LICE

With cash flow solutions being my primary emphasis in my consulting business for at need services, I am continually confounded when I learn that a funeral home does not utilize an insurance factoring company.  As many know, I pretty much believe in the “I’m not going to tell you to go to hell.  I’m going to tell you the truth and it feels like hell.”  The truth: Wasting in-house resources (time, personnel, effort, and overhead) to collect insurance is ridiculous. Now, you may not feel like hell, but you may feel unenlightened and marginally distraught.

If you don’t know how this works, please allow me to enlighten you, and in the process, offer your the families you serve, you, peace and payment!  When a family presents you a life insurance policy for the deceased, you may tell the family member that you will accept the policy to pay for their loved one’s funeral expenses.  However, the policy must be valid, non-contestable and the beneficiaries must assign the funds necessary to pay for the expenses to the funeral home. Tracking so far?

At this point, you also inform the family that your firm has engaged a company that will confirm the viability of the policy, accept assignment, and pay your funeral home the proceeds directly.  If the policy has more funds than what is needed for funeral expenses, the company will send funds to the family in about 4-6 weeks. The fee for this transaction is .0x% and that fee will be taken from the life insurance proceeds.  So, by using this process, your loved one has provided you a gift of life insurance to pay for their funeral expenses and it is a cashless event…no money out of pocket.Peace.Payment.

I can hear the rumbling and grumbling from the unenlightened.  “I don’t want to charge a family a fee.”  Let me ask this question, Skippy: “Why not?”  At best, Miss Edna is going to make several phone calls to insurance companies trying to track down your money…yes, it’s your money.  Why are you going to wait the customary 3-4 weeks for your money?  The family will pay for the convenience and relief of a “cashless event.” Oh, another question, Skippy:“Have you ever conducted the service, buried the casket or cremated the body prior to learning that the policy is not viable?” Brilliant. Now Miss Edna is on the phone trying to get the firm paid and guess what the family will tell you: “We don’t have that kind of money.” Miss Edna just has to become a collection agent because you refuse to use common sense and sound business practices.

Peace and payment for both you and the family. The family will pay the fee, certain they wont have unexpected bill later; you will get paid with surety and faster.  If the policy is declined, you know immediately and deal with it before the service. Read what I rant and write, DO NOT SIGN A FUNERAL CONTACT UNTIL PAYMENT IS SECURED!

This is one of many steps in the business of doing business that will keep your firm in a $0.00 accounts receivable status.  Want to know more? Email jeff@f4sight.com or jeff@atneedcredit.com.  Yep, I’m smoking a 6×6 Maduro blowing a thick cloud of smoke on the observation platform of the Command Post (West).  Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

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The funeral profession has some really quirky regulations and irregular standards that cause undue scrutiny every time one of our illustrious colleagues performs a stupid stunt. We have states that require a dual license (embalmer and director), we have a state that requires no license (Colorado). We have states where a funeral home must have at least 6 caskets in the building.  Another prohibits casket sales other than from a funeral home. And even a state that requires a hearse be parked on the premises. Most fascinating is that regulations are “interpreted” just like some interpret the Bible-whatever suits personal position. The Funeral Rule is one of the clearest cut and simplest regulatory set of rules I have ever seen.  Yet, nearly 30% of funeral homes inspected annually are in violation.

Who makes all these silly regulations? Funeral directors. Consider dual licensure.  Does anyone think some personalities and talents are more suited for arrangements versus embalming?  Bringing Igor out of the dungeon expecting a Billy Graham arrangement session is ludicrous.  Why not 3 caskets in the building, or maybe an even dozen?  What’s the legal definition of a hearse? Could it be a van with the respectful “landau” strip of metal on the side?

We are our own worst enemy creating barriers for success because we attempt a façade of some messed up nobility which supersedes common sense. One thing I really like about the “new generation” of funeral directors that are entering the marketplace. They don’t take your word for it, they Google and fact check.  You know, actually find the regulations on their smart devices and challenging the absurd when Foghorn Leghorn starts crowing.

We are entering a new era in the funeral business where the light is being shined on the darkness simply because of information.  And when you have information, you become educated.  When you get educated, you have a platform to effect change.  Rather than embrace “what is,” run the risk of failing scrutiny because you’ve processed regulations in a self serving way, let’s get educated and busy. Perhaps the time has come to clean up this ridiculous mess.

From the sunny Command Post (West), Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

The King and I II

May 2nd began new era for me; I am now the Director of Marketing for The Foresight Companies. Over the last 2 months, Dan Isard and I have conducted in-depth due diligence, meetings, sharing of philosophies concluding that this opportunity is right for both of us.  Learning from Dan as an understudy and gleaning from his vast 30 years of funeral consulting expertise is indeed a fantastic opportunity.

Fortunately, I am not only  going to get a PhD in funeral consulting, I also broaden the platform of reach through The Funeral Commander blog  as well as the Funeral Nation TV with my co-host and social media expert Ryan Thogmartin continuing to “raise the flag” for our industry.  Additionally, the At Need Credit company fits nicely into The Foresight Companies wheel house especially with our Simple Funeral Payment Plan software platform to clean up accounts receivable for funeral homes.

Yes, this a significant change and commitment for both of us.  Dan shaped up his intention for my future in an early email to me: “It was a story told that the young Egyptian kings would eat the eyes of the former king so that the young king would have seen all that their predecessor did.  I am better today at what I do based on what I have seen for 30 plus years.  I have to try to pass that on to my protegé as quickly as possible.”

So there you have it. I’m in the process of fantastic professional growth and educational experience.  If you know both Dan and I , you will also know that our wit and humor are aligned (see Funeral Nation TV Episode #30 to get a flavor of how we are working together. So when you see Dan at future conferences and conventions, take a few moments to ask him what type of service dog he is training with. As for me I’m studying exactly which rum pairs well with eye balls.

From the new Command Post (west) and in dire need to find a cigar lounge that I can work from, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

 

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I am going to admit that I will drive out of my way when traveling for a Jimmy John’s #9 Italian Nightclub with extra peppers (hot). So when the news hit (via my funeral home partner who saw it on Facebook) that my beloved sandwich shop had their mouthwatering piles of meat and fix-in’s on fresh baked bread for $1.00, I trekked on over for a treat.

My cohort and I arrived at the local eatery in a bit of disbelief that the line stretched out the doors spilling into the parking lot (see picture above). Of course you know me, I started thinking, “How can a funeral home get people lined up out the door to do business like this?” Answer: They can’t. Advertising in the funeral business is simply not the same and consumers do not respond in the same manner. A $995 cremation sale (even if you pre-need today!) is not going to bring long lines of excited consumers waiting to get the best deal in the death business.

My co-host on Funeral Nation TV and social media genius Ryan Thogmartin of Disrupt Media and I consistently trumpet branding/messaging. Jimmy John’s touts gourmet sandwiches and made or delivered really fast. They don’t sell burgers, tacos, hot dogs, keepsakes, or urns. As mentioned above, when traveling I eat at JJ for another reason: consistency. No matter where I am, I get exactly what I want: great sandwich really fast.  I find value in their brand. Value: not about price (wink, wink Dan Isard).

Can I get a sandwich somewhere else cheaper? Yes. Can I get what I want somewhere else?  No. Can a consumer get a cremation or burial cheaper?  Yes. Can they get what they want at another funeral home?  Probably.  WHAT?  How will they know the difference if you don’t share your brand and message?  After all, a sandwich is a sandwich and a cremation or burial is a cremation or a burial…right?

Get it yet? Probably not. IT’S ABOUT YOUR #FNbrand message!  I ate inside the restaurant so I could watch the operations and behaviors. Guess what?  Gourmet sandwich’s really fast even with a line out the door…training anyone? What is your funeral home brand? Is it distinguishable from your competitors? What are you doing to share the message?  If your funeral home message is: “We’ve been here since Sherman burnt down the South,” “We care more,” “We’re family owned, they’re not,” on the paper place-mat in the diner, I suppose all this nonsense about the interweb marketing is just gibberish.

From a completely satisfied Jimmy John’s customer in the Command Post; Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

Pick YP

The three “R’s” will literally poison a funeral home; Human Resources, Accounts Receivable and ‘Rithmatic. I recently attended The Foresight Companies funeral boot camp where my fellow recruits and I were provided an in-depth look at our funeral homes. During the three days of training, it became glaringly obvious that the vast majority of funeral homes are just a lawsuit, failed collection or miscalculation away from serious problems.

Human Resources: Does your firm have a Human Resources professional on staff or on retainer?  If not, here is an example of the poison I’m referring to that will make you spit out your coffee this morning. Perhaps you are a funeral home owner that crowns managers making them “exempt from overtime” so that you can go to your beach house and not work weekends. Yet the manager isn’t authorized to fire the funeral director that goes to the big church replacing them with a much better intern; and/or if said crowned manager cannot give the employee under their command a raise, you are in big trouble if DOL (Dept. of Labor) knocks on your door. The classification of “non-exempt employee” according to the US Department of Labor includes several more specific parameters such as managing two or more employees (mere supervision doesn’t count), and the authority to hire and fire, or establish compensation. In fact, the DOL can make your funeral home DOA pretty quickly over an overtime dispute. There are many more facets of HR that can poison your firm; these are just a few examples. Beware.

Accounts Receivable: Unless you are mega firm and have serious funds stored away, cash flow is king at a funeral home.  With the average funeral home in the US holding over $17,000 of receivables, financial failure is a real possibility.  Leadership, training and accountability are the collective remedies to reverse the AR poison.  However, the majority of funeral home owners simply ignore the slow death from drinking the tainted AR Kool-Aide rather than address the obvious and take charge of their business.

Rithmatic: Do the math.  I mean conduct a complete analysis of costs/overhead structure, then pricing, monitor and adjust.  I may be insensitive to those “running the ministry the grieving.” However, even churches pay attention to their books.  If you and your staff are not capable or you don’t have an accountant that conducts a complete P&L review including measurement of budget to outcome, hire a professional.  I know you love the families you serve, but you may love them to death-the death of your funeral home.

Yep, I’m a retired Captain and I have captioned the moniker of The Funeral Commander for a reason.  “I’m not going to tell you to go to hell, I’m going to tell you the truth and it may feel like hell.”  Quit poisoning your funeral home.  That’s the truth.  Oh, and a new one I picked up over the weekend (thanks Mark Fisher): No one gets offended by a statement that doesn’t apply to them.”

If you are offended, then you are drinking the 3R poison and fooling yourself.  Want to get off the Kool-Aide?  Email me jeff@theharbesongroup.com and  let’s set up a time to chat. If not, plan your own funeral home funeral…but of course, that’s a post for another day. From the blurred and smoky Command Post, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

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US funeral homes are owed over $300 million for services and products already provided. Let that sink in. Just this past week I was made privy to a firm that has over $500,000 of accounts receivable. If you are a funeral director that proclaims “I’m here to serve families and I don’t talk about money,” then you have an owner in dire need of a spine implant or major cajones attachment surgery.

The ridiculous notion of allowing such behavior is squarely the fault of funeral home ownership and management.  Why is there over $300 million owed to funeral homes? Because funeral home owners and managers allow the inmates to run the asylum by not training, monitoring, measuring, and continuously improving their staff. Apparently the pain of not getting paid for services rendered isn’t near the pain of leadership by training and holding funeral directors accountable for their actions.

If you are a funeral director reading this and your firm has accounts receivable, then you are the problem  (make sure your owner doesn’t see this post).  If you are a funeral home owner/manager and your firm has accounts receivable and you are reading this, I give you two options:

  1. Take charge and lead your funeral directors with training to resolve your AR problems.
  2. Do nothing and allow your funeral directors to run your business out of business.

If number one above looks palatable and you don’t have the ability or the capacity to effect this change, then email me jeff@atneedcredit.com. If you think number two is your best option, then I have a question for you: How do you stand up without a spine?

Yep, I’m clearly on the battlefield today and loving the smoke of combat. Remember, I’m not going to tell you to go to hell, I am however, going to tell you the truth and it feels like hell. For those of you that feel like hell, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

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Would you buy your funeral business suit from a hardware store? (This question does not apply for the hard working directors in Montana.)  Would you buy a lawnmower in an Italian restaurant?  Would you buy your groceries in a proctologist’s office?  How about buying your next computer at a dairy farm?  Do these questions sound absurd?  It’s a reflection of what we are witnessing from suppliers in the funeral industry.

Why are website developers selling urns?  Why are casket manufacturers selling websites?  Why are vault companies selling caskets?  Why are embalming fluid companies selling jewelry?  Because their foundational businesses are struggling in a market where 13 year old can create fantastic Word Press websites and burial is sharply declining! Thus, this crowd is starting resemble Mr. Haney on Green Acres selling his wares in the back of his truck.

Manufacturers and providers are facing the same problems as funeral homes: declining revenues from their core business. Suppliers keep hawking anything that can turn a profit to the DAM’s (Dumb-Ass Masses) providing no significant enhancement to the funeral home bottom line or operation.  If a cornfield sticker can be put on it (you know the ones that try to disguise the country of origin) it’s for sale! Rather than funeral homes mastering what brought them to the dance in the first place by understanding the business of doing business, they continue ogle at “shiny stuff” that can be purchased or provided at a much lower cost with a quick Google search.

If you are astute enough to pay attention to the signs of how the funeral industry is in dramatic turmoil, please initiate a serious evaluation of your own business to adjust for the ongoing and future rough waters ahead. Shy away from the growing list of funeral peddlers as they are simply grasping at straws in a feeble attempt to stay afloat and try to remain relevant.  If it doesn’t make your job easier, your bottom line fatter or your family experience better, you don’t need it.

