Straub’s Funeral Home marks a century

Camas business evolves as industry changes




What: A funeral home that offers burial and chapel services.

Owners: Chris and Wendy Dierickx.

Employees: Five.

Address: 325 N.E. Third Ave., Camas.

On the Web:

The old saying that if a business survives its first five years, it will enjoy a long life appears to be true for Straub’s Funeral Home in Camas.

What: A funeral home that offers burial and chapel services.

Owners: Chris and Wendy Dierickx.

Employees: Five.

Address: 325 N.E. Third Ave., Camas.

On the Web:

Straub’s Funeral Home marked its 100th anniversary this year, living 20 times longer than its initial five years, according to owners Chris and Wendy Dierickx. Chris Dierickx, 42, is a fourth-generation funeral director with ties to the original owners of Straub’s Funeral Home.

“My great grandfather, Roy Edwards, worked for Mr. Swank,” who was the company’s original owner, Dierickx said.

He believes the longevity is his business’ primary advantage. Straub’s Funeral Home, located at 325 N.E. Third Ave., Camas, has been in the same Spanish-style building since the 1920s.

“If someone is looking to be wealthy, this is not the business to get into,” Dierickx said.

Straub’s and its spinoff cremation service, Columbia River Cremation, generate an average of $450,000 a year, he said.

“Connecting with families is really the best part of the job,” Dierickx said. “You can see when a family is satisfied, even through their grief.”

But the funeral industry has changed a lot in the last century, posing competitive threats to small funeral home operators like the Dierickx family, said Jewell Folsom, executive director of the Washington State Funeral Directors Association, which represents 175 funeral companies across the state.

“Even Costco offers caskets online,” Folsom said of the volume discounter and model price under-cutter.

Smaller businesses, which often have higher overhead costs and a weaker online presence, find it harder to compete, she said.

And in the Pacific Northwest, a growing number of funerals involve cremation, which is typically less expensive than burial by casket.

Dierickx anticipated growing demand for the alternative to traditional burial and launched his company’s off-site crematorium in 2003.

At the time, a rash of wrong-remains lawsuits prompted Dierickx to avoid going through a third-party cremation service.

“I wanted to be able to look my client in the eye and tell them that was their loved one,” said Dierickx, who admitted that casket sales are more profitable than cremation. “But the trend in our area is for cremation,” he added.

The weak economy also has fueled change for the industry, along with environmental awareness and evolving beliefs, said Doug Ferrin, director of the funeral program at Portland’s Mt. Hood Community College.

“I would say the profitability of cremation is less than a full-service funeral because there’s less product involved,” he said.

By the same token, Ferrin said the funeral services industry is full of opportunities.

Among the cutting-edge ideas, some businesses offer “green burials” that use a biodegradable container in place of the traditional casket. Another process, called alkaline hydrolysis, breaks down the body with chemicals, leaving behind liquid waste that can be used as plant fertilizer.

Ferrin said researchers continue to study the evolution.

“Some of it is an environmental interest in not taking up land for the body or using up raw materials,” he said. “It’s gaining acceptance. It’s getting a foothold.”

The Mt. Hood program teaches embalming, chemistry and anatomy, along with business and psychology, all necessary skills for a well-rounded funeral director, Ferrin said.

Chris Dierickx agreed.

“You really have to be able to listen,” he said. “Every family is different and handles death in a different way. You have to recognize what they’re telling you and act appropriately.”