generations

After a person dies their DNA may be preserved for generations. Funeral directors offer the last opportunity to save a deceased person’s genetic record.

As genetic research continues to leap forward, DNA is a subject in daily news feeds whether finding a cure or treatment for disease or using DNA as a identification tool.  The subject of DNA in the funeral industry is emerging as consumers are educating themselves that:

  • When a person is cremated, their DNA is lost and destroyed as a result of the cremation process.
  • Once buried, disinterment is costly, emotionally and financially.

Funeral directors provide the last chance for families to preserve their deceased loved one’s genetic record, (DNA).  DNA Memorial developed a proprietary process of extracting DNA from a non invasive hair or mouth swab sample and binding the  DNA to a substrate that can be stored indefinitely at room temperature.  What does that mean?

After a person dies their DNA may be preserved for generations of families.  Why would a family want to save their loved one’s DNA?

DNA for medical reasons:

  • Diagnosing  medical conditions
  • Calculating inherited risks for your children
  • Deciding medical tests and medicinal dosage
  • Selecting therapeutic agents including gene therapy
  • Determining disease risk and preventative measures
  • Measuring generational mutation rates to track disorders

DNA for genealogy reasons:

  • To learn more about ancestors
  • Determine biological or geographical relationships between people
  • Find relatives of adoptees
  • Provide options for halted traditional genealogical research
  • To learn from which relative(s) certain traits were inherited
  • Establishing citizenship requirements

No different than attorneys, physicians, financial planners and the like; funeral consumer families rely on funeral directors to provide good advice along with information to make good funeral choices.  The DNA and death issue “cat is out of the bag” so how is your funeral home sharing the information with the families you serve and what solutions are you offering?  For more information, email me jharbeson@cglabscorp.com; afterall, DNA is here to stay!  From the desk of The Funeral Commander, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander.com

Fathers Day 2015

It’s early morning Father’s Day, like 5:15 am early in the morning.  It’s not unusual for me to be awake and I have the unfortunate disposition of when my eyes open, that’s the end of sleeping because my mind begins to work.  My mind this morning is reflective of Father’s Day and the title of Father. Obviously I think of my two sons and the years that I have held this position; the only position I have held longer is Husband.

I am one to measure most everything by success or failure, either is works or it doesn’t, and no one is a harsher critic of me than the guy that stares back at me in the mirror.  What is a successful Father and on self evaluation, how do I measure up?  If providing myself a realistic and true evaluation, this is a tough question for me to ponder.

When I found out that  I was going to earn the Father title, I was excited and scared to death.  Excited by the possibilities and scared because I was really in all honesty, not prepared for what was ahead of me…but is anyone really?  I did all the things expected of a Father which from my point of view is to love my children, provide for them and to do what I could for them to have a life far better than I.  In many aspects, I believe that I have success in these three areas, but a deeper look, I admittedly failed miserably along the way.  My personality “wiring” is pretty much all or nothing, leave nothing on the table, first one in/last one out and do it right the first time, or don’t bother.  For many segments of life these traits are admired and often revered with such accolades of “leader,” “winner,” and such.  But in the title of Father, such is not necessarily positive or productive.

I was formally trained as a leader, and I had none as a Father.   Expectations of my personal standards are high because as a leader, I have to “have my stuff together” before I could demand that others do the same.  Unfortunately, I have often been wrong in this particular area of parenthood.  The task of being a Father is not to mold a child into a clone; a clone that is better, more driven, or more successful.  The task of being a Father is not to challenge my kids  to reach personal expectations or to make up for the failure in my own life…you know “if I had my time to go over again, I would have” type mentality.

As I write this morning evaluating my position of Father thinking “if I had time to go over again” for last nearly 24 years,  what would I do different?  Love more, correct and expect less.  Let the little and many of the big things go.  As I am told all the time by their Mother (thank God for her), in the end and the big scheme of life, does this incident really matter?  On my deathbed, does cutting the grass too low all the way down to the soil or a dent in the side of my car change the way life will turn out?  No.

What’s most interesting about my position of Father is that my two sons actually have taught me more about life than I thought imaginable.  For all my failed reactions, my high expectations and my demands for excellence on them, all they require of me is to love them for who they are…because that’s what they do for me.  My boys (really men is a better term) love me despite those times when I miserably failed with them.  Of course we have had more happiness and great times than speeding tickets or bad grades; but those times of turbulence place cracks in the foundation of what is built up in the “big scheme of life.”  All the cracks are directly attributed to my handling of situation.

I know and I have witnessed some of my before-mentioned traits that I have passed to both of them, which is necessary in some instances of life, but not all.  Both my son’s love deeply and forgive quickly; their expectations for life are driven to enjoy the moment.  These two cause me to pause, take a step back to realize that I need to be more like them, follow their example.  Yes, I am a successful Father…thanks to my sons providing me unconditional love and becoming better men than I.  That’s all a Father can ask for.  From the desk of The Funeral Commander; Happy Father’s Day Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

DNA post

Nearly every day there are news feeds that address the topic of DNA.  Just yesterday, Legacy.com  posted an interesting article, What Can DNA Tell You About How You’ll Die?”  From science and medicine to solving crimes, consumers are becoming more familiar with the power of genetic developments and with DNA in particular.  For funeral directors, DNA and genetic advancements provide a new topic that adds to their professional knowledge and an informal obligation to provide some genetic information to the families they serve.

Information that is important to funeral consumers:

  • The cremation process is an irreversible process.
  • All DNA is lost (destroyed) during the cremation process.
  • Disinterment is costly; emotionally and financially (in some cases/areas may require legal action).

These three elements are factual and have relevance…but why?  Think about it, whether your funeral home provides a family cremation or burial for their deceased loved one, once your services are provided, their loved one’s genetic record is either destroyed or inaccessible.

As a funeral director, sharing such information with the families you serve imparts additional professional relevance for their decision making.  It’s our obligation to provide information so that families can make educated funeral choices.  Sharing that you offer one last chance to preserve their deceased loved one’s genetic record could have generational implications.  Most of all, you are offering information they might not otherwise have known; isn’t that what professionals do for their customers?

A couple of points to consider:

  • Funeral Professionals are making it known that familial DNA has accumulating medical and genealogical value and there is a straightforward, economical and private way to preserve it.
  • Genetic developments are supplementing the knowledge already imparted by Funeral Professionals.  Families benefit by receiving the latest in genetic medical and genealogical applications, as well as physical DNA preservation.  This is now becoming an important option in Funeral Service.

Want to know more?  Visit DNA Memorial for more in-depth information about DNA and the funeral industry or email me jharbeson@cglabscorp.com.  From the Command Post, Cheers Y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

P&C

We are entering a fresh season of baseball; from Little League fields to professional stadiums baseball players are honing their skills to play their part in the games on the schedule.  On a daily basis, our military trains to prepare for the moments of battle that will require their skills to be put to task.  Whether turning a double play, laying down a bunt, knowing fields of fire or following a battle plan, practice and training are essential to win a game or in the most dire of situations, stay alive.

When it comes to practice and training on a regular basis in the funeral business, regular meaningful practice and training is a rarity. Yes, I do understand that funeral homes are busy and we never know when the next phone calls can mean days and hours of focusing on one of the most important event of a person’s life; a funeral for their loved one. I also understand and know that there are times where there is not such activities being conducted where we could hone our skills.

From my experience, some of the best ideas are the result of practice and training sessions when those involved have engaged not because of mandate, rather the innate opportunity to carry out “the play” or “scenario”  and revealing gaps otherwise not recognized.  At our funeral home brands, practice and training for the many tasks required of this profession have created a culture of continuous improvement.  What are the results?

Elimination of mistakes by following process.  Mistakes are made by everyone; however training eliminates repetitive errors.  If you think about it, errors may be simple or drastic, some may be costly.  For instance, how many times in transition from the funeral home to a place of service has items been left behind?  It costs money and consternation to return to the funeral home to retrieve forgotten items (CD.’s, Reserved Markers, etc.). How about receiving a body at the funeral home?  Identification measures and process is a training opportunity; we have recently read news stories of the wrong body being cremated, do you think that  mistake is going to be costly?

From my assessment,  for every mistake or mishap in a funeral home, training would have been a preventative measure.  Think about it, what problem in our daily funeral home activities cannot be corrected with practice or training ?  Funeral home leaders must be intentional and make the time for practice and training; the results are worth the effort.  Literally taking 15 minutes a few days a week can create a culture of continuous improvement and better morale…after all, who does not like to win?

Well as you know if there is a gap, I’m paying attention. Don’t let your untrained heart be troubled, help is on the way!  Stay tuned.  From the desk of The Funeral Commander, Cheers Y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

conversation starterI’m just returning from another funeral convention and I would like to provide “color” on my observations.  I had conversations and meetings with many people from practically every facet of the funeral industry, however I am certain those conversations would not get published in any industry magazines…somewhat lends back to “The Truth” series I recently posted.

From vendors, the majority complained of a lack of attendance from buyers and decision makers. On opening day of the exhibit hall, a cannon could have been fired down most isles and not hit nary a funeral service provider.  Something new and never done before was the presence of a suicide prevention booth; however it was hard to get in as it was jam packed with new vendors/first timers seeking counseling trying to figure out why their booth is not full of buyers (I guess they failed to read and take my advice on being an entrepreneur in the funeral industry).  The non-conventional conversation among this particular crowd (vendors) was that “second tier” organizations should consider events with exhibits such as these perhaps every other year.  The cost to attend, lack of ROI, and dwindling attendance is going to force some tough decisions in the future from a vendor participation perspective.  Suggestions of one big annual funeral expo that covers funeral directors, cremationists and cemeterians would suffice with perhaps individual breakout sessions if needed for organizations.  The individual organization fiefdom is a drain on vendors, members and participants.  Every state has its own annual organizational gathering repeating the same madness but on a smaller scale.  The smart states have completely eliminated exhibits.  So my vote (and I’m sure lots of others if they had one) is to let’s quit doing the same thing the wrong way over and over again…what’s that called?

The speakers and breakout sessions had excellent content with relevant information.  Again on the notion of “one big funeral gathering” with many speakers and subjects would stop the redundant messaging under different flags…so maybe the presentations given at the “one big funeral gathering” could be recorded then retrieved in an archived library for those not attending.  That sounds like a smart revenue generation model with mass appeal, but what do I know?

Speaking of tough decisions, the funeral service providers I had the privilege of chatting with provided me with realistic reports of their experiences at providing services/products to the ever changing consumer.  Outside of the emerging Social Media, technology and of course DNA collection (yes, that’s a shameless but true plug) they saw nothing really addressed how to provide better service to the consumers they serve.  Think about that for a moment.  Basically, if the company/vendor is not providing or improving upon a technology based solutions (sales, service, arrangements, B2C marketing, operations, or product) then the relevancy to a funeral service provider is benign.

An interesting and emerging segment that was present in technology seems to be a platform for consumers to memorialize themselves using an online portal to capture their life stories, videos, etc. (I guess Facebook/online obits is just not getting the job done).  The fallacy for most is the choice some really odd names which I personally wonder how consumers find them in the first place.  One of those odd named providers makes claim that their product/service helps with the “family experience” but when I drilled down a bit I got the old “we’re still working on that” position.  Basically, capturing a life well lived is a great notion, in fact some of these cats have somehow found people (companies) to invest in this idea without a strong revenue generation model (you know, pay back investors’ money).  Aurora’s value added Be Remembered has all of the components for such a platform (at no cost to the consumer or funeral home) which leads me to believe that others fail to do any relevant market research before launch.

The best non-conventional conversations took place off the floor with a drink in one hand and a cigar in the other (yes, that’s my favorite environment for great conversations). I think that all would agree such funeral gatherings provide a platform for those in attendance to have all important face to face interactions.  During these important extemporaneous sessions,  I actually was made privy to a new product that I think is brilliant; cremated remains, the life story, storage and columbarium all in one…technology, sleek design and a solution.  Another was about a new brand of funeral service to consumers; a collaborative effort for a brand that will capture and address the majority market in America…the 75% that make less than $50,000.  Those folks die too, but we don’t talk about them much.  Finally, this is a big world but getting smaller.  The alliances of companies collaborating on a global scale are becoming more commonplace.  I personally had conversations with people from Canada, Australia, Spain, Italy, China, Ireland and even New Jersey.

In a nutshell, if it’s not a technology driven product at the exhibitions and expos that assists funeral directors to provide enhanced service to their consumers, the interest level is dwindling.  There is always some that will pine for the days of yore, but those days are going away with facsimile machines.  The from my vantage point, defined success for the future in the funeral industry is messaging, technology and collaboration.  That’s the view from the field and The Funeral Commander.  Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

honor

The truth: U.S. active duty or veteran military members deserve proper respect for the title they earned and honor for serving our Country at their funeral. Recently, I have been party to discussions that some (few) funeral professionals just get this flat wrong. When it comes to military affairs and funerals there is no room for debate or opinion.  Anything short of our best effort is unprofessional and disrespectful.

One of the great attributes that the military provides for those that offer their life (only 1% of all US citizens) is the complete understanding of (and adherence to) regulations, standards and protocol.  The culture of discipline and following the chain of command ensures success from the most insignificant tasks to major initiatives.  Follow the rules, your leaders and do your job.  All of the success is not just happenstance; training takes place every day to perfect the standards of operation and organizational effectiveness.

A service-member has earned a title, whether it is Soldier, Marine, Sailor, or Airman. It is also customary to address that person by their rank; Corporal, Sergeant, Chief, Captain or the like.  Yes they are ladies and gentlemen, but they earned a title and rank which distinguishes them from all others, period.  By taking some time to understand the particulars about the military member (branch & rank) by funeral directors prior to engaging family or others, our profession is elevated. Trust me, for those of us that know the difference, it makes a difference.

One great debate ensued with a group funeral directors about proper folds of a flag while resting on a casket.  I hate to even share this, but there was actually a funeral director that stated, “I was taught this way and I don’t care who likes it or not, that’s the way we do it,” when referring to how they incorrectly fold the U.S. flag on caskets of veterans at his funeral home.  If you read my blog or know me, I love a great debate.  But I get pissed off and downright indignant when people, and I don’t care who you are, disrespect our country, our military or our flag.