Of course for those that don’t “get it” I’ll continue to point out the obvious so at least you may have a clue when reading my posts because you aren’t going to get reality from many out in the “Funeralsphere.” Oh, and please wipe off your upper lip because no one is taking you serious with that Kool-Aide mustache.

Returning from Boot Camp energized for duty, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

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Quick question:  How much do you currently have in your firm’s Accounts Receivable?  What could you buy right now for your business if that money was in your bank account?  New computers?  A new hearse?  A total remodel?   A new location?  If your funeral home has accounts receivable, your payment policy (immune system) is broken and your firm is suffering from a serious disease.  What I find astounding is that some funeral homes don’t know they are sick.  People die every day because they failed to get regular check-ups and pay attention to their health.  When the news strikes and depending on the stage of the disease, it is sometimes too late for any treatments or even surgery.

Funeral home owners are no different. Ignoring the very information in front of their face; accounts receivables.  I talked to an owner recently with over $300,000 owed for services and products already provided!  The average funeral home has $17,000 in AR’s…folks that over $300,000,000 (three hundred million for those of you that “don’t do numbers, we just serve”) that is due for hard work.

Get a financial check-up.  If you have any money due over 30 days, you’re sick.  It may be a cold (a small amount) or full blown stage 4 cancer.  At Need Credit has the cure, you just have to take your medicine.  Simple Funeral Payment Plan is easy and the technology is far better that poor Mrs. Edna sending out those letters from the book of promises every month, but few checks coming in return.  It’s just that simple, why won’t you do something to make it better?

From out west in Sunny Scottsdale (yes, I’m in training), Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

APR fool

TFC-BS Wire: Early this morning we have confirmed reports from the Cornfield that casket sales are soaring!  Funeral homes report the increased demand for full service burials are causing serious issues from scheduling of services, dwindling inventory of embalming fluids, lack of limousine/hearse stock to scarcity of high end caskets. Additionally, cemeteries report land grabs akin to “the gold rush” for spaces available to bury the masses at their final resting place.

This phenomenon has a negative effect as consumers are abandoning cremation in droves. Crematory operators are scrambling to find solutions to find revenues as cardboard container sales, urn and online cremation sales are plummeting.  Cremation societies and what was deemed as “cut rate cremation” providers but the funeral industry are now facing foreclosures and bankruptcy.

APR News

WAKE UP!

Yes, it was only a dream and of course it’s April 1st.  No such luck, its all a dream!

From the Command Post with a big cigar and laughing at the absurdly of wishful thinking; Cheer’s Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

Today, we’d like to a moment and share a recent interview with AtNeedCredit.com managing partner, Jeff Harbeson.

Jeff has been in the funeral industry for many years, has founded or co-founded numerous funeral-related businesses and websites and shares valuable insights from his experience.

He regularly contributes his expertise to publications, both offline and online, is co-host of Funeral Nation TV (an online show for the funeral industry) and writes regularly on his blog, The Funeral Commander. We welcome Jeff Harbeson to the CareCap blog.


 

Ed:  Thanks for joining us today, Jeff, on the CareCap blog.  So, can you tell us a little about yourself and your background? What’s your story?

Pull-Quote-Jeff-Harbeson-01-768x768Jeff:  My story has many chapters and the story is ongoing.  The most important chapters are my marriage to my wife Jacque for 32 years.  Bless her heart, she deserves a special place in heaven!  We have two fantastic sons Hunter (off my payroll) and Jackson (finishing high school). 

Often folks ask what I do, and my response is: 

“I am raising my daughter-in-law’s husband and my grandchildren’s father.  My work is merely a support for their well-being and my habits (cigars, rum, golf and travel).” 

Ed:  (LOL) Well, that’s a pretty great answer, I can tell you have a healthy sense of humor. similar to my father- he served in the Navy for 20+ years, but I know you were an Army man, so I’m sure you’d still all get along! How long were you in service to your country?

Jeff:  I was honored to serve our country for 20 years in the Army including deployment to the Middle East for service in Operation Desert Storm.  I was trained to be a leader and had the opportunity to be a TAC Officer (drill instructor) at Officers Candidate School where I trained over 400 enlisted and non-commissioned officers to become combat leaders, some still serving today.

My official retirement papers came September 11, 2001 and I retired as a Captain.  I have a personal mantra of “A vision is only a dream without execution” and a gift of working alongside some very smart people.

Oh yeah, I also don’t want to leave out that I’m not going to tell you to go to hell, but I’ll tell you the truth, which may feel like hell! J And I expect the same from those around me that I place my trust and emotional equity.

Pull-Quote-Jeff-Harbeson-02-768x768Ed:  Well, that’s a no-nonsense approach to life and in doing business, one that I can appreciate. So, after your time serving in the military, how did you get started in the funeral industry and what drew you to it?

Jeff:  My original start in the funeral industry was as a manufacturer providing custom made cremation cabinets in Ireland.  I learned quite a bit about the landscape and was later recruited by Batesville Casket Company in sales.

As I worked with funeral home owners, I was astounded at the lack of business acumen and leadership that was pervasive in the industry. 

Many times I was told by funeral home owners and directors alike “we have always done in this way” and “you can’t change that.”

So after dealing with those challenges in the funeral industry, I decided that I would create an entirely different funeral home operating platform using six-sigma methodology which is today trademarked as TouchPoints.

Later on, some partners and I started our own funeral service provider brand in Virginia from the ground up, Family Choice Funerals & Cremations.

As a partner/owner I was provided a fantastic education and training of how to develop a successful business.  The funeral home operation also provided me a platform for trying new theories of service, marketing, technology and management.

I have a penchant to provide information so that families can make an educated funeral decision and our team is dedicated to continuous improvement.

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Ed:  After recognizing these challenges in the funeral industry and what you’re seeing on the market today, what are some of the top things funeral homes are seeing as advancements or trends?

Certainly, technology and communication has changed the funeral home operating landscape and the expectations of the funeral consumer.  As a whole, funeral homes are reluctant and slow to embrace anything new.  To their detriment, this legacy characteristic offers entrepreneurs like me to take competitive advantage.

Our funeral homes use computers and tablets for all operations,which eliminates waste in human resources expense, such as administrative staff. Combining technology with social media is a tremendous advancement for our industry; however, the vast majority of funeral homes have not embraced the opportunities.

Another example of keeping up with consumer expectations is an online cremation service called Select Cremation that our team developed, which allows a funeral consumer to make complete arrangements for their loved one online and the cremated remains delivered to their house without ever leaving their comfortable surroundings.funeral-nation-tv_300x300

The way we communicate even within our industry is changing, for example I co-host an online show Funeral Nation TV which is viewed by over 20,000 people monthly in over 75 countries.  Frankly, it’s the best FN thing going in the industry 😃.

Ed:  It sounds like you’ve got a great handle in developing a strong online presence and embracing technology to share your challenges, success stories, etc. within your industry, great work!

With so many changes in technology and communication coming at us so fast in the business world, what would you say is the #1 business challenge funeral directors are facing today?

Jeff:  The lack of leadership of doing “the business of the business.”

Funeral professionals are compassionate caregivers providing a necessary service at what is considered one of the most difficult events in life; the loss of a loved one.

However, the typical funeral home is poorly managed from the business and financial standpoint.  Failure of owners to take accountability and leadership of their business places many firms in shaky financial postures.

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Ed:  I’m sure, as you say, funeral directors face many obstacles to running a funeral business as best as they can, while remaining compassionate to people dealing with a difficult time in their lives.  Speaking of finances, when dealing with consumers and their challenges at covering funeral expenses, how can funeral homes help?

Jeff:  When a deceased person does not have a funded pre-need trust/insurance or little to no life insurance, survivors are placed in a difficult spot.  Many families have limited credit card balances and little to no savings set aside to pay for unexpected funeral expenses.

Most people do not realize that funeral homes as well as cemeteries require full payment prior to services rendered.

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At Need Credit offers Funeral Directors two payment options for consumers, for funeral homes to recover their costs for goods and services.

FuneralPayPlan (info available at AtNeedCredit.com) is an online loan company providing funeral consumers loans for funeral expenses.  Simple Funeral Payment Plan, powered by CareCaps (also found at AtNeedCredit.com) is a versatile payment plan for funeral directors to bill payments over time as well as recover accounts receivable due.

Of course, funeral home owners must be proactive in training their funeral directors on how to assist families that have financial challenges.

At Need Credit offers such training that eliminates discounting and extraneous accounts receivable work.  Yet again, it takes leadership to make changes.

Ed:  Do you see any drawbacks to any of the payment options currently available to the funeral industry, such as At Need Credit?

Jeff:  There is no downside to funeral homes offering payment plans through a program such as At Need Credit.

However, if funeral homes offer credit or payment plans that charges interest, they are most likely out of federal lending compliance.  When a loan is offered (payment plan, credit or accounts receivable recovery) consumers must be provided with a Truth-In-Lending Act statement as well as calculated Annual Percentage Rates, at the time of application.

I have yet to see a funeral home in compliance of these regulations, thus a third party company like At Need Credit is their best option.

Ed:  It’s clear that every business, including the funeral industry, needs to be compliant when offering financing and that by contracting with a third party to handle payment options, they can avoid the finance compliance issues.  In terms of searching for a third party funeral financing or payment plan solution, what type of advice would you offer to a Funeral Director when he/she is evaluating a payment solution for their business?

Funeral directors should research what others are saying about the payment platform, the tool should offer the ability to create and modify customized payment plans, ensure that deposits can be paid out quickly and that they doesn’t aren’t charged unusually high or unnecessary start up fees.

I’d recommend they also go through a full demo of the payment system, to test out the system before implementing in the funeral home business.

Lastly, select a company that has established and updated training for funeral directors, in order to understand how to offer payment plan options during the funeral arrangement session.

Ed:  You’ve owned, operated and managed many funeral industry-related businesses. What advice would you recommend for a family planning a funeral in today’s environment?

I would recommend to everyone they discuss their own end-of-life wishes with family members.  Although this may sound odd, it can be enlightening and provide impetus to collect necessary documents (life insurance policies, wills, advance medical directives, DD-214, etc.) and at least know the location of these important documents, in case of an unexpected death. 

Humor makes the conversation so much easier.  Discussing outfits, after parties and other events often leads to more important matters. 

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I have personally planned my event in Aruba at the Bugaloe Beach Bar headed by my Italian Catholic, Southern Baptist and Jewish funeral director friends leading the bereaved with cigars and lots of rum.  Sounds like a hell of a sendoff, huh? 

Unfortunately, we cannot predict death, especially when we lose those that are younger than us.  Just recently I had such an experience and shared the story on my blog: https://thefuneralcommander.com/2015/11/24/its-personal-grief-grace-gratitude/.

Ed:  Your event you have planned in Aruba, definitely sounds like a hell of a way to celebrate your life!

And I definitely agree with what you recommend, that people take the time to discuss and notate what their end of life wishes should be.  Too many times, friends or family members pass away and we as the survivors, face challenges and awkward moments planning and carrying out what we think are the best wishes on their behalf.  Your advice of taking care of creating and managing the necessary documents is something that might be a challenge at first, but important to do so for the sake of our loved ones.

Thanks so much for your time and sharing your story and advice from your years in the funeral business and serving our country in the military; do you have any last words you’d like to share with our readers as we sign off?

I would encourage everyone to take each day as a gift and love deeply those closest because tomorrow may not come.  Plan, talk, laugh and love.

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Ed Bisquera

Digital Marketing Consultant at Bisquera Digital
Ed is a guest author on the CareCap blog, providing articles and tips to businesses on using digital marketing tactics to gain more customers. You can reach him on Twitter or LinkedIn or post in the comments section below. Disclaimer: Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official corporate policy or position of CareCap.
AZ Post 2

What was once an easy function is now menacing.

Recently relatives visited us just to get together. Ordinarily such an event is simply part of what families do, but this visit was very different for me making yet another impression about how fragile life really is. Hosting the visiting family at our home, we took a ride around the Blue Ridge Mountains. If you have never visited this part of Virginia, the scenery is fantastic, so the day trip was enjoyable with warm springlike weather. Of course I can tell that I am getting older because I actually pay attention to all the landscape and mountains.

One of our relatives visiting has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease for a few years; however because of the distance of the miles between us, we have not spent time with him lately.  This man is a well-respected individual with a meager start, serving at the highest pinnacles of his profession, finally retiring a few years back.  I always admired his thirst for reading with a library of books spanning a wide variety of subjects. Like many of us, he lived his life working for the days that he could relax, travel and spend time on his terms rather than endure the hectic schedules in our busy work lives.

But along the way, the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s came, disrupting an otherwise fantastic life. The man that took both of my sons on trips, came to ball games, and cared for them as his own children now is in need of care himself. I was struck by his bewilderment at times, his silence during conversations and, moreover, by his private struggle of discomfort. Here, a man that at one time had tremendous responsibility over thousands is struggling with simple basics like whereabouts.

The moment that “took me under” was just prior to their departure. His wife brought me a bag of neck ties and she asked if I would tie them for her.  I gladly accepted because I actually enjoy this particular part of being a man and frankly, I do a pretty good job.  While looking in the mirror as I customarily do during the process, I became overwhelmed with emotion. This simple act that he performed for over 60 years of his life was now something menacing.  I stood there looking at myself with his tie wrapped around my neck thinking of all the wonderful times I had spent with him, a man that had done so much for others, including me, could not tie his own tie because of this retched disease.

Although we all pitched in to assist his wife over the weekend with simple movements from place to place, this moment really got to me.  I was honored to tie his ties, but also reminded that we only have today.  If we are healthy, we enjoy a carefree luxury that at some point in our lives may turn into a burden. Not just for ourselves, but for those that love and care for us. I have a renewed respect and empathy for those caring for others, it’s just plain exasperating and exhausting.  Literally everything that was once simple is now a challenge.

