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

get it doneFuneral director training…how many funeral homes have a consistent training regimen for their funeral directors?  I was part of a meeting that we were challenged to list the top 10 issues/problems that are challenging funeral home owners. There was quite a range from marketing to gain new business to financial sustainability.  Most interesting to me, nearly all of the subjects could be resolved or at least part of the problem resolved with funeral director training.  Funeral director training must be mandated and supported by leadership. Meaningful and relevant funeral director training creates a culture of learning along with collective solicitation of better ideas.  Funeral director and apprentice development is enhanced by assigning topics training of their own peers.  Deliberate time for training is possible, even in the busiest of firms.

Three mornings a week for 15 minutes could make a difference in performance, morale, family satisfaction and even financial stability (how about training sessions of accounts receivable and collection of payments prior to signing a contract)?  Make the sessions fun…bring in some goodies to eat…how about a prize for the best training of the week (a lunch gift certificate).  It’s not difficult to offer funeral director training, it’s a matter of priority.

Funeral home owners; want to solve some of your problems?  Train your funeral directors and staff.  CEU’s are not sufficient or many times relevant to your funeral home needs.  Everyone can be trained and everyone needs to have training…even professional baseball players have batting coaches and take batting practice before their games.  How are you preparing your funeral directors and staff for the game?  Cheers Y’all.

ACaptains 1 few years back a friend of mine and I took the trek to Washington DC over the Memorial Day Holiday to participate in Rolling Thunder.  If you don’t know about Rolling Thunder, its a gathering of Veterans on their motorcycles to honor fellow Veterans that served, still serving and keep the message alive that American POW’s are still unaccounted for.  As a Veteran, I can personally attest to the reverence and emotional feeling being around over 500,000 people that have given so much, but recognized very little.  We speak to each other with honor as we converse; whether a Veteran of Vietnam or the Middle East conflicts, we get it.

My friend Steve Hughes earned a Bronze Star and had retired with over 20 years of service, however he was still carrying quite a bit in his “ruck sack” from his days in combat…I knew this particular trip among other Veterans would prove “freeing” in some ways that are hard to explain to those that have not walked the paths of combat.  We loaded up our bikes and headed up I-81 with other Vets to DC for the weekend on a Friday before Memorial Day.  Arriving on Friday afternoon, we explored some of the venues where events were to take place and just basically performing a “recon” of the area.

On Saturday morning, we got up all excited for what the day would bring and headed out for breakfast.  The particular restaurant we chose was full of Veterans…all wearing vests or hats with medals and patches that only fellow Vets recognize and know the meaning.  As we finished our meal, we were walking out the door when a couple came up to us and asked “is this photo yours?”  It was a photo of my oldest son Hunter in his Hargrave Military Academy uniform…it had fallen from my money clip.  I thanked them, and they asked about the photo and uniform.  I shared with them that Hunter is my oldest son and is a student at HMA.

The couple asked “are you guys here for Rolling Thunder?”  Steve and I shared the story of our friendship.  He was an Officer Candidate at OCS and I was his TAC Officer (drill instructor) many years ago…normally not the great start of a friendly relationship.  After he graduated, I eventually retired and we were not in contact with each other until one day I read a story in a local paper about a boy that was receiving his Dad’s Masters Degree at a university because his Dad was serving in Iraq.  Ended up, it was Steve’s son Josh.  Steve I and I reconnected via email…he in the desert and I in the US.  Steve assisted me on a program I started for a local football team…tagged “Band of Brothers.”

We continued to explain that the “Band of Brothers” was a connector of a high school football team to a combat unit overseas.  The team made specific t-shirts that only we could wear (I was the team Chaplain)..but we also sent shirts to Steve’s unit in Iraq.  Before we took the field for each game, I would provide the players motivation with a mixture of gospel and military talks…there is a direct correlation between battle, fighting for a cause with another, and a belief in something bigger than yourself.  We prayed for Steve’s unit on their battlefield…on the other side of the world at the exact same time, members of Steve’s Infantry unit prayed for our team as we took to our “battlefield.”  We finished our story with a few events of that experience including winning the State 4A football championship that year…and that Steve and I were there just to be together with other Veterans to honor and remember.

I asked the couple if they lived locally and they responded no…they were from out of town and there to visit their son at Arlington.  “Arlington” I asked, “is he stationed there?”  “No” the mother said; “he is buried there.”  With an immediate and almost convulsing rush of emotion, tears shot from my eyes…as they are right now as I write this story.  “Our son was killed during a river crossing in 2003 while serving in Iraq…vehicles turned over and he died trying to save other soldiers.”  Steve and I stood there crying…without any words we hugged and cried thanking these parents for their sons sacrifice for our freedom.  They told us more about their boy and we completed our extemporaneous memorial service in the parking lot.  I gave the mother the picture of my son Hunter and asked her to place his photo on the grave of their son..to honor him. The rest of the weekend seemed to be a blur of emotional conversations and sharing much of the past that only warriors understand.

I share this real life event because Memorial Day is upon us…yes, it’s great to have a day off Monday going to the beach, cooking out, playing golf or just plain resting.  But the day is really to remember sacrifices of those that gave their all for us.

I dedicate this story and the song by Toby Keith below to the memory of Captain Chris Cash, a fellow NCMA graduate who gave his life June 24, 2004 for our Freedom.  Take a few moments to listen to the words…the song was played at Chris’s funeral.

When you see one of us this weekend wearing our uniform, hat, vest or shirt that you may not understand all the insignias, but clearly identifies the wearer as a Veteran…thank them.  They probably have a story too.  Happy Memorial Day…cheers y’all.

 

modernDuring a recent funeral pricing debate on Face Book, a funeral director actually made the statement “we give better service.”  I have personally been part of conversations with both funeral directors and funeral home owners about this very statement.  Fasten your seat belts, let’s take this topic for a spin.

When I hear “we give better service” my first thought and response to the statement is “what does your firm do that that other firm does not?” Usually there is quite a pause of conversation because the person making the statement actually has to think about what they said and provide some factual basis for their position.  I have heard  with my own ears; “We have new carpet in our chapel…our chapel is bigger…our fleet is newer…the water bottles we give out at graveside has our name on it…we have a bigger parking lot…they wear different suits/ties…we care more…and we have more staff on a service.”  My ALL TIME FAVORITE is “they don’t even have an organ”…how in the world did the State Board issue that firm a license?

My responses to such ridiculous blithering is “what type and year was their carpet installed, what are the dimensions of their chapel versus yours, what year models are their cars, does your name on the water bottle make the water taste better, how many cars will their parking lot hold, what color suits/ties do they wear, the other firm cares less…how many staff dictates a better service and of course how in the world do they provide music there without an organ?”  While the other person is pondering what I asked, I throw the grenades; “how many services have you attended at your competitor and if they have such inferior service, why is their market share increasing?”  Sort of a glazed look comes over their eyes, but no answer.

Does “we give better service” mean that a huge chapel like St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City gives better service than a country church like my family church, Indian Field Methodist in St. George, SC?  By the way, St. Patrick’s parking is terrible and many Indian Field’s attendees park on grass. Can an attendee of services find God in both places?

How about an analogy in the restaurant business?  Does the famous Chic-fil-A “my pleasure” culture with $5.00 chicken sandwiches/fresh flowers on their tables pale in comparison to Morton’s of Chicago’s fine dining, linen and expansive menu?  Is the customer at Chic-fil-A any less full or served than the the Morton’s customer?  Crickets.  Basically just mindless chatter with absolutely no basis.  I know what some of you are thinking, “you get what you pay for.”  That’s my next post topic…stay tuned.

poster 1I have attended services at all sorts of funeral homes across the country…I have seen mistakes made at both.  Family cars all lined up in disarray to actually leaving an old woman in a limousine after services were over back at the funeral home (this was at a huge several location funeral home always “crowing” serving since Sherman burnt down the South).  Just because a visitation at a funeral home has an old man opening the front door for you…pointing to an old lady across the foyer…and she points/directs you to another old lady down the hall…which she points you to another old lady standing at the register stand, and after you sign the book she then points you to the old lady in the casket…does not necessarily transcend into “better service.”  Perhaps this funeral home would get high marks for an “evening senior day care center.”  I have been to funeral homes with small staff and no one greeting at the door…but the visitation was lively…people laughing, hugging and conversing (even to the like of “Enter Sandman” playing over the music system).  How would that song sound on an organ?

The point  I’d like to get at here is “we give better service” is quite a far fetched and inane discussion point especially when the person making the statement has never attended the “other funeral home.”  However making assumptions is always easy, but we all know what happens when we assume…Like I have been told all my life and have actually said to my kids; “don’t worry what so-in-so is doing, do it the best you can and move on.” Cheers y’all.

 

 

questionFuneral pricing is an interesting topic.  Last week I posted about Cheap Cremation which provided excellent response from both consumers and funeral directors.  A notable post along the same line was from Kim Stacey The Price? Good Question on Connecting Directors which she discussed posting funeral pricing on a funeral home website and pricing transparency.  Additionally, I was part of a Face Book thread last week originally posted by Mike Strickland of Family Choice Funerals & Cremations in Virginia Beach, VA where Mike posted a GPL funeral price comparison of his and local funeral homes.

The Face Book thread was interesting because there were responses by funeral directors and consumers.  A particular local funeral director was incensed that Mike had the unmitigated gall to post GPL funeral price comparisons and her (the other funeral director) position was that a consumer must come to the funeral home to become educated about their funeral home selections.  I took a look at her funeral home website and a consumer could find out everything there is to know about funerals on that site but, what a surprise…funeral pricing for the firm was not posted.   Unfortunately, part of her defense of not showing funeral pricing on her firm’s website “because a family needs to see things like how nice the parking lot is.”  As we say here in the South “bless her heart.”

As a subject, funeral pricing is not going away.  Yes, I know someone will inevitably respond “but we have to make a profit just like hospitals and hotels, etc.”  I get that and that is not the point here.  The point here is there is usually a direct correlation between a funeral home’s overhead costs to the price that is charged to consumers.  Simple as that.  If a firm has a large expanse of real estate, fleets of cars, a large staff…well they obviously have to charge more. There are additional costs if a firm is publicly traded such as corporate governance and investors seeking returns. Smaller firms, smaller staff and less overheads usually means less cost to the consumer.