In an effort to educate rather than humiliate, how about we read the link Congressional Research Service that provides information for proper uses of the flag.  More relevant information: Flag Casket Placement: http://www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-27-2008-ARE.pdf; Navy: http://www.public.navy.mil/bupers-npc/support/casualty/Documents/NAVPERS%2015555D.pdf; Army: http://www.armypubs.army.mil/doctrine/dr_pubs/dr_a/pdf/atp1_05x02.pdf; Marine Corps: http://www.marines.mil/Portals/59/Publications/MCO%203040.4.pdf; Air Force: http://www.mortuary.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-141110-023.pdf

If you take the time to read the information provided above, it’s blatantly obvious that, “we’ve always done it that way,” doesn’t cut it for military funerals.  As a point, wouldn’t it be great if all funeral homes had such detail in their operating manual and regularly trained on these along with other funeral related topics?  Well, some of us do, but that’s another subject.

The truth is that Military funerals are special and deserving of professionalism by those of us that provide the service.  If you don’t know, ask.  Most states have a National Guard burial detail and local military organizations like the VFW are always willing to lend a hand.  Don’t make it up, there are those of us that know the difference.  As one of them, Cheers Y’all.  The Funeral Commander #thefuneralcommander

saving lives (3)

The headlines today reveal that Angelina Jolie has had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed as a preventative measure against cancer ( BBC News).  Angelina’s diagnosis was a result of genetic testing and from her perspective, life saving.  When a person is cremated, their DNA (genetic record) is destroyed by the cremation process.  When a person is buried, disinterment is costly both financially and emotionally.

Funeral directors have the ability to offer families they serve the last chance to preserve their deceased loved one’s genetic record (DNA).  The importance of DNA in medicine and generational comparisons is undeniable.  Funeral directors have an obligation to provide consumers information to make educated funeral decisions…the option to preserve DNA may have life saving implications; is your firm offering DNA collection?  If not, visit http://www.dnamemorial.com to find out more about offering DNA collection to the families you serve.  #thefuneralcommander #dnamemorial #dnasaveslives

3 a

WOW!! What great response to the post Truth Discussion: Part III from literally all over the world; thank you (except to the woman with the handle  “Cougar” that called me a few expletives, but she certainly typified the Southern saying “a bit dog always yelps”).   One of my brilliant readers (a seasoned and well respected industry pro) and I had a long Skype discussion about the funeral industry buying and selling process a few days ago. During our chat, the notion of perceived value was discussed from a funeral product perspective.  The truth is, because of overcapacity many manufacturers of funeral products are in survival mode.

Think not?  Here is a question to ponder:  Especially regarding caskets, if products have such great value…why offer such HUGE discounts? As I mentioned in Part III, I have recently seen a combined discount/rebate over 40% offered for a nominal amount of casket purchases.   Leading with value?  Not a chance…absolutely leading with price!  If the main product manufactured has to be highly discounted to attract/retain customers and if the focus for sales reps is to sell all sorts of ancillary products such a paper goods, “business” systems, urns, websites, etc. then the truth is, things aren’t going so well.

Given this scenario, what are your thoughts? I’d like to hear from everyone your experiences of just how much a funeral industry product/service company wanted your business (discount/rebate, parking lots paved, vacations paid for, etc.).  What are some of your stories and observations?  We all know that just about anyone can be given a name-tag, tour, fed, getting all liquored up on free drinks in the middle of nowhere, entertained with game tickets, rounds of golf and such; but how about some of the more “colorful” attempts at “loyalty development?”

The truth is most funeral directors don’t ever see or get to experience such perks, I suppose that’s why the “Halloween” bags are so important at conventions/expos.  What’s hilarious is some may read this and have no clue of what I’m talking about…oh well.  From the desk of The Funeral Commander, Cheers Y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

Innovation word cloud glowing

Why are new ideas so difficult to introduce in the funeral industry?  The historic level of success for introduction, adoption and broad acceptance is low, at best.  I’ve been around this market now for several years and have witnessed products, services and vendors come and go.  At nearly every convention and expo, bright eyed newcomers rent booth space for display just knowing they will capture the hearts and minds of those that will share their ideas with the families they serve.  The truth is, most fail.

One factor for low success is that most of the “new idea” people are from outside the industry.  Consumer research may indicate opportunity will abound for success; however the stark reality becomes evident once launched.  Standing in the booth hoping funeral directors and perspective buyers will show interest by taking time for the new exhibitor to share their ideas becomes a lonely and expensive lesson.  Often if a cool and free giveaway is available, traffic will be akin to Halloween with open bags to take the trinket, but no real interest otherwise.  A fishbowl full of business cards may provide a glimmer of follow up hope with the vendor measuring success by all the “contacts” made, but the reality is few will ever respond. Speaking of business cards, it’s hilarious to me how may attendees “forget” their cards and if one is in their possession, how many have no email address.  I would venture to guess if these same folks were at a local church picnic, bake sale, pig picking, Friday night out at the diner or other “major marketing” event they would be handing out cards like methadone at a drug clinic.

Most of the naysayers including those that fill their goodie bags with “free stuff” along with the non-card carrying bunch have never created anything in their life other than a checking account for their check to be deposited.  Thus not having any idea or appreciation for the difficulty bringing a product/service/idea to market.  These same smug and often borderline rude people are the barrier between funeral consumers and innovation in the industry, however their stranglehold is weakening.  I recently saw a great commercial from Go Daddy (which I use) that reminds me of this crowd…named the Doubters:

Unfortunately the “new idea” people are often ill prepared to launch for several reasons.  The product/service has not been proven or beta tested in actual arrangement sessions.  This is an important factor because without data and feedback from the presenter (funeral director) to the consumers they are meeting, it’s impossible to gauge consumer acceptance.  Many new vendors haven’t a clue the intricate nuances that take place during an at-need arrangement session, nor are most directors willing to introduce something new outside their normal routine. Therefore, price points, presentation materials and the sales process are not vetted which is an uphill climb to any market penetration.  I wrote a post Funeral Industry Entrepreneur? relative to starting something new in the funeral industry; it’ not for the faint at heart.

Another factor is need…what does the funeral industry really need? Frankly there is over capacity of urns, caskets, vaults, fluids, funeral coaches, paper goods, pre-need offerings, life insurance factoring, and such.  Generally the same vendors are offering “new and improved” of the same stuff year after year.  The relationships developed between suppliers and customers usually remain firmly entrenched.  For funeral homes to make a change from one supplier to another usually takes place primarily because of finances; don’t kid yourself, it’s all about the money. The well funded deep pocketed suppliers will go to great financial lengths to retain or attract new business from a limited field of buyers which often squeezes out the “newbies” and smaller competitors (yep, I have seen HUGE discounts and rebates climbing over 40%).  Many of the “big boys” are rearranging the chairs on their own Titanic due to the shifting consumer, increase of cremation, decrease of burials and their own lack of innovation.  However, changing suppliers or adding new products/services also takes effort on the buyer side which deters many due to the sheer upheaval and operations of the “we have always done it that way” crowd.  Even if “new or different” costs less, easier to use, provides better service, or fills a needed gap, the resistance to change generally rules.

What if the approach to launching new funeral related products and services changed?  I think (I haven’t conducted much research on this) there are more living people at this very moment than those that are arriving at funeral homes.  Huh?  What if vendors/suppliers reach consumers prior to arriving at the funeral home creating demand for their particular product/service?  Basically consumers walking into funeral homes asking for the product/service by name…would this conduct change the market?  Of course, I can almost hear (even with some great Spotify tunes blaring on my speakers) “well, I don’t carry or do that, so you will have to choose from what I have to offer” from the before-mentioned “we’ve always done it this way” crowd.

The advent of Social Media has created a tremendous path to reaching and educating consumers about new services or products.  FTC Funeral Rule actually stands in the consumers’ corner regarding their choices.  Now this could create quite a quandary let alone great headlines for marketing of such products or services.  So, you don’t think this is possible?  Take some time to read about Invisalign and their launch into the dental market.  Early adopters enjoyed success and competitive advantage for their new service/product innovation. The push-pull strategy has not been attempted in the funeral service industry…

But don’t fret!  The Funeral Commander is developing a 5 Paragraph Operations Order that will have many scratching their heads and others proclaiming “well, I’ll be damned.”  The truth is, there are other avenues of approach to effect change.  For the early adopters, forward thinkers and those with the capacity to adapt for change, we have quite a great ride ahead.  For the others, please don’t change, really we need you! From the thick smoke of a great cigar at The Funeral Commanders desk, Cheers Y’all!  #thefuneralcommander #dnamemorial

saving lives (3)

Funeral directors offer families the last chance to collect their deceased loved ones genetic record (DNA) which may have generational implications for either health or genealogical reasons.  News headlines continue about life changing DNA research such as the recent article shared by the ALS Foundation, Whole Exome Sequencing Reveals New ALS Gene.  Why is this relevant to funeral directors?

Baseball Hall of Fame Member Jim “Catfish” Hunter died in 1999 about a year after being diagnosed with ALS.  In 2006, Gary Hunter,”Catfish” Hunter’s nephew also died as a result of ALS.  Both of these tragic deaths were before the research mentioned in the article link above and before collection of DNA at funeral homes was becoming more commonplace.

Funeral homes that offer DNA collection are providing their consumers, both pre-need and at-need, a valuable service that may prove life saving in the future.  Why offer DNA collection?  Because it’s an obligation to provide information to families so they may make educated decisions…offer them a choice.  Watch this short video:

From the desk of the Funeral Commander, Cheers Y’all!  #thefuneralcommander #dnamemorial

TFC-Truth & HellI posted Can We Handle the Truth? a few weeks ago with tremendous feedback from many points of view.  Most  were in agreement with the notion that we in the funeral industry need to take a step back and reevaluate our businesses from many avenues of approach.  There were some that agreed with the post content, but doubted that such a collective discussion would ever take place, much less have impact.

I have traveled extensively the last few weeks attending a “meeting of funeral professionals” (I’ll leave out the name of this particular event to protect the innocent), meeting with several funeral home/large cremation providers and with a prominent/high volume funeral financial provider. At the funeral professionals meeting the format allowed for various speakers within our industry present a multitude of topics from how to manage change to the importance of social media (yawn…old news talking about it, implementation and execution are foreign strategy topics).  I listened intently to most of the speakers and one stood out as a practical real world, experienced voice.  In a nutshell this funeral provider actually understands consumer segmentation, invested, created, and implemented services/products to meet demand.  This man and his company created several different value propositions based on consumer needs/demands finding tremendous success; how refreshing.

In the very same week, an article was published by a well-respected industry leader regarding price competition.  The message had excellent points  such as projecting a clear message to consumers differentiating your brand versus competition along with providing value and customer service.  Let’s take a short look at how Walgreen’s does it:

What’s the message?  If one brand offers the exact same service for a better price (value) and can clearly communicate to consumers…what are the results?  Why didn’t the commercial show the pedicure for $30.00 ($10.00) more…would the lady react  the same? The truth is that a basic cremation is transfer of a body from place of death, the necessary paperwork, and the crematory fee. Most states require a minimum cremation container which adds to the cost.  How can a firm clearly articulate the difference to consumer on these basic charges in a value proposition?  Well, “we’ve been here forever, we care more, we have a bigger building, etc.” is not much of a definitive set of reasons to pay over $1000 more for exact services.  But here is the rub; the next piece of advice in the article is raise your prices.

A few thoughts about raise your prices. I get it, I really do.  If a business has expansive real estate and huge operating overhead costs, raising prices is just about all that can be accomplished. OR can change the model, cut fat out of operating costs by updating with technology and training personnel to perform better.  Perhaps earn new business by (fill in the blank) marketing?  Maybe even do as the speaker I referred to above, invest in developing different brands to meet consumer demands. Three elements of sustaining a business: 1. Do more business 2. Raise prices 3. Cut costs.  Does the current economy dictate that raising prices is the best answer right now?  Competition (like the Walgreen’s commercial) is savvy communicating their message to consumers.  Basically, they can do what you can do…for less and actually make profit.

There are many firms in the US that have created fantastic opportunities for celebrating life with upgraded facilities, offerings of services, technology, clear messaging and a true reflection of “you get what you pay for.”  The same firms invest and respond by creating value and realize that “one size does not fit all” by broadening their business (most cremation societies are owned by large funeral homes).

Just for fun, let’s look at Merriam-Webster’s definition: Valuethe amount of money that something is worth : the price or cost of something: something that can be bought for a low or fair price: usefulness or importance.  The funeral industry definition: Value: pay more for something that can be bought for a lower or fair price just because we say so.  The article is right on point; show value…

An analogy:  2015 Cadillac ATS vs. 2015 Toyota Corolla; ATS base $33,215-Corolla base $16,950.  Now the question is: for the majority of working Americans, which is the best value?  Both are transportation and designed to take you from one place to another.  Many would absolutely agree the ATS…however, if the consumer does not have the ability to buy the ATS, the value means nothing.  Are we trying to convince consumers that a Corolla should be priced the same as an ATS and has the same value?  Value is defined by the person making the purchase, not by the person selling…it’s hard to show the value of a Cadillac if you only have money for bus fare, “I Only Have Bus Fare But I Want to Buy a Cadillac”, sound familiar?

The truth is the consumer is dictating changes that some funeral providers are unable to meet because their operating model is outdated only allowing for “raise prices” and a willful refusal to make hard choices for change. The funeral consumer is finding information online (not necessarily from funeral home websites), shopping for “better deals,” seeking celebrants for direction, and choosing offers/products/services outside of traditional funeral channels.  The funeral consumer is choosing cremation over burial at a rapid rate which applies pressure to funeral homes and manufactures to find new revenue.

With all the meetings and discussions over the last few weeks, the recurring need for adaptation to accept consumer change is at the top of the list.  Yes, there are companies and funeral homes making significant strides in the right direction.  However, the truth is, the vast majority of funeral providers will continue the status quo…just like Radio Shack did.  From the desk of the Commander, Cheers Ya’ll! #thefuneralcommander

TFC-Truth & Hell

I was recently part of a funeral home strategy session that I was asked to make two presentations, one about my view of the funeral industry in 2015 (which prompted my post last week Definition: Family vs. Consumer) and the other leadership.  The post last week was about funeral professionals taking a step back, reviewing who we serve which may require us to take different views of ourselves.  As part of the leadership presentation, I discussed personal accountability; that when leading we must not only demand the truth from those that follow us, but accept the truth as well.