Upon completion of getting all the ties tied, I returned them to his wife.  As I handed them to her, I knew that another task was taken off her huge caretaker list. But doing this was more than a help for her, it was a lesson for me. Be grateful for today and those that love you. Have compassion for others that love someone else enough to dedicate their life to making life better for the person they love.  In the end, there is an end.  Enjoy what you have now, it doesn’t last forever.  From the Command Post, Cheers y’all.  #thefuneralcommander

 

Remedy 2

When funeral home owners and managers are challenged regarding their failed payment policy of collecting funds for their goods and services, finger-pointing begins.  Often I hear “Once that arrangement door closes, there is not much I can do” and “We have a payment policy, but funeral directors are just not following it” along with other nonsensical gibberish. When statements are made like this I think about the old saying “The inmates running the asylum.”

I had the opportunity to present a Continuing Education Unit over the weekend at Tidewater Community College on the subject “Cash Flow Solutions for At Need Services.” The attendees were very engaged and truly seeking solutions to create better financial postures and processes of recovering the hard-earned revenues of their respective funeral homes.  The problems can be solved with four steps.

Leadership: Step up and be the leader your funeral directors need and initiate solutions with immediate action.  Any non-action to address failure is failure.

Remedy

Training: Create a training program that is easily adapted, intentional and produces measurable results.  If your funeral home does not have organic competence or experience (most don’t) for training, hire a professional. Interesting in the funeral profession there is much howling of directors “hire professional funeral directors” to consumers rather than use online services, “disposers” or “discounters.” Yet when the same barking ilk are in need of assistance in an area that they possess no background or expertise, they seek remedy’s that rarely produce results by non professions. Some examples: Business Management, Financial Advisory/Oversight, Marketing and Social Media Management.

Remedy 3

Accountability: As a funeral home owner or manager, hold yourself accountable first. If you know there are problems (accounts receivable, discounts, life insurance recovery), then it’ your obligation to raise your hand and ask for help, not the funeral directors or employees.  Once you initiate training, then accountability on all levels may be assigned.

Remedy 4

Monitor/Measure/Improve: Training without monitoring the process, measuring results, and continuous refining is a futile exercise.  In fact, the funeral industry has created the notion that “education/CEU” is sufficient. If that’s the case, why do 30% of our colleagues get repeatedly fined by the FTC for simple GPL violations?

MMI

After reading this post look at your YTD (year to date, you know the start of 2016 to now) accounts receivable and discounts allowed. If you don’t know how to find this data, you are in huge trouble.  If this report reveals any AR balances or discounts given, you are in some trouble because your payment policy does not work. Multiply those numbers x 4 to see how bad your year is going to turn out. If you have $0.00 accounts receivable and have not offered any discounts, congrats as you are among a small few of your peers (or you don’t have a clue and in denial).  Get professional help now, remedies and resources are available but you have to raise your hand (and write a check). Want to know who and how? Contact me.

Look for a BIG announcement from At Need Credit shortly regarding a strategic alliance of funeral industry financial funding leaders forming the most comprehensive solutions group for funeral homes to recover their at need revenues. It’s all about #FNchange, #FNhustle and #FNbrand people!

From the smoke-filled Command Post; Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

Preach It

Is the funeral industry trying to reflect or define funeral consumer demand and trends? I was provided inspiration for this post while watching a political show recently where the moderator was interviewing a Presidential candidate. The line of questioning was how certain “Washington outsider candidates” with a combined vote count (from both parties) are receiving such an overwhelming number of votes versus the “establishment” candidates. Further, the “establishment” leaders are bewildered because the will of the people is not aligned the establishment ideals. The interviewee’s answer: “The people are rejecting the notion of we’ve always done in this way with their vote.”

As a whole, the funeral industry is in the same mired quandary. The funeral “establishment” is in full attempt defining what consumers want rather than reflecting market demand. No? Last week I posted Use a Computer for Funeral Arrangements? That’s Unprofessional! causing quite a vigorous debate between funeral directors about writing or typing. Yesterday I visited a well-established funeral home in a small town and it is  the market leader (volume 250+ calls).  When I inquired to the owner about what changes he is witnessing he shared with me that in this traditional, high burial church attending town, cremations are on a significant rise (not a surprise).  However, he went on to say that visitations have sharply decreased stating: “I don’t know why I need all this room here, people are just not acting like they used to.” According to conventional wisdom, he should be charging more for visitations and showing more value (maybe free cookies) which would certainly turn the tide.

It’s not just funeral directors that are part of the “establishment” because vendors and manufacturers are of the guilty ilk as well.  Without a doubt, the upcoming ICCFA Annual Convention & Exposition in New Orleans will have the “newest and best” line of caskets that families will love turning in the showroom like crazy making a significant difference to the funeral home’s bottom line.  Yet, in 2016 cremation will eclipse burial as the consumers choice as final disposition.

Think about this: what exactly is the “establishment” vendors and manufacturers doing to address the real challenges that funeral providers face?  If you haven’t a clue what those challenges are, see Serious Funeral Home Barriers to Success for a start. Unfortunately with all the R&D funds (used to find someone else that has invented something new), it’s the same people selling the same stuff to the same flock of sheep. No answers; but one can hear whispers of The Orchestra is Lovely as the ship continues to sink.

However friends, there are sunshine rays peeking through murky clouds of the funeral industry future! I actually saw a very well established, multi-location, legacy generational, family owned funeral home create their own cremation internet business to consumers in their market!  I am also privy to several funeral home owners initiating deep dive diagnosis of their business for their future financial and operational health. We are witnessing some of the flock being healed from their accounts receivable and discount afflictions!  PRAISE THE LORD, there is hope!

Now the serious question needs to be asked, please close your eyes. Search deep into your heart and ask yourself “Am I really trying to adapt and provide what families I serve are asking for…or am I just repeating those painful actions of “We’ve always done it this way?” Friends, it’s never too late to see the light. I urge you, repent and change your ways! You can walk in the sunshine of the future and out of the darkness of the past. Amen.

From the pulpit with a cigar in hand and preaching to the congregation in the Command Chapel located on the Battlefield of Funeral Industry Innovation, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

ANC 3

Training funeral directors to proclaim “We are a funeral home, not a bank” is not the solution to get paid for goods and services.  Access to credit for an increasing number of consumers is becoming difficult and funeral homes are not equipped or offering funeral loans. Unfortunately, traditional lenders like banks are not offering funeral loans especially to those who are credit challenged.

The Washington Times reports that the majority, or 56 percent, of consumers have subprime credit scores (below 640), according to a report released (January 2016) by the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED), a nonprofit that advocates for policy changes to help low- and moderate-income households. As a result, these consumers are often locked out of the lending markets. And if they are borrowing, chances are they’re missing out on the lowest rates being offered to consumers with stronger credit.  “Bad credit” doesn’t always mean that the consumer does not pay their debts. Credit is a touchy balancing act: a few missed or untimely payments (slow pay) combined with a high debt to low income ratio and the consumer will find themselves in a quick negative credit score spiral.

Yet, family members of the before-mentioned 56 percent are dying and seeking ways to pay for funeral expenses; they can pay, but not borrow money to pay. With a body in building, what do you do?  I have outlined steps previously in posts Funeral Director Training: Secure Payment Before Contract Signed. and Funeral Director Training: “We ain’t got much money.”  Training funeral directors in advance to understand the parameters of your firm’s policy and the tools/services available for them to create a sensible solution for payment is easily accomplished.

Denying the truth doesn’t change the facts. The truth is funeral home owners are not training staff to create solutions for consumers are struggling financially or providing the tools necessary. These facts manifest themselves with discounts of goods and services along with accounts receivable hampering the cash flow of the business. Solutions are available; take a step in the right direction by contacting us at At Need Credit Training to initiate improvement of your financial strength and take charge.  At Need Credit is the only funeral industry company with funeral home leadership and the experience to change your facts. We have some big news on the horizon which will add to our strength as the at need solutions leaders for cash flow in the funeral industry, stay tuned!

From the Command Post, Cheer’s Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

 

Doc

I recently visited my cardiologist for my annual checkup (yes, to make sure I have a heart). The process at this practice starts with me on the scales (ugh) and then escorted into an examination room for nurses to take my blood pressure (120/82) and ask questions updating my health habits. When asked about smoking, of course I proudly shared my cigar affinity (’till death do us part) only to be met with scowling looks.

A trainee nurse was taking all the information and conducting the vital stuff with a seasoned nurse providing oversight.  The trainee used software while entering my information on a tablet device.  I didn’t think much of it until the cardiologist came into my little room (35 minutes later or course).

Upon entry we shook hands, chatted a bit and then he opened up his laptop (see photo above). Immediately I asked the physician permission to take a photo of him (not showing his face). I explained why, and he complied.  He also showed me the software he uses providing my entire medical history and information important to him on a dashboard.

Not long ago I was part of a lengthy discussion with funeral directors regarding their opinions using computers during funeral arrangements with families. Needless to say, there were quite a few emotional responses (imagine that with funeral directors). My favorite was “Using a computer with families is unprofessional” and “You have your head down typing and can’t look the family in the eyes while talking to them.”

Two problems:

  1. “Unprofessional” to use a computer in arrangements?  I suppose physicians, financial advisers, bankers, CPA’s and the “other professionals” have it wrong! Certainly the information they are entering is far less important than what funeral directors have to capture.  Only the “other professionals” make so many mistakes and spelling errors that they really need to use a computer when dealing with their patients or clients.  Without a doubt, the handwriting funeral directors “care more.”
  2. “Head down typing.” Really? If you learned how to type or truly could become advanced by sharing your laptop or tablet screen on a 60 inch TV, the family could watch as well as participate in the process!  By the way, who writes without looking down? I’d love to see how that turns out.

It’s time for our industry to align with other professions by investing and training funeral directors to become proficient at basic business skills. “I can’t type on a computer” or “I’m not comfortable using a computer.” is simply unacceptable.  Go to a community college, ask a 7 year old to teach you, get trained, and step up your game.  Funny how fear and reluctance of change actually inhibits professionalism and service; it’s the little things that count.  It’s time to #Fnchange by getting your #FNhustle on to build a better #FNbrand for yourself and your funeral home.

From the foggy cigar smoke filled Command Post, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

wagmm2

Depending on the zip code funeral directors serve, working with families who are financially struggling is moving from an occasional to a regular occurrence. How is your funeral home training funeral directors to successfully address “we ain’t got much money?” If your funeral home does not reside in such a zip code, then count your blessings. For everyone else, let’s examine how to address this very touchy part of funeral arrangements.

When a loved one dies, most families find themselves suffering anguish from their loss. For a growing segment of consumers, close behind the anguish of loss is the increased pressure of how they are going to pay for the funeral. Training staff for this difficult situation can be proved successful by communicating and creating a solutions .

To start, communication early in the arrangement session is key. The FTC provides us a fantastic tool to address what may be deemed “the elephant in the room.” No matter the preference of the funeral director (development of trust and assurance or collecting important information), prior to discussing services and prices we are mandated to provide the family with a GPL. In case you haven’t noticed, the GPL provides services, products, and are you ready for this; prices (you know, those numbers with a $ in front of them).

Frankly, not addressing this need early on with a family is poor service. Don’t think so?  How many times have you waited to talk about money after complete arrangements have been made by sliding the goods and services statement in front of the decisions makers only then reviewing the bill?  All of a sudden the entire entourage needs a cigarette and a bathroom break returning to tell you that they can’t afford what has been created. You embarrassed them and now you have to start all over again which is a loss of revenue for your time spent, just as a start. This is where everything unravels because many funeral directors will simply offer some kind of discount or claim “we’ll work something out.”  If you sign a contract without securing the payment (see Funeral Director Training: Secure Payment Before Contract Signed), you own this problem.

While proving information about the GPL, consider this language: “The GPL is  just like a menu at a restaurant, it has our services, products, and prices. We don’t charge any more than what’s listed nor do we charge any less. Before we move forward, do you have any questions or concerns regarding our services, products, or prices on our GPL?” From experience, the door has been opened and inevitably the statement “We ain’t got much money” or something similar is floated by the family members in the arrangement session. The response from the funeral director: “How much is not much money? What are your expectations for your loved ones funeral and your financial position to pay for those services?”

If a family states that they desire a “simple funeral” or a “basic cremation” the funeral director should know off the top of their head basic costs. For example: “Our simple funeral with our basic fees (includes staff), transfer from place of death to our care, embalming, casketing, dressing, visitation, interment, funeral vehicles, basic casket and outer burial container is $X,XXX. These costs do not include cemetery costs or cash advances like obituary charges, death certificates or flowers.”  If the family chooses basic cremation: “Our basic cremation includes our basic fees (includes staff), transfer from place of death to our care, embalming, dressing, visitation, a cremation casket, crematory fees and a typical urn is $X,XXX. These costs do not include cash advances such as obituary, flowers, ME fees, and death certificates.”

At this point if the family shares that they do not have enough funds for any of the above, the next logical question from the funeral director: “Share with me your budget and funds available so I may determine what we can provide for you. Please also keep in mind we require full payment prior to us entering an agreement.”  All the cards are on the table. Sometimes, there is not enough for the basics described above. When the family shares their financial position, the funeral director does their job; direct by creating services and products to suit the ability for the family to pay.