It’s the cost of doing business like any other industry…however, does Ruth’s Chris gave a rat’s fanny what Chick-fil-A charges?  No.  Why?  Because they serve two different markets with completely different choices.  The difference is that in the funeral industry, we all pretty much serve the same menu; caskets, urns, embalming and cremation.  That’s where the “casserole hits the fan”  because more expensive firms have difficulty explaining variances in prices such as “direct cremation” (removal, services of a funeral director, alternative container, and crematory fees).  Same exact services (not like Ruth’s Chris steak vs. a Chic-fil-A chicken sandwich) but sometimes thousands of dollars in difference.

Funeral pricing varies simply because it costs some firms more to operate.  I have also outlined the responses to “well, we give better service and you get what you pay for” post for later this week for those that love to sling that “casserole.”   Funeral pricing…what say you? Cheers Y’all.

juniorA humorous thought came to me recently after visiting a funeral home, is it really a good idea to turn over your funeral home to the kids?  I was introduced to the “next generation” as Dad described “my retirement plan and opportunity to stay at the beach house all summer.”  “Next Gen” was sitting on a foyer couch playing on his IPhone and so intensely enthralled with a video game of some sort that I received a kinda “what’s up” head nod which I suppose should have impressed me; at least he acknowledged the introduction by his Father.  Obviously Dad has grand visions of passing on the family torch to “gameboy”…for some reason I was thinking that his name was Gordon, like the kid in the Sprint commercial saying “it’s pronounced Gor Don.”

I thought to myself “Dad, you better have a big pile of cash squirreled away somewhere for retirement and I wouldn’t be packing the car for the beach anytime soon.” For a brief moment I saw some potential there…”Next Gen” knows how to work a phone!  But then reality hit me that the likelihood of him actually conversing with someone was probably a stretch.  I wasn’t sure of my other thoughts of “Bless His Heart” was for Dad or “next gen”…maybe both.  Somewhere in my mind I could hear the conversation between Dad and Mom…with Mom saying “well, YOU were given a chance; YOU turned out alright; HE’s not YOU; YOU just have to learn to accept HIM for who HE is, HE’s a good boy and YOU are too hard on him like the time YOU made HIM play sports, blah, blah, blah.”

I’m certain that grandfathers and dads for generations have thought that when looking in the eyes of their “legacy”…the end of the business is near. One of my all time favorite movie scenes is from Smokey and The Bandit which is posted below…which depicts as we all know, sometimes “legacy” comes with issues. I’d like to solicit readers to share some “legacy fails” of funeral home ownership…please do not mention the name of the funeral home, the town or the people involved…just the stories.   Cheers Y’all!

 

cremation blogCheap cremation.  While attending the ICCFA last month I did not see any of the vendors of urns, retorts, training or otherwise advertise cheap cremation.  However, when our team convened early this morning for our weekly after action report, the term “cheap cremation” came up twice from funeral directors.  Their use of the term “cheap cremation” was from consumers that were shopping for services over the weekend.  We further discussed the conversations and the results…meeting the two families this morning!  Training does pay off.

While pondering the term cheap cremation, I decided to do some homework.  What does this term mean? According to Merriam-Webster online: Cheapnot costing a lot of money; of low quality; not worth a lot of money; charging low prices.  Cremationto reduce (as a dead body) to ashes by burning. 

I decided to conduct my own research this morning and call three different funeral service providers that offer cremation; all three are in the same competitive market within about 4 miles of each other.  I asked the person answering the phone to give me a quote on cheap cremation.  Here are the results:

Location 1: (cremation provider advertised online with pricing on their website): “Our complete cremation which includes taking the body into our care, the necessary paperwork, an alternative cremation container is which is required, the crematory fee and a temporary urn is $895.”  The person asked me if they could email me more information or if I had any other questions.  I replied no, I’m just checking around, thanked them and competed the call.

Location 2: (family owned funeral home with no prices on their website): “Has a death occurred? What type of cremation do you want?” I told them no, I just want a quote on a cheap cremation. “Our cheapest cremation is $1,575.”  I asked what was included; “Picking up a body, the paperwork, an alternative container and crematory charge.” The person did not ask me anything else in sort of a strange silence, so I thanked them and ended the call.

Location 3: (publically owned, corporate funeral home no mention of price on their website): “Has a death occurred? Do you want services?” I said no, I just want a cheap cremation. “We charge $4,390 for a direct cremation.”  The person went on to explain “included in the $4,390 is taking your loved one into our care, all the funeral director services including documents, a cremation container which a body is placed into the crematory and crematory fees.”  I asked “I just called 2 other places near you and they charge $895 and $1,575 for the same thing, what do I get for my extra $3,000 that I would pay you?”  The person answered “well, we are a full service funeral home and we provide more than just the minimum.”  I replied “but I’m only asking for the minimum, why so much from your funeral home”…the person’s reply “because we do more than the other funeral homes and we have facilities, others can’t accommodate all your needs.”  I replied that I only need a cheap cremation; and thanked him for his time. He then said “We have an affiliate that only charges $1,395 for a direct cremation, can I give you their number?”  I then asked where the affiliate was located, “right here in <name of city>, but all they do is direct cremations.”  I took the number and again thanked him for his time…and ended the call.

Wonder why a consumer is confused about cremation?  A few personal observations.  Location 1 and 2 at least provided me information on their respective website, but were not much on conversation or concern on the phone.  Location 1 gave me information and did not care if a death occurred, but offered a follow up where location 2 did not.  The most engaging was location 3, which is expected for an additional $3,000; however their follow up was referring me to another place to call and not to be bothered with my situation at their particular location. The lack of engagement from all three was astounding...AND NOBODY ASKED MY NAME!

So for your Monday morning wakeup call funeral directors and funeral home owners; shoppers are looking for cheap cremation.  What is going to be your answer?  Are your prices on your website?  Do you randomly “secret shop” your funeral home and competitors? What training are you providing your staff about phone engagement? As a consumer, which one of the locations would you have chosen based on the information provided above?    Cheap cremation is not going away and neither is the consumer that is looking online and calling to engage your staff.  What’s your solution? Cheers y’all. #thefuneralcommander

helixDNA Collection is easier than ever. Although we have all seen the CSI and sleuth shows where just stand of hair produces enough evidence to convict the villain that committed the crime. On the past DNA collection required a blood sample to get a good test.

Today, DNA collection is as simple as brushing your teeth…basically a “q-tip” swab inside the jawline covering the cotton with saliva will provide all necessary to provide enough to produce a DNA sample. It’s easy now to provide your “genetic map” for your loved ones…a gift about you from you. For more information, visit http://www.dnamemorial.com Cheers y’all!

change postI am working on development of new initiatives with funeral professionals and others from various professions.  The intertwining of funeral regulations and required documents with technology along with business logic is really interesting.  On top of that, the planning sessions often create debates that seem like arguments (especially if I’m involved).  Many, many times I have challenged my team of funeral professionals with combined 75 years of expertise, with; why?

There are so many “nuances” of funeral service which turn into “ruts” of process, behaviors and perceptions. Regulations from both federal and state entities add to the dimension of complexity for funeral service providers.  During our process sessions we found ourselves actually researching and highlighting regulations by reading collectively word for word on a large screen monitor for clarity. Interestingly, some “funeral lore” was completely dispelled in the language written and guidance provided about the subjects in question.

From my perspective, when challenging the “why we do it this way” the best form of working through or around a funeral service related issue is to actually research word for word current FTC/State laws and regulations in place.  The FTC Funeral Rule is rather simplistic in it’s intent; always protect the consumer by being transparent with pricing, offerings and documentation; basically don’t cheat.

The State Funeral Service Laws and Regulations for the most part don’t significantly differ from the intent of the FTC Funeral Rule.  State regulations are more in-depth about licensing (which generates fees…what a surprise), educational requirements, necessary oversight on pre-need requirements, and so on.

Most interesting from our development sessions is the lack of language provided in any oversight authority regarding digital communication (email, websites, social media).  By overlaying the current regulatory requirements with so many choices of providing information to funeral consumers, huge opportunities exist.  Following the rules of consumer protection and transparency, funeral service providers are afforded the ability to highlight to anyone with internet connectivity their goods, services and value of a funeral respective to their patucular funeral home.

Responses to my funeral blog post last week The Hotel and Funeral industry…what can we learn? from several funeral professionals provided excellent thoughts and insights especially on the  Connecting Directors LinkedIn Discussion Thread.

As a continuation of much needed and appreciated discussion about the process of change in the funeral industry, what is the process of change at your funeral home or funeral related business?  Do you think of an idea, conduct regulatory oversight research, debate and create a workflow of process to initiate the change? Or…? I look forward to your continued sharing of ideas.  Cheers y’all.

overcomeLast week’s article in Forbes magazine by Perianne Boring The Death of The Care Industry and Eternal Life Online  prompted a predicted limited response from funeral directors (at least from sources like LinkedIn, Facebook and the blog world) although the LinkedIn Connecting Directors.com site provided excellent opinionated responses from a few funeral professionals.  I had personal conversations with several others regarding not only the contents of the article, but the loud and clear silence of rebuttal opportunity to what I consider an expose’ that did not shed the best light on the funeral industry i.e., a paragraph heading of  “The Veil Of Secrecy in Funeral Homes.”

My personal position is that Ms. Boring wrote an excellent piece using several sources from Caleb Wilde, the Federal Trade Commission, Jessica Mitford, Consumer Reports and others.  If funeral directors are upset by the article, I remember a saying “I don’t make the news, I only report the news” and those of us in the funeral profession should not “shoot the messenger” but take note of what is revealed in the article.

My take away is that frankly, what was reported is not “new news.”  Guess what?  There is inflation in the funeral industry, the FTC makes regulations that are regularly broken by rogues, funeral homes are for profit businesses, funeral home practices have evolved over the years, the advent of the internet and social media are providing more exposure to once limited funeral home information.  And, oh yeah; it’s expensive to die.  