I started thinking; what if we actually spoke the truth about our business, the business of taking care of the dead?  Already at this point of the post I am certain that the Kiwi’s (see Are you a Kiwi or Eagle) have gone into full defensive posture thinking that I’m making accusations that funeral professionals are untruthful or unethical; not so.  But I do think we should start having critical discussions about ourselves.  So once again, I go to the dictionarytruth (noun); the true or actual state of a matter, conformity with fact or reality.

There are a myriad of reasons why as humans we don’t like the truth; the truth often exposes weakness, the truth forces us to confront reality, the truth may “offend,”  sometimes the truth has consequences, and ignoring the truth may be easier than making change for course corrections.  Without a doubt, one of the most famous scenes about exposing the truth comes from the movie A Few Good Men: 

Obviously, Colonel Jessup did not take kindly to being questioned about his position, honor, mission, duty or reputation.  However, when Lieutenant Kaffee presses for the truth, things get ugly.  The “truth” believed by Colonel Jessup is based on a misguided/twisted view of self- importance and perceived mission.   When his truth was fully exposed, it was wrong…dead wrong.  When watching this clip I could not help but also think: “How dare you question me? We have always done it this way.”

So back to the funeral industry.  Using the analogy from A Few Good Men, when we proclaim “you can’t handle the truth” is the reality that many in the funeral industry have a similar postured view akin to Colonel Jessup?  “How dare anyone question us?  After all, we get called out at all hours in any weather conditions, we embalm bodies, we cremate bodies, we console loved ones, we stand vigil at visitations, we must be licensed and take CEU’s, we sponsor community events, we pay for those church fans…you need us to answer that phone, you need us to wear our matching ties, we care for the dead.”

What if we took a step back and had truthful conversations about how we actually conduct our business, realistically view our customers, our educational requirements, our products, our services, our prices, our organizations and publications…could we handle the truth?  Could we have these conversations without pointing fingers making accusations about each other, having thin skin and getting “offended” rather actually take steps to collectively make our industry better?

I say we can and should.  In the spirit of betterment and truthful conversation about the funeral industry, I raise my hand to pledge to tell the truth. Here are some of my own truths and thoughts about such discussions:

  • I am certain of what I know, and more certain of what I don’t know…I seek council and advice from many different facets of our business.
  • I am not scared of challenge, so let’s debate…I respect people that are passionate about their thoughts/positions and have the ability to articulate in a challenging but not personally demeaning manner.
  • I’m not offended if you disagree with me; in fact I’m pretty hard to “offend” because the funeral industry does not define me.  I’m comfortable in my own skin; I know my failures and my successes.  So, if you are inclined to travel a path of “telling me what for” you are wasting your breath (or writing).  If you really have something say, give me a call and we’ll talk.  But if you decide to “go there” in a public way, be prepared for my public response.
  • I believe when we see something that does not make sense, it should be challenged; but when we do, lets offer solutions rather than just pointing fingers.
  • If you know something is wrong or doesn’t make sense, yet don’t say or do anything about it, don’t criticize those that have the intestinal fortitude to make a difference.

I am dedicating a series of posts on The Funeral Commander blog to “funeral industry truths”  and I solicit your ideas of subjects that should be addressed.  I’m attending yet another industry seminar/conference this week which I’m certain will provide all sorts of inspiration for discussion…I’ll report from the battlefield.  So from the desk in the Command Post and heavy fog of cigar smoke; Cheers y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

think

I am creating a presentation after being asked to speak on the the topic “The State of The U.S. Funeral Industry in 2015″ for an organization.  In a post earlier, Adapt and Overcome; Time for Bold Leadership, I made reference to outside influences challenging the funeral industry such as economics, shifting consumer views, and technology.  While furthering my research regarding consumers, I had a discussion recently that makes me ponder a contributing factor to our challenges; our own “internal language.”

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of visiting with the Life Celebration, Inc. team at its headquarters not far from Philadelphia.  If you have not had the occasion to do so, it’s quite impressive what this organization has created to assist funeral directors training and creating meaningful funerals. During the meetings, I had opportunity to have an in-depth discussion with Jim Cummings, Chief Experience Officer, regarding the Life Celebration, Inc. philosophy, training and offerings.  Jim made a statement that really resonated with me; “we have to change how, as funeral professionals, we view ourselves and the people we are serving.  They are not our families they are consumers, there is a difference.”

Jim has a very interesting point.  So, as part of my work for the before mentioned presentation, I looked up the definitions on dictionary.com:

family (noun; plural; families) a basic social unit consisting of parents and their children,considered as a group, whether dwelling together or not.  

consumer (noun) a person or thing that consumes & a person or organization that uses a commodity or service.

I have heard over the years and still today funeral directors refer to their customers as “my family.”   If someone didn’t know better, they would think funeral directors were actually burying or cremating a person from their own family unit (as defined and generally recognized by most of the population above).  If “my family” was accurate, a funeral director would not have to get all of the information for the death certificate nor waste copious amounts of time on the obituary.  He or she should know all this stuff about his or her “family” and funeral directors would be picking up the bill, or at least not profiting (we would never profit off of our own family…right?).  Where did this notion “my family” referring to consumers we serve come from?    Is there another profession that mirrors this philosophy; physician/patients, hotelier/guest, attorney/client, church/congregation, hospice/patient?  These other professions have compassion and love for those they serve, but don’t use the moniker, “my family.”

I believe this sort of “make believe posturing” in the funeral industry is one of the many contributing internal challenges we’ve created. Perhaps by viewing customers as what they are, consumers, we would not be failing to adapt to their needs.  If we can change the way we visualize ourselves, we will better understand those that we serve.  We would study their product/price points (not just sell whatever the vendors produce), their preferences for experience (rather than make them accept only what we have been used to offering), we would conduct services at different venues (not just our chapel or a local church) and we would communicate with them in the ways they communicate (social media, not the yellow pages) actually having something to say that is relevant to their needs.

If they are “your family,” why are they forsaking their loyalty to your firm and flocking to other funeral service providers like cremation societies, online providers, and so on?  Think about it; if they were your family, wouldn’t these consumers you are serving pretty much reflect your own family’s cultural, religious and historical funeral preferences?  Yet, we are bewildered why they won’t and don’t do what we want them to…like “our family” would.  The assumption that interjecting into a group of strangers or previously served consumer group’s life for 72 hours or so and assuming genetic ancestral linkage is just plain off base.

As usual and customary, I’ll get some push back from the Kiwi’s among us which, from my point of view, bolsters the Southern saying “a bit dog always yelps.”  My intent for this post and the presentation I am creating is to challenge conventional thinking and solicit other viewpoints to find solutions.  So, what do you think…are you yelping or helping?  From the Command Post through the fog of cigar smoke, Cheers Y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

front lines

From my vantage point, the funeral industry is experiencing an era of significant change due to primarily outside influences; economics, shifts in consumer views about caring for our dead, and technology are among the top.  These particular challenges mean that we are adapting to change outside our control and innovative/bold leadership is required to “fight the battles” ahead.  The enemy (for sake of analogy) is the before mentioned influences; however do we have leaders in place to not only win the battles, but ultimately the war?  The war may be characterized along a few fronts; remaining relevant to consumers (of value), financially stability (funeral homes, product manufacturers, etc.) along with the integration of technology which is essential for relevancy and financial stability.

I have written and posted about this subject Are You a Kiwi or an Eagle regarding leadership (or lack thereof) in the funeral industry.  Because I am challenged daily as a leader from many “battle fronts” like: development/structure of new companies/brands which involve legal, accounting, capital investments, regulations (local, national and international), assembling teams, delegating, creating company cultures, personnel issues, marketing, websites, customer acquisition, retention and such; I study leaders, leadership styles and results.

A quote “most battle plans rarely survive the first shot” and there is some truth to this.  Think about it, most of our doctrines and current operations are based on what we experienced in the past.  An example was this past week’s attacks in Paris; the enemy now is successfully using new tactics, attacking not where we thought they would (a battlefield “over there”), and they successfully spread their message; every news media on the planet brought to our eyes all over the world exactly what they stood for.  We are obviously unprepared for such attack and pitifully exposed that we are reactionary (the attacks were conducted as planned, lives were lost, the message of fear propagated).  In the funeral industry, are we following old doctrine and not studying or training to defeat the “enemy” that may cause harm to us?

GSP Painting

One of my favorite leaders in battle and war is George S. Patton; confident, decisive and “told it like it was.”  Many did not like his bold personality and style of leadership; but few questioned the results (sound familiar?).  General Patton once said “fixed fortifications are the stupidity of man” as a prognostication about the German Siegfried Line of fortresses for defense.  This particular quote resonates with me because many in the funeral industry are hell-bent on continuing to build “fortifications of defense” in attempts to ward off the inevitable; consumers gravitating to cremation, declining traditional burial, economic downward spiral, and seeking alternative services outside our offerings, etc.

Another favorite quote from Patton: “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.”  For the funeral industry as a whole, this frankly is an indictment.  Yes, there are innovators and forward thinkers however many are still heading in the same direction they were 5 years ago. The same tired discussions continue; generally just bitching most of the time about the innovators, forward thinkers, vendors and always their competitor…yet rarely taking decisive action to initiate change.

If you took some time to dig a little deeper into and beyond General Patton’s brashness, you would find that he demanded accountability of himself and his subordinate leaders “Always do everything you ask of those you command.”  Furthermore, he was not a tight-fisted leader, but actually wanted people to be innovative; “Never tell people how to do things…tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity” and “If you tell people where to go, but not how to get there, you’ll be amazed at the results.”  Patton demanded creative thinking and allowed for leadership of those that followed him.  We need more of this from funeral home owners…unfortunately there are many, I think because of their own frailties, that don’t allow for “surprise of ingenuity” or “get amazed by results.”  Dictatorial leadership is rarely successful and those subject to “serving the kingdom” cheer at the Dictators inevitable demise…sometimes assisting in their demise (funeral coup?).

Patton’s “Nobody ever defended anything successfully, there is only attack and attack and attack some more” basically meant to train, stay on the move, innovate and attack; but don’t keep moving the sandbags around hoping you’ll win the battle.  We have to be proactive as leaders and never satisfied that we have reached any sort of  pinnacle, stay “on the attack.”

As for me, I’m going to continue to adapt and overcome as well as “shoot the donkeys” (unless of course I see the need for use as the US soldier did in the featured image).  I detest having jackasses hold up an entire column of warriors ready to do battle; just shoot them, throw them over the side of the bridge, keep moving to fight the battle, and win the war.  I’m laughing to myself because I know the jackasses will take umbrage to my school of thought, but as Patton also said “We herd sheep, we drive cattle, we lead people. Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way.”  From the Command Post and through the cigar smoke; Cheers y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

intl chatI recently returned from an overseas trip meeting with funeral professionals from the United Kingdom, Ireland and Scandinavia (Sweden in particular). Having discussions regarding funeral home operations, marketing and consumer perspectives was quite interesting.  The basics of a person dying and the family in need of a funeral professional is the foundation of our business no matter the geographic location, however there are varying degrees of processes and perceptions about our business.

As in the US, pre-need planning/funding is a hot topic in the UK having continuous issues of perceived (and real) money handling issues.  Also in the UK, the funeral directors and funeral homes are not regulated as we are here in the US.  Basically anyone can “set up shop” to provide funeral services. Very few funeral homes own crematories as most crematories are owned by local municipalities.  Just like the US, consumers are struggling to pay for funeral services of their deceased loved ones which increases pressure on funeral homes to offer alternative services/products for additional revenue.  Significantly different in Sweden; consumers are prohibited from keeping the cremated remains of their deceased loved ones. The cremated remains must be buried or entombed in an approved niche.

I found most interesting the lack of technology (even worse than the US) funeral homes/directors use as a basic premise of their operations and marketing.  There are a growing number of funeral homes that have websites, however the content on the sites vary greatly (just like the US).  A consumer may find the perfunctory “we care more,”  “our family serving your family since” and “look at our fleet of cars” blah, blah, blah.  In some parts of the EU, funeral homes are now just considering posting online obituaries.  The use of social media by funeral homes to consumers is extremely sparse, yes even more so that in the United States.

The best part of my position is the ability to meet other professionals in our industry all over the world and have conversations from different perspectives.  A recurring conversation and full agreement is the varying degree of information a family may receive based on the funeral directors experience, personality or even mood while in an arrangement session…the lack of consistency of information provided.  We all agreed that the internet and an educated funeral consumer is going to create challenges for funeral directors in the “I’ve always done it this way” mode of funeral arranging.  I’m going to write a 2014 year end review and make some predictions for 2015…this subject will certainly again be addressed.

Next year I will travel all over the world  and have the blessing of chatting with many that work in and alongside funeral homes serving families.  The conversations will continue with the question “what do you think are your biggest challenges facing your firm (or business)” and that question is the topic for this post; your answers?  From the Command Post, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

PDNAM LogoCG Labs, Inc. of Thunder Bay, Ontario Canada announces the launch of their newest brand, Pet DNA Memorial www.petdnamemorial.com.  CG Labs is a DNA services company that has perfected the process of extracting DNA from a cheek swab or hair sample (no blood draw required) and binding the DNA to a substance that allows for room temperature storage indefinitely.

“Along with our other successful brands such as DNA Memorial www.dnamemorial.com and Secure My DNA www.securemydna.com, we have filled a unique niche in the pet market.  “Pets are as much a part of our lives as our own DNA, so now a pet owner may have their pet’s DNA along with various keepsakes and jewelry with our Rainbow Collections.  We also offer canine breed testing as part of our services to dog lovers.  Because we are pet owners and lovers ourselves, Pet DNA Memorial will also engage with various pet organizations for awareness and fundraising” says Jeff Harbeson, President of CG Labs.