Undoubtedly, some readers now are thinking “what if they have no money?” I have been in this business for some time and experienced these very situations. In the six years of our funeral home operations, we have had one family that could not come up with more than $600. Do not compromise. If your funeral home has a “direct cremation” of let’s say $2,000, then that is the cost. In nearly every case, from out of the blue, the funds appear from several sources but mostly other family members. Just this past weekend, a family “had no money” however miraculously, the entire amount was made available prior to engaging in the funeral contract.

Solutions exist to “we ain’t got much money” situations.  However the vast majority of funeral homes fail to train their directors how to solve the problems faced with financially struggling families.  If you knew that you had the cure for cancer, would you tell anyone?  I have the cure for “we ain’t got much money.” You can get a start treatments at At Need Credit Training or just keep letting the cancer continue to eat at your business.

Yep, I’m having a great cigar in the Command Post and watching golf while I compose (go Bubba!). Cheers Y’all…#thefuneralcommander

 

Please read this heartfelt and emotional account of a funeral director’s heart. #thefuneralcommander

A Simple, Village Undertaker

Today was a tough day. I cried at work and it has been a while since that has happened. Not that crying is unusual at my workplace, it’s just that I’m usually not the one doing it.

Before I tell you about today, I need to provide a brief, back story:

This past December, we were called to handle the cremation for a man whose next of kin was his sister.  As we navigated through the process, I saw where she lived and mentioned that my family had once lived in an adjacent neighborhood.  As we continued to chat, we connected the dots  and soon came to realize that our families had been next door neighbors for a short time before we moved  from Columbia to Aiken and they moved to a new home.

Happier times, almost twenty years ago. Happier times, almost twenty years ago.

That period of time is a bit of a blurr…

View original post 635 more words

THG Innovation Leadership

What are the top three obstacles funeral homes are facing that challenge their success? The seriousness of this question muddled with chatter about all sorts of unimportant blither; car model/style, which embalming fluids are best, pants, skirts or white shirts, discounters, direct disposers, the funeral consumers alliance, showing/not showing prices on websites, have a talk, talk about someone else, casket color, urn type, which organization to join, corporates, family owned, and so on. It’s time to address important matters, initiate solutions and take action.

Declining revenue and profit is placing severe pressure on the overall funeral home market. To make course corrections a funeral home has three options:

  1. Raise prices.
  2. Increase market share (conduct more calls).
  3. Cut costs.

Perhaps a combination of all three are necessary, however firms require a complete professional analysis of overheads, pricing and operations.  Identify gaps, create new processes, train staff to follow the specific processes, and measure results. Measurement and training are ongoing, not an annual event. This is quite a simple solution; however the majority of funeral home owners lack the will and ability to make this type of commitment to hold everyone employed in the business accountable including themselves.

Embedded in the solution of re-calibrating financial stability is training. Let me be clear, there is a difference in education and training.  The funeral industry plays patty-cake with training funeral directors post school and license testing. There are no ongoing or relevant pass/fail requirements once a director finishes school and national/state testing.  For the most part the CEU’s offered and presented are a serious waste of time. We all know the truth: sit through the class, sign an affirmation of attendance for credit, and return to the funeral home doing the same old thing the same old way.  There is not one problem in the funeral industry that could not be corrected by training.  Training is behavior modification.  Don’t think so? A young 18 year old man fresh out of high school is trained in the military and in a short few years work on gazillion dollar equipment leading two or three more under his supervision.  In five years the same young man is leading five to ten people with multiples for the future.  Training change everything, however it’s non-existent in regular funeral home operations or priorities.

Management abounds and leadership is rare.  Many owners rather be liked than respected simply refusing to demand behavior modifications of the very people that receive checks from their own funeral home payroll. Most owners do not possess the ability or wherewithal to “take the bull by the horns” of their own business.  They are too cheap, prideful or embarrassed to raise their hand asking for help from professionals that have the acumen to provide analysis, solutions, training (behavior modification), measurement and accountability.

A funeral home can overcome barriers by analysis, implementation, training, measurement and leadership. The seriousness of the problems above are evident in P&L statements, national statistics (consumer trends) and the continued decline or funeral revenues. I solicit comments, opinions and of course refute of the content of this post.  From the smoke filled Command Post, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

Secure Payment

The funeral isn’t over if the funeral home has not been paid in full for services rendered.  I recently read a statistic that the average funeral home has around $17,000 in accounts receivable or past due money owed for services that have already taken place. I have personal knowledge of firms owed hundreds of thousands of dollars. Why?

Funeral home ownership and management has failed. Frankly, simple solutions exist however it takes leadership to change behaviors in the arrangement session and accountability of funeral directors that sign funeral contracts. How? Let’s start with no funeral contract is signed until payment is secured. Payment secured, what does that mean?

  1. Valid pre-need trust with enough funds to pay for goods and services.
  2. Verifiable life insurance-assigned to funeral home by factoring company and fees paid by the family.
  3. Payment in full by cash, check, or credit card.
  4. If any payment above cannot be paid in full, at least 80% of funds must be paid with cash, check credit card or life insurance as a down payment with an approved payment policy in place. If a family cannot pay 80% up front, it’s the wrong service offered by the director.  Reduce services and products to match affordability of the family. If a family can’t pay the majority of the service, the firm will likely not collect the balance due.
  5. No discounts. If a family needs help, use #4.

Of course I know there are extenuating circumstances and funeral directors cry the proverbial “what if the family?”  What if the owner would do their job and train funeral directors process in arrangements to properly explain the payment policy of the funeral home (above 1-5)?  What if owners held funeral directors accountable to not sign a contract until payment is secured?  Here’s what if for you: “What if the funeral director signed a contract without securing payment and if the payment was not collected when due, the funeral director paid out of their salary?” Let that one sink in.

If you think this is all a made up scenario and impossible, then you are wrong. Our funeral homes and cremation company conducts almost 500 services a year; we have $0.00 owed to us.  Want to have the same for your firm?  Contact me jeff@atneedcredit.com and we’ll set up a time to further discuss how to lead your funeral home with training as well as director accountability.

Next week I’ll discuss steps how to recover from the failure of training and accountability of funeral directors which resulted in accounts receivable in the “book of promises.” From the Command Post, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

How to Implement Change in the Funeral Home: An Interview with Jeff Harbeson, The Funeral Commander

Posted February 24, 2016

8 min read

We sat down with Jeff Harbeson, a retired military Captain and funeral home owner/partner, also known as The Funeral Commander, to get his insights on how funeral directors can follow best practices to implement change in their firm. Read on to also see what Harbeson recommends to funeral home leaders who are looking to help their staff better empathize to have greater perspective with grieving families.

Jeff Harbeson: I am a retired as Captain with 20 years of service, including deployment to Operation Desert Storm and a TAC Officer at Officers Candidate School where I taught over 400 non-commissioned and enlisted soldiers to become leaders. I began my funeral industry journey first as a casket sales rep taking me to today as a funeral industry leader operating multiple businesses within the industry.

Those businesses include two successful funeral homes, the TouchPoints Six Sigma funeral home operating platform, an online cremation service, an at-need payment company, a successful consulting company and co-host of the Funeral Nation show. I felt that The Funeral Commander would provide a perfect description of my military and funeral leadership experience.

Q: What is your advice for funeral directors who are looking to implement change? What can they do to support desired change in their firm?

Jeff Harbeson: Before implementation of any change, one has to acknowledge that a problem exists and understand where to initiate correcting the problem. When I first started this journey in the funeral industry, I wanted to learn everything I could about the processes, operations and costs of a funeral home. However, I could not find consistent or credible information simply because no real training existed to find the answers to my questions.

Before implementing any sort of change, my advice is to understand the process or problem and determine if change is necessary. The next logical step is seeking solutions to take corrective actions. Then rebuild the process, train and implement.

One factor to consider is identifying the audience that will be affected by the change. If it’s the funeral consumer, then you also must take into account that behavior modification (training of funeral directors) and monitoring of the process has to take place.

An analogy would be if you’re a baseball player and striking out frequently. You would have a coach analyze your swing so that he could teach you to take corrective measures. After modifications are made, then the hard work of practice and implementation takes place.

My team and I created a complete, alpha to omega six sigma based funeral home operating platform called TouchPoints. TouchPoints identifies every possible step that a funeral director and staff take, and we train multiple times per week to follow those processes. This system allows us to manage workflow and easily identify problems when they occur to take quick corrective measures. Again, back to the baseball analogy: there is a process in place for professionals to follow and they are in continuous improvement mode even practicing before a game.

Unfortunately, the funeral industry has hurt itself simply because once a funeral director gets out of school and gets hired to work, the general funeral home training program consists of: follow me and do what I do. The “trainer” may not have the best route to follow thus perpetuating the problem for the new director. Our system actually provides such great training that new hires, even if newly licensed, are making funeral arrangements on their own in a matter of weeks.

From a funeral industry training standpoint, we have CEU’s however in many cases are a colossal waste of time and resources. Many CEU’s have no intrinsic value to a funeral director and no “teeth.” Many times a funeral director is basically sitting in a session for an hour simply to sign off on a paper and get credit for attendance. No measurement of proficiency, just pay a fee and get credit. TouchPoints has a series of training programs so that our funeral professionals are performing to standards proficiently and are continuously sharpening their skills.

Returning to the question: you have to train to make change—just like professional baseball players take batting practice before a game. Making change takes intentional leadership effort and consistent relevant training for provide a solid foundation.

I can’t think of one issue or subject in the funeral industry that could not be corrected, addressed, or changed without training. From my point of view, training is behavior modification and it’s impossible to make corrective measures nothing is in place from the start. The majority of funeral homes have no training program or process in place to make changes.

Q: When looking at the entire experience a family has with a funeral home, it can be valuable for funeral home professionals to “see” that experience from the family’s perspective. How can we teach or train our staff to see this perspective?

Jeff Harbeson: Funeral directors meet with families during a time which most agree is very difficult. Part of our funeral director using TouchPoints for arrangements includes roll play. We actually get the funeral director to plan their own closest loved ones’ funeral. On top of that, we also have the role-playing director to make choices based on their own financial resources to pay out of pocket. It’s a valuable training session and enlightening for those that are fortunate enough receive. Without ever “wearing the shoes of the next of kin,” the anguish is only observed and not experienced.

Jeff Harbeson: Funeral home operations, in general, have not changed at all and many funeral homes are still serving the consumer the way they did 50 years ago.

However, the consumer has made a tremendous shift in several different directions. For example, consumers know more about our business simply because it’s readily available on the Internet. Twenty-five years ago, consumers had to actually visit a funeral home if they wanted information. Also, the way we communicate has completely changed. Therefore, the consumer is researching and making decisions however many providers have not adapted to using technology to reach the “undecided” consumer with relevant messaging.

In the past, a funeral home was in a community and if someone died or needed to make inquiry, they would physically visit the funeral home to get information from a funeral director. Today a consumer sits in front of a computer and conducts their own research without leaving the comfort of their surroundings. If a funeral home website or social media provides the information sought after, the consumer may then inquire. However, if the website is too “funeral-esque” (like playing piano music when you land, or funeral-wordy), the consumer moves on to other sources.

The trend of people separating from organized religion is a factor that requires attention. If a family is not affiliated to a particular faith and does not think that ceremony is necessary, that’s a problem for many funeral homes with significant investments in real estate as well as recovering revenue from funeral services, visitations, and wakes.

Another significant yet not widely addressed trend is how we are serving financially struggling families. The typical American worker earns less than $50,000 per year. Forbes recently posted a story about how 63 percent of our consumers don’t have$500 cash to pay for an emergency. As a general rule, funeral homes provide no training to their directors how to address the needs of financially struggling families.

Everything comes back to training: how do we address or how do we adapt to emerging trends? We need to know what we offer meets the demands of consumers. Identify those gaps, create a solution, train, monitor and refine.

About Jeff Harbeson, The Funeral Commander

Jeff Harbeson is Founder & CEO of The Harbeson Group which provides leadership on the battlefield of funeral industry innovation. By developing strategic alliances and relationships with other influencers to execute his visions, several successful companies were launched. Jeff is one of the Founders of Family Choice Funerals & Cremations™ as well as the Select Cremation™ brand of funeral service providers. Additionally, Harbeson and team developed a proprietary Six Sigma based funeral home operating platform, TouchPoints™. Also creating At Need Credit™, the company became the funeral industry leader providing loans and payment plans for consumers to pay funeral expenses. As a funeral industry entrepreneur, Harbeson pens the well-known blog, The Funeral Commander and he is also co-host of theFuneral Nation TV web show with social media expert Ryan Thogmartin.

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This post originally appeared on the CRӓKN website. CRӓKN is the all-in-one digital solution that’s transforming the death care industry. CRӓKN’s customizable funeral home software makes it easy to streamline daily operations, allowing funeral home, crematory and cemetery businesses to elegantly and efficiently serve families.

blog post SC

What does the recent primary in South Carolina tell us about the funeral industry? Let me start this post with a disclaimer: I’m simply providing observations and I am not endorsing or promoting any candidate who is running for the office of President of the United States. Additionally, I will note that my family (both my mother and father) come from the Palmetto State. We have deep roots since the very beginning of this nation, so I know what I’m talking about when proclaiming: South Carolina is considered the bastion of conservatism in America with a history of “sticking to their guns” with whatever they believe. It’s a state that is certainly considered “the buckle of the Bible Belt.”

My takeaway of the primary results last Saturday has relevance to the funeral industry. The winner did what most would consider blasphemous and everything that should have led to defeat.  For example: calling out a much loved and revered former President (especially in SC) regarding the 9-11 attack; calling competitors liars and saying that a controversial women’s medical provider actually does have some good points. All this and more coming from a Yankee spending far less than his competitors  while also using social media to resonate his message: “No more PC gibberish; let’s just call it like it is and make America great again.”