What is not generally known about me is that I have spent some time and have experience in the Hospitality Industry.  I have family that has developed, managed, owned, operated, bought and sold hotels with an impeccable reputation in the hotel business for decades.  My personal mentor in life and business, J.E. “Buddy” Watson, provided me insight along with opportunity to periodically work alongside him.  The exposure of brand standards, training, management, development, construction, capital raising (private equity, venture capital, legal requirements, etc.) actually was the impetus for me developing the Family Choice Funerals & Cremations brand of funeral service.

turn downHave you ever seen a J.W. Marriott hotel, a full service Marriott hotel, a Marriott Courtyard, a Marriott Residence Inn and a Marriott Fairfield Inn in the same cluster near each other and wonder why?  Well, it’s because each of those brands represent a different customer segment.  The contrast of the full service product with amenities like convention/meeting space, full restaurants and a bar significantly differ from the limited service hotel with basic check in, basic breakfast offering, etc.  Additionally, the rooms are appointed according to the level of what the consumer is willing to pay.  But remember; the fundamental purpose for a hotel is simply a place to sleep away from home.  

So now, it’s time for me to hone in on my point and take away from the Forbes article.  The hotel industry and funeral industry are similar, but many in the funeral industry have not figured this out yet or at least refuse to acknowledge such.  When funeral practitioners like Caleb Wilde shared in the article that his family of funeral directors shifted from “residence/home funeral service” to body removal from the residence to the funeral home, that was a big deal for the industry.  Interesting how residential indoor plumbing began to emerge around the same time making one wonder if removing waste from the home was then considered “new and modern.”

Many funeral practitioners changed their modus operandi; instead of embalming, casketing and setting up the residence for a funeral they built a location to perform all the work.  It’s now a rarity to have embalming and other funeral services provided by funeral directors at residences.  Many of the funeral homes were also residences of the funeral directors, truly exemplifying “family owned and operated.”  Over the years, I suppose funeral homes decided that they did not want to “funeralize” in their own homes, so the advent of the modern day funeral home was developed and built.

Some of the “family inhabited” and “new location” buildings are still in existence; but the buildings are now a real estate burden because the consumer community served back in the 50′s and 60′s has changed.  I have been to many a funeral home that is struggling due to changing of the local clientele change and the real estate value plummeting along with their business.  In contrast, the modern day funeral home is quite different from the early “new location” buildings.  Some of these “funeral homes” resemble resorts or very expensive hotels with fine amenities, well-appointed furnishings, lush manicured grounds, a huge chapel, fleets of expensive automobiles, catering/event areas exuding elegance and the finest surrounding to honor a loved one.  Others are more modest with functional meeting rooms, a chapel, and the basic necessities for service funeral consumers, just a bit smaller.  An emerging type of funeral provider, disdainfully called “discounters” by many funeral royalty, are minimal facilities that may even be located in an old shopping center, but often offer the same products and services as the others without all the amenities.

open casket 1Providing these descriptions of hotels and funeral homes…are you seeing the similarities (besides both industries provide turndown service)? Which charges more for service; the full service J.W. Marriott or the Marriott Fairfield Inn? The well-appointed “full service funeral home” or the so called “discounter?”  A number of resources are available online to compare prices of hotels which include their own brand reservation sites like Marriott.com competing with Hotels.com and Travelocity.  A consumer is now trained to research online for information, pricing and comparisons looking for the best value for their particular stay.  Conversely, if a consumer is seeking the same about funeral homes (a permanent stay product) their resources are limited.  My friend and fellow funeral industry entrepreneur, Ellery Bowker, owner of Directors Advantage reported that only 8% of US funeral homes provide pricing on their website. Ryan Thogmartin of Disrupt Media Group and the popular Connecting Directors.com website is considered the funeral industry “Guru” of social media.  Funeral homes are still reluctant to engage social media professionals like Ryan to provide consumers information to make an educated decisions.

Captain ObivousIn recent history, the hotel industry had either a full or limited service product but has now evolved with extended stay, suites and other offerings based on the consumer demand.  The funeral industry has basically provides for two categories of full service (like a J.W. Marriott or Ritz Carlton and full service Marriott) or a limited service (like Marriott Courtyard or Fairfield Inn).  If you shop online, sometimes you can find a full service hotel for a limited service price (ask my fellow Captain, Captain Obvious of the Hotels.com website).  The same consumer shopping for services is more commonplace in the funeral industry, but the results are not the same due to as the Forbes article and Ellery Bowker point out, a “Veil Of Secrecy” still exists purposely by funeral homes not listing their prices online…forcing a consumer to actually visit the funeral home location for the coveted and FTC-mandated General Price List.

The lack of response by funeral directors about the Forbes article may be due to the inability to adjust their practices to consumer demands such as the hotel industry has.  Basically, a “full service funeral home” has all the amenities one could want and charges appropriately for the goods and services…even if the consumer doesn’t have a desire for such.  Ever heard the phrase, “Spend a Night, Not a Fortune?”  Well, my mentor, Buddy Watson actually coined that phrase back in the 70′s for a hotel chain.  So could the phrase, “Pay a Tribute, Not a Fortune” be an appropriate message to consumers about making their funeral plans?

When spending a night in a hotel; a consumer has the choice of the finest of amenities and services or lack thereof based on their own value proposition. At death; burial or cremation, a consumer has the choice of the finest of amenities and services or lack thereof based on their own value proposition.  Either way, the emergence of savvy, limited service funeral and online funeral service providers will continue to capture growing market share.  Factually there will always be a market for the full service hotels and funeral homes and there are more limited service hotels than full service to meet the demand of the consumer.

Finally, the gap of funeral consumers that have the financial means or desire to use full service funeral homes are diminishing.  Consumers that either are financially struggling or don’t find value in the full service funeral product are increasing.  The funeral service providers that figure out how to meet the needs of the increasing segment of funeral consumer with immediate transparent information and desired product will flourish in the next several years of increasing death numbers due to population along with technology for spreading their message.  Take note of other industries and how they evolved successfully…the death care industry is not dead, it’s just “going through the change.” Cheers y’all.

 

where are you going Over the Easter weekend I had the pleasure of relaxing and reading a periodical with a feature about a map collector.  I  was intrigued learning how important maps are to our society and the stories gleaned from what is now considered  art.  My thoughts gravitated to my experiences with maps and how the use of maps have changed in our society.

As a young Officer Candidate earning my commission, I had to learn map reading and land navigation.  In addition to  the classroom portion being educated about saddles, ridges and the like; we were required to put our knowledge to  practicum in the field.  Both day and night land navigation using a compass in conjunction with a topographical map to find designated points for a go/no go.   A no go meant retraining and retesting of the course…a second failure was immediate removal from Officers Candidate School. To tell you how times have changed; my son graduated from Army Infantry training now too long ago…map reading?  Nah; GPS. My thoughts here are that if a leader cant read a map and know where they are going, how can they possibly lead others?  Have you ever worked for someone that never took “map reading” much less actually tried to traverse successfully through the “forest?”

I remember taking family trips and looking at the map for the route to our destination.  Interesting, my dad would let me “navigate” although we were traveling up or down I-95 and getting lost was not much of a possibility.  However, I have a distinct memory of tracking the exits and trying to know exactly where we were and estimating the that we would arrive at our destination.  Today?  GPS is on the car, the mobile phone and tablet all telling the techy inhabitants of my car all they need to know about our location…but. I’m the Dad….we’re still not stopping.

We have become a society in some cases blindly reliant on technology and tossing aside what history has taught us in the past.  Basically; do a little homework.and take a look for yourself, on any subject.  The longer I live the more intrigued I am to witness so many traveling to nowhere, all so busy, and just accepting the direction from the digital source as gospel.  Does the GPS in our phones and such have a reverse?  I mean…it tells us where to go…but not where we came from.  Sometimes that’s pretty important information.

From my experience I believe that reading the map prior to taking a journey and using GPS is a good idea.  Don’t think so?  For a laugh take a look at the video below. Cheers y’all!

 

who pays Who pays funeral costs? As part of an ongoing conversation on this funeral blog the debate continues regarding payments for  funeral and cremation services by consumers.  Traditionally, the burden of making sure that a deceased person’s funeral bill is  paid to appropriate entities such as the funeral home and cemetery are primarily upon the deceased’s survivors.  However, a  growing trend is shifting from family to governmental agency responsibility and expectation of services without securing  necessary payment.

Are choices of disposition based on the amount of funds available to be paid for services?  Rising costs of funeral goods and services are no different from any other; a hotel room or an oil change all cost more than even 5 years ago.  Payment for goods and services are secured promptly or you don’t get your room key or car keys returned. From these two analogies, are funeral professionals compelled to “give the room key” or “returning the car keys after the oil change” without payment?  In essence, if a consumer can’t pay for a particular hotel room or vehicle service, then they can’t get the same level of accommodations or the vehicle service desired. Why the expectation that funeral proprietors should provide desired level of services without equal payment for such services?

The subject and issue is not going away…the “I am struggling to pay” segment of consumer is growing faster than “can I write you a check, use my credit card or use the life insurance” consumer.  What is your experience?  Cheers y’all.

ashes in cremationThe question continues to arise; is there DNA in cremated remains? The fact is no DNA in cremation remains of humans which are properly cremated. Cremation temperatures in the retort range from 1400-1800 degrees and any of the organic compounds, which contain the nucleotides to derive viable strands of DNA necessary to perform the test, are destroyed.  The conversation is growing along with the rate of cremation…know the answers.  Visit http://www.dnamemorial.com for more information.

Perseverance“I’m convinced that about half of what separates successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure  perseverance.”-Steve Jobs  

Rather than writing my usual recalcitrant views and complaining about the funeral industry woes, this funeral blog post is dedicated to OPTIMISM! If you are a funeral home owner, funeral director, funeral attendant, pre-need salesperson, or work at a funeral home; if you had unlimited capital, intellectual and technology resources at your beck and call…what would you invent?  Would you rather work 80 hours for yourself or 40 hours for someone else? Come on…let’s hear from you…what DO YOU WANT TO INVENT? Cheers y’all!

jackass Upon return and reflection from ICCFA in Las Vegas, I realize how our new world communicates.  Having a funeral blog  has provided me a platform for soliciting ideas, sharing experiences and observations with other funeral industry  professionals.  Most important, a funeral blog provides an opportunity, when positioned and utilized correctly, to get to  know each other in our new world order by using of social media.