Pet DNA Memorial is available online at www.petdnamemoria.com; however distribution will include pet related websites, veterinary clinics, pet crematoriums and pet retail outlets.  For information about how to become a Pet DNA Memorial distributer, affiliate website or retailer, contact Jeff Harbeson at jharbeson@cglabscorp.com.

back homeThe Wall Street Journal just provided an interesting article Younger Generation Faces a Savings Deficit which outlines how the millennial generation is financially struggling.  Basically the economy has not been particularity kind to this group and due to many factors; they pretty much have no savings. Why is this an issue for the funeral industry?

We all know the millennial generation, for the most part are children of Baby Boomers.  And as we are also aware, Baby Boomers have not been the most fiscally responsible generation of all time.  Yep, we (Baby Boomers) are living longer which means we are spending more money on medical care to keep us alive and depleting our funds towards end of life. In many cases, we are still supporting our college educated millennials that have returned home in debt and unemployed (or underemployed working at low wage jobs with a high cost degree).  I am privy to daily inquiries for funeral funding of a relative that had no life insurance or made any provisions to pay for their own funeral, but relegate such to survivors.  It’s shocking to know that people actually say they have nothing, no funds to pay for their deceased loved one’s final expenses.

If the deceased left noting and their survivors are the generation depicted in the Wall Street article, how is your funeral home going to get paid?  Even more disturbing is the fact that millennials will most likely struggle to pay for a cremation out-of-pocket much less a funeral and all the cash advances like cemetery charges.  How does that affect the financial health of your funeral home?

I recently posted The Orchestra is Lovely regarding the bad news about Genesis Casket closing and indicators about the future of such companies.  If you are in the casket business and depending on millennials to buy caskets for their deceased Baby Boomers, the future is rather dim.  Another post from earlier this year Is it About Honoring the Life or Paying the Bill? reiterates the facts regarding how funeral homes are facing an increasing consumer base in financial difficulty.

Whats the good news?  We all have time to make smart decisions and choices to meet the changing demographics of funeral consumers.  A thorough analysis of operating costs, processes and re-engineering of how our funeral home operates is essential for not only growth, but survival.  I am fortunate to have “the secret sauce” with a team of real professionals that essentially function on “continuous improvement.”   There are some great consultants that will provide you and your firm the due diligence, solutions and oversight necessary to meet this tide of change.  I can attest they are not the ones hawking “new and improved” caskets (not to mention all the other goodies in their bag like websites, urns and funeral toilet paper), but consultants that actually know what a robust and healthy funeral home P&L should contain.

Want more insight?  Send me a message and I’ll gladly offer you some ideas of who can help you and how to prepare for the what lies ahead. From the Command Post: Cheers y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

2Lt. Jeff Harbeson, 1984

2Lt. Jeff Harbeson, 1984

It’s the eve of Veterans Day 2014 and this particular day of honor, I become even more patriotically emboldened regarding our great Country.  Yes, I am a flag waving believer in the foundations and Veterans that provide us the freedoms we enjoy.  On Sunday, I was watching a news show and the CEO of Starbucks and author of the book For Love of Country, Howard Schultz was being interviewed.  Mr. Schultz said “Two and a half million extraordinary young men and women have served for the last ten, 15 years in an all-volunteer service. As a result of that, most of America, 98% have not had real skin in the game. We need to have a conversation, be empathetic, be understanding, and do everything we possibly can across the country, in rural America and every town, to hire a veteran.”

His phrase “skin in the game” really struck me and I consider his words profoundly honoring to all Veterans.  To have “skin in the game” one must give something of value and take a risk of achieving a goal.  Yes there are rewards for having skin in the game, but the risk of losing the skin that you put in the game is a real possibility as well.   Our Americans  with real skin in the game come from every walk of life, ethnic group, and from the poorest to the most wealthy zip codes.  But here is the underlying difference between our Veterans and everyone else; they volunteer to put their skin in the game.  They raise their right hand and swear that they will actually support and defend our way of life, even if it means giving their own life.  A US Veteran is anyone that took the oath and not exclusive to combat duty; if they served under this promise, they had “skin in the game.”  Below is the oath:

“I (name), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will be true faith and allegiance to the same, and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and The Uniform Code of Military Justice.  So help me God.”

Our Nation is grateful for the sacrifice and we have a national debt to honor our commitments for Veteran recognition, education and health care.  Our history is our history because of Veterans.  Upon returning from duty after World War II, Veterans used their skills, work ethic and education opportunities to build what we now know as the middle class.  Since then, nothing has changed because our young Veterans today have even better skills with an understanding of hard work and commitment; they deserve to be first in line for the job, period.

Please watch this video by USAA:  Especially on Veterans Day, when you see a Veteran, step up and thank them for their service.  After all, they put their skin in the game for you and your family.

Hunter HarbesonI have respect for those that served before me, alongside me and serve today.  I am proud that over the years my family put skin in the game to make this Country great and we are still doing so today with my oldest son’s service. From an old Veteran; to all of my fellow Vets that also put their skin in the game, my salute to you and my undying support, So help me God. From the Command Post:  Cheers y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

5th yearRecently I started receiving emails and notifications from LinkedIn congratulating me on my work anniversary of 5 years.  I’m pretty staunch about remembering important dates especially after being married 30 years, but frankly I had to look at what the salutary messages were referring to as an anniversary.  Just a short 5 years ago, I left the “security” of a big company to become an entrepreneur; what a journey it has been and continues to be!

I personally believe, “a vision is only a dream without execution.”  I had a vision of an operating platform for a funeral home developed with Six-Sigma principles; a new way of operating and adapting to meet the changing consumer demands of caring for their deceased loved ones.  The vision 5 years later is being executed; 2 locations in competitive markets serving over 300 families a year led by team of associates that earn a good living because our culture dictates and supports their efforts for success.  The dream at times was a nightmare.

Starting a funeral home from scratch has it’s unique challenges.  One just doesn’t walk into a lending institution, share your vision and get your capital for startup, but if you have a compelling story people will invest in you.  A lesson I learned in the military; Officers eat last.  Basically a leader makes sure his troops are cared for above his own needs; as an entrepreneur associates often may get a paycheck when you don’t.  You just can’t walk into Verizon or sign leases, etc. to open a new business account without significant deposits (or as I see it, betting against your failure).  Of course we received the typical competitive “the bit dog yelps” rhetoric from many especially the “we have been serving since Sherman burned down the South” crowd, however I also had the pleasure of a threatened lawsuit “making sure I did not violate my non-compete.”  Yes, apparently I had a good idea because we had quite the attention from our local purveyors of funerals, but now the Toby Keith song “How Do You Like Me Now” is playing in my head as I write this.

“My failure gave me strength, may pain gave me motivation”- Michael Jordan.  Not all of the visions could be executed.  There are days when defeat and self doubt are the thought of the day.  Such days are where I found out what I was really made of; do I practice what I preach to my sons and everyone else on the planet about perseverance, effort and resilience, or throw on the proverbial towel?  When one of the initiatives does not work out, I know that my detractors find glee, but my fans wonder, “what is he going to come up with next?”  Determination, intellectual curiosity and the ability to connect with people breeds opportunity.  I am a living example.

“None of us is as smart as all of us”-Ken Blanchard.  I know what I don’t know and I am certain of what I do know.  I am blessed to have a business mentor Buddy Watson along with partners like Steve Zittle and Chris Tharp that I continue to seek guidance about many things “out of my wheelhouse.” After literally “burning my boat at the shore” in the funeral industry, I have developed relationships from professionals like Frank Immordino, Ryan Thogmartin, Kate Hamilton, Ryan Lehto, Simon Rothwell and Francine Trendler that spurred more visions which are now being executed internationally.

Interesting that this week, 5 years later I was so busy and excited “executing my vision” that I failed to even notice my anniversary of becoming a funeral industry entrepreneur.  Today, I am at the pinnacle of all the cumulative successes, failures and lessons over a business lifetime launching a life changing business.  Lives of consumers, our team and our families will be better from this journey I embarked upon 5 years ago.  In essence, Happy Anniversary to Me…it’s only going to get better.  This path is not for everyone, but it is for me, thank God for the blessings along the way.  From the Command Bunker, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

GenesisThe news broke yesterday on Connecting Directors  about Genesis Casket Company closing it’s doors.  I read comments from various people in the funeral industry touting their opinions regarding the company’s poor leadership and conjecture why the company failed.  Let’s take a different view at why a casket company going out of business at this point and time in our history is really bad news especially for the funeral industry.

Many of the funeral industry pundits, most  which are marketing “superlatives” that have never made a home removal or know the difference between a rough box and a alternative container have been leading the sheep about the oncoming huge spike in death because of Baby Boomers.  Sounds like great news from the Willie Wonka crowd, but a reality check of what’s happening is quite different.  Baby Boomers are living longer, spending more of their money to live, therefor dying with less. Guess what skippy? If your funeral home is relying on the Baby Boomers’ offspring to pay for the Disney Experience funeral from their own pockets, you’re in trouble because that age group is having difficulty paying for access to the annual county fair.  If there is money left for the next generation, they are paying for their own debt and bills (assuming they are actually living on their own and have not “boomeranged” back home). Take a moment and read an eye opening article from The Guardian about what’s going on in England and “the funeral poor.”  I know, “that’s happening over there” but the news continues:

Cremation is the fastest growing market segment and in the near future, cremation will surpass burials.  I’m not really good with math, but how many cremations must a firm perform to equal the same net revenue as a burial?  The consumer shift away from burial to cremation is not the best economic news for most funeral service providers because of the antiquated model of their operations.  No need for the big chapel, hearse, limo’s, embalming room, caskets, vaults and personnel.  In fact, no need for anything because a quick Google search and a consumer can not only order a pizza online, but also have grandma’s ashes delivered to the front door.

As usual, I’ll receive some of the snarky comments from the “establishment” about how great the orchestra on the Titanic sounds and their classy outfits make the experience so much better.   To circle back to reality; Genesis Casket Company closing is terrible news for the funeral industry.  If the market was so great, the Boomers would be dying at record pace with festivities rivaling a Super Bowl halftime and casket companies would be sprouting up all over the place.  What’s even more pathetic are those that take joy in the failure of Genesis and the people now out of work.  Well, you know what they say about Karma.  By the way, I think the orchestra is playing your tune…

From the Command Post; Cheers y’all! #thefuneracommander

nerd (3)DNA Memorial is preparing for a social media launch initiative with the funeral home providers of their products and services.  This is considered Opinion Round 1 and we’ll show the other images in Opinion Round 2 with final results of the top 4.  Our team had a great time creating the messages and we have our own opinions about some of the responses that will be provided…

The intended audience is consumers.  The campaign will be provided from the funeral home social media outlets.  Please offer your opinions about the content of the images below (and I know that everyone has at least one, especially in the funeral industry).  Which one grabs your attention most?  Which ones will cause a consumer to engage with a response?  What messages do the images portray to you?  Which are your top two favorites?  Cheers y’all!

old joke2 (3)

 

 

 

leave (3)

 

 

 

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Genetics Quote (3)
my reason (3)

 

Expo 14During my tenure in the military, upon completion of each mission/exercise we conducted an “After Action Review.”  Basically we what as supposed to happen, what actually happened, why was there a difference and what can we learn to train/improve upon.  I’d like to amend the process a bit and share with you my viewpoint/perspectives from the NFDA Expo 2014 in Nashville last week.

First, the venue was outstanding.  Nashville provided a perfect city that offered not only the Music City Center for the Expo and meetings, but also great accommodations along with a variety of restaurants as well as entertainment opportunities (and shopping…I saw many boot boxes while checking out of the hotel). I was able to briefly chat with Christine Pepper, the Executive Director of NFDA during the welcome reception party at the Wildhorse Saloon and congratulate her; she and her team really threw a fabulous gathering which was a prelude to what was ahead for the next few days.

As predicted and customary, the major players in the industry participated displaying their products and services along with some “new kids on the block.”  From my perspective; After Action:

In the casket display genre, Aurora Casket led the way at their booth by displaying their culture; they had a “vibe” that reflected warmth and relationships rather than antiseptic “we’re really big, look at us.”  What personally struck me was their Be Remembered website that provides us with the ability to capture our life with a “bucket list,” write our life story in our own words, and plan our desires for services at our death.  It’s a brilliant tool for anyone to use, and as a matter of fact, I’m using it myself.  Aurora also had, in my humble opinion, a fantastic new wood casket that exemplified simple, down to earth, but classic.

Life Art Caskets has broken the barrier between the cardboard cremation container and the bland products we are accustomed to offering families in lower cost cremation containers.  Their cremation containers actually provide a reason for a family to choose something better for their loved one with an array of styles/colors all the way to customized products.  I know that Life Art has excellent success internationally and I am certain that we’ll be seeing quite a bit more about them in the near future.

ASD launched their Mobile 3.0 app MobileFH™ feature while in Nashville.  Kevin Czachor and team are leading the way in the funeral home communications arena.  In particular first calls; not only making the lives of funeral directors better, but managing response and needs of families from the onset.

As you can imagine, urns were everywhere.  The standout was Foreverence Urns, a new and unique offering of custom product blended with technology.  If you can envision what you want, they can design and create an urn truly reflective in their unique art.  The Foreverence use of 3-D technology and ceramic art is a breath of fresh air in the crowded urn field of over saturation.

Speaking of getting crowded, jewelry and glass art has taken hold as a staple in many funeral home showrooms.  Pardon the pun, but the clear front-runner in glass art is Crystal Remembrance.  Perhaps I have an affinity to doing something well and sticking to it, plus their patented DNA double helix design doesn’t hurt either.  The Crystal Remembrance art is an elegant and tasteful keepsake that is a generational heirloom for any family.

I would be remiss by not mentioning the ultimate generational gift, DNA.  DNA Memorial made it’s NFDA debut at the Eckels & Company booth by displaying services and products utilizing their proprietary process of extracting DNA from a non-invasive cheek swab or hair sample (no blood draw) for DNA room temperature storage indefinitely.  A highlight of the display was the Secure Home Banking which the DNA is encased with an award winning Capsule Urn container.  Funeral directors now have an opportunity to not only serve families today, but provide DNA Memorial which may have impact for generations that follow.