The competitors had the endorsements from the State party establishment elected officials, endorsements from the mainline religious groups, spent millions on trying to convince voters to follow the past “establishment direction,” and even made sure everyone knew the front runner was divorced but was now married to a “foreigner.” The competitors also had infrastructures developed with volunteers knocking on doors and making phone calls.  In the State where a particular religious group reigns, against conventional thought the tactics failed and the stale messages did not stem the rising tide of change.

What are some of the similarities of the campaign in SC with the funeral industry?  A few observations:  the funeral establishment has long coined rivals (new business models) as discounters and direct disposers which basically means nothing to the consumer. Interestingly, some have their own little discounters and direct disposal businesses but don’t share much about them in public or funeral meetings (sort of like not claiming “that side of the family”).  The rhetoric “you get what you pay for” is a back firing message because consumers are questioning the cost and see no value in what they are paying for with the traditionalists.  Millions of dollars are spent on advertising in an attempt to convince consumers to hold on to tradition rather than invest in creating and seeking solutions to meet consumer demand.  Pundits preach (see a blog post by funeral home owner Dale Clock The New Normal) at conventions and meetings to charge more and show more value but never address the real issues like how to serve the financially-struggling family (who are flocking to discounters and direct disposers).  Value now is the ability to pay in full.

The results from the South Carolina primary offer a glimpse into the future of the funeral industry. Consumers are demanding change, rejecting the established past. They are educating themselves online and taking action on the information provided without visiting nary a funeral home. Consumers couldn’t care less about internal industry bickering and name calling; they are leaving tradition behind. The establishment’s message is fragmented and falling flat for a number of reasons including its methods of delivery (very few funeral organizations use social media or offer consumer-friendly websites). I don’t think nor do I advocate that the traditional funeral home is going away or  it is irrelevant.  However, the recent report, SCI saw fewer funerals, declining revenue in 2015, is news to which every funeral provider should pay attention.

The voters (funeral consumers) are speaking loudly and clearly asking for new models of service and a change in how we go about offering our services. We have an abundance of smart, talented, experienced, willing funeral industry professionals and organizations ready to work together for the betterment of our collective future. The platforms for communicating and working together are right at our fingertips. I raise my hand and volunteer, what about you?

From the smoke filled Command Post, Cheers Y’all.  #thefuneralcommander

 

 

ANC 1

Situation: Your loved one just died unexpectedly with no pre-need trust or life insurance available to pay for the funeral expenses. You can’t use the funeral home where you work and you receive no professional courtesy discounts anywhere else. You must pay full price for services rendered, casket, vault, and all the cash advance items including the cemetery space,  opening and closing fees.  How would this event effect your personal financial situation if you had to pay?

My team at The Harbeson Group and I have conducted hundreds of training sessions for funeral directors over the years on subjects like FTC Funeral Rule knowledge, taking shopper calls, removal/transfer procedures and so on. A few months back, I wrote a post Wear Other Shoes about training funeral directors to role play by planning a funeral for their closest loved one who unexpectedly died.  This training provides insight to the emotions people feel when arranging a funeral for someone they love and increases empathy for others in this situation.  But there is another facet to the training; what if you had to pay for the funeral expenses from your current and personal financial resources?

I provide funeral director training on the topic of cash flow solutions for at-need services. Prior to starting the training, I inform the group that I have permission from the funeral home ownership (or organization leadership) to charge everyone for the training they are about to receive.  The cost for the training is equivalent to the price for full burial at the funeral home including casket and vault (let’s use $8,400 for the purposes of this post).  I then tell the group the full amount is due to me at the completion of the training and that I accept cash, checks and all major credit cards…and I pause to let that sink in.

I love seeing some of the reactions on the faces of attendees and to feel the uncomfortable shift in the room. I then say “If there are no questions, we shall move forward with the training.”  Inevitably a hand will fly up with it’s owner asking “Are you serious?”  My answer: “What’s the big deal?”  “You ask the same thing of every family who makes arrangements with you, in fact for about the same amount.”  Silence follows as more air is sucked out of the room.

So I return to my original question: What if you had to pay today from your own financial resources?  Certainly there are those reading this who could write a check or have the credit card balance to pay, and then there are the rest of you. The majority of Americans (and let’s say a few funeral directors) don’t have the financial resources to pay for costly unexpected events in full, they need a payment plan. Sadly, just in the past few days, I read the obituary for a deceased funeral director asking for funds to be paid to help with funeral expenses. Just food for thought, if you had to pay today, would you need the services provided by At Need Credit?  Take a look and decide for yourself.

From the Command Post (no cigar for now). Cheers Y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

 

 

TOTT

In the investment world there is a saying “Trees don’t grow to the sky.” The meaning is a warning that stock prices for a given company will not increase forever, they top out. When I thought about writing this post a few analogies came to mind relative to the funeral industry whether you are a funeral home operator or product/service provider.

First, take a look at the tree in the image above. I know there are exceptions (as I am not a tree expert), but trees tend to narrow at the top when they stop growing. If your funeral home has stopped growing more than likely it’s pretty narrow at the top with only a few branches “near the sun” failing to notice the root system beginning to weaken. The same holds true for funeral industry product/service vendors (look what’s happening in the cornfield).

We all know that trees have roots and can live for hundreds of years but the fact is trees reach a peak of vertical growth.  If your funeral home has deep and a strong root system, yet peaked vertical (market) growth, what do you do?  Perhaps just stand tall, firmly rooted and simply continue to serve in your sphere of ground.  It’s not a bad thing at all.  But your funeral home has stopped growing and perhaps vulnerable to planting/maturing of competitive funeral homes in your market.  From a vendor perspective, new technology is being created in some cases before products even hit the market.  Remember all the video folks?  “New and improved” simply by a color or interior cloth change is basically putting lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig.

Perhaps the notion of planting more trees (seedlings) from the tall and healthy (but ceased growing) tree is an option. Many funeral homes, successful, longstanding and deep rooted have planted seedlings that are maturing. New locations to serve different market areas and new models to serve different consumer segments are signs of recognition the original tree has ceased growing, but recognize the need to have a stronger presence of the brand. There few products and services in the funeral industry that are linear as well as strong enough to survive on their own. Yes, there was a time when funeral home website development, custom casket panels, “personalization” and such were revolutionary. But today many products/services are ordinary and being produced everywhere for significantly less than originally introduced into the market.  Unfortunately, most new products and services are not developed from within or from the traditional industry providers, thus the analogy of the tree.

The point of this post is that trees truly don’t grow to the sky and there is a limit to growth. However, recognition by analysis of costs, market-share, real estate, market (consumer) shifts (demands), competitive landscape and growth potential should be a focal point of funeral home leadership.  Unfortunately, many  funeral home leaders are not equipped, possess the tools, or recognize the importance of such assessments. Conversely many product/service providers have armies of mutants in their basements providing such data, but often try to maneuver/manipulate the market rather than supply the demand. Why? Because their “tree has stopped growing” and still functioning on outdated models not understanding (or blatantly ignoring) the real needs of funeral home operators success.

As a funeral home owner or industry vendor, don’t become too busy at the top taking in the sun and assuming anything. Want to know more?  Let’s connect to assess how to expand your brand for growth in your own forest at jeff@theharbesongroup.com. From the haze of cigar smoke in the Command Post, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

TFC2

I have conversations daily with funeral directors nationally about funeral payment plans and collecting full GPL prices prior to engaging in a funeral contract.  More often than not I get questions from funeral directors: “What if the family?” I’m going to address some of those questions I get from the field.

What if the family does not have any money?  My immediate response (and yes we have trained our staff and we actually give the same response when asked in an arrangement session): How much is no money?  Not anecdotal, but I literally witnessed this same question posed to a funeral director and the family ultimately paid over $15,000 in cash for a complete funeral!  Does your funeral home train how to provide a response?  When a family says “they have no money” what exactly does that mean?  Most funeral directors dive straight to the bottom without engaging further to better understand the financial posture of the people they “are directing.”  The appropriate response is: “How much is no money?”  Then, close your mouth, listen, when appropriate inquire more, and then create a solution that suits their budget.  I know you’re sitting there saying “what if they have NO money?” Back at your here, what do you do?

“What if the family does not qualify for a loan at FuneralPayPlan.com?”  You go back to the drawing board.  The next step is to let the family know that you will accept a minimum of X% (our firm requires 80%) up front in cash, credit card or life insurance assignment.  The family is required to sign up to pay the balance on Simple Funeral Payment Plan which requires them to allow withdrawal from their bank account, not just get billed and send in a check to your funeral home.  By the way, if you are billing a family and charging interest (1-whatever %) and you did not provided a TILA (federal Truth In Lending Act statement) and/or their calculated APR, your firm is most likely out of federal lending regulatory compliance.  No funeral contract is signed by the funeral director until the payment is secured.

“What if the family can’t come up with the X% up front?”  You are offering them the wrong service and products; they simply can’t afford the current services or product selections!  I wrote about this a while ago “I Only Have Bus Fare But I Want a Cadillac” and basically once you know that a family can’t afford what you are offering, then you must change their options.  If not, you are part of the problem.

“What if the family gets money from FuneralPayPlan.com deposited in their account but they use it to buy something else?”  Well, I guess I can only answer this one: “here’s your sign”

TFC1

I have much more to say from experience and training firms to cash flow better for at need services, so this subject will continue in other posts. This post will generate enough fodder for those that #FNhustle and want to make #FNchange; so feel free to contact me to initiate training to make positive steps to build your #FNbrand. Of course, the others will simply smirk and continue upon their path of “often wrong but never in doubt.”

From the smoke filled Command Post, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

FD Training Mistakes

I am the first to admit that I don’t make an A on every test.  In fact, I often struggle with taking and passing tests much less reach a level of consistent perfection.  Just this week I made a very visible mistake by posting the wrong word in the title because my lack of focus and self-editing.  It did not take long for the “edit police” to quickly point out my error, so I corrected the mistake and then made fun of myself along with thanking the “good eye” folks.

I always find that acknowledging mistakes with an apology and humor tends to work, at least for non-life threatening stuff like spelling errors.  Other more egregious mistakes (or any made as a husband or father) take an elevated/expedited response of contrite begging for forgiveness followed by some sort of restaurant visit. One recent very public mistake was made by Steve Harvey when he announced the wrong winner of Miss Universe. Steve quickly corrected the mistake and took responsibility.  At Christmas, he even made fun of himself in a tweet:

mistake

During a recent funeral home training session we actually addressed the subject of correcting mistakes.  Why would correcting mistakes be a training issue?  How we correct the mistake is highly important simply because when errors happen in the funeral home, the reaction as well as the corrective measures make a difference.  So, when correcting a mistake:

  1. Be accountable and acknowledge your mistake.  Don’t pass blame on to anyone or on any circumstance.  You did it, own it.
  2. Be humble and contrite in being accountable for making the mistake.  Most of us are far more willing to forgive if the person asking has accepted responsibility and sincerely asked for forgiveness.
  3. Correct the mistake immediately.  If the mistake is really bad, you may have to not only correct the mistake but also compensate for any resulting harm.  Always do so, but within reason.
  4. Once you have completed 1-3, then train on or document how to avoid repeating the mistake.

Does your funeral home have a training program to provide guidance and a “road map” of processes to follow?  Training for funeral directors and staff is essential to continuous improvement for funeral homes.  When a new funeral director arrives to work (seasoned or newly licensed), what training is provided that will keep consistent performance and behaviors aligned with the company culture?  Most funeral homes have the “follow me around and do what I do” training program which provides vulnerability to mistakes, some that may ultimately prove costly.  For example; why are funeral homes all over the country being consistently fined by the FTC for GPL violations?  Yep, we have training specific to the GPL based on the FTC Funeral Rule and I dare say that our funeral homes will never fail that particular test.

Funeral director training is not difficult or greatly time consuming but must be intentional with relevant content.  If you want to know more about how to implement training in your funeral home contact the folks at G2 Funeral Group.  Until next time, try to keep the mistakes to a minimum and I’ll get someone to proofread this before publishing.  Cheers y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

 

 

economics post

The issue of families struggling to pay funeral expenses is ongoing and I believe poses an increasing threat to funeral home financial health.  Take a few moments and read an article posted in Forbes last month: 63% Of Americans Don’t Have Enough Savings To Cover A $500 Emergency.   Now let that sink in a bit…

Depending on the zip codes your funeral home serves, regularly working with families who struggle paying for your goods and services may not be an issue.  However, there is enough negative economic news to support my continued message that we as an industry need to start paying attention.  Take a look at the chart below (courtesy of the St. Louis Federal Reserve and found by my fellow funeral professional Raymond Aikens):

FED Economic Data

One of the solutions for dealing with this problem is to train funeral directors how to address families in an arrangement session regarding payment options.  Yes, I know that your firm accepts full payment before services rendered and you have a payment policy.  So why do you have accounts receivable? Because your funeral directors sign contracts prior to securing the funds to pay for services rendered, the family walks out the door, the service is over and you have an unpaid bill. It’s your fault, period.

At Need Credit offers training and solutions of how to secure payment before a funeral contract is signed and also programs that will put your funeral home in a $0.00 accounts receivable status.  If your firm has past due accounts, our Simple Funeral Payment Plan provides a program to not only collect much needed funds, but also keep your firm in compliance with federal lending regulations.

This year I will be offering CEU’s at conventions and meetings to address cash flow for at need services. Contact me for further details and let’s do something about the ongoing problem with a solution, not just talk about it.  From the Command Post, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander #FNhustle #FNchange

 

Feb Blog

Funeral service providers have a reputation for reluctance to make changes even if necessary for their own good, are generally slow to adopt pretty much anything new and rarely create from within. What if we took the example of the canary in the coal mine?  You know, a safety net just in case we were to get a sniff of dangerous carbon monoxide and can abandon the mine before coming to harm?  This business is not that simple, however so few ever get to taste the sweetness of success after taking a risk.