During the ICCFA and on the Expo floor, face to face introductions to people from Australia, Ireland, Canada, Sweden and even Indiana (snicker) were so much easier…conversations flowed as if we were long time associates. In a way, we are because of our new way of communicating.

I am blessed to work alongside and have a personal relationship Ryan Thogmartin of http://www.connectingdirectors.com and Disrupt Media.  Ryan is unequivocally the guru of social media for the funeral industry.  I shared with Ryan last week my fascination of the power of blogging, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter as mediums for brand building along communicating intended messages.  In his “wizard way” of explaining all of the connectivity to so many in the funeral industry, I’m still amazed how few actually still do not take advantage of social media for their companies.

So, my first post upon return from the 2014 ICCFA I will provide testament that a funeral blog is an extremely effective tool to communicate your message and platform.  As for me, I enjoy sharing from my experiences as an entrepreneur in the funeral industry, observations of behavior mixed with a splash of humor and natural recalcitrant thoughts about “established norms” that so many subject themselves.

If you are one that reads http://www.thefuneralcommander.com and so many other funeral blog writers like Caleb Wilde, Nancy Burbon, Kate Hamilton, Jeff Staab, Ellery Bowker, Kim Stacey & Jess Fowler…thank you for providing us a platform for communicating.  If you are one that keeps blindly going in circles wondering how “everything seems to be changing” but you’re not, well keep waiting for that monthly newsletter in the mail.  Cheers y’all!

 

 

DNA Pet Have you ever looked at a painting and thought that the subject looked “alive?”  At DNA Memorial we can create DNA pictures by a  commissioned artist.  Your loved one or pet’s DNA is incorporated into the paint.  By incorporating the purified and extracted DNA into  the paint of the portrait, the genetic code will be accessible indefinitely.  Essentially the portrait of your loved one or pet is alive…  View  the link below to watch the beautiful creativivity of our artist at work and visit http://www.dnamemorial.com and http://www.petdnamemorial.com  for more information.

dna newsThe subject of DNA continues to surface in the news.  Just recently a headline story, “Did Adolf Hitler marry a Jewish woman? DNA tests ‘show Eva Braun associated with Ashkenazi Jews’ was published (see link below).   For the funeral industry, DNA is a relatively new discussion.  Although, the facts are that the cremation process is irreversible (unlike exhuming a body after burial) and the fact that all DNA trace is destroyed by cremation.  Both of these facts are widely known by all practitioners in the funeral industry.

So the question arises are funeral and cremation providers offering these important facts to the families they are serving?  Currently there are no laws or regulatory requirements to provide this information; however do we have an ethical obligation to do so?  I believe that in our litigious society we may have this point undoubtedly tested in the future.

During funeral arrangements, notifying family members that “cremation is irreversible and DNA is destroyed” is a simple, important step that may provide a family with at least the opportunity to make a decision prior to finality.  To learn more and to have a broader discussion about DNA and the funeral industry, visit www.dnamemorial.com or email me jeff@theharbesongroup.com …I look forward to chatting with you.  Cheers y’all.

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/hitler-shocker-hair-dna-shows-eva-braun-jewish-roots-article-1.1746666

tablet pc, mobile phone and laptop When you send email to someone or a company, how long does it take for a response acknowledging receipt of your  inquiry?  Just in the last 48 hours, I sent emails direct to people and made inquiries to companies to purchase their  services or products.  Guess what?  No response. I know people are busy, however busy is not an excuse for poor  manners.  I personally know people that are very busy, successful and run large multifaceted companies that routinely respond to me in a timely manner.

It is not unusual for me to receive more than fifty emails, texts, calls and other messages in a day.  When I receive a message, especially a message that someone took the time to personally reach out to me, then I promptly at least acknowledge receipt.  Fascinating to me is that we are offered instantaneous communication tools such as phones, text messaging, Skype, email, and the like, yet we have a failure of response time.  With all this instant technology at our disposal, why then does it take so long?

Why?  Because we are in an era of poor business behaviors and manners!  If you don’t believe it, how many times have you called someone asking the question “did you get my email?”  You are calling to find out one of 2 things; either their technology doesn’t work or they simply ignored your message and did not respond.  How difficult is it to reply “I received your message, but I’m not able to respond right now…I’ll get back to you on this in <give a time>?”

I want to challenge those that read this post.  First; respond to inquiries in a timely manner…just send a personal quick acknowledgement of receipt, and then follow up as you said you would.  If you are really late responding (over 48 hours), say so and apologize. Second; when someone does not respond to your inquiry in a timely manner, call them out on it.  If they say they are so busy that they could not take the time to at least acknowledge you, ask them if you or your business has any level of respect and why you should continue the relationship?

You’re just not that busy; you’re rude and lack business manners.  Cheers y’all.

TAC (3) For several years of my military service, I was a TAC Officer (Training, Advising, and Counseling) at an Officers Candidate  School.  Yes, that’s me in the photo providing some advice.  The mission of the school was to train Non-Commissioned  Officers and Enlisted soldiers to become combat leaders.  Subjects from indirect fire to proper dining etiquette were trained  all while being conducted in a combat simulated environment.  Development of decision making skills under stress,  leadership, and personal accountability; OCS is considered one of the premier leadership programs in the world.

Prior to a class graduating and receiving their earned Commissions, I would always offer this advice:

  1. Always keep yourself in shape; fat and sloppy is hard to follow.
  2. Polish your boots, press your uniform and have a fresh haircut.
  3. If you follow steps 1 & 2, no one will know you are an idiot until you open your mouth.
  4. Have something relevant to say, or don’t say anything at all.

Enough said.  Cheers y’all.

bench Funeral directors daily serve families making funeral arrangements that find themselves unable to pay for a desired  funeral to honor their loved one. A fair analogy quote for this situation is “I only have bus fare, but I want to buy a Cadillac”  (this comes from my fellow funeral professional Todd Winninger).  Just yesterday I was chatting with a funeral director  about payment plans for their funeral home.  When a family does not have a pre-need trust,  but has limited life  insurance, cash or  credit card balance, my company At Need Credit offers a payment plan.

Two of the three plans require that a family make a down payment, at least half of the goods and services of the total cost.  By asking a family to meet the funeral home “halfway,” then the family is committed and the funeral home can at least recover a majority of its cost of goods.  When describing the information about how the plans work, the funeral director asked me “well, what if the family can’t come up with half of the total cost for a down payment?”

My response to the director was similar to the title of this post; “if a family cannot come up with half of the down payment for your goods and services, why are you trying to sell them a Cadillac when they only have bus fare?”  There was a silence on the other end of the phone.  I went further “what are you currently doing if a family cannot produce even half of what you are charging for goods and services?”  The standard answer was given “we reduce the casket and services” the funeral director said.  So then I went into the math mode “so lets say your least expensive service with the least expensive casket is $4995 and the family doesn’t have even $2,500…what are you reducing…are you performing a graveside service with no visitation, no embalming, and no hearse?”  Silence again…then “well no, we just try to work with the family” which in funeral director terms means that the firm takes whatever the family can pay at the time, perform basically what the family wants, and hope for the best.

Just a week ago I addressed this issue from a different perspective titled “A Real Dilemma, the Cost of Being Broke.”  The issue is not going away; I get emails, phone calls and inquiries daily from funeral homes inquiring about At Need Credit payment plans. My funeral home locations weekly face this problem. The questions I want to bring to the funeral professionals: if your family only has bus fare, why are you trying to sell them a Cadillac?  I know that there are going to be responses from some that some social or government organization will pay something…but even then, are you matching the goods and services with the amount you collect?  Meaning, if the organization pays your firm $1,000 what do you give the family in return…do you provide the absolute minimum?  I hear often, “what if the family has no money?”  I then ask. “how much is no money?”  I have personally seen a “no money family” pay $15,000 cash for a funeral.  From my own experience, I have never known a family to have absolutely $0…I am not disputing that they exist.  So another question for discussion: when a family says they have “no money,” how does your firm serve them?

Anyone with a computer, television and even those that still read newspapers (I personally dont know anyone anymore that gets the paper under 75 years old) knows that our economy is in the toilet…if not, CNN Money reports that 76% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck to bring you up to date.  For discussion sake, please share your funeral home solutions to those that “have bus fare, but want to buy a Cadillac.”           Cheers y’all.

acute_angina1 Okay, so this time last year I was recovering from a serious medical event  that should have, for all practical purposes killed me.  But as my kids say, “it’s  hard to kill ‘em”  (referring to my side of the family).  I distinctly remember  being in the back of a siren blasting ambulance thinking to myself that with  all the close calls in my life including Iraq scud missiles bursting overhead  upon impact of our Patriot missiles, this little episode isn’t going get me  either.

Upon arrival a the hospital and some excellent quick work by the cardiac physician on duty, my “widow maker” was reopened and I was extended life…again.  After being moved into the ICU strapped down like a Hannibal Lecter, I then endured the barrage of family, friends and medical staff coming to see that I again cheated death, and of course to tell me that I have to “slow down.”  Yea right.

Interestingly my diet was pretty good, I exercise regularly and had a physical only 2 months prior that I did well with “no issues.”  Obviously they got this one wrong.  Thanks to modern medicine, I’m going to keep living life, but better living through chemicals…you know medicine.  I never took medicine beyond some seasonal allergy stuff and in my younger days, a bottle of Pepto Bismol after a night of alcohol buffoonery. So, one change of getting older…I now watch the drug commercials sometimes wondering if what I’m taking is going to give me bleeding eyes, itchy ears and some “seeping” issues as side effects.

After 3 days in ICU I went home and was on “house arrest” which meant I was supposed to chill. The second day I jumped in my car just to drive around for some scenery change and a cigar. During my confinement I also had to be “taken” to the hospital to meet with the rehab folks to “get me in line” so I could live longer.  When I walked in the rehab facility, I thought I was a geriatric health club.  I have never seen so many white Rockports and exercise suits in my life.  The counselor proceeded to ask me questions about family history, my eating habits, work habits, exercise routines, social habits, etc.  Upon conclusion and her review, she started right off the top with “well, you are going to have to stop eating chips, drinking any alcohol and the cigars must go.”  At that, I laughed and said “nope, I must go…now”…never to return.