I can’t say enough about the continued emergence of Disrupt Media as the leader and only full service social media company in the funeral industry.  Ryan Thogmartin (also of Connecting Directors) melds his experience, relationships and knowledge of the funeral industry to reach multiple audiences which includes engagement of funeral consumers.  I was privy to some exciting initiatives that he an other funeral industry media superlatives are launching in the near future to reach both consumers and connecting funeral directors (I could not help myself).

To complete my personal highlights and to provide a “keep your eye on” is a company called Lifescapes that offers a new and simple product which holds excellent value.  Lifescapes offers family, friends and colleagues a unique way to collectively reflect on the deceased at a visitation, funeral, memorial or celebration of life.  In a word, it’s a collection of many words.  As a side note, I found out from my youngest son over this weekend one of my word descriptors: “enigma.”  I’ll write about that one in the future.

There was lots of “new and improved” but really nothing that I believe was noteworthy.

What didn’t I see?  If you read my blog and posts I continuously have the belief that many of the funeral industry woes can be addressed with training.  Really, pick a subject where training would not solve a problem we all face.  Maybe I missed it, but I did see nor was made aware of any funeral director in-service training tools or programs.  I’m not referring to CEU’s, the “travel junket” seminars (that most funeral directors never get to attend) or Mortuary Schools.  I mean regularly scheduled and intentional training for funeral directors…but hang on friends; I have an idea!  More to come.

Wonderful to see friends like Jeff Staab (Cremation Solutions), Dan Katz &, Rolf Gutknecht (LA Ads), The Deyonne of Death, AKA Gail Rubin (A Good Goodbye), along with Allison Sullivan & Patti Bartsche (Kates-Boylston).  I met new people and had interesting conversations relevant to our continued quest to refine our approach to serving families.

Unfortunately, the Carolina Panthers have been turned into “cheese whiz” in Green Bay and my cigar is at it’s end (yep, I did take the band off).  I trust that if you were unable to attend the NFDA Expo in Nashville, this post provided some information that you may find interesting and you’ll take a little time to look at the companies/websites I think were noteworthy.  So from the Command Post, cheers y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

 

 

 

part 1I have spent some time in the past years studying the shifts of “loyalty” in the funeral industry from a few different perspectives; from a funeral industry product/service provider, as a funeral service provider, and from funeral consumers themselves. My observations are from actual experiences/research including my tenure as a sales representative for a funeral products company, a funeral home owner/partner and a funeral industry entrepreneur.  There is quite a large amount to share, so this blog will have several segments over the next few weeks.

My first real loyalty (or lack thereof) experience in the funeral industry was when I worked for a big funeral products company. It was my mission to sell our provided products/services to the funeral homes in my assigned territory(s) and secure those relationships with multi-year contracts.  The contract was primarily to provide caskets, urns and some ancillary stuff at a discounted/rebated rate for 100% of the funeral home product purchases. My reality check was during my visits to the funeral homes I would notice products in the garages being stored that were not from our brand.  Additionally, you know how funeral directors love to talk, I was always made privy to why the urn sales were down by “you didn’t hear this from me, but we have whole closet full of X brand urns in the basement.”  What made these example scenarios interesting was “rebate check” time when I delivered the rebate check and it was lower than expectations.  Then it was “chickens come home to roost time” because the number of services provided and products sold were way off base. One of my favorite responses was “we are really here to assist you, but paying you a rebate for purchases from another company was not added to the contract.”

The even larger disillusionment while busting my fanny to not only sell for the company but to generate revenue for my family came when I unwittingly uncovered that I was not the only one in my territory selling my company products; so was my company.  Through local distributors under a different brand name my company was selling a “less expensive product with different features” to the same funeral homes that I supposedly had developed business relationships and even “100%” contracts.  Of course, my direct supervisor vehemently denied that any such activity was taking place until I actually showed him a price list and photos of the product.  That’s where the fun began.

During a particular company meeting I addressed this issue to the company leadership and frankly the responses were hilarious.  First starting with denial, then to “not the same products, these don’t have the same blah blah features” to “they are not manufactured with the same standards and finally “these products are not going to your customers.”  Being like the Coast Guard motto “Semper Paratus” I came with all the evidence with photos of the “non-features” and those photos taken in funeral homes within my assigned territory base.  You can imagine my popularity numbers were flying high with the company “big cheeses.”

This issue simmered for a few months and finally fully substantiated on a customer trip visit to the manufacturer.  While touring one of the plants, I noticed unfamiliar shells of caskets on the factory floor.  There was a point of manufacturing process that we prided ourselves as “unique.”  I watched one of the unfamiliar products go right through that same line and the process performed exactly like the other “core-line” products by the same personnel.  Taking the initiative, I asked the person performing the task in the factory “what type of casket it that, we don’t have those in our area?”  God bless him, he beamed “it’s a BR549 (names and brands not used here to protect the guilty).”  Basically, my suspicions confirmed that my company was manufacturing, selling and offering caskets to the customers in my territory without me receiving any of the revenue for those sales.  Some loyalty.

The influx of “foreign” caskets a few years ago was all the flurry of conversation.  Articles written, comparisons made, law suits brought about.  The “American made” label was touted by some of the companies basically offering that consumers would be totally off-put and “no one should be putting their momma in one of those.”  Hold it a second.  Remember that factory tour?  Stacks and stacks of “Made in China” boxes were abundant and in clear view for all to see.  Huh? And oh yea, how about the “we have a plant in another country, but it’s still our skill and craftsmanship that makes the difference.  I won’t even get started on urn manufacturing, just turn over the product and look for the “made in what country” label for your own answer.

There are other instances but not enough ink or finger typing endurance to share more.  My summations for the reasons for these examples of “lack of loyalty” are simple.  Although funeral homes enjoy the support provided by some of the vendors that provide their products and services, as owners we always seek better pricing.  If nothing else, the contract is supposed to be a binding “loyalty” contract, however I dare say they are pretty much nothing more but a piece of paper.  The vendors get all indignant about this issue, but as the example above with the BR549 product line, contracts really don’t mean anything to the vendor either.  It’s a vicious cycle; funeral homes vie for the best price (notwithstanding contracts) and manufactures sell however and to whomever they can find to buy their products.

I’m old enough to remember vehicles made overseas and how we viewed those vehicles.  Guess what’s at the top of the best selling cars on the road in America?  Some of those very cars we made fun of back then (see 20 Best Selling Cars July 2014).  The point here is consumers demonstrate some of the exact purchase and loyalty behaviors that we mimic but complain about in the funeral industry.

Why are we so shocked that consumers choose less expensive service/products (to some in our industry the analogy code words are “discounters,” cremation societies and online purchasing)?  Subsequent posts to this blog will address these same behaviors from consumers.  Don’t shoot the messenger, it’s an issue worth addressing;  I look forward to your responses and the discussions.  My cigar is about completed…so from the Command Post; Cheers y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

 

 

dna newsExtracting DNA is a simple process and now even easier for funeral directors thanks to DNA Memorial.  Perfecting the process of extracting DNA from a non invasive cheek swab or hair sample and binding the DNA to silica allows for room temperature storage or “banking” indefinitely.  Funeral directors are now offering the “last chance” to consumers to collect the DNA of their deceased loved ones.

Why would someone want their deceased loved ones DNA?  There are a myriad of medical reasons from comparison of ancestral DNA for diagnosing medical conditions to determining disease risk and preventative measures.  Others may choose to have a sample of their loved ones DNA for genealogical reasons such as to examine both biological and geographical relationships between people.

Because extracting DNA for banking is non invasive, now consumers have choices for either home banking or secure facility banking of either their own or deceased relatives DNA.  More information will be available this week in the Eckels & Company booth at the New Jersey Funeral Directors Convention in Atlantic City and the NFDA Convention in Nashville next month.  Also, visit DNA Memorial to learn more about the simple  process of extracting DNA, the relevance of DNA to the families you are serving and how to become a DNA Memorial provider.  Cheers y’all! #thefuneralcommander

almost overI have been inundated with messages from funeral home owners about some of the “year end deals” that have been presented in the last week.  Many questioned why we must be subject to the fiscal whims of the suppliers, i.e., most funeral homes operated the fiscal year January-December…so is this really the “end of the year?”

One of my favorites was a particular firm had two open spaces on their casket display.   While their supplier representative was paying him a visit, the rep said that he would call in for a reorder to fill the open spots.  The owner asked the rep what the new product lines are that he would like to try something new and “less pricey” because it seemed to take forever to sell the two that are now gone.  The rep explained there are going to be some new products out, but those won’t be available until after “the show” in October.  The rep again said he would just call in an order for the two empty spaces…the owner told him “not so fast, I told you I want to display something less expensive.”

That’s where the fun began.  The rep explained that he had some “special year end discounts” which would make the exact replacements less costly.  The owner pushed back with the issue that it took a while to sell those two off, and he was interested in something new/less costly (the owner said it was as if he was talking to a tree, no listening for the rep).  The rep finally showed the owner a line of caskets that had high eye appeal, less costly “but would not count towards their current discount, rebate or “numbers” as the rep put it.  The owner selected and purchased two of the “special line” of caskets after doing the math of less net wholesale cost, same margin as the two that were being replaced, and lower retail cost to the consumer that would make the purchase which had a better propensity for turn.

The deflated rep took the order knowing the trend is inevitable…math is dictating the business.  Please keep sending the “it’s that time of year” stories related to “let’s make a casket deal.”  I feel an article coming in the future about “buyer beware” on casket contracts…Cheers y’all! #thefuneralcommander

innovationThis past week famed musician Bono of U2 announced that their new album “Songs of Innocence” would be released free to anyone with iTunes (Bono Explains U2’s Deal).  The idea of reaching new customers with their brand/style of music is a brilliant marketing campaign on many levels.  Of course, Apple is participating and launching products of their own simultaneously which creates buzz for all involved.

Let’s see; reaching a new audience of listeners (not even the same genre’s), collaborating with another company to deliver the message, and a fresh approach to consumers.  Any lessons/ideas here for us in the funeral industry?  I have a few ideas, but I’d love to hear from from you.  Cheers y’all! #thefuneralcommander

casket salesMy post earlier this week Let’s Make a Casket Deal has brought many responses.  If the funeral home operational model is in dire need of change to adapt to the shifting consumer market, shouldn’t the casket companies do the same?  The most resounding in box and emails from funeral directors I have received this week is that their casket salespeople are scarce until a promotion or “big sale” is being perpetuated (especially this time of year). A few nights ago, I had dinner with funeral home owners and directors.  They too had the same observation that casket company reps seem to show up now basically “hawking” (not my words, but from a funeral home owner) caskets or whatever their quota says the immediate need dictates your attention.

There was a time that casket company salespeople actually provided training and useful information other than “let’s make a deal.”  Again, the funeral world is changing, but are casket companies adapting?  Do you really need to look at a lithograph to buy a product, or can you go online and see for yourself? Merchandising?  Does a funeral home owner really need advice to know that the profit of a casket is whatever you decide the retail cost minus the wholesale cost? Does the phrase “buy low, sell high” ring a bell?  One of my favorites casket company quotes “YOUR WHOLESALE AVERAGE.”  All I care about is my net profit per sale!  If you don’t know that you can make the same net profit from a 20 gauge as a high dollar 18 gauge, send me an email and I’ll help you out. There is no direct correlation between your “wholesale average” and your net profit per sale…it’s the casket company’s way of saying “your wholesale average is helping our net profits.”

Just for fun, let’s take a quick economics and history lesson.  The cost of a particular white 18 gauge casket in 2004 was just under $1000 and in 2014 it is around $1950 (who knows what it will be in October).  I’m not really good with math, but that’s quite a stark increase in cost. Back then if the margin was $1.500 on this casket the consumer would pay around $2,500.  So, if the same margin was added to this product today the consumer must pay around $3500.  If today you purchase a white 20 gauge casket (or shop around for a similar product) for $700 and the margin is $1,500, the consumer pays around $2,200.  It’s not what you sell, but what you keep.  I have always wanted to conduct a consumer study by having white caskets, same color interior and different gauge/materials/interior material all lined up with corresponding retail prices.  What would the consumer buy?

Now you would possibly hear from some (most likely a casket company) that “we have conducted that test, and they chose the model with all the bells and whistles because of the perceived value.”  BUT; what if this was an actual at need purchase made with real dollars and has to be added to all the other funeral home, cemetery and cash advance costs?  Think about it.  Which of the before mentioned white caskets are you, the funeral director “better off” selling?  Either one.  IT’s the families financial and personal choice and they are happy and your net profit per sale is the same.  Help me understand where “your wholesale average” makes a lick of difference here?

Times are changing and so is the entire funeral industry operating model; from serving the shifting consumer, the funeral home, to the vendors of products and how they sell to us.  It’s time to take an objective and new look at how to purchase, price and position our goods we provide the families’ we serve.  So that “knock at the door from your new best friend to let’s make a deal” requires more scrutiny. Remember, it’s that time of year.  Cheers y’all! #thefuneralcommander

bad dealIt’s September; kids are back to school, college football is here, we pack away our white shoes, and some casket companies are playing “let’s make a deal.”  Obviously it’s been a tough year for casket sales and once again they are making last minute efforts to “make the year” for their investors (but more important for company bonuses).  It used to be called “pull ahead” where funeral home owners were asked to buy extra caskets at a “great deal” meaning a discount on top of the normal discount and savings from the upcoming price increase.  However, upon a close look and drill down into the numbers, it’s not difficult to decipher which entity is getting the best end of the deal.

Just this past week a fellow funeral home owner reached out to me for my opinion on a casket company’s “let’s make a deal” offer.  Immediately, I found it amusing the casket company was making an offer that was contrary to their original contract and the assumptions made from the wrong date of contract expiration.  Contract?  Who needs a stinking contract? This was the first evidence of desperation and what appeared to be deception attempting to “make the year.”

Here is the overview of what’s “behind door #1.” The casket company wanted the funeral home owner to purchase a pretty good size bulk number of caskets before September 30th. The bulk order would be discounted (in addition to their normal discount/rebate) and the firm would have a short time period to pay for the bulk order.  There were restrictions on what type of caskets that could be included.  AND; based on the current contract (you know the one they got the date wrong), they would “forgive” what looked like a shortfall of achieving a purchase bonus rebate and “give” the firm that particular amount calculated AND just renew the current contract for another x amount of years.