Why is that?  If we watch an episode of Wild Kingdom starring Marlin Perkins following the annual migration of wildebeests we can see in real time how we seem to act.  Just keep our heads down, move with everyone else and don’t venture away from the herd.  “Damn that river crossing, I’m staying right in the middle and just trying to survive.” Never mind a new route that may make more sense.

Does the fear of failure suppress risk taking?  Creation of new products or services should be initiated among funeral professionals because that’s where the “rubber hits the road” (more on this particular reference in the next paragraph), but the majority of something new comes from outside, not within.  Is it because everyone is so busy and simply putting extra time into something that may not work out isn’t worth the effort?  Did you know the modern day church truck was invented by Samson Diuguid, a funeral director back in the 1800’s in Lynchburg, Virginia? Because church aisles were too narrow for pallbearers to walk on both sides of a coffin, Diuguid created a much used product that made our job easier and the funeral experience better.

What about taking a risk in the funeral industry that my invoke ridicule and embarrassment?  Oh no, not from fellow funeral professionals!  Back to the Diuguid folks, they actually had the gall to use a rubber wheeled and a motorized hearse to carry a casket!  It’s said that other funeral directors made fun of Diuguid and even coined the contraption “blasphemous to the profession.” We have the same twits in abundance today and you can see them flitting around “busy” at funeral meetings and conventions.  They are easy to spot; usually adorned in full funeral director dress inclusive of suit, white shirt, and not too flashy tie.  Funny, since there isn’t a family to serve in site…impressive huh?  Interesting about this particular sect of the herd is that they themselves have never invested, created or invented anything in their lives however are the first in line with nay saying gibberish ridicule of “my families won’t” or “that will never” and so on. Funny though, when the something new takes hold they follow rest of the herd sometimes too late as the crocks are lurking for the finely-adorned stragglers.

As for me, I’m going deep in the mine with a cage full of canaries and keeping my #FNhustle on to make #FNchange to better our industry. Yep, I’m going to fail at some of my initiatives.  Yep, I’m going to be ridiculed (however not to my face because the before-mentioned finely-adorned, nay-saying eunuchs who literally don’t have the balls to do so).  And yep, I’m going to succeed and just keep mining.

I challenge you to go get some canaries and enter the mine; it’s hard, nasty work, you might fail and get laughed at or you may actually do something to make a difference. If not, please start shopping because the new season of conventions and meetings are starting and you’ll need to be seen.  From behind a thick fog of smoke in the Command Post, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

FD training GP

Getting paid for services rendered and products sold should be as much of a priority as “a satisfied family” for funeral homes.   As a funeral home owner or someone managing the business, securing payment is one of the most important tenets of accountability, but rarely emphasized.  If you don’t think so take a gander of seminar presentation and CEU training provided at the majority of meetings or conventions.  Anyone training funeral directors to collect money due? No.  And most likely not at your funeral home either.

How can a funeral home get paid for every case, every time?  Training.  Why does a funeral home allow a contract to be signed without securing payment first?  Securing payment means a confirmation for pre-need payment, a life insurance policy is verified and assigned for payment, a check or credit card for full payment has transacted, or a payment plan has been agreed upon (signed) which includes a Truth In Lending statement along with full APR calculations of interest.  Otherwise, no contract signature from a funeral director should be made to engage for services.  It’s that simple.

If you are reading post and don’t think that your firm has an issue, I’ll give you a little process to follow:

  1. Look at every case from last month (January, 2016).
  2. Review each goods and services statement for signature of both funeral director and customer.
  3. Check total due amount.
  4. Check date funds received and amount paid.
  5. Is there any amount due today?
  6. If there is an outstanding amount due, why?
  7. If the case was not paid in full, what is the current status?

At Need Credit offers training to provide funeral homes the path to secure payment prior to contract agreement.  Anything short of $0.00 accounts receivable at a funeral home is simply unacceptable and a direct reflection of poor management.  If you want to get paid, train your staff.

From the Command Post and all payments secured, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

who is laughing

Many current owners, managers, funeral directors, and leaders of the funeral industry grew up in the same era I did.  As for the younger crowd, this will be foreign to you simply because you were not alive during this period and the world has significantly changed…for the better.

There was a time that American consumers made fun of foreign-made Datsun, Honda, and Toyota cars because they were classified as cheaply made and unreliable especially by the American auto manufacturers.  Fast forward to 2016; Datsun (now Nissan), Honda, and Toyota are all on top of the heap for value, reliability, and sales in the U.S.  Evolving from those same manufacturers are the Infiniti, Acura and Lexus luxury brands.  I’m certain the haughty and powerful American auto executives back in the day would be mortified at just how wrong they were having underestimated the resolve of their competition and the change in American consumer attitudes toward these cars today.  Anyone catching on yet?

  • “My families would never cremate.”
  •  “My families would never use someone else.”
  • “My families would not like that.”
  • “You get what you pay for.”
  •  “We are a full service funeral home, not a discounter.”
  • “Using computers in arrangements is impersonal.”
  • “If they want our prices, then they will have to meet with us first.”
  • “We only use American made caskets, urns and fleet.”

Many in the funeral industry have the same echo hubris as the auto exec’s of yesteryear regarding their competition and the consumer market.   But, what if?

What if the competition made a better product or provided a better service, value, and dependability?  What if the competition could reach the same families with a better message moving market share?  What if the competition figures out how to offer the current funeral consumer options they are seeking rather than what is customary?  What if the competition could do what you do, but better?  What if import caskets are a better value (price and quality) than cornfield caskets?  You don’t think this is possible?  Ask the good old boys from Detroit that smoked cigarettes in their offices (if any of them are alive), who’s laughing now?

There are flashes of brilliance out in the funeral world from multi generational funeral providers, forward thinkers, and manufacturers who are executing #FNchange by taking chances as well as simply out #FNhustle everyone else.  Meanwhile, the rest of the herd hasn’t looked inside the door of their American made car to see where the parts come from, still believe that caskets assembled in the cornfield are American made (I guess if Mexico and China are new states, this is true), think cremation is just a fad, and lead the discussion of whether women should wear pants or skirts (below knee with pantyhose, of course) who will continue their decent into the abyss of irrelevance (remember travel agents?).

Got comments or thoughts or are you just going to sit there and smirk?  What are you doing to #FNchange and #FNhustle? From a very thick fog of cigar smoke generated by a 60 ring gauge Maduro in the Command Post, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

Simple Funeral Payment Plan logo

The major funeral industry news from 2015 was about consolidation and strategic alliances.  Today CareCap and At Need Credit announced their new Simple Funeral Payment Plan which is a funeral payment plan offering similar to what is found in the dental and veterinary industries.  In addition, the new Simple Funeral Payment Plan provides a solution for past due collection and accounts receivable recovery for funeral homes.

Growth and viability for success in the funeral industry is dependent on new ideas, products and services as well as collaborative efforts to serve the changing funeral consumer.  The new partnership is a model for companies and funeral service providers working together to offer solutions for funeral consumer families.

Noted in the Press Release today, the issue of Americans financially struggling having limited access to funds for an emergency is once again breached.  This is not an issue that is going away for funeral directors, in fact it’s expanding.    At Need Credit provides training for funeral homes on how to address payment in arrangement sessions and how to become a $0.00 accounts receivable firm.

Want to know more?  Watch Episode #17 of Funeral Nation TV see the interview with Michelle Richardson, Director, Strategic Alliances of CareCap, #kidsocial Ryan Thogmartin  and I discussing the newly launched Simple Funeral Payment Plan powered by CareCap.  It’s all about #FNchange and #Fnhustle…what are you going to do today?

From the command post, Cheers Y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

Vendor Life

I am blessed to meet, converse and especially learn from a wide swath of funeral professionals globally.  Most every contact I always ask, “how did you get into the funeral business” and more often than not the answers are fascinating.  Part of this blog and the Funeral Nation TV show is to provide others with different points of view, personalities and fodder for thought.  Below (with permission of the author) is a story resulting from my asking “how did you get in the funeral business?”  It’s a young man’s journey exemplifying perseverance, dedication to our industry as well as #FNchange and #FNhustle.  From the desk of #thefuneralcommander, enjoy this story; Cheers Y’all!

The Move To Vendor Life…

“If you’ll serve a family in the way that they need to be served… and not in the way that you wish to serve them… then the sales will occur organically.  At that point, you have become a true Service Professional.”

~ Dylan Stopher

I am a funeral director and embalmer.  I am also a husband, father, friend, musician, teacher, author, poet, small group leader, and a myriad of other things.  But I am a funeral director and embalmer.

I’m 37 years old, and I started in the funeral profession when I was 19.  Like most of us, it was something that just sort of “happened,” and I couldn’t really explain to you at the time why I was okay with moving from bar-tending and restaurant management to funeral service.  But I can now tell you, I am so glad that it happened… and I’d make this leap a thousand times over if I had to.

I started young, yes, and I worked in a state that allowed me to complete half of my apprenticeship before going to school.  I did 4 of the 6 months, and then moved away.  Once I enrolled in school, I started work for a funeral home in the city.  It was an amazing time of growth and learning, both in the book smarts of the business and the common sense practical wisdom from the directors I served with.  (If any of them are reading this now, they’ll know who they are… and how much they mean to me.).

After school I returned home to complete the remaining 8 months of apprenticeship, and then received my license.  I worked for a couple years, and then there was a change needed… due to an immaturity and inability to deal with the death of children.  This is a very, very real issue in our business, and it caught up to me quickly.  But I did something unique with that opportunity… I left and expanded my skill set.

I sold cars.  I know, not exactly what you’d think one would turn to, but it turned out to be phenomenally helpful for future use.  I learned the ability to qualify what someone needs, rather than what they want, and the methods through which to keep them from going into financial ruin.  It is vital that we, as funeral professionals, recognize that sometimes there are people who do have a champagne taste with a water budget, and we need to be able to protect them from themselves in this debt-ridden culture.  Trust me, they’ll appreciate that much more than the collection notices and bills that follow the funeral.

Then a hurricane forced relocation, and I started selling homes (after a brief and uneventful return to the restaurant business).  Real estate is a slower selling process, one that requires finesse and a deeper client relationship.  It was in the sale of homes that I discovered how to truly build a bond with a client, asking the right questions to gain the right answers.  Working through a slower process allowed me an immense amount of insight into the pre-arrangement side of our profession, working with clients all the way up to their time of need.  It is a phenomenal skill to have.

Then I took a turn in retail, working for a cellular company that holds many awards for their distinguished program of coaching and developing leaders and teammates.  I spent a few years with them in a leadership position, and learned how to properly coach people to greater levels of success.  I also learned how to read through the numerical side of a business, and analyze patterns to forecast greater success in the future.  These skills, combined with excellent practice in building relationships and rapport, would serve to be the launch pad for much greater success in my career than I could’ve hoped for.

I took a job to reciprocate my license into the state in which we were living, and that was the sole and express purpose of that role.  I am grateful to that firm for allowing me the chance to do so, and we were all aware that it would be that and likely nothing more.  When I was done, with a fresh license in hand, I went to work for a firm in a different part of our city, requiring my family to move… and there is where I began the greatest journey you could imagine.

I was a funeral director… an embalmer… then an assistant manager of a stand-alone… then an assistant manager and care center supervisor of the largest combo in the group… then a location manager of our newest acquisition.  I served a team of wonderful directors, and we led our region in averages in almost every category (trumping our far larger competitors both in percentage and dollar amounts).  I assisted our corporate trainer at times with insight, and was allowed the opportunity to train several directors in specific metrics.  And in 2012, I was awarded the Funeral Director of the Year for the highest overall sales average in both burial and cremation, both pre-need and at-need in our region.  It was phenomenal.

During that time, I met my current leader, owner of a vault production and sales license in our area of the US.  The first time I met him in 2010, I told him that when he was ready to replace himself, I’d like to have the opportunity to interview.  It took about four years, but I finally made the switch.

First, I have always wanted the opportunity to train professionals to be more successful.  I’m an avid believer that our profession thrives on education to the consumer, and that directors and counselors can only educate and serve properly if they are educated and served thoroughly.  I love to see people gain a higher level of success, and I find joy in that.

Second, I don’t do as well in a single office.  In my favorite role in a funeral home, when I managed a team of funeral directors and ran a care center in the same building, I was always busy… always running… always having a meeting for something.  I found great pleasure serving in that specific role, and it was challenging every day.  However, it was not as much fun, or as exciting, as being able to visit with as many professionals as I do now.  I drive… a lot.  And some days are very boring, riddled with time behind a windshield only to find that my intended visit for the day has had a walk-in or a death call, and had to leave the office.  But I visit with over 200 people annually, and I get to learn from their individual business models, and impart wisdom to them from a specific niche in our profession.

Third, I speak their language.  I have literally sat across a table from thousands of people who have needed the service of a funeral professional, and I’ve done what my clients do.  I know their stress, I know their pain, I know their love for serving others… and I know that if they say they need to meet another time, they mean it.  I also know that when there is an issue that needs discussion, they don’t have a ton of time to go through every fine detail.  They need answers quickly, and I can deliver them in a way that they understand (and I mean no disrespect to those who are vendors that are not also funeral directors and/or embalmers… please don’t think that).