Okay, so here is my theory on life and getting older.  First, either you do or you don’t.  I refuse to do anything other than to live what I have left any other way than what makes me happy…cigars and all. If eating chips sometimes is going to kill me, so what…I am going to die of something.  Medicine? Well, I have not had any notable side effects that would cause me to stop my taking prescriptions, but I still pay attention to the commercials. I’m not going to wear white Rockports for exercise, and yes golf is exercise. I currently have severe hearing loss from my military days and really is no solution for tinnitus. …so I’m the “what did they say” guy already.  I will drive until someone hides my keys.  As if this is a revelation, as I get older I will continue to speak my mind…I’m a believer of not telling you to go to hell, but the truth, and that feels like hell.  If you are a woman, I’ll call you “ma’am” no matter your age, I won’t write the response to women here that find that “offensive” .  When I think you look nice, I’m going to tell you, get over yourself, I’m not hitting on you.  I’m still too vain with my hair not being combed in public and to not dress nice. I refuse for my belt buckle to point downwards (from an oversized belly)…nor am I going to pull my pants up just below my nipples (at least not yet). Getting older also, for whatever reason (maybe from overuse when we are young) our sex life slows up a bit…oh well. On rare occasions, this subject presents tough decisions. Frankly sometimes I choose a good sandwich, chips and watching football…unlike sex, it lasts longer and I can nap along the way.

A year later, I’m still pretty much me.  I want to continue to be no one else and try to bring humor (my style) to approach life… my acuteangina and all.  If I had known I had one, I probably would had done things differently a long time ago.  Getting older is funny…Cheers y’all.

poor Saturday night I received a call from a lady that in years past I coached  her son in football.  The reason for her reaching out to me that her  niece, only 24 years old had just died at home and she wanted our  funeral home to assist their family.  Unfortunately, the young woman that  died had a debilitating disease and was released to home hospice  from a major medical center only the night before.

I know this family personally and frankly, the word pitiful comes to mind.  You know the family in your communities, truly struggling through life never seeming to get a break.  After providing me with the contact information, I forwarded the data to our on call funeral director.  Within just a few minutes, I received another call from the brother of the deceased.  He told me that he was the only one in the family with a job, almost everyone was on disability, and that finances were going to be a serious issue.  After listening, I shared with him that I understood and that our firm would certainly accommodate them to the best of our ability.  Since finances were an issue, I inquired whether he and the family would consider cremation; he said that was not an option.  They had a family farm property in another county and it was his sister’s desire to be buried there, the least that they could do.  Since this was a home hospice call, our staff was on the way as we spoke and I assured him that we would do our best and our conversation ended.

The best of our ability…this means that we (our funeral home) have to at least cover our costs; removal staff, casket and such.  Even with our offer to do this, what family wanted, they will still to struggle to cover the costs we must pay. When they came in to make arrangements, I was there simply so lend support and let them know that I truly cared for loss (I’m usually traveling all over the planet).  The funeral director conducted the arrangements as our standard; providing them information so that they could make educated decisions.

Anguishing from the experience losing their 24 year old loved one was now coupled with the living struggle of eking their way through life in financial stress…all the time.  I observed as the funeral director repeated what they were requesting from our firm, and then provided them with the cost for doing so.  We had agreed to provide what they wanted and reasonably could afford at our cost.  This family shared with the funeral director what funds they had available, and then we were able to provide them with a payment plan for the balance…still, just covering costs.

I felt compelled to share this real life event for a few reasons.  First, just plain human empathy for this family and so many others finding themselves in this very position.  Living day to day, struggling to make ends meet.  When death or another catastrophic event occurs, all of life’s regular problems are magnified for these folks.  Second, the families like this are one of the fastest growing groups in our country economically.  As a business person, whether a grocery store, shoe store, gas station, clothing store or pick a business; we have overhead costs just to keep the doors open and pay the people to provide service.  In the funeral home business, we are no different.

The difference in the funeral home business is that we are called provide service for those that have lost a loved one, regardless of their financial status.  Some states and municipalities offer indigent funds in the event of indigent death.  I have read that those offerings are “drying up” and non-existent in most areas such as our area of operations.  Many outside the funeral home business have no idea that we are not reimbursed by a government entity like Medicare of Social Security if a family has no life insurance and limited financial resources.  When a funeral home takes possession of a body, by most state statutes and regulations, we must either embalm or refrigerate within a certain time frame.  This regulation does not preclude getting paid from the family.

My heart really does go out to families that are financially suffering, God bless them.  I also understand and have concern for the gut wrenching job a funeral director does to meet their needs, both financially and their requests.  From one owner/partner of a funeral home to the others that read this, my true reason for writing this post is for more people to understand the business we run is more than just nice suits, shiny cars and transactions.  We make decisions that have profound effects on families, our employees and our business…it just isn’t what it seems.  Cheers y’all!

kiwi I want to share a few news stories profiled about the funeral industry  just last week; “FTC Undercover Inspections of Funeral Homes in Nine  States Test Compliance with Funeral Rule Disclosure Requirements,  Unlicensed Funeral Director Probed for Questionable Cremations,  Funeral Home Owner’s License Revoked After Settlement, and Family  Alleges Funeral Home Buried Wrong Baby During Service.” 

With those sorts of headlines, is it any wonder that consumers are skeptical when they walk into a funeral home?  We know that with any profession, there are bad apples and operators.  A quick internet search will reveal similar news about poor practices in financial, medical and other industries.  My point here is that the funeral industry is not leading the charge of positive news and demanding necessary change; rather we are allowing the negative news to dominate the headlines.

The FTC mandated General Price List disclosure is a fundamental regulatory tenet of our business.   Violations sit squarely in the lap of funeral home owners, period.  I have personally conducted “secret shopper” services for funeral home owners and to their dismay; some of their employees would have cost significant fines for lack of disclosure.  But why should there be surprise when funeral homes conduct no consistent training, monitoring or any regular oversight of their directors?  Our industry is predicated on people who when the proverbial “arrangement room door closes,” the funeral home owner and the family are subject to whatever information the individual funeral director provides…right or wrong.  What really fascinates me is the posture many in our industry maintain about training, “trying something new”, use of digital presentations, or changing their current operations.

There is a story I heard about the differences between a Kiwi bird and an Eagle. The Kiwi bird is short, has a long beak, and is flightless because of its lack of wing structure eating bugs, worms and such. The Eagle has large wingspans, a hard beak, with powerful talons and eats small game.  The Kiwi spends its day trying not to be eaten by predators and searching for food in fields with high grass, basically keeping their head down and only paying attention to just what they can see beyond their beak.  The Eagle takes to the sky searching for opportunity to gather its food.  So, if a field is on fire, the Kiwi keeps right on going about its business and doesn’t know the field is ablaze until its beak is on fire.  On the other hand, the Eagle circles above to prey on the food that will be running from the fire…

We have too many Kiwi’s in the funeral industry…myopic, resistant to change, apathetic and no idea that the “field is on fire.”  The FTC mandates, most States regulate, industry organizations (NFDA, ICCFA, NFDMA, etc.) offer best practices, yet the funeral industry Kiwi’s dominate the headlines.  So, how do we change this dilemma?

First, the Eagles have to clean up our own house.  The simple answer is training and behavior modification.  Create and conduct regular in-house training on relevant functions such as when to provide a family your GPL, proper body identification procedures with checks and balances, etc.  Sit in on arrangements and evaluate the information being provided to families. Of course many are afraid to do this…but who owns your business?  Even more important, who is accountable and must face public scrutiny along with paying fines for poor behavioral practices of your staff? Demand accountability, but clearly communicate through training, monitor and follow-up your concise expectations.  Training provides your team with the knowledge that as an Eagle, you set the operational tone of your firm.  Failure to do anything short, well, you’re a funeral Kiwi.

Once we have our own houses in order, let’s all engage in providing a cure for our symptoms.  How about we demand federal legislation that if a funeral home has a website, their GPL must be displayed?  By providing consumers information, they can make educated funeral decisions. The firms that fail to either have a website or comply, well too bad.  Let’s change the CEU system…attending boring classes about mundane subjects that have no teeth or relevant educational value is a waste of time and resources.  How about add exams for the CEU’s with a high proficiency rating for continued licensing?  Now, that sort of news would be much more encouraging to consumers if we are making serious efforts to “police our own.”

Okay, so there’s my two cents worth about the disturbing news last week and initiating conversation about solutions.  For what it’s worth, yes, our firm trains at least 3 times per week.  If you want to have conversation about how we accomplish this, please email me and we can chat.  As for the Kiwi’s, frankly I don’t think we’ll hear much from them…they are too busy looking for worms.  Let’s hear from you Eagles!  Cheers y’all!

arms I have had recent conversations with several young funeral directors  about their future.  These were both male and female, legacy (those that  their family owns the firm) along those that are employees.    Interestingly, the majority of their visions of the future were similar and  mostly dependent on where they are currently positioned; legacy, employee, corporate owned or family owned.

The common theme was their leaders/managers rarely solicit their ideas or viewpoints of how, if they had an opportunity, would improve upon different subjects.  I don’t think this issue is strictly a funeral home occurrence as “junior associates” in many industries such as banking, legal and such fare the same.  From my personal experiences, I am excited to listen to fresh perspectives from newly licensed or apprentice directors.  Our particular brand had greatly benefitted in such areas as use of technology, our proprietary arrangement process and other operational aspects.

The most concern I have from these conversations, even from legacy directors, was the lack of excitement for their future.  When these bright minded and aptly educated directors aren’t engaged in a culture that is propagating continuous improvement, why would they be excited?  Basically, the notion of doing their job, following the mundane routines of a funeral director and long hours should suffice.  I always ask “if you were in charge, or you could start your own firm, what would you do” and I get a litany of ideas.  These folks are thinking and have interesting perspectives. 

My favorite question is “would you like to own a funeral home” and most answer that it would be impossible…which bothers me the most.  I’m afraid we are losing the entrepreneurial spirit with our next generation of directors.  In many cases, they face an uphill battle.  Securing the capital to purchase  is difficult enough and funds for a startup funeral home stepping out on their own are even harder.