So let’s break this down.  The casket company wants the funeral home owner to buy x number of caskets now and store them until this purchase is depleted.  I have a few problems here.  Isn’t the casket company that came up with “just in time delivery” so funeral homes are not required to “warehouse” caskets? Does this defeat the purpose of that “room” the funeral home paid for over time?  So, is the funeral home owner is supposed to fork out a five figure check over a short period of time (equal payments of course) for caskets that may not be used for months?  Of course, the casket company explains how much savings are realized with such a purchase by “avoiding the impending price increase.”  So the rationale is spend five figures of cash up front to maybe save 3-5% on purchases you are going to make anyway…damn the cash flows!  Oh yeah, you can’t order the casket that you sell the most…they don’t count.

If the casket company is “sucking eggs” from low sales, do they even acknowledge that the funeral home probably has suffered financially over the same time period?  Back to the contract (you know the one the casket company holds near and dear, but willing to “forgive” all when in their odds).  In this particular case, the casket company said that if the funeral home makes the bulk order before September 30, then those caskets will make up all shortfalls for the “wrong date” and a new contract will start October 1.  The “math” says that the funeral home has another 6 months on their contract and with their average monthly casket purchase history; there could be a shortfall of maybe 30 caskets which would keep the funeral home from the “purchase bonus.”

I’m not real good with math, but if the funeral home owner buys their average amount of caskets monthly for the next 6 months and monitors their purchases, the worst case scenario would be that the funeral home would need to buy an additional 5 caskets per month.  Of course, take into account that November-February is typically the “high season” so the additional purchases may not be necessary. The amount of units the casket company offered for this “deal” exceeded the amount of the impending “shortfall.”  This smells like the fish you caught over the Labor Day weekend and just remembered are still in the cooler.

“Behind door #2″ is the ability for the funeral home to continue their average casket purchases over the next 6 months, monitor purchasing units for needed additional adjustments, hang onto their cash, order just in time products (only the ones that they really need and use), earn their “purchase bonus” and renegotiate a new contract.

Let’s take a look at what should be “behind door #3″ but is highly unlikely to ever get revealed.  An annual contract, not multi-year. Let’s say the casket company provided a 25% discount/rebate over 3 years.  Good deal?  Only if there are no price increases over the life of the contract.  The first year of the contract is great (unless you signed in the wrong time of year, see note below) and let’s suppose that the casket company increases their prices an average of 4% per year.  That means the last year of your 3 year sweet deal you are now getting a 17% discount/rebate in real dollars, not the “Monopoly Money” casket companies base their figures.  By negotiating annually, a funeral home can appropriately avoid the price increase shell game. Renegotiate the next contract in conjunction with price increase time.  AND make every casket purchase count.  It’s not the funeral home’s issue that the casket company “doesn’t make the same margins” on certain caskets. Certain lines, non-gasketed and cremation caskets are…caskets.  If the casket company is unwilling to include their “low margin caskets” to the count of discount/rebate/bonus, then purchase those caskets from another casket company (include this information in the contract).

If your “new best friend” casket sales representative has been (or is getting ready) to play “Let’s Make a Deal” take notice!  It’s that time of the year; price increases from suppliers, adjustment to GPL/product price lists, recovery from the financial strain of the slow summer season, and bulk purchase offers so the casket company can “make their year.”  Make good financial choices based on math, not loyalty.  After all, your competitor may have a better deal from the same company; there is no loyalty from the “Let’s Make a Deal” crowd.  Coming soon to The Funeral Commander blog: the “loyalty” post for us to ponder.  Cheers y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

washed outIt’s the time of year that summer comes to a close…the end of a season associated with happy, warm and carefree days. However, this description of summer is not necessarily reflective in the funeral industry.  Just like the ocean, the death rate has an ebb and flow; historically the death rate is higher in the 1st and 2nd quarter of any given year and the 3rd quarter (summer) is significantly slower.  This historical trend offers the opportunity for timely discussion.

As a funeral home owner/manger, how do you prepare for the ebbs and flows of the death rate for expected “slow times?” Does your firm adjust prices based on recent revenues?  What type of marketing campaign do you launch (if the phone isn’t ringing, then go out singing is one of our firm’s methods)?  Or  are you the proponent of the ever popular “we have experienced this before” and do nothing?  The problem of decreased death rate in today’s atmosphere is coupled with other issues; competition (locally and online), shopping consumers, increase of cremation, decrease of traditional burials, and of course when a call is lost, so is the revenue along with that family most likely not returning either.

Lest we forget: it’s price increase time!  Yes, if not yet, your happy supplier will visit soon telling you how much you are loved and appreciated…and that love will cost you more this upcoming year!  Now, don’t forget that suppliers have to make profit and if you review the wall street owned ones, they do handsomely.  Nothing wrong with profit, frankly I’m in favor.  Back to my point, this time of year.  The funeral homes that I am owner/partner, we operate our fiscal year January-December.  However, the major suppliers find it necessary to impose their fiscal calendar upon us to suit their financial needs…this time of year.

What does this mean to you and your firm?  Well, first it’s time for you to make adjustments to your GPL and product price lists or absorb the product price increases starting October 1.  Remember the “slow” summer season just ending?  Now you have to account for those losses and adjust for upcoming increased product costs.  Frankly, if your firm has been adjusting prices along the way, this is not a big deal.  However, the majority of funeral homes in the US only make price changes this time of year, when dictated by suppliers, if any adjustments are made at all.  I know it’s hard to believe, but I see GPL’s and price lists that are actually dated “2010.”  Second, are the prices you are paying for products (and getting ready to pay more) a value to your firm and families?  At some point, there is a price for “loyalty,” just ask consumers.  I’ll address this question in another post soon.

So for discussion sake, how does your funeral home address “slow periods?”  Anyone out there heard the latest price increase numbers?  What are your methods to formulate price adjustments? How often does your firm adjust prices and what time of the year if only annually? Happy Labor Day (I’m working, but doing so with a cigar as part of the celebration).  Cheers y’all! #thefuneralcommander

10489664_10204233373373040_6140789426579688307_n (3)Living in the entrepreneur world is quite an experience. Thinking of an idea/process/product, development and working through to completion which is basically market acceptance and penetration, is a great reward of satisfaction that drives our motivation.

The hard part of being an entrepreneur is not all the creative, coordination, structure development, testing and so on.  That part of our “existence” is why we engage in our endeavors.  One of the most difficult facets of entrepreneurialism is the struggle with people that have either no understanding or will to learn about our creative initiatives.  Interestingly, even after vetting products/services in “beta” situations (at need arrangements) with real funeral directors with real funeral consumers, posting positive revenue numbers and elimination of “glitches,” skepticism abounds.  So why is the phenomenon of knee jerk “well, that won’t work” so pervasive?

I believe and understand that we all have natural skepticism about anything new.  Having stated this, I also believe that many people don’t possess natural intellectual curiosity to research for themselves prior to providing their opinion.  Thus, the term “knee jerk” is appropriate; just what comes off the top of mind with no real foundation or reasoning to support a given position.  Is this because the “opinionated” has never invented or created anything in their life and merely shows up everyday to perform repeated tasks for their livelihood, thus hating change?  Or is the “opinionated” always positioning or believing themselves as the smartest person in the room, resentful of not being the one that created the enterprise?  We see this type of reaction is pervasive in our society today on social media (mindless reactions) and even in our Nation’s leadership;  “JV team” comment sound familiar?

In particular, the funeral industry is quite adept in providing “often wrong but never in doubt” opinions on a wide variety of subjects.  However much like the reference to the Middle East scourge, the issues we face are real and not going away.  In fact, the problem is getting worse and there is no plan of how to address the escalating and dangerous situation we are finding ourselves.  For example, in many cases our approach to cremation, use of technology, regulations, competition, price transparency, the economic environment we are operating and shifting consumer views of funeral service have not been a track record of stellar business practices.

Ten years ago, we were so surprised when consumers actually choose a custom cap panel, or shopped prices, purchased a non-gasketed casket, or asked for a “direct cremation.”  Today these examples are common and closer the norm.  So when the subjects of technology to serve families (bricks and mortar not necessary for services provided), use of celebrants, declining revenues from financially challenged consumers, DNA in the funeral industry, sending cremated remains into space, alkaline hydrolysis and such…are they so far fetched?  However, remember your first Thumbie sale? I suppose the proprietors and change leaders of our industry that now enjoy the fruits of their effort are humming the Toby Keith song “How Do You Like Me Now?”

Fortunately the funeral industry has forward thinking and operating professionals that actually provide leadership by having the intestinal fortitude and broad view to pave the way for those that don’t.  Actually, I addressed these leaders in a post Kiwi or Eagle earlier this year.  So from my view as a funeral home owner/partner and funeral service/product business owner/entrepreneur, there is a bright future for the funeral industry Eagles!  As for the Kiwi’s, well as we say in the South, “Bless your heart,” your beak is getting warmer as we speak.  Cheers y’all! #thefuneralcommander

bad leadershipRecently, I attended graduation of NCMA OC56 and spent a little time with the new Lieutenants prior to them taking the oath of office.  In 1984, I graduated in class OC26 and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant as well; yes if you do the math, that’s 30 years ago.  To state the obvious, the world has changed, however I’m not certain for the better.

Then: my studies of world threat as a newly commissioned officer were centered on Soviet doctrine and how their army functioned, their weaponry and tactics. Now: the new officers will study an enemy we are fighting utilizing tactics of fear; the use of small arms, suicide bombs, videoing the decapitation of Americans, slaughter of people that have a different religious belief than theirs, have no issue of attacking us here on our own soil and willing to die based on their religion.   Then:  America was a place when you get pushed by a bully, we responded with a punch in the nose.  Now:  when a bully attacks, if the attacked responds with force, everyone gets punished.

Prior to the graduation ceremonies, I had the privilege to observe a “ritual of passage” that is still in place even 30 years later.  The officer candidates were excited to participate because it truly has meaning; there is just something about tradition.  Then: we conducted the ritual with vigor observed by senior staff, family and the world as they encouraged our “purging” of the last remnants of “enlisted blood” flowing through our veins.  Now:  a bystander observing/bitching and quoting “regulations” that are contrary to the traditional ceremony.  The sideline comments by the “Doug Neidermyers” of the world has not changed, however the response has.  Unfortunately, much of today’s military leadership is more reflective of “PC” and regulations rather than thinking “what does it take to motivate our young troops to kill an enemy that will blow themselves up, rape women, kill children and video themselves performing atrocities?”

I believe that the new Lieutenants are well educated, have access to technology for better combat tactics, possess a desire to serve our Country, and because of the training they received, they’ll lead troops in combat successfully.  Then:  we had to learn how to actually use a compass, read a map, polish boots, shine brass, do a minimum of 20 push-ups for corrective actions, and if we did not measure up, there were no “equalizers” in place and sent home (yes, I’m guilty of my own restraint here for the sake of PC).  We had to be accountable for our failures or lack of standards, period.  Now: GPS will tell us where they are, where they should be going, boots/shoes require no effort for appearance, brass?, conduct a maximum of 5 push-ups for corrective action, and everything is made “equal” with regulations.  Some reading this will think “sounds better to me” and of course, there is no way that you would understand in the first place, so have another sip of Starbucks coffee.

My favorite conversation on my visit was with a young Captain that is a current TAC Officer (basically a drill instructor) regarding changes that he viewed as ridiculous (this Captain is a graduate of the same program).  At the core and initiation of training, the Basic Officer Candidates must learn the definition of military leadership.  “The art of influencing and directing men in such a way as to obtain their willing obedience, confidence, respect and loyal cooperation in order to accomplish the mission” is actually etched in stone and placed prominently in the OCS operational area.  The Captain explained to me when he arrived for duty, he was “corrected” that the definition had changed.  His response was exactly the same as mine “you can’t change what’s written in stone,”  God help us.

Many of the Officer Candidates I trained as a TAC Officer are now in leadership positions, some leading our troops in combat roles and many reaching the rank of O-6, Colonel (interestingly, they still addressed me as “Sir”).  I was blessed to have conversation with some of them over this visit and share my personal pride of their service along the positions they have earned.  They privately shared their dismay of how “things are today” and the restraints placed upon them for realistic training to fight an unrealistic enemy.  I know and understand that I would struggle to lead in the environment that they must now operate.  I get it…I’m a relic of the past and “out of touch with the way things are” today.  On these particular subjects, I wear those badges with pride.

The graduation ceremony was conducted at the very place I took my oath of office 30 years ago.  Unfortunately the Army Band that played the National Anthem, the Army song, etc. has been replaced by recordings for the music played (I guess the funds for the band have now been diverted for additional “sensitivity” training).  The atmosphere of excitement, pride of accomplishment, and the seriousness of the ceremony has not changed.

The oath of office for commissioning has not changed which includes the final words “SO HELP ME GOD.”  When I heard the proclamation, I actually had a sinking feeling that this phrase may go away one day, just like so many of our many American values we hold dear. When and if it does, help us God!  Cheers y’all.  #thefuneralcommander

helixFuneral consumers are now provided the option of collecting their deceased loved ones DNA.  Of course, some may wonder why anyone would want to collect DNA from a deceased person.  The first question that must be answered; exactly what is DNA?

DNA is the instructions to create new life. Think of schematics for an electrical system or blueprints to build a house, each cell in a body contains a full identical DNA compliment and every living thing known today from animals, plants, bacteria and even viruses all use DNA to reproduce and function.  Because same DNA is in every cell of a human body it doesn’t matter which cell you get the DNA from each has a full set of instructions. When a cell splits, the exact DNA is copied in the new cell. The egg cells and the sperm cells each have half a compliment of DNA from the mother and father. When they join they create a new life and follow the DNA instructions to build the organism.  Hair color, height and all your physical traits are genetically programmed. There is an interaction between environment and DNA which determines how these genes are expressed. You may be genetically programmed to obtain a height of six feet but because of bad nutrition you only grow to five feet.   DNA is also passed down with very little variation in families which allows the identification of trends for disease and illness

The significance of DNA research for medical reasons including identification of early stage diseases and using DNA for analysis for cures continues to emerge (see a recent report on BBC News DNA project ‘to make UK world genetic research leader’).  For many, a compelling reason for DNA collection is where and who we come from. DNA provides a 100% accurate family lineage securing important legacy for future generations. Genetic genealogy a popular interest in North America and as genetic records accumulate around the globe, preserving familial DNA now ensures any geographic and all-genealogical connections are forever possible.