Last, and probably most importantly, I’m crazy just like they are.  Why?  For the same reasons as above.  I’ve seen what they’ve seen, and I’ve listened to what they’ve listened to.  I know the pain of carrying the countless secrets that are shared in an arrangement office, and I know the joy of a family thanking you for a once-in-a-lifetime tribute that fits perfectly to the life of their loved one.  We laugh about the same things… and we clutch our knees in a corner and cry about the same things.  So when I speak to my clients, I’m one of them as much as I’m their vendor.

So given my individual path to becoming a vendor, there’s only a few things I can share with you in closing.  First, vendor spots are rare, and we all know it.  If this is something that calls to you as it did to me, seek it out and don’t give up until you get the position you want.  Second, there’s nothing wrong with staying in a funeral home.  I do miss serving families directly, and I can name some of those families and tell you exactly why I miss them… don’t feel like the only path up is the path out to vendor life and away from direct service to the families in need.

And lastly, possibly the most important thing I can share with you, never stop being a funeral service professional.  That might sound silly, but let me explain.  I keep my licenses current, and I’m ready to go and serve if called upon.  I maintain close friendships with the directors I know, and I forge new ones with those I meet.  I understand and remember what it’s like to be in the shoes of a funeral director under extreme pressure, and I will always temper myself towards that level.

I am a funeral director and embalmer.  I am a vendor, yes… and I serve the larger populace by serving the funeral professionals… but I am, first and foremost, a funeral director and embalmer.

Thanks Dylan for allowing me to share your story!  If you are a funeral professional and would like to share your experiences or share “how did you get into the funeral business” please email me jeff@theharbesongroup.com. 

 

 

Change Hustle

As a funeral industry entrepreneur I am blessed to be privy to many facets of this business.  Funeral homes, online cremation services, financing, media and other funeral service related products and services fall into my “wheelhouse” of operations.  I have written posts describing my perspectives and experience in this lofty adventure Funeral Industry Entrepreneur?Talking HeadsNon Conventional Conversations, and so on.  With all of this said, I write with confidence that I am unequivocally qualified to provide the following commentary.

The funeral industry (yes, it’s an industry because it generates $16 billion in annual revenue in the US alone) is experiencing one of the most dramatic shifts in our history. Everything from the economy, internet, and consumer demand dictates we are in an exciting period.  However, with this shift comes change and there will be collateral damage along the way.  Don’t think so?  Read this article from the Huffington Post  which points out that over 20,000 jobs have been lost and the revenues generated from our industry have declined.  Additionally, read the OGR’s Blog regarding trends that should be “wake up calls.”  I want to be clear that we have many funeral home owners, funeral directors, vendors and manufacturers that are making #FNchange and doing the #FNhustle, but for the rest of the herd…

I see hubris and arrogance at its extreme contributing to the fore-mentioned forecasts of despair.  In many respects, we are our own worst enemy because there are so many that are simply complacent.  An old saying “pigs get fatter and hogs get slaughtered” is also in play; basically there are those who have become wealthy (funeral homes and manufacturers alike) and are not investing in change (their people, products, services, real estate, or brands).  Basically putting lipstick on those pigs in a feeble attempt to dress it up, but it’s a still pig nonetheless.

Why is the majority resistant to change and growth?  Simply, it’s hard.  Money, time, learning, focus, training, and trust of others require a great deal of effort.  Reverberating in the halls of funeral homes are echoes of “it ain’t broke, why fix it?,” and “Our families won’t like that.” A few others include “We’ve always done it that way,” and “They will come to us because we have the best service.”  All of these statements are saying “We’re lazy as hell and we are not going to make any effort change.”

As part of my work, I spend an incredible amount of time and resources on funeral home websites.  I personally know of funeral homes with no website- looking at many others, they may be better off.  If I can tell how pitiful a funeral home is by their website, what does the consumer think?  If the website is this bad, how bad is the service and building? These types have bad websites or no “interweb” (yes, I’m being facetious) are telling the entire world just we are simply too cheap, lazy or ignorant to positively present ourselves as caretakers of the deceased.

There is much to say, but in an effort to be concise, I’ll post more on change in the coming weeks.  In the meantime, watch episode Episode #15 of Funeral Nation TV and our interview with Brad Rex, CEO & President of Foundation Partners Group to get a flavor of #FNchange as well as #FNhustle.

From a very thick fog from a sixty ring gauge Maduro cigar in the Command Post, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

dec blog

What is your funeral home business culture?  To define business culture; a set of similar and collective values, beliefs as well as attitude.  The culture of a funeral home has significant impact on just about every facet of the operation.  Culture is also a trained attribute…does your funeral home provide training at all?

The culture of a company is undeniably noticeable in other industry’s like the Ritz Carlton and Chic-fil-A brands.  Ritz with impeccable high end service and Chic-fil-A with value/friendliness “my pleasure” service. Interestingly, these two company examples vary widely in their pricing and customer base yet both accomplish the same goal: a definitive culture and a significant effort to provide consistent training on the subject.

In my funeral career I have  met with owners, managers and staff of over 1,000 funeral homes that conduct as little as 25 to over 130,000 annual cases, both public and privately owned.  I have been privy to strategic planning and executive level discussions about the approach that many funeral homes take to their business.  Frankly, almost all commonly desire to serve the family of a deceased person with compassion, dignity and respect.  But the culture  of funeral homes widely vary to these core tenets of funeral service.

What is your funeral home culture?  Here are some that I have observed:

  1. Perfunctory: Just getting the job done without much fanfare or creativity.  Staff going through the motions not overly friendly nor curt, but primarily waiting for their day off and paycheck. Data collection on the deceased (always around a table or from behind a desk), choose a casket, choose a vault, choose a service, choose a date, choose a time, thank you for choosing us.  This culture is akin to a bank teller line; “thank you for your deposit, next please!”
  2. Excessive: Over the top and oozing of obvious false compassion.  “We are your new best friend and family” which makes many people uncomfortable and suspicious of the intentions.  Perhaps the best analogy would be an overzealous car salesman or clerk at a clothing store that refuses to let you just shop.  “My mother drove a car like that, I love those shoes, I had a cousin in the military (I wanted too but I have fat ankles/asthma which means I can’t run), I was in the scouts, you remind me of my own family,  I love dogs, I love cats, I have a hamster too, blah, blah.”
  3. Tense:  As if the boss is going to give a predetermined amount of lashings if a mistake is made or someone would dare think out of the box.  This culture is certainly the “we’ve always done it this way” crowd that requires women (if any work there) to wear below knee length skirts, pantyhose and non-heeled ugly shoes.  No, the owners are not sexist because they don’t allow male personnel to take off their jackets to show off their white shirts at anytime (especially when the temperatures are desert-like because that would be deemed unprofessional).  This crowd can be best described as a cross between an Amish formal dinner and an ancient Monastery…can you feel the love and joy?
  4.  Relaxed:  At ease; comfortable yet professional.  No hurry yet cognizant of time, respectful but not too chatty, everyone seems comfortable in their own skin.  I suppose that this culture can be most notably like being at a great restaurant.

Of course all that read this will vehemently know that they fall into #4 and their competitors are all #1-#3 and I understand there are other forms of culture existent in our chock full of nuts funeral homes.   How would you describe your funeral home culture?

It’s nearly Christmas and I’d like to wish everyone a joyous time with your family along with hoping for a little peace (and quite) for you at your funeral homes…a little message from me and Mrs. Commander:

From the Command Post and fog of a 60 ring gauge cigar, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

Payment Plan 2

This post is a continuation of the discussion I started in last week’s post Funeral Payment Plans for At Need regarding an epidemic of consumers that are struggling to pay for funeral expenses.  Determining if your firm needs a funeral payment plan to offer families you are serving requires a bit of research and math.  It’s a relatively simple exercise; however much like any program for improvement, the first step is to question if you have a problem.

Here is a quick way to determine if your firm should have a funeral payment plan:

  1. Look at the last 100 cases performed at your funeral home.
  2. On each goods and services statement, did you collect the exact amount for each item equal to the amount listed on your General Price List?
  3. No matter the reason is there a difference between collected/charged and listed price (was there a discount)?
  4. List the amount of difference per case and add the difference for all 100 cases.
  5. Do you have any accounts receivable (money owed from those services) over 30 days?
  6. Now add #4 and #5 together…what’s that number?

If there is any amount of money either discounted or owed to you, then you have a problem.  Your firm either gave something away (discounted) or you have not been paid for what your firm provided (goods & services receivables) which inhibits your cash flow (the lifeblood of a financially healthy funeral home).  I know that there are thousands of funeral directors out there that tout “we collect all our money up front before services rendered, period!”  Yeah, okay so why do you have accounts receivable and why did you discount from your GPL prices?

Now that you have determined and recognize that your firm has a problem, the second question is what are the steps/process for correction? This is a critical yet difficult part of the process; do you have the intestinal fortitude (noun: courage; resoluteness; endurance; guts) to make a change in your arrangement process and behavior?  Or in Funeral Commander terms can you grow a pair, take charge of your business and actually lead your people to the promise land of getting paid for the work you do?

The third question to ask yourself is how do I fix the problem?  Well, I have the answers with training and I’ll be rolling out a new suite of funeral payment plan solutions shortly with At Need Credit.  In the meantime, I challenge you to do the math above and send me an email jeff@theharbesongroup.com so we can initiate the conversation.

From the Command Post through a thick fog of smoke on the front lines in the war of funeral reality, Cheers Y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

 

 

 

at need payment

Funeral payment plans used to be an option for consumers pay funeral expenses that did not fund pre-need, had limited life insurance, cash or credit card balances.  The days of funeral homes offering in house payment plans have gone away with the sales of bronze and copper caskets.  Why?

Administering the process of billing, collecting and accounting is a colossal waste for the actual return of the revenue sought after.  Another reason is the age old “when the tears dry up so does the checkbook” theory of consumers failing to pay for funeral expenses over time.  Finally, the credit worthiness of consumers has dramatically shifted in a downward spiral due to continuing unemployment, falling home value and of course other negative economic pressures.

But these folks are dying too and funeral home owners are struggling to maintain a balance between offering services/products that family’s desire with getting paid for services rendered.  This dilemma is not new and I have written several posts At Need Payment PlansDon’t Ask the Kids to Pay, along with Is it About Honoring the Life or Paying the Bill?  This “underbelly issue” of the funeral home business is not being addressed and is one that will continue to grow as fast as the shift from burial to cremation.

Think I’m wrong about this?  Take a look at all of this years (2015) convention and meetings.  How many seminars were presented that shared how to deal with consumers that are financially struggling, how to bridge the gap between wants of families vs. revenue generation, or cash flow solutions for at need funerals?  Nope, we still are listening to the soothsayers and pundits blithering about “charge more/show more value,” “how to market your funeral home (with no measurable results),” along with other subjects that are basically repackaged from the last seminar offering nothing remotely important to serving the broke ass consumer (I threw that in just to see if anyone reads this far down and paying attention).

Over the coming weeks I’m going to further delve into this particular subject and offer solutions.  At this very time I am working with a team of lending experts and organizations to create new a suite of funeral payment plans that will be offered by At Need Credit with several choices of options that funeral directors may choose based on their particular needs.

The new roll-out will be in January and will include everything from offering payment plans to excellent credit consumers, poor credit rated consumers, billing opportunities to accounts receivable collection.  If you know me, it’s not just talking, it’s all about execution.  The Funeral Commander is “getting it done” for funeral payment plans. From the command post through the smoke of a fat maduro cigar, Cheers y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

parting-logo@2x

Parting.com launched its site which has virtually every funeral home in the United States with pricing for services listed for consumer comparative analysis.  This disruptive innovation is the first of its kind in the funeral industry; the FTC, State and other funeral directory websites have never been able to accomplish…listing General Price List information for consumer comparison.  It’s reported that a small percentage (9%) of funeral homes offer any pricing information on their website which provides Parting.com with a tremendous opportunity for consumer search using the internet for funeral homes.

Parting.com offers line item pricing from the GPL for basic services, embalming, visitations, etc. as well as direct cremation from the funeral homes listed.  As a service to the consumer, the listed funeral home’s prices for at typical funeral (basic service fee, transfer of remains, facilities for viewing, facilities for ceremony/staff, embalming) are conveniently added from the GPL listed.  Average national prices for a casket, dressing/casketing and outer burial container are separately listed but all added together to provide the consumer a comparative look at firms in the particular area of search.

In addition, most of the funeral homes listed have photos of the location (most look like Google earth shots), a link to make an appointment as well as a function for a consumer to review the service provided at the funeral home.

Innovation in the funeral industry continues to evolve especially in technology sector.  I remember in the recent past funeral homes that did not have a computer in the building (I still get applications for one of my companies that appear to be completed on a typewriter) and had a fax with the rolled paper.  From my vantage point, Parting.com has created a truly disruptive innovation site that no doubt is defined below:

Wikipedia defines Disruptive innovation: is an innovation that creates a new market and value network and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network, displacing established market leaders and alliances. The term was defined and phenomenon analyzed by Clayton M. Christensen beginning in 1995.[2] More recent sources also include “significant societal impact” as an aspect of disruptive innovation.[3]

Interestingly, if a consumer is already searching the internet for a funeral home, they certainly have no or very little relationship with a provider.  Consumers now will have the benefit of comparative pricing if they are so inclined to use Parting.com instead of having to call or visit the funeral home for additional information.  Parting.com has “upped the ante” for funeral homes to create more interactive and informational websites to showcase their particular value, services, etc. to secure the internet shopping consumer.

Want to know more?   Tune into Episode #9 of Funeral Nation TV we interview the founders of Parting.com and learn about their disruptive innovation in the funeral industry.  From behind a thick fog of smoke and the Command Post, Cheers Y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

Happy 3

This is not my typical blog post because it’s deeply personal pouring into words grief, grace, and gratitude.  If you read this in its entirety, you’ll not see my regular content but real, raw life…and death.