So as a matter of conversation, from “tenured” funeral directors to those at the beginning of their career, what are your thoughts?  Are we providing our next generation with enough engagement to maintain their interest or squashing their spirit? 

 

entrepenuer I recently heard a definition of an entrepreneur as one that jumps off a cliff  and builds a plane on the way down…this has a ring of truth.  We often see  news about people that have been successful bringing their ideas not only  to fruition, but made gazillions of dollars like Zuckerberg and Jobs.  But as  for the people that toil, try, fail, and start all over again, they rarely get much  press.

I personally know some in the funeral industry that daily get up and “build the plane”  with internet companies, products, processes, training modules and yes, new funeral home operating models.  I am often fascinated with how these folks envisioned their respective ideas and their take on how to penetrate the huge market.  The idea is not the hard part, it’s in the development, implementation and penetration of the market.  What many of my entrepreneur friends don’t realize early on that their product or service generally must be presented/sold/offered by funeral directors.  This particular part of the equation is frankly the most difficult to overcome and develop into a large scale.

I have a personal saying “a vision is only a dream without execution” meaning it’s not enough to dream, it’s all about making it happen.  I was part of developing a new funeral home operating model based on Six Sigma and Lean practices that opened in 2010.  The utilization of digitized arrangements for consistent messages to consumers, training of processes like home removals, all being done from computers which eliminated the need for office staff.  The service focus is providing families with a positive funeral experience, not wasting their time or money with outdated funeral processes.  Of course, the industry and competitive neigh sayers wanted to pigeon hole us that we don’t provide service, can’t this, don’t that, blah, blah. Interestingly and over 800 death calls later, our executed vision is growing with a great start to our fourth year in 2014.

The lessons learned as a funeral entrepreneur at the funeral home development level prepared me for other services and products.  I found that it was most important to listen to the consumer, not to “industry norms” or funeral directors about “what our families don’t like or we’ve tried that before.”  Funny thing when the consumer is provided with information, they make good funeral decisions.  But left up to some in our industry, the consumer would never have known nor had opportunity for selections.  The funeral consumer market is continually shifting and demand changes over time.  For instance, the current economy is significantly different than just 10 years ago, but many firms are presenting the same services and products without refreshing to current conditions.

Armed with this experience, I am involved with bringing new products and services to the funeral market.  Prior to launching with the general funeral home populace, we BETA tested.  I spent most of the effort listening to consumers and their acceptance/demand.  Along with feedback of best practices from the funeral directors that actually presented these services and products, I am certain of the success.  I sat in on arrangements simply to observe and learn.  Unfortunately, our industry does not take this same approach to new services and products. Rather, an idea is born, the product/service developed, and then the developers spend every effort trying to convince funeral directors of their particular success…without truly vetting both those that present and the end users; at need funeral consumers.

Knowing that consumers want and need a product or service, yet operating in an industry reluctant to offer anything new, the avenues of approach are significantly different than other industries.  So, for my fellow funeral industry entrepreneurs, here is some advice:

  1. Meet face to face with funeral home owners and directors or present using digital technology.
  2. Don’t waste your time trying to convince the entire industry, just find a few that are progressive enough to understand and execute.
  3. Use social media to promote your brand, services and products.
  4. Spend time with a firm and staff training them to present your service/product.
  5. Do the math…use realistic numbers for their revenue projections from sales of your service/products.  Measure the results.
  6. When funeral homes begin offering your service or product, support their efforts.  Listen to their feedback of best practices and what their families have to say.  Ask to sit in on arrangements to find out for yourself if your products or services are being presented correctly…listen to families.
  7. Provide firms with tools to inform the public of the new service or products they are offering (press releases, articles , social media avenues, and marketing techniques/tools such as information seminars to hospice or other organizations)

There is plenty of opportunity in the funeral industry for entrepreneurs, but few that make the effort and even less that succeed.  Keep building the plane…Cheers Y’all.

1 Merriam Webster— per·son·al·i·za·tion; make personal or  individual; specifically:  to mark as the property of a  particular person <personalized stationery>.  Wikipedia-  Personalization involves using technology to accommodate the  differences between individuals. Personalization technology enables  the dynamic insertion, customization or suggestion of content in any  format that is relevant to the individual user, based on the user’s implicit behavior and preferences, and explicitly given details.  Google Image: The image shown is the first when the word search for “personalization” is entered.

I was pondering personalization and the funeral industry after recently observing yet another arrangement session with a family.  The definitions above are the results of a computer search of just the word and subsequently an image search on Google.  What I found most interesting is that nothing was mentioned about funerals.  Of course when I entered “personalization funeral”  there are some blogs, references to industry written articles, and some funeral home websites that have done a good job with SEO on the subject.  When the same caption is then moved to Google images, a barrage of photos including an embalmed guy on a motorcycle appears and throngs of products from a Budweiser casket to candles.

Why am I writing this?  Because I’m not certain the general funeral consumer population is aware of our industry view of the subject “personalization.”  I’m consistently amazed by the reactions during actual post death decision making about this and many other subjects.  The family that prompted this post wanted nothing to do with in their words “any frills” for their deceased loved one (interestingly, the deceased was a “Baby Boomer”).  The funeral director, in line with our proprietary presentation of our arrangements, provided the family with information so that they could make educated funeral choices.  On the same day, at our other location which is four hours away, the same arrangement presentation provided, and the family seemed to want everything that was available including memorial products.  Our firm has made a choice that every family receives tangible recognition of the family’s loss and acknowledgement of their grief (a Mourningcross Bereavement Pin).  Every family that chooses cremation and an urn gets a personalized name plate with date of birth/date of death (using Print-A-Plate).  It’s personal to us, so we believe we should show the way.

I’m not being critical or making judgment; I’m just sharing a few observations.  To share an outside view of personalization, take a look at vanity license plates.  You know the ones with some clever message (like mine, BURYEM).  Virginia has the largest percentage of vanity plates in the US, about 16% (according to a study by AAMVA published in 2007) of all registered license plates are personalized.  Certainly that percentage has grown since.  Another interesting but little known fact that is the amount of “personalized caskets” actually sold is also in the teen percentages (or at least it was just a few years ago).

So, what is the point here?  It’s our job to provide information so that a funeral consumer can make educated decisions, and the first gesture of personalization should come from us…Cheers Y’all.

posersThis week I have read outstanding articles from both Alan Creedy (http://connectingdirectors.com/articles/43708-pennsylvania-deprives-consumers-of-21st-century-services) and Ryan Thogmartin (http://connectingdirectors.com/articles/43685-10-reasons-not-to-hire) regarding the funeral industry and continuing myopic practices.  What fascinates me the most is that due to the medium of internet and social media, the exposure of “posers” and as Alan eloquently pointed out “guilds” continue.

Posers (a person who poses, especially a person who is trendy or fashionable in a superficial way) and guilds (a medieval association of craftsmen or merchants, often having considerable power) are beginning to scurry for cover like roaches when a light turns on in a dark room.  The funeral industry is wrought with “experts” providing advice with little to no experienced platform to stand and being propped up by those that are fiercely resisting change.  If this sounds familiar, take a look at our government in Washington and lobbyists for a similar analogy.

Social media and the internet are allowing for voices to be heard that were not provided a platform by the “ruling entities” of the funeral profession.  A grand example is Alan and Ryan’s articles…I suspect neither will be published in most funeral association magazines.  As the consumers we serve continue to educate themselves about the funeral industry, pricing, services and the like, they ultimately will force the necessary changes of endless outdated practices.  Much like in the early 90′s, consumers and the internet totally changed the travel agency industry.

So for those in our industry that continue to refuse engage, enlighten and provide positive changes, as the old saying goes “the chickens are coming home to roost.” Cheers y’all.

out of orderI was working a funeral service this past Saturday and experienced strange occurrences that I frankly don’t care to ever live through again. During the services, a young lady came to me to say that one of the restrooms had an “issue.”  Apparently, a roll or so of toilet paper just barely got the job done.  I proceeded to do my best plumbing expertise of using a plunger to fix the problem.  Well, it didn’t even come close…as I was sloshing away, the door opened with a man telling me that the other restroom has “an issue.”  Great…so I stopped plunging and opened the door of the other restroom and observed the same problem.

After exhausting all my best efforts to clear the hatch, I let my fellow participant in hell know we were in dire need of a plumber…on Saturday, in the middle of a funeral service.  My partner let me know that the family requested more memorial folders and the printer for some reason had decided that it also was overwhelmed for the day refusing to submit and he was up to his elbows in ink.  As the service let out, my job was to let folks know the bathrooms were unavailable due to an emergency…imagine the look of horror on some ladies faces upon hearing the news.

To add to the fun, a family of 11 walks into the funeral home to make arrangements for their mother that literally just died 45 minutes ago at the local hospital…and they really want to “get this part over with so that they can party.”  As we cleared the building of the service and initiated the arrangement session with the party family, the plumber arrived. I showed the plumber and his team the problem areas and they started to work, which included turning off the water causing all kind of alarms to start going off. On cue, the party family thought that was a sign that maybe they should take another of their six smoke breaks of the arrangement session.

My hat is off to those that serve the public in so many capacities, and especially those in the funeral service field.  We don’t just stop; we make adjustments, and carry on.  Saturday could aptly be described as a “crappy day”…but the sun came up on Sunday.  Please share some of your “one of those days” with us…Cheers y’all.

 

goodbyeI have seen it in the eyes of family upon my arrival for the removal/transfer of their deceased loved one.  Exhaustion, sadness, disbelief that death has arrived for the person they cared for and loved.  Many of us in the funeral profession have made home removals to see the look and feel the tone of those that have given so much of their lives over the recent past.  For the next 48 to 72 hours, these saints must muster even more energy for the funeral activities that will take place.

I have been part of and talked with many that shared their experiences with the exhaustive “death watch” which may last months.  In their wonderful mission of making the transition from life to death as comforting as possible, I also know that hospice and senior care workers now must move to their next assignment, exhausted as well.

Similar to bringing a newborn home, caring for a dying loved one uproots routines.  Sleep, work, personal time, meals, care visits, laundry, etc. all change.  In most cases, babies at some point get settled and find a routine similar to our own, but the transition to death has no routine.

