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Funeral homes band together with name

There's a new company in the area's funeral home industry, but if the names in Blount, Curry & Roel Funeral Homes and Cemeteries sound familiar, that's the idea.

Blount, Curry & Roel now represents 12 funeral homes in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties that were purchased by national powerhouse Stewart Enterprises Inc. more than 10 years ago.

The idea behind the new name is simple. Stewart wanted to keep the homes' local identities _ Blount, Curry and Roel were all parts of individual homes' names _ while using one overall name for more marketing power.

"We had nine different names and 12 different funeral homes, and it became awfully hard and confusing to advertise," said Jack Yent Jr., senior vice president of the local company.

There have been no changes in management. Yent, whose family has worked with the F. T. Blount funeral homes for more than 45 years, will continue overseeing the operations in Hillsborough. Bob Simpson, who has been with Stewart over 10 years, will continue to run the Pinellas operations.

The creation of Blount, Curry & Roel is another example of the dominant trend in the funeral industry, where local family businesses have become subsidiaries of big corporations. As of last year, one-third of the funeral homes in Tampa Bay were owned by out-of-town corporations.

Stewart Enterprises, based in Metairie, La., operates 323 funeral homes and 120 cemeteries around the world. Its 1995 sales were $368-million.

The largest funeral home company in the country, Houston-based Service Corp., also has a major presence in Tampa Bay, as does another giant, Loewen Group Inc. of Burnaby, British Columbia.

Marketing the homes is a challenge for the giant companies. In the case of Blount, Curry & Roel, both the areawide name and the individual funeral home names are used in marketing materials.

"We don't want people to think the company has left the community," said Keenan Knopke, area spokesman for Stewart Enterprises. "But at the same time, when a customer moves to St. Petersburg from Tampa, we want them to know they can get the same service there."

Of course, the other advantage the big companies see in marketing under a single name is cost savings. "Anything we can do to cut costs is a definite advantage for us and the customer," Yent said.

The changes in Hillsborough affect three F. T. Blount Funeral Homes, Curry & Son Funeral Home, two Roel & Curry Funeral Homes, A.P. Boza Riverside Chapel and Garden of Memories-Myrtle Hill Funeral Home.

In Pinellas County, the new name encompasses Memorial Park Funeral Home, Beach Memorial Chapel, Woodlawn Funeral Home and Sylvan Abbey Memorial Park Lakeview Chapel.