To circle back to why anyone would want to collect DNA from a deceased person, funeral directors know the finality of the decision.  There are three facts that are very important when making funeral arrangements that must be considered:

  1. Cremation is an irreversible process. Unlike burial where a body may be disinterred after a period of time, cremation is a final disposition of human remains.
  2. All genetic and medial DNA are destroyed by the cremation process. DNA begins degradation at 800 degrees and the cremation of a human typically is a temperature is over 1800 degrees.  There are no traces of DNA in cremated human remains.
  3. Even after burial of a loved one, disinterment is costly both emotionally and financially. In some jurisdictions, disinterment may require court orders.

When considering these facts, basically a funeral director is offering the “last chance” for a family to collect and bank their deceased loved ones DNA.  For more detailed information about DNA and information regarding collection after death occurs, visit DNA Memorial and have the conversation with your local funeral director. Also consider that death does not have to occur to collect and bank DNA.  Actually, this important decision while living is a gift for generations that follow.  If considering collecting and banking personal DNA, visit Secure My DNA and take a few moments to watch the video below.

An oath is written in different languages and left on the witness chair in the courtroom at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) during its open day for public in Hague

With all the media resources available today, communicating a clear message should be simple.  However, often we have a propensity to “sugar coat” the message to the intended audience for whatever reason.  For me, I think the softening of the message often misses the point intended to deliver.  One of my favorite sayings “I’m not going to tell you to go to hell, but I am going to tell you the truth, and that feels like hell.”

The message is clear: The cremation process is irreversible.  All DNA is destroyed by the cremation process.  As a funeral professional, it’s your obligation to provide this information to a family so they may make an educated decision; the last chance collect a DNA sample from their deceased loved one, or not.  Of course, there are those funeral directors that will say “well, the family has never asked me about this” or “we don’t have a legal or regulatory obligation to tell a family that.”

Recently, a funeral home owner provided an interesting perspective to his leadership team about providing families they serve information regarding cremation destroying DNA: “In a few years, this is going to be a big story in the local news.  Because we shared this (the last chance to collect DNA from their loved one) with a family and they chose to collect a sample, the sample made a significant difference in their lives…or we did not tell the family, and they are suing us.  Which is the best story?”

In the event an uniformed family (not provided the facts that cremation is irreversible and cremation destroys DNA by you, or your staff) returns to your funeral home with their loved ones cremated remains (that your firm cremated), and asks you (their funeral director/funeral home owner) to collect the DNA from those cremated remains, your answer is: __________________?  Please share with us your answer; we really want to hear what you have to say. Got the message? Cheers y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

consumer debtConsumer economic news last week reports that 35% Americans in Debt Collections which continues to add pressure to funeral home revenues.  The thought that one out of every three people are past due on their mortgages, credit cards, car payments, student debt and even gym memberships certainly has relevance on the funeral industry.

I don’t make the news, I just comment and provide my perspective about how it relates to all of us.  From my point of view, this report sheds light on continuing shifts in consumer trends of how they care for their deceased loved ones.  This particular segment of consumers have loved ones die and as we all know, exacerbates an already difficult financial situation.

Think about it: you are behind on your mortgage, credit cards maxed out and now a loved one unexpectedly dies.  What happens next?  If the loved one had a pre-need trust in place or life insurance in force, then you are in luck.  However, if this is not the case, and more often than not it is, then if you are the responsibility of paying the funeral bill lies on your shoulders.  Now you are sitting in front of a funeral director that has taken your loved one into their care making arrangements…what happens next?

Let me repeat: 35% of ALL Americans are in Debt Collections.  We are serving this financially challenged families.  How is your funeral home staff addressing this issue?  It’s not going away…share your thoughts.  Cheers y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

old phoneSince returning from my shangri la also known as Aruba, I have jumped back into the business of doing business.  I’m continually amazed by the new entry of entrepreneurs into the funeral industry and the technology that is being introduced to consumers at their fingertips.  Recently I read the results of a communication survey conducted by Answering Service for Directors ( ASD Communications Survey).

The information provides us with a really good snapshot of how funeral homes are using technology to manage their operations and communicate with the families they are serving.  I found the data encouraging that many of us are, and continue to realize, that the more information we provide to the consumers, the funeral consumer families can make educated funeral decisions.

One of the results I found interesting was Website Merchandise Sales.  Of the survey respondents, 55% acknowledged that they were making some type of merchandise sales from their website.  As reported, 97% of the respondents had a website of some kind…I guess the 3% that don’t have a website are still enjoying resounding success with the stone tablets handed down over the generation.  My observation is that 45% of the funeral homes produce no revenue sales of merchandise from their website and the earnings that are earned are pitiful.

So who is getting the other 45% of the online merchandise sales of funeral products?  I also wonder if those other sites are generating the anemic revenue numbers as the funeral homes report?  With annual funeral industry sales in the $billions based on the survey funeral homes are clearly not capitalizing on website merchandise sales potential.  So, one must ask, “who is making direct sales to consumers from websites and what type of revenues are they realizing from consumers versus funeral homes?”

I applaud ASD for excellent work on the survey and providing us with results.  As always, I wanted to offer fodder for funeral professional discussions and just point out what I see is painfully obvious…what do you say?  Cheers y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

effortI’ve been in the funeral industry now since 2001 and I have participated in various capacities from B2B sales, capital raising, funeral related business start-up development/launch, funeral home development/ownership/operations, providing training/teaching to developing proprietary operating platforms.  For a while, I even held an apprentice license so that I could learn and experience every facet of serving a family in a funeral home.  The blessing along the way has been the education as well as the ability to associate and align myself with funeral industry superlatives.  My focus  is to “see the battlefield,” surround myself with the best people in their respective fields of expertise, and continuous movement closing the gaps between consumer demands and funeral service offerings.

If I had to in one word describe the funeral industry over the past 13 years it would be “change.”  During the period I have been in this industry; escalation of cremation, decrease in traditional burial, significant shifts in consumer behaviors, and ongoing technological uses for not only serving but communicating with families is ever evolving.  I believe there is more to come of all the above…and then some.

Being on a team, one of the first things you have to learn is you may not always be the star, much less a starter.  However, as my son’s football coach says “always prepare yourself for the moment when you can make a difference and be in position to make the play.”  For many, my funeral industry resume looks kind of crazy…recently I had a well respected business owner ask me “what is it that you actually do?” My first answer is “I’m married and training my grandchildren’s dad as well as my daughter-in-law’s husband.  But, in order to pay for cigars, I’m a partner in 2 funeral homes, an at need credit company, an online cremation company, a sales organization and in my spare time I love to express myself by writing a blog.”

CG Labs logo 1With all of that, I have been preparing myself for the moment to make a difference and be in the position to make the play.  I’m pleased to announce that I have accepted the position of President at CG Lab’s, Inc. in Thunder Bay, Ontario Canada.  CG, Labs. Inc. is a DNA company that owns the DNA Memorial, Pet DNA Memorial and Secure My DNA brands.

I became intrigued about DNA and the funeral industry last summer.  As a funeral professional, I know that cremation is an irreversible process, all genealogical and medial DNA is destroyed by the cremation process, and after burial, disinterment is costly; both emotionally and financially.  After using my resources and relationships to BETA test DNA Memorial services/products at funeral homes with actual funeral directors serving at need families, I can unequivocally stand on the need for such a service/product in the funeral industry.  I am excited because this is an opportunity for the funeral industry to “get out in front” of a consumer need rather than “play catch up” as we are still adjusting to cremation and technology.

My new position is to oversee all “outside the laboratory” operations including distribution, development, sales and marketing for CG Lab’s brands.  I’m blessed to be partners and a team in place for the other company interests to continue to flourish.  In the coming weeks, we will begin a flurry of press releases and announcements about our distribution alliance partners, product offerings along with educational opportunities.  The Funeral Commander blog will continue as I will broaden my reach internationally into our industry during this exciting time…and you can be sure I’ll have something to say about what I’m seeing.  Cheers y’all!

SMDNA logo

Pet DNA Memorial Logo

http://securemydna.com/ http://dnamemorial.com/ http://www.petdnamemorial.com/

room viewNot long ago, I posted Drinking Water From A Fire Hydrant which describes how busy we become working and living life.  I have just returned from a 2 week vacation celebrating 30 years of marriage in the paradise of Aruba.  Yes, you have permission to say “well, bless her heart” regarding my beautiful wife’s sacrifice of spending over half of her life with me.  I’m the lucky one.

As we landed in Aruba, I asked my wife to think about what has transpired from our take off in 1984 from Norfolk going on our honeymoon to landing 30 years later in 2014.  How does time go by so fast…which means in 30 short years I will be 83…really?  Reflecting on all the adventures, my kids, relationships, jobs and life over the past was great…but that was then, I live for what’s ahead.

We learned several years ago that time away is important to success.  Rest, relaxing, rekindling, and reflection (sounds like a Ritz Carlton advertisement) is essential for well being.  I sat at the desk in our gorgeous room and peered out at the spectacular view (see photo) and thought about seeing the world from a different view… way different from my office.

A different view not only from the surroundings and a visual context, but from a mental state.  For me, it seems to fully relax I have to travel to another country for a period without constant distraction of media, email and phone calls to “download.”  I had the luxury of “quiet time” everyday which consisted of an after breakfast cigar sitting in a chair with my feet in the sand and water…a different view.  During this time I reflected about life…the past and the future.

I certainly liked the view from where my “thinking” occurred and being blessed to live life for 2 weeks in such a relaxed carefree manner.  But I must say, I don’t think I could do that forever.  Most of the time while on vacation at such a wonderful place, we start thinking of how we could manage to stay at that location and survive…you know, “live on vacation.”  I could certainly work at the local cigar shop at the beach bar…but I know it wouldn’t last long.  I was ready at the end of our time in paradise to return to my life.  I know that sounds nuts; but being a Dad (the ultimate sense of purpose), excitement of what’s next, working alongside great people and daily focusing on making a difference in the world is really more appealing than selling cigars on an exotic island to me.

I had an opportunity for a different view; but one that allowed me to recharge the batteries and return to get back in the saddle of the reality of life. By they way, I have a brand new saddle on a powerful young Thoroughbred that I’ll be riding…but that will be announced in the days ahead.  For now, the countdown begins for returning to Aruba in 2015…only 50 weeks left!  Cheers y’all!

 

 

on fireBeing “all in” means that you are going to burn your boat at the shore.  Think about it.  As an entrepreneur, I believe that either you’re in or you’re not. Earlier this week I posted Believe In Yourself encouraging everyone to believe in their own passion and determination as the foundation of starting a business or change in life.

What have you committed to that there is no turning back?  As an example, many of us are parents and being a parent provides an analogy for being an entrepreneur.  From the first second of a child’s birth, they are dependent on someone else to care for them…basically, they are an unproductive employee (but a long term investment). Food, clothing, housing, teaching, and every facet of care is the responsibility of the parents for years of commitment.  A parent is the most important entrepreneurial venture in the world and frankly one of the most difficult.  It’s also not meant for everyone.

Now think about your current position.  While teaching CEU’s for a state funeral association group at their annual convention last week, I asked “do you write the check or do you get the check” meaning is the money yours or someone else’s (owner or employee)?  How would you work differently today if you had to write your own check?  What if you had to pay for your co-workers productivity?  Would you make sure the funeral is paid for if it was your money that paid the bills including your salary?  Have you fully committed by burning your boat at the shore for the person that’s paying you?  If you believe in yourself and capabilities, even if you don’t write the check, act like it’s yours.  If not, you aren’t ready to burn your boat at the shore.

I’m blessed to be associated with partner’s and fellow entrepreneurs that have burned their boats at the shore as well.  They possess a fundamental belief in themselves; they had a vision and now they are executing.  For some reading this, I know there are thoughts that burning the boat at the shore in Aruba wouldn’t be all that bad.  However, like the old saying goes about breakfast, “who is more committed, the chicken producing the egg or the pig producing the bacon?” From the onset, the entrepreneur lives a life of sacrifice; time spent with family, “free time”, personal finances and is the last in line.  In the military as an Officer, we always ate last…the troops always get fed first because they are the most essential to the mission, without them, no battles or wars are won.  But more often than not, the troops never recognize this act.

I have burned my boat at the shore; I’ve eaten all the provisions I brought with me, learned how to shelter myself, eaten from whatever I could kill or pick, and now I can see why I came to this foreign land of being an entrepreneur.  I took the risk, I committed, and there is no turning back. Soon, I’ll share what’s been built.  I burned my boat at the shore, thank God.  Cheers y’all! #thefuneralcommander

Gotta Be MeAs an entrepreneur, I can testify that I have fundamental belief in myself and I posses a relentless passion to convert my visions into execution.  That’s quite daunting when coordinating, funding, explaining, training, developing, and forecasting is a daily occurrence. Nothing is accomplished by yourself. It’s not a matter of relying on others, but the ability to infuse those that you depend on to have the same sense of passion and clearly defining the vision in order to achieve execution.  So, if you are one that desires to make a dream reality, you must first believe in yourself.  I know many that read this will think “well, I do believe in myself, but ____________.”

Robert F. Kennedy said “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”  We all have fear of failure, but why?  Is it because we are afraid what others will say or think of us when we fall?  Some of my biggest doubters have been those that live under the blanket of security from their current position, yet they wouldn’t dare leave that blanket behind.  “Happiness is when you feel good about yourself without feeling the need for anyone else’s approval.” ― Unknown.  Do you really need permission to succeed and be happy? Yes, it’s frightening to think of the financial disaster, being ridiculed by family, colleagues and friends by “see, I told you shouldn’t have.”

I had a friend call me for advice about her son.  He is a young man that has been well trained professionally and working at a local business. The young man felt that at his current job he was unappreciated and the leadership had no sense of excellence nor appreciation for his contributions to making their brand better.  An opportunity to move to another city and a big time entity within the same brand was laid before him.  The mom explained that he was really struggling with “leaving what he knows behind for a chance that may not ultimately work out” because the offer was conditional on a 90 day trial.  I told her that if he does not think he’s good enough, then stay where he is; if he believes in himself, there is no doubt what he should do. He made the move and performing excellently.