An example and the inspiration of this post is one of our associates lost his father just last night.  Several weeks ago we were made aware that hospice care determined that the death of his father was imminent, which meant that as his funeral home family we are on standby to assist and serve.  The agonizing weeks, days and hours that followed took an emotional toll on their family.  It’s interesting that at our funeral home we have been notified by family that life sustaining procedures have been stopped on their loved one, and death may occur at any time.  I have personal knowledge of people surviving without life support and living for over a month…incredible testimony to our human design.

For some, plans for the funeral have been made for their deceased loved one. The details of contacting others, dates, times and locations are pretty much all that has not been secured.  For others, even more exhaustive days are ahead.  Funeral decisions made under the cloud of grief coupled with exhaustion only exasperate what is considered one of life’s most stressful events, the funeral of a loved one.  On top of this, finances, frayed emotions and unresolved family issues are not unusual during funeral events.

Death is often exhausting…for those that are dying, for family that is tending and caring for the dying, for those that make the transition more comfortable from life to death, and for those that serve the families in their darkest of days.  I have witnessed, deal with and ultimately know that I too will personally experience exhausting death of a loved one.  My words are from my heart to encourage all of us to continue to have empathy, provide comfort and serve those that are experiencing exhaustive death.  At some point, we’ll want to be served as we serve.  Cheers y’all.

paying for the funeralThe subject matter of finances continues as I converse with funeral directors across the country.  As most have shared with me,  pre-need sales are stagnant or “not what they used to be.” With the shaky economy and consumers paying close attention to expendable dollars in their household budget, this should not be a big surprise.

Additionally, consumers arriving at funeral homes with life insurance are decreasing as well.  As reported by the Life Insurance Marketing Research Association; “the proportion of U.S. adults with life insurance protection has declined to an all-time low with 41% (95 million) of all adults have no life insurance at all.”

So if a consumer did not pre-pay/plan their funeral goods and services with a contract, the surviving family members that remain behind are making decisions for funeral goods and services with lingering thoughts:

  • If the deceased had valid life insurance, is the amount enough to pay for the goods and services that we desire?
  • If the insurance is not enough, should we pay the balance out-of-pocket or just spend only the amount of the policy?
  • If the deceased had valid life insurance, how much should we spend on funeral goods and services?
  • If the deceased had valid life insurance, should we use some of that money for other bills (medical, survivor needs, etc.)?

Of course, the above questions arise only in the cases that life insurance exists.  So with no pre-paid contract and no life insurance, what thoughts exist?

  • How much are the funeral goods and services going to cost?
  • We have savings, but should we dip into those funds?
  • Do we have enough credit card balance to charge the funeral goods and services?
  • What can we get for the amount we have…or willing to spend?

A funeral director must tailor the funeral goods and services to the budget that a family desires to spend.  And this is where the quandary begins with two sometimes opposing forces at work:

  • Satisfying the family’s desires for honoring their loved one within their budget.
  • Collecting funds for goods and services rendered that provide profitability for the funeral home.

Just like any other business, funeral home owners are being forced closely scrutinize their operating expenses and make decisions for financial sustainability.  A thorough evaluation of fixed costs, personnel management and cost of goods should be conducted.  Upon gaining a firm grasp of expenses, projections of revenue is essential.  As with most firms, the revenue projection process is like nailing Jell-O to the wall.

What is abundantly clear to most funeral home owners is that many consumers are making significant changes how they choose to provide final rites for their deceased loved ones.  “Traditional” burial is decreasing and cremation is increasing…no surprise there.  However; competition of getting the attention of consumers for how they can better budget their “funeral dollars” is rampant…within our industry along with outside of the funeral industry influences.

What does a firm offer for the growing demographic of funeral consumer that has little to no life insurance or limited funds for goods and services?  What strategies and training are in place to increase revenue along with cash flow from these consumers that meet the financial needs of the funeral home?  What are the messages and how are they sent to attract this growing market segment?  Are these conversations even taking place…or is the firm ignoring what the marketplace is telling them?  Times and consumers are changing.  The good old days are long past the funeral industry.

ShhhThe funeral industry is slow to make changes in its operations and customs.  Consumer’s views about death and funerals are challenging funeral directors to make adjustments to their demands.  It’s rare now not to find a funeral home without a website; something considered “out of the box” 15 years ago.  With the popularity of cremation, many funeral homes have been forced to change their offerings to funeral consumers.  Some cremation funeral services are indistinguishable from burial funeral services; with the body present complete with all of the other traditions such as a wake, visitation, services, use of hearse, etc.

However, there is one underlying and very important fact that has not been regularly disclosed to funeral consumers by funeral providers; the cremation process obliterates all medical and genetic DNA, and the process is irreversible. That’s right.  Once a body is cremated, there is no traceable medical or genetic DNA that can be harvested from cremated remains.

Why would someone want their deceased loved ones DNA? If you are not aware, Angelina Jolie recently had a double mastectomy because she found through DNA testing that she possessed a mutation in her BRCA1 gene.  This discovery indicated that she had a 87% chance of developing breast cancer. Angelina found the DNA testing to be important to her health and future.

I also have a personal reason for the collection of DNA. My wife’s father and Jim “Catfish” Hunter are brothers.  If you don’t know the name “Catfish Hunter,” he was a Hall of Fame Baseball Player, Cy Young award winner pitching a perfect game as well as a pitcher for both the Oakland A’s and New York Yankees during some of their World Series wins.  “Jimmy” died of ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) or “Lou Gehrig’s Disease” in September of 1999.  Unfortunately, my wife’s first cousin and Jimmy’s nephew, Gary Hunter died in April 2006 of ALS as well.  I have two sons Hunter, 22 and Jackson, 15…DNA of our deceased relatives Jimmy and Gary Hunter would be important for my son’s future.

For some people genealogy is important and becoming more popular for search of family history.  So the collection of DNA of a deceased family member has several practical applications that surviving family members may want to consider.

Wikipedia explains “DNA Genetic testing, also known as DNA testing, allows the genetic diagnosis of vulnerabilities to inherited diseases, and can also be used to determine a child’s parentage (genetic mother and father) or in general a person’s ancestry. In addition to studying chromosomes to the level of individual genes, genetic testing in a broader sense includes biochemical tests for the possible presence of genetic diseases, or mutant forms of genes associated with increased risk of developing genetic disorders. Genetic testing identifies changes in chromosomes, genes, or proteins.  Most of the time, testing is used to find changes that are associated with inherited disorders. The results of a genetic test can confirm or rule out a suspected genetic condition or help determine a person’s chance of developing or passing on a genetic disorder. Several hundred genetic tests are currently in use, and more are being developed.”

As science continues to progress our eyes are continually opened through information.  In the funeral industry, we know the fact that upon conclusion of the cremation of a person, all physical genetic and medical DNA are obliterated.  Funeral service professionals have an obligation to provide this information to a family so that they may make educated funeral decisions.

Funeral consumers should conduct research prior to making funeral arrangements and ask their funeral director what happens to their loved one’s DNA after cremation.  The cremation process is irreversible and so is the decision not to collect the DNA of their loved one.  For more information visit http://www.dnamemorial.com…know the facts.

THG LogoThe Harbeson Group http://www.theharbesongroup.com provides the innovate development of partnerships, products and services in the funeral industry. As part of our strategic development, we are now seeking independent funeral industry sales professionals to offer unique solutions to funeral home owners.

We provide exclusive services and products including; At Need Credit http://www.atneedcredit.com DNA Memorial http://www.dnamemorial.com Mourning Cross Bereavement Pins http://www.mourningcross.com and Print A Plate http://www.printaplate.com to funeral homes.  We also offer the American Funeral Finance http://www.americanfuneralfinancial.com lines of insurance assignment services to provide you even more leverage with your current customer base.

If you have established relationships in the field providing services to a current funeral home customer account base, have an interest in adding relevant services and products to your firms; please send your resume with a cover letter to jeff@theharbesongroup.com

funeral We are preparing to participate at the South Carolina Funeral Directors  Association’s 27th Mid Winter Conference and Expo.  This particular  event is well orchestrated and attended as far as State Funeral  Associations go.  As a vendor, the expense for participating at such an  event are generally high; fees, travel, lodging, meals, etc.  The ROI for  the participation often is relatively low.

My point of view is that I may see more customers in a short time period rather than meeting individually at their respective locations.  I also believe that if our team attends and supports the association events, we should at least have the consideration of the members to use our services or products.

Most associations rely on these events to raise capital for operating expenses and is an important part of their annual revenue raise.  With changes in technology and communications (Skype/Go To Meeting, Online CEU’s, etc.), are Expo/Conventions becoming irrelevant?  So, I would like feed back from those that attend, participate and display for funeral conventions…

freezing I sit here in my warm office this evening thinking of just how frigid the air  is outside.  We were not the recipients of much snow in our geography,  but the cold is biting.  The news today was all about gridlock and peril in  parts of our country that are not used to the cold or copious amounts of  snow and ice.  “Parking lots” on highways and car wrecks by the droves.

But the underlying story I did not hear from the media was two groups of people.  First, those that are forced to live and endure the outdoors in this type of weather because of misfortune.  I served dinner last Sunday night at our local homeless shelter and my mind is on the faces…children, women and men alike suffering.  Secondly, those that serve; police, fire, EMT, military, power company personnel, medical, hospice, and yes, when people die, funeral directors.  None of these people take the night off because of the cold.

We are a nation that cares and will answer the call of duty when needed.  I pray for those that are cold and find themselves where they never imagined.  I pray for those that are serving at this very moment in conditions that are nearly unbearable.  I give thanks to God that I am here, blessed and humbled.

There but for the grace of God, go I. This means I too, like someone that suffered misfortune, might have suffered a similar fate, but for God’s mercy.

Resource How do funeral professionals approach senior care and hospice  professionals in their  respective communities to become a resource?  Not a solicitation to care for their deceased clients, but a resource  providing professional training, information and assistance.  A  funeral  director is an educated, licensed professional that can become a  tremendous asset with the local clergy, health, legal, senior care, and  hospice professions.

