Heritage sells funeral homes to Carriage Services

Heritage sells funeral homes to Carriage Services

November 20th, 2013 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Russell Friberg shows off a small companion urn in his in-house showroom at Heritage Funeral Home and Crematory.

Photo by Staff File Photo /Times Free Press.

With 44 years in the funeral business, Chattanoogan Russell Friberg says he knows how fast change can take place.

He said that's why he sold his Heritage Funeral Homes and Cremation Services to Carriage Services Inc., the nation's fourth largest publicly traded operator in the business.

"We have thousands of people in pre-arranged funerals," he said Tuesday. "A lot of trust and people depend on this company. I want to make sure we have someone in line in years to come to take care of those things."

Houston-based Carriage has bought both of Heritage's locations, in East Brainerd and Fort Oglethorpe. The purchase price wasn't revealed.

Friberg, 63, who was Heritage's owner and president, will serve the business on a consulting basis in the future, he said.

"My role will be waiting on families," said Friberg, who 20 years ago started Heritage with Ross Lane. "I'll be here to support those people."

Lane died in the 1990s after they built the East Brainerd Road site. Friberg later added the Battlefield Parkway location.

Friberg said the company's staff of about 30 people will remain during the ownership change.

Curtis Ottinger of Heritage will serve as managing partner of the East Brainerd site. Friberg's son, Ben, will manage the Fort Oglethorpe location.

Carriage Services operates 163 funeral homes in 26 states and 32 cemeteries in 10 states throughout the U.S. It first entered the Chattanooga market in 1993 when it purchased Lane South Crest, Lane Coulter and Williamson & Sons.

Mel Payne, Carriage's chief executive, said in a statement the Heritage acquisition is a testament to affiliating with "the best remaining independents" nationally in 15 to 20 strategic markets over the next decade. Carriage has about 2,000 employees.

Payne said he first met Friberg in 1991.

"It's hard to imagine this turning out any better for both of us," he said. "It's a marriage of partners. It's really special."

Friberg said one reason he likes Carriage is because it's a decentralized company.

"They don't have a lot of layers and management," he said, adding that the company likes local operators and managers. "I chose them because of their commitment to decentralization and local management."

In terms of daily operation of the Heritage sites, Friberg said "nothing really changes."

"As far as what the public sees, they won't know the difference," he said.

Friberg said Heritage is doing well from a business standpoint.

"We've always been a leader in the local area," he said.

In the third quarter ending Sept. 30, Carriage posted revenue of $49.7 million. Operating income in the quarter was $6.3 million.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.