I’m on the cusp of launching what some may deem impossible.  Nothing is impossible if you believe in yourself and surround yourself with people that accept accountability and share your passion.  Much can be accomplished if common goal is the enterprise, not the individual recognition.   You only have one life…believe in yourself and others will too…Cheers y’all. #thefuneralcommander

ASDI have the opportunity to travel across the country interacting with funeral home owners as well as owners of companies that provide various services and products to the funeral industry.  As large as our industry seems to be, it’s a relatively small group of companies and people that provide products and services to funeral homes.  Being a funeral home owner/partner and part of the vendor world, I truly enjoy having conversations with others about their views of the “temperature” in the funeral business from a vendor perspective along with their particular company positions about offerings to our customers, funeral homes.

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Kevin Czachor of Answering Service for Directors (ASD) at a state convention expo.   If you don’t know Kevin or ASD, on a simplistic definition, ASD is a family owned and operated business that provides answering services for funeral homes.  However, saying ASD is just an answering service is like saying the Marines are just a group of soldiers.

Family owned and operated at ASD means that Kevin’s 11 year old daughter accompanied him at the convention and was quite the pleasant young lady at their booth.  Frankly, she was more attentive and engaging than many in other booths that were sitting behind tables with bowls full of candy, brochures, pens and not offering any engagement other than brief eye contact with a nod.  A while back, I visited ASD’s operations center in Pennsylvania meeting key staff including Kevin’s sister Kathy and brother Marty.  Besides the impressive surroundings of technology one would imagine CIA headquarters would look like (I’ll address this later), the genuine reception, tour and engagement of the staff is an obvious testament to the culture of service by the Czachor family.

I believe that a company is defined by it’s leadership.  Creating the service and product is undeniably important; however consistent performance, growth, training, customer engagement, and respect is not achieved by happenstance.  In the military we called it “command influence and intent.” Basically, if leaders create a climate of example and expectations, the troops will follow.

ASD is doing it right.  Training, technology, work environment, opportunity and respect is provided to all staff which translates into a culture within their workforce of service to their customers.  The use of technology and thirst for seeking solutions for their customers is part ASD’s success as evidenced in their operations center.  Interestingly, you don’t have to take a trek to Pennsylvania, you can see for yourself by visiting http://www.myasd.com/tour.  Technology anyone?  ASD is one of the few funeral industry service companies that actually use and excel with social media messaging.  Jessica Fowler offers interesting insights about ASD, it’s employees and customers along with sharing relevant information about the funeral industry on a regular basis.

If you regularly read my blog I share my perspectives about the funeral industry.  I have been part of a big public funeral product manufacturing company, I have developed from scratch successful funeral homes with proprietary operating platforms, and I have created funeral related service and product companies.  My past military experience offered me the ability to provide relevant funeral director training that produces measurable results.  Whether you agree or dislike my particular sharing of observations, you know that I’m not just “shooting from the hip.”

So why am I writing this post?  Hand’s down, ASD is doing it right in the funeral industry and frankly as funeral home owners and industry suppliers we should take note.  As funeral home owners/management we can learn about developing a real culture of service.  As suppliers, a thirst for finding new services to better our customers operations and profitability should be at the top of our list every day.

I did not ask for permission or let anyone at ASD including Kevin know that I was writing this post, but after my last conversation with him, I was inspired to share my thoughts.  If they give me some flak, it won’t be the first time in my life, I’ve actually been shot at and dodged SCUD missiles before.  Along with my often recalcitrant posts, I am a believer also in providing deserving kudos…this one, to ASD; they are doing it right.  Cheers y’all! #thefuneralcommander.

cheap funeralOver the weekend I was at a social gathering and the host introduced my wife and I to 8 others we were meeting for the first time.  When I was asked about my profession, the subject matter turned to funerals.  After finding out I was in the funeral business, almost in unison, they exclaimed “I want the cheapest funeral possible” followed by sentiments of disdain from recent experiences of burying their parents. Interestingly, the people at the table were the “target” Baby Boomers (I’m in this category, however these folks are about 15 years my senior) that are supposed to want “so much more” for their life celebration and these folks were not anywhere near financially challenged.

So I asked them what they thought the “cheapest funeral” would be in terms of cost and service.  One lady shared that she just buried her husband last year and she hated the entire process.  She said that going to the funeral home with her kids and in her words “consternation of dealing with those people” left a bad taste in her mouth.  She said that she told her kids that in no way shape or form does she want them to go through the same process….”I told them to just cremate me and have a party at the lake house…I paid over $12,000 for the whole thing and I’ll haunt my kids if they waste that much on me.”

Another lady said “I don’t want anyone looking at me dead in a casket” followed by “just cremate me…what does that cost about $1,000.”  I told her in this particular area that cremation is anywhere from $1600 to about $3500.  With that, more discussion ensued around cremation.  One interesting point a gentleman made was that he had been considering selling his burial family burial plots. “I don’t like visiting a cemetery and I know my kids don’t and won’t…why waste the money?”  From there went the discussion of where cremated remains should rest…from putting them in the lake to scattering in the garden (I suggested they research viable locations before making a decision).  I shifted the discussion to what type of service…almost all said that they don’t want to be in a church or a funeral home.  From the lake house to the country club, the general consensus was to have some sort of party, but nothing dour for this group.

I was frankly surprised at the positions of those at the table.  These were relatively affluent people that had defined opinions from recent experiences.  Their candid sharing of thoughts was interesting…what are yours about the conversation?  Cheers y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

like respectI have been around the proverbial block of leadership in my life from both positions of leader and follower.  Just recently I was having this discussion with one of my partners about behavior modification in funeral homes.  Behavior modification is quite simply changing poor habits and continuous ineffective or unproductive behaviors.  Funeral director training is a behavior modification tool that alleviates continuous ruts.

However, funeral director training is one thing, actually conducting and coaching is quite another.  In our discussion, the topic of like versus respect was broached.  A challenge for many funeral home owners is the difficulty of operating in a close environment.  Conversely, how do other organizations seem to efficiently function in similar “close quarters?”  We discussed an example of a particular funeral home owner that struggles to “take command of his troops” even for the overall good of their firm.  The firm as mired in a continuous struggle for profitability and lacks consistent revenue performance from the revenue makers…funeral directors. The owner just doesn’t want to “rock the boat” which means he fears making necessary decisions, training and performance demands because he may “upset someone” thus not being perceived as “their friend.”  We have both heard many times )I just can’t do that; these people are my friends.”

Another example we discussed is being a parent.  Making decisions as a parent is often adverse to how friends would interact.  However, the inability to make often life decisions for the sake of “being a friend” may have severe consequences for the child over time.

So for the sake of discussion, which would you rather be as a leader, liked or respected?  I believe there are circumstances for both; certainly my answer would be that I would like to be liked and respected.  Let’s narrow this down to the work environment in a funeral home. Would you rather work in an environment and culture of like or respect?  What’s your choice? Cheers Y’all.

 

53 years53 years.  No more battles to fight, no countries to defend, no oppressed people to free. I remember years ago reading about what happens to men when we get older.  We go from being dangerous warriors seeking battles to fight, running with the ball or tackling the ones that carry it.  It’s happened…now I watch young warriors returning from foreign lands and men playing football on my big screen television.

I am 53 years old today and reflective.  I looked at my uniform now hanging in the closet under plastic (yes it still fits), but it’s not for me to wear anymore.  Frankly, the medals don’t mean anything to anyone else but me now; they are only history.  My greatest successes are not pinned on that uniform, rather they are experiences only I realize…

3.3Like being married to the love of my life for 30 years; many would say that she is one that deserves all the medals.  I am the father of two sons; both very much like me but so different in many ways…actually better than me. At their early age they have already demonstrated more than I about love, pursuit of happiness and individualism.

Over my adult years I have worn many uniforms, performed different jobs and taken on some pretty lofty projects.  I developed a personal mantra of “a vision is only a dream without execution.”  I have dreamed, had visions and executed…I have also failed.

It’s odd coming to the realization that you’re closer to the end than the beginning. I’m not going to put on that uniform for service ever again and I’m not going to tackle the guy carrying the ball.  But let me tell you what I am going to do:

I’m going to keep loving the woman that gave me her life and life to my sons.  I’m going to be the dad that challenges my sons to reach their potential; but they never have to look behind them because I have their back.  I’m going to execute my visions in the funeral industry and challenge those around me to elevate themselves beyond the norm.  I’m still going to be brought to tears when I hear Toby Keith’s “American Soldier.”   I’m still going to say to new people that I work with “I’m not going to say anything to offend you on purpose; when I want to offend you, you’ll be certain that I wanted to.”    I’m still going to love a good debate. I’m going to keep writing what comes to my mind, expressing my opinion and challenge others to take a stand.

Bugaloe blissI’m going to take care of myself which includes playing golf, smoking cigars and drinking dark rum straight on the rocks with a lime. I’m going to live 50 weeks a year so that I can live for 2 weeks in Aruba…like life should be lived.  53 is a new number for me; the number of consecutive push-ups I require of myself in the mornings just because I can.  I’m not going away easily.  I think I’ll just keep being me.  Cheers y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

drinkingAs this short week comes towards an end, I feel as if I have been drinking water from a fire hydrant.  Imagine positioning yourself right in front of the opening and trying to take in gulps of rushing water.  Eyes being blasted, nose full and coupious amounts of water rushing down your throat.  Yes, what I just described is the life of an entrepreneur.

Three websites under construction, fulfillment processes being mapped, product review, pricing structure analysis, copy for the websites written, correspondence with customers, phone calls with customers, phone calls with team mates, emails, budgets, write CEU, get booth space for convention, work on accounting procedures, book hotel for next weeks travel, review month end numbers from the funeral homes, work on capital campaign pitch deck, Go to Meetings for presentations (thank God for that program), personal education reading different periodicals, write tweets, respond to tweets, set up e commerce accounts, write 2 blogs, post blogs on social media, respond to readers, and so on.  What am I thinking?  There is no such thing as a short week.  I’m in the office this morning at 4:30am and I know I will return to this desk Saturday and Sunday at some point.

And of course there is life that goes on somewhere in there.  The bottom line is I love it…I’d rather work 80 hours for myself than 40 hours for someone else.  After all, water is good for you.  Cheers y’all! #thefuenralcommander

AFE Post

I’m blessed to travel and meet funeral industry professionals literally all over the globe; most recently I have just returned from the Asia Funeral Expo in Macau, China.  I was provided an opportunity to speak to at the conference on the subject “DNA is Alive in the Death Industry” using the platform of services provided by our company, DNA Memorial.  This is a small world and the funeral industry continues to become smaller as we collaborate with others globally. Please allow me to provide some “color” on my experience and observations while in China.

Just traveling to the Far East is exhausting…from the Command Post to Hong Kong includes a 14.5 hour plane ride and a loss of 12 hours. Often I am asked “where do you live” and I respond “Marriott.”  I live in Marriott’s and change underwear in Roanoke VA…thus I seek out my beloved Marriott’s for consistency of brand and the Courtyard in Hong Kong did not  disappoint.  Getting around via cab is quite easy and once I conduct a walking “recon” of the area I’m staying I become comfortable venturing out.

I had the opportunity to visit a funeral home while in Hong Kong that conducted an average of 10 services per day…in one building.  It was fascinating to learn the different cultural customs of both burial and cremation; all according mostly to the religious preferences of the family. The team at this particular location operated on a precise time-clock of service and served as if only one family was in the building.  Some of the displays of flowers and “towers of buildings” were quite elaborate, others were very simple and plain; not much different than here in the US…the family has choices.

The Expo took place in Macau, China which was a 30 minutes high speed ferry ride away.  My partner Mike Grehan from LifeArt Caskets is based in Hong Kong and I was provided a spot at their booth.  The LifeArt team was quite interesting as they represented the engineering/manufacturing elements as well as the sales/relationship side.  Having a personal knowledge of US casket manufacturing as well as sales, the same in Asia is a whole different ball game.

Unlike the the US (from State to State), the biggest difference in the Asia region is that each country operates completely different from the other.  The approach is similar because what a surprise, relationships are key.  Another difference for example going out (exporting) of China is not to difficult, going in (importing to) is another ball game.  Sort of like selling in New Jersey and New York.

There were familiar faces from the United States present; of course Christine Pepper (CEO of NFDA) along with some of her crew including Bill Wappner and Anna Bernfeld.  My friend (and best looking guy in his age category) Walker Posey of Posey Funeral Directors provided seminars which included one about service; spot on my friend!  The skilled Matt Smith offered an outstanding set of presentations on restorative arts…this guy is really talented!  In attendance also was Jim Malamas from ACE Casket Funeral Products, LTD of Las Vegas as well and a few folks from America including a hearse company.  I even saw someone from a US vault company there…

Otherwise, the “show floor” was smaller but more concentrated than we have here in the US.  There were some urn manufacturers, a make up booth and some other interesting representations.  My new friends from Isreal Alon & Assaf Nativ of Aley Shalechet, LTD and Cees Janssen of Jewel Concepts (along with his bride) from the Netherlands provided me new insights/opportunities with their existing brands.  What was missing?  Technology similar to what we are used to in the US…what, no Facebook in China?  Online obits are just taking off …I met a great guy Matt McLean of Heaven Address from Australia.   Of course there were some caskets on display and upon close inspection, quite nice ones! The days of claiming poor quality, at least from what I saw coming from China, is behind us.  For all the nay-sayers at funeral homes that puff their chest about “American Made” products, simply put, every product for the most part has an offshore component today…even the highly regarded and precious fleet cars.

Today, I have a partner in Spain, another in Scotland, and another in Toronto area working with funeral homes…I’m back in the United States working with the many initiatives we are launching in the funeral industry.  As an industry, we have moved beyond just our local communities with talent and access to education.  There is much to take advantage of internationally or right here at home to improve our operations, services and products offered; it’s a matter of choice to “get in the game” or just “sit in the stands.”  Where do you fit in?  From the desk of The Funeral Commander, cheers y’all! #thefuneralcommander

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