When developing a marketing and operations platform for our new funeral home, I met with and listened to several hospice and senior care professionals.  I asked them to share what they do for their clients, how their clients qualify for their respective services, what are the different positions within their organization and so on.  These professionals were excited to share their work and passion with me.  After learning about their operations, I then asked “what don’t you like about the funeral homes that you deal with regularly”? That’s when I received an earful.

“When we call during odd hours, it seems to take forever for the funeral home to respond, much less show up…the guys making the removal are very impersonal,”  and so on.  I asked if their organizations had a working relationship with the local funeral homes, and most indicated they did not.  If anything, funeral homes would donate for their fund raisers or drop off pens and such.  From this line of questioning, I then solicited from those I met with “if you owned a funeral home and you wanted to work with a local organization like yours, what would you do?”  There were many suggestions, but what struck me as resoundingly important was the funeral home should be providing training and become a resource.  The reluctance from those that I met with was that in the past they invited funeral homes to develop a relationship by presenting to their staff or participating in some sort of event, the hospice got the feeling that the firms just wanted to sell pre-need or some type of product.

After learning about senior care and hospice organizations, their work, their passion to make a client and their family’s transition to death comfortable, I thought through how a funeral home could be of service to their staff.  Training, Education, Resource.  Why not provide the staff with information about what happens after their clients die…what does the family have to deal with…how can a family prepare for death…what can families expect after the death occurs…basically once the transition work until death is complete, share how does a funeral professional carry forward the hard work started by senior care and hospice.

Upon completion of the research, I developed a training platform for staff and volunteers that have direct contact with those that are dying along with their families.  Within the platform, there is no solicitation of the funeral home or its services, but information and training of what a family will need to know prior to death occurring and how to prepare.  Details on subjects such as Social Security benefits, end of life legal preparedness, Veteran’s benefits, important documents such as life insurance, how a funeral home expects to be paid, what is a GPL, DNA issues, and so on.  In addition, I created a website and accompanying materials as tools for those receiving the training as well as a resource for families that have a loved one facing death.

Upon presenting this training, I was overwhelmed at the reception and participation among those in attendance.  Many did not know how soon after death a physician must sign a death certificate, their state’s regulations pertaining to embalming and or refrigeration, etc.  Subjects and regulations that funeral professionals regularly must follow so that those in attendance may assist by providing families information prior to death; to make the transition to death easier.  During the training multitudes of stories were shared by the participants from their own loved one’s death and those that they had cared for.  The training provided was valuable both professionally and personally.

At the conclusion of the training, the hospice and senior care professionals now had tools and information to deliver to a family without feeling uncomfortable about the topic of impending death.  Additionally, because of the training we developed a relationship…we became a resource.  There was no fear that if these professionals called for any funeral service information or questions our firm would not respond with starting up the removal vehicle or requesting a meeting with a pre-need counselor.

Want to know more about the hospice and senior care training program for funeral homes?  Email jeff@theharbesongroup.com or stevez@g2funeralgroup.com to set up some time to chat about how to become a resource.

AdviceI really enjoy reading posts, blogs and comments that circulate throughout the funeral, grief, hospice and senior care industries.  Many offer excellent insights from combined experience and education, providing helpful relevance which assists all of us that serve.  Actually looking a dying person in the eyes while providing comfort, or working with a family stressed and emotionally drained from providing day-to-day care is much different from reading about it.  Additionally, being in a funeral arrangement session with families whose members are in the same state, imminent/post death actually observing their decision-making under the cloud of anguish and grief is equally not the same as speculating about what actually takes place in such events. 

So my post today is first to thank those of you in the before-mentioned positions and professions for sharing your experiences to assist others to serve better.  But “the heart of the matter” is to address all those that are surrounding and “supporting” our respective industries.  We get inundated by “try this, do that and we’re sure this will work” by those that have never changed a bed pan, consulted a family about the impending death of their loved one, provided comfort transition from life to death, created a funeral home budget/P&L, assisted a family making funeral arrangements, watched a family kiss their loved one for the last time, or actually provided comfort to a grieving person over their loss.

I’m a firm believer in education about any specific profession, but I also believe that “hands on experience,” training and practice are the best teachers.  It’s like reading books about combat and thinking you are prepared for battle.  One must have actual experience for true appreciation of the work involved; along with the “authority” to offer insight or opinions with credibility.

Finally, I want to encourage those that do contribute from authority and experience to continue providing meaningful and original content.  For all the others, give us break.  We can read Forbes, or Entrepreneur finding such generalized content ourselves…quit posting stuff for the sake of posting.  I have been in a combat zone and a target of real world attacks; so for the respective industry carp that will “yelp like a bit dog” and get their underwear in a wad; go ahead take offense and get over yourself.  For everyone else please continue the great work.  Cheers y’all!

mixture of ingredients Gallup recently released the “Mood of the Nation” annual poll that  revealed 42% of Americans are financially in worse shape now than  this time last year.  Approximately 30% say they are better off.  Most are  optimistic that their status will improve in the future, but that is generally  the case…hope.  How does the financial status of our fellow American consumers correlate to funeral homes?

In the last few years I have been watching consumer financial postures, and consistently the news is not positive.  CNN Money reported last summer that 76% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck meaning they have less than 6 months of savings to replace their incomes if job loss occurs.

These people and their relatives are dying.  Our funeral homes are serving financially struggling families.  Bridging the gap between funeral home revenue recovery, cash flow and providing families with goods and services they can afford is becoming more of an issue than even a few years ago.  What is your funeral home doing to grow and maintain revenue with the average Americans that are forced to make funeral decisions with their wallet, not their heart.?

There are solutions to improve cash flow and eliminate accounts receivable.  As a funeral home owner/partner, not only do I understand the issues, I live them.  With $0 accounts receivable and payment secure before the funeral contract is signed, we know the “secret sauce.”  I’d like to share it with you, drop me an email jeff@theharbesongroup.com and lets set up a time to chat.

plane I spend more time in hotel beds than I do in my own bed at home.    When someone asks me where I live, I generally reply “Marriott.”  For  those that don’t travel regularly making their living and think it’s  glamorous, well it’s simply not.  I’m on a plane as I write this and I just  have so share with you observations about our fellow humans at  airports.

Alright folks, it’s the 21’st century and you should be able to slide your credit card in a “computer machine,” read the instructions, and touch the screen when directed…it’s something most 1st graders can do now.  Anyone not aware that you must go through security prior to gaining access to the boarding gate?  Why doesn’t it register with some that the articles of clothing worn, items that are packed, and the bags that are carried will affect the process of getting through security?  I plan for going through security with ease so I can also watch people that have not a clue of what’s going on…it makes the whole event worth my time.

Continuing with the boarding process and observing human behavior, it gets really interesting.  The gate agents announce boarding process of priority and even tell us to look at our ticket for our access (1st class, memberships, zones, etc.).  However, once the gate agent starts talking, everyone rushes for position for the single lane of access…like cattle being herded onto a truck headed for slaughter.  I watch and sure enough, on every flight, people at the front of the line are in zone 5, some even try to board out of their order, and the whole process slows down because of either ignorance or failure to follow directions.  Of course, there is always someone with a carryon bag that could not fit in the trunk of a 1975 Buick that argues with the gate agent about taking it on the plane.  And, of course, there are those that can’t count…one personal bag and a carryon. Not a personal bag, a carryon bag, a shopping bag and that bag with the gifts.

The fun continues on the plane when the bags are being stowed in the upper area…surprised that your carry on doesn’t fit?  I know that you bought it at TJ Maxx and the cute zebra stripe matches your flip flops, but really?  Additionally, I am the first to offer help to those that are in need…but if you and not elderly or disabled, and your TJ Maxx zebra bag is so heavy that it’s an event on world’s strongest man, then I don’t really feel sorry for you.

Then, of course someone is hungry and must eat a full meal on a 2 hour flight…it would be way stupid to eat at home or one of the 50 restaurants in the airport.  No, they have to bring a greasy bag of Bojangles chicken complete with dirty rice and biscuit, or an Italian sausage hotdog with onions, peppers and mustard.  Or if they really planned ahead, perhaps a tuna fish or egg salad sandwich from home.

Lastly, is there a mirror shortage in the US?  If your butt is so big that you have to turn sideways to go down the aisle, then stretchy pants are not for you.  If you don’t have your feet manicured and toenails clipped, wear covered shoes.  For both genders, if you spill over into the next seat because of your size, then please wear long sleeves.  For this same person, if your boobs (men or women) spill out of your tank/tube top, please wear a really good bra or again, a cover up.

Well, I hit the lottery by sitting next to a really nice and professional man that we respect each other’s space and the flight is going well.  But for those that don’t’ travel much, turn off American Idol the night before and while you are in Walmart, pick up a guide to travel.  Cheers y’all.

lock Even Frank Zappa had something to say about blocking progress;  “without deviation of the norm, progress is not possible.” After  development and testing with real at need families with real licensed  funeral directors, I am blessed to be part of the launch for new services  and products will make impact for both funeral homes and the families  they serve.

Our industry abounds with skepticism about something new for a myriad of reasons.  Whether personal bias, fear, lack of education, laziness or just plain apathy, or “we tried that in the past and it didn’t work,” etc.etc.  Why do some stand in the way of progress expanding our value as a resource to those they serve?  Many firms are really stepping up doing a great job of not only providing the expected norm form a funeral home, but other services.  Planning seminars with legal professionals, catering for post funeral meals, aftercare/grief support, presentations/training with hospice organizations, and coordination of post death activities just to name a few.

I believe that families should be provided information so that they can make educated decisions. Relevant information is not limited to service, casket, vault, urns or traditional ancillary products.  Are we doing a good job letting a family know that after cremation all DNA and medical trace is obliterated?  Are we informing families that death certificates may be needed to close digital accounts such as Hotmail or Facebook?

What are going to be the liabilities we face for our complacency and lack of understanding about subjects that we fail to not only inform ourselves, but our families…simply because we choose not to deviate from our routines?  In our society where consumers are constantly being presented challenges to pay for their loved ones funeral expenses, make decisions about final disposition, and then cleaning up final matters like online accounts, are we really serving them well by providing information, or standing in the way of improved funeral service progress?

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