As parents our single greatest fear is the loss of our child, no matter their age.  In the funeral home business, we frequently serve such painful and tragic services for the survivors that grieve an early death.  I personally know two funeral industry professionals that lost sons this year.  I had conversation with the parents of one and I was deeply moved as they shared with me about their son along with the anguish they are suffering.

This past Wednesday a young friend, team mate and fellow Military Academy mate of my oldest son Hunter died.  Graduation and life had separated them along with all the other young men that shared their unique educational experience. However, news of the loss spread nationwide among this group of young men that would bring them together once again.

Such an event causes deep introspection and I was moved by the discussions I had with Hunter about life, death but most importantly his personal foundation as a man.  In the midst of tragedy sometimes there is an emergence of realization for things we just cast aside yet now become vividly important.  Listening to him my heart was filled with pain for his loss, pride for his expressed thoughts and emotions along with my inability to slow the steady stream of tears…my own emotions.  He and I are close, but such deep conversations are rare for any men which makes me grateful for our discussions.

Young men trekked from across the country to pay their respects and gather in support of each other as well as the young man’s parents.  But this story gets worse; another young man from this same group died the night before the visitation.  My wife had found a photo of Hunter and the first deceased young man along with a third baseball team mate and fellow student.  I posted the photo below on my Facebook page sharing my grief and prayerful thoughts for all that were suffering from the first loss…and now we are left with only one.

HMA 1

This post is to publicly share my own grief for the loss of two young men, offer condolences to their loved ones and friends.  I also want to share my gratitude that God has blessed me immensely with two sons that I’ll be able to wrap my arms around this week and express my love to them. Only by grace are we all not in such a period of grief that others may experiencing this week from the loss of a child this past year.

I have gratitude that God has provided me a platform to share this along with other experiences globally.  As this is being written, I’d deeply aware of true thankfulness for being loved and respected by those that mean the most to me.  As I get older, the things that I want most cannot be purchased and I truly seek what I admittedly took for granted earlier in my life.

This week of Thanksgiving is different for me because I know of four chairs around family tables that are empty this year because the tragic loss of four young men.  I’m not going to ask the typical “what are you thankful for this week” question.  I’m ask that you to reflect on the true life stories I have shared with you and simply challenge you to express love to those most important to you right now.  There will be empty chairs at someone’s table this time next year…

Normally I conclude with my cigar ablaze and a cheeky good bye.  But today, I close this with tears flowing and earnest thoughts of grief, grace and gratitude.  #thefuneralcommander

blog post 19 nov

The funeral industry continues to evolve and reflect that survival and growth are contingent on consolidation or strategic alliances.  Just recently, Pierce Mortuary Colleges  announced the merger with Worsham College of Mortuary Science.  Interestingly, the announcement was made after a provocative interview on Episode 5 Funeral Nation TV about the need for change in the funeral service education system. Coincidence?

Vandor Corporation and C.J. Boots Casket Company, Inc. announced a strategic merger agreement this week which will strengthen their collective positions in the funeral marketplace for manufactured and fine hardwood products.

Earlier this year Matthews purchased Aurora Casket creating a funeral service/product manufacturing giant.  The new company is the only of its kind offering caskets, cremation solutions/equipment, memorialization products, cemetery products as well as funeral home management solutions.  Interestingly, their primary competition in this sector has been woefully left behind scrambling around the cornfield seeking headlines of significance.  Of course the acquisition of Stewart by SCI sent a message exemplifying the necessity to consolidate for growth and survival of funeral homes.

What I have found most interesting is the reactions by funeral professionals to merger/acquisitions mentioned along with others that have been occurring as of late.  I can best categorize the majority of reactions as emotional rather than a business perspective.  When I say emotional, I mean like a street corner argument between the Sharks and the Jets in West Side Story.  “I’ll never use so and so; I’m glad I went to school here because blah, blah; these guys are taking over the world” and so on.

consolidation

The decisions of merger, consolidation and acquisition are for strategic and financial stability long term.  The due diligence ( defined as a comprehensive appraisal of a business undertaken by a prospective buyer, especially to establish its assets and liabilities and evaluate its commercial potential for those Dancing with the Stars readers) is conducted with expertise probably not taught in most mortuary school accounting classes.

Most that bitch and complain about the business of consolidation and merger rarely have done anything other than receive a check for their employment.  So little contributed yet so much said.  Few business owners or those that have developed businesses engage in the junior high cafeteria rhetoric because they have a true sense of the difficulty operating in our current market environment.

In a nutshell; in order to survive and thrive in the funeral industry whether a learning institution, funeral home, manufacturer or service provider, consolidation is key.  The decisions are made for the overall good of the brand and enterprise, not because of which colors look the best in the logo or the proverbial “we have always done it that way.”  Get used to the headlines and I can assure you there are many more such alliances ahead.  These are exciting times; either jump on board, do something yourself, create disruption or just stand there waiting for the good ole days to return.

From the Command Post and through a heavy fog of cigar smoke, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

I swear

Below is the oath by those that serve (or have served us, Commissioned Officer slightly different) in the US Military:

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

These collection of words have been affirmed by so many that provide us the freedoms we enjoy today as Americans.  To support and defend.  True faith and allegiance.  Obey orders.  Follow the regulations.  All with the help of God.  This oath is a commitment to serve something bigger than ourselves; our God, our fellow citizens and those that make this choice alongside us.  A cause to die for.

Veterans Day 2015 means that we continue to live in a free country.  This past year many Veterans from earlier generations have died and we currently have citizens are serving us now in harms way. Veterans Day is to honor all that took the oath of office to serve us in our Armed Forces. Veterans Day is for the men and women that offered to give their life for us whether they served in combat on foreign soil, stateside, active duty or reserve. Let me be clear; it’s not first responders day.  My salute to Veterans that served before, alongside and after me.  Thank you for your service and sacrifices to our Nation.

2Lt. Jeff Harbeson, 1984

     2LT Jeff Harbeson, 1984 

Thank a Veteran, they are willing to die for you.  May God continue to Bless America. From the Command Post and the fog of cigar smoke, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

funeral zombie v1

It’s almost Halloween when all get dressed up to scare someone with their ghoulish garb and deathly appearance.  However I have begun to notice that either some in the funeral profession think Halloween is year round or they are confused thinking they are leaving an Emit concert.  Often pale looking vampire-like with black or strangely colored hair (I can’t say much, I put white in mine to look “mature”), dark clothing with a touch of skull or other “death flair” and some even have all sorts of metal protruding from the visible parts of their body (I shudder to think what we can’t see).  Of course they most likely sport visible tattoos, but I’m not “hating” because I’m tatted myself, just not seen until I show my glorious physique in public at the beach.

Sometimes you’ll catch a glimpse of them at funeral related events, however they often lurch in the corners and shadows alone.  Most of the time you can have sightings of them slinking in the back doors of funeral homes yet upon entry rarely appear outside of the embalming room of the facility.  What are these strange and mysterious phenoms?  FUNERAL ZOMBIES (FZ)!  You know, they are part of the death groupie bunch that spends too much time with fascination in the macabre and all things death.  Artwork, jewelry, skulls, bones, caskets, graveyards, ravens and bats causes an FZ to hypnotically gravitate like a bug to a neon bug zapper on a front porch in Louisiana.

The Funeral Zombies actually create a dilemma for the funeral industry because they often portray the very persona that funeral directors don’t want to be tagged by the public…weird.  Another issue is that Funeral Zombies are enrolling in mortuary schools (gasp) to become licensed caretakers of the dead; the dream job for a FZ.  Of course, when a FZ graduates and initiates their quest to start their career, they become confused and disillusioned by the continued rejection for employment in the funeral industry.  Why?  Well, which one below do you want to make arrangements for your mother or to be your funeral product salesperson:

                                                          FD 1   or   junior

Just so I don’t get accused of being misogynistic and not providing equal time, which lady would you prefer for your mom’s arrangements or knocking on the door selling funeral stationery:

                                                        fd 6 or fd 5

Just like any other faddish and misguided group the trend is actually losing steam.  For example, the Zombie Walk in Toronto actually conducted a “funeral” for lack of funding as reported in the The Star recently.   So what happens to the Funeral Zombies when the fad wanes and in a few years, this is what they look like:

fd 7

I am going to take a wild guess, but I don’t think this one will be working the register stand at visitations.  However, I think that being a curator at the Museum of Death, a hawker at Ripley’s Odditorium in Myrtle Beach, play a role in Friday 13th Nightmare at the Mortuary, or end up entrenched/sentenced in the embalming room for life (and whatever they think comes after that) is pretty much reaching a pinnacle for a Funeral Zombie.  In any event, to all the Funeral Zombies on your special day, my heartfelt Happy Halloween to you and…BOO!  From the Command Post and through a thick cloud of Maduro cigar smoke, Cheers Y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

fd tng 2

Funeral director training can eliminate the awkward and difficult position they are placed when a family is financially challenged to pay for funeral services/products provided.  Consumers continue to struggle in our economy as depicted in the chart below that was shown just this week on MSNBC that the average middle class income is around $53,000.  So if the middle class income is this low, how about the incomes in the below middle class segment?  That group of people die too and face even greater challenges…

consumer struggle

If your funeral home has not yet had to deal with such a situation, two things come to mind.  You are blessed to be in a zip code that is financially stable or it’s just a matter of time.  Training funeral directors at our funeral homes to address the lack of funds for payment of services rendered has virtually erased the issue.  If your funeral home has a payment policy yet has accounts receivable in the “book of promises,” then your payment policy is a failure and useless.  I have been in hundreds of funeral homes and I have seen “payment policies” in arrangement rooms in frames on the walls, in frames on tables and even on GPL’s with those firms having quite a bit of money owed to them.

Part of our consistent TouchPoints training provides our funeral directors with tools and scenarios to address money issues with families.  By doing so, funeral directors have the confidence and complete understanding of all the tools available to solve any financial situation.  For instance, when a family states “we don’t have much money,” the proper trained response is “how much is not much money?”  By engaging in this conversation, the funeral director has a dialogue with the family that bridges their particular financial situation with their expectations of services/products.  Once this conversation takes place, then the funeral director has the ability to match offerings with the family’s budget.  By not having such dialogue early in the arrangement session and training how to breach such a sensitive subject without making the family even worse about their situation, training is a must.

Just for a moment, think about this: When a family loses a loved one, at the top of their mind is their loss.  If the loss is coupled with financial issues regarding payment for services/products rendered, shouldn’t that burden be addressed pretty quickly?  How many times in your funeral director career have you made complete arrangements including services and product selections, maybe even contacted clergy before presenting the final goods/services statement?  When the family is provided and realizes the total amount due, all of a sudden it’s “cigarette and bathroom break time.” Upon their return from break, the financial issues are put on the table which may result in completely changing what has been already painstakingly planned. Basically, because financially issues were not addressed earlier, now the family and the funeral director have to hit the “re-do button” which in my not so humble opinion, is poor service.

Want to know more about providing meaningful and consistent training for funeral directors? Contact stevez@g2funeralgroup.com and have a chat with him about the training programs available. After all, as I have said many times: even professional baseball players take batting practice before every game, how is your funeral home training?  From the Command Post and a thick fog of cigar smoke, Cheers y’all.  See you in Indy for NFDA   #thefuneralcommander

doc n a box

Recently we’ve been made privy to reports from NFDA (2015 Member General Price List Survey) and CANA (Cremation Rate Doubles in 15 Years & Correlation Between Cremation/No Religious Affiliation.  These reports provide excellent data of where we came from, where we are now, and initiates further need to focus on where we are going to meet the demands of consumers in the future.  In fact, Ryan and I discussed these topics at the top of Episode #2 of Funeral Nation which will air Tuesday October 13th.

I have been a proponent of continuous improvement of our funeral service brands from training, technology, services/products provided to the physical environment of where we operate.  This focus in my not so humble opinion is how we will both survive and thrive in the years to come as funeral service providers.  As I was watching this morning’s news, a medical segment was profiling an online or “virtual doctor visit.”

The online consultation is provided by a licensed physician or nurse practitioner though a webcam for personalized treatment.  When necessary, the professionals can submit an e-perception for pick up at a local pharmacy.  Online consultation is for the convenience of the patient and according to this particular story; patients are moving this direction in droves.  Convenience? Eliminating the hassles of scheduling an appointment during “normal clinic hours,” long waits at the ER or urgent care,  and the costs associated with a doctor visit, etc.  This new service allows the patient to remain in their comfortable surroundings and receive consultation; any guesses of what’s in the next paragraph?

As I write at this very moment I can see “we’ve always done it that way” (aka WADITW) smirking and thinking “that’s terrible service and unprofessional.”  Is it?  Similar service is being provided now across the country by savvy funeral directors that are in the quest of continuous improvement.  Yep, total online offerings with the consumer never leaving their comfortable surroundings and the cremated remains delivered to their front door.  Ole WADITW is smirking once again thinking “well, they can’t get a burial done that way and my families would never go for this.”   Yeah, you’re right Sparky.  But make sure and read the before mentioned reports above and maybe conduct some consumer research.  Remember when we heard “nobody will use a dang card instead of writing a check and I need a travel agent?”  Cremation is rising like the Pillsbury Dough Boy’s brother in a 400 degree oven!

As usual, my mission is provide fodder for thought by funeral professionals to consider and discuss.  If you don’t like the message or challenge for continuous improvement, then how about this provocative question: matching suits and ties or not?  From the Command Post and a thick fog of cigar smoke, Cheers Y’all!  #thefuneralcommander #funeