojave, Chinese casket imports haven’t gone as planned—for Malamas or anyone else. His revenue has stumbled. Where almost every other American manufacturer has failed to keep Chinese exports at bay, the casket industry has succeeded. Through aggressive litigation against importers, xenophobic admonitions to consumers, and good old-fashioned palm-greasing of funeral directors, Big Casket has made sure that 9 out of 10 Americans go into the ground in boxes made in the USA.
“The funeral industry has had a goddamn easy ride for the last 150 years,” says Joshua Slocum, the co-author of Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death and executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, a Vermont nonprofit. “Why aren’t as many caskets imported as Chinese dishware? It defies all known rules of supply and demand.”
Much more to read about caskets found HERE.
The Best Speech Rudy Giuliani Ever Made, But No One is Talking About it
n Feb. 13 Rudy Giuliani made perhaps the best speech of his career, sadly he distracted from this speech with his Obama doesn’t love America comment which is what is being covered, while his speech is being ignored. Below is a transcript and a video of his speech which was made to the Iranian-American Community of Arizona
Thank you, Linda [Chavez], thank you very much. Thank you, Linda, thank you. Thank you, very, very much. Thank you very much, and thank you so much for coming. And as Linda said, it is very encouraging to see that we have so many more people than we did I think it was just a little over a year ago when we were here. Which means that we’re trying to present, what we’re trying to get the American people to understand, what we’re trying to get the people of Arizona to understand, is happening. And this is very, very difficult, because we’re trying to break through an administration and a media that refuses to tell this message. I have never seen anything like this, and I’ve been in public office a good deal of my life and involved in public affairs all my life. I have never seen anything like this, the inability to get this story across.
Do you know what (Kaler Mueller) who came from Prescott, Arizona and those faces that you see right there, representing the 120,000 members of the MEK that have been slaughtered, and my 343 firefighters who died on September 11, and my 2,700 citizens, innocent people who died on September 11, and the soldiers at Fort Hood who died with a man yelling Allah Akbar, or the Jewish people who were just sitting there being shot and killed just a few weeks ago in France because they’re Jewish, you know what they all have in common? They have in common a movement the President of the United States will not recognize. [applause] They have been murdered, they have been slaughtered, they have been raped, they have been tortured, they have been beheaded, they have been burned by a movement that the President of the United States will not recognize. What is wrong with him? [applause] Is there no passion? Is there no passion for the lives of these innocent people? Is there no caring for them? Do you know what the slaughter at Fort Hood was described as? Workplace violence. Workplace violence. This is a captain in the United States Army who had become a jihadist two years before, who was communicating with Afghanistan and Pakistan and Yemen. Doesn’t take a genius to figure out the cause for which he was murdering. He told us, “Allah Akbar.” But the President of the United States doesn’t see the connection. Just the other day he called the slaughter of those Jewish people in France a random act. Mr. President, wake up! Come off the golf course. Come back on earth. These people have all been murdered by a movement.
I agree it’s diverse. I agree it has many forms. Al Qaeda, ISIS, Al Qaeda in Yemen, self-generated Jihadists like the Boston Marathon killers. But it’s connected, it’s connected by two things. It’s connected by a common ideology, which is the misuse of the Islamic religion for the purpose of defending the slaughter and desecration of human beings. And it’s united by one other thing, money and support from the regime of Iran. Those are the two things that connect it. And our president is sitting down and negotiating with the regime of Iran. Iran has probably been responsible for more American deaths than any singular terrorist group. It is undisputably the largest supporter of terrorism in the world. It just once again we found out was responsible for the murder of all of those Jewish people in Argentina back in 1994. We will never forget the American hostages that were held by the Iranians. It seems to me President Obama has forgotten it. I haven’t forgotten it. I remember every day of it. [applause] And I remember Linda, I remember Linda, they were held for months and months and days and days and weeks and weeks, as they looked into the eyes of a weak president, Jimmy Carter. And they were never released. And the moment they look into Ronald Reagan’s eyes, the moment he put his hand on the Bible and put his hand up they released them. [applause] Well once again they are looking into weak eyes, the eyes of our president, begging for an agreement with Iran at all cost.
Much more HERE.
Off The Wall: Minimum Wage
The federal minimum wage is $7.25 and hour. A lot of people think it should be raised to $10.10. Seattle now pays $15 an hour, and the The Freedom Socialist Party is demanding a $20 living wage for every working person. What do you think about the minimum wage? How much do you think a Big Mac will cost if McDonald’s had to pay all their employees $20 an hour?
Back in 1979, I was working as an usher for United Artists at a multiplex in Baltimore. The minimum wage was $2.90, and I earned every penny.
When I wasn’t tearing tickets in half and stopping kids from theater hopping, I was cleaning out the bathrooms, emptying the trash, and scrapping dubious substances off the theater floor with a putty knife. I wore a silly outfit and smiled unnaturally, usually for the entirety of my shift. I worked 18 hours my first week, mostly after school, and earned $62.20. Before taxes. But I was also learning the importance of “soft skills.” I learned to show up on time and tuck my shirt in. I embraced the many virtues of proper hygiene. Most of all, I learned how to take shit from the public, and suck up to my boss.
After three months, I got a raise, and wound up behind the concession stand. Once it was determined I wasn’t a thief, I was promoted to cashier. Three months later, I got another raise. Eventually, they taught me how to operate a projector, which was the job I wanted in the first place.
The films would arrive from Hollywood in giant boxes, thin and square, like the top of a card table, but heavy. I’d open each one with care, and place each spool on a separate platter. Then, I’d thread them into the giant projector, looping the leader through 22 separate gates, careful to touch only the sides. Raging Bull, Airplane, The Shining, Caddyshack, The Elephant Man – I saw them all from the shadowy comfort of the projection booth, and collected $10 an hour for my trouble. Eventually, I was offered an assistant manager position, which I declined. I wasn’t management material then, anymore than I am now. But I had a plan. I was going to be in the movies. Or, God forbid, on television.
I thought about all this last month when I saw “Boyhood” at a theater in San Francisco. I bought the tickets from a machine that took my credit card and spit out a piece of paper with a bar code on it. I walked inside, and fed the paper into another machine, which beeped twice, welcomed me in mechanical voice, and lowered a steel bar that let me into the lobby. No usher, no cashier. I found the concession stand and bought a bushel of popcorn from another machine, and a gallon of Diet Coke that I poured myself. On the way out, I saw an actual employee, who turned out to be the manager. I asked him how much a projectionist was making these days, and he just laughed.
“There’s no such position,” he said. I just put the film in the slot myself and press a button. Easy breezy.”
To answer your question Darrell, I’m worried. From the business owners I’ve talked to, it seems clear that companies are responding to rising labor costs by embracing automation faster than ever. That’s eliminating thousands of low-paying, unskilled, entry level positions. What will that mean for those people trying to get started in the workforce? My job as an usher was the first rung on a long ladder of work that lead me to where I am today. But what if that rung wasn’t there? If the minimum wage in 1979 had been suddenly raised from $2.90 to $10 an hour, thousands of people would have applied for the same job. What chance would I have had, being seventeen years old with pimples and a big adams apple?
One night, thirty-six years ago, during the midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, I sat in the projection booth and read a short story by Ray Bradbury called “A Sound of Thunder.” It was about a guy who traveled back in time to look at dinosaurs, but against strict orders, ventured off the observation platform and accidentally stepped on a butterfly. When he returned to the present, everything in the world had changed. “The Butterfly Effect” is now an expression that describes a single event that leads to a series of unanticipated outcomes, resulting in a profoundly unintended consequence. (Ironically, it’s also a movie with Ashton Kutcher, which I had to pay to see 30 years later.)
Anyway, I’m not an economist or a sociologist, but I’m pretty sure a $20 minimum wage would affect a lot more than the cost of a Big Mac. Beyond the elimination of many entry-level jobs, consider the effect on the skills gap. According to the BLS, they’re about three million available positions that companies are trying to fill right now. Very few of those jobs require a four-year degree, but nearly all require specific training. And all pay more than the current minimum wage. If we want a skilled workforce, (and believe me, we do,) should we really be demanding $20 an hour for unskilled labor?
Last year, I narrated a commercial about US manufacturing, paid for by Walmart. It started a shitstorm, and cost me many thousands virtual friends. Among the aggrieved, was a labor organization called Jobs With Justice. They wanted me to know just how unfairly Walmart was treating it’s employees. So they had their members send my foundation over 8,000 form letters, asking me to meet with unhappy Walmart workers, and join them in their fight against “bad jobs.”
While I’m sympathetic to employees who want to be paid fairly, I prefer to help on an individual basis. I’m also skeptical that a modest pay increase will make an unskilled worker less reliant upon an employer whom they affirmatively resent. I explained this to Jobs With Justice in an open letter, and invited anyone who felt mistreated to explore the many training opportunities and scholarships available through mikeroweWORKS. I further explained that I couldn’t couldn’t join them in their fight against “bad jobs,” because frankly, I don’t believe there is such a thing. My exact words were, “Some jobs pay better, some jobs smell better, and some jobs have no business being treated like careers. But work is never the enemy, regardless of the wage. Because somewhere between the job and the paycheck, there’s still a thing called opportunity, and that’s what people need to pursue.”
People are always surprised to learn that many of the subjects on Dirty Jobs were millionaires – entrepreneurs who crawled through a river of crap, prospered, and created jobs for others along the way. Men and women who started with nothing and built a going concern out of the dirt. I was talking last week with my old friend Richard, who owns a small but prosperous construction company in California. Richard still hangs drywall and sheet rock with his aging crew because he can’t find enough young people who want to learn the construction trades. Today, he’ll pay $40 an hour for a reliable welder, but more often than not, he can’t find one. Whenever I talk to Richard, and consider the number of millennials within 50 square miles of his office stocking shelves or slinging hash for the minimum wage, I can only shake my head.
Point is Darrell, if you fix the wage of a worker, or freeze the price of a thing, you’re probably gonna step on a few butterflies. Doesn’t matter how well-intended the policy – the true cost a $20 minimum wage, has less to do with the price of a Big Mac, and more to do with a sound of thunder. Frankly, it scares the hell out of me.
PS I looked into the Freedom Socialist Party and their demand for a universal, $20 an hour living wage. Interesting. You’re right – they’re serious. But not long after they announced their position, they made the interesting decision to advertise for a web designer….at $13 an hour. Make of that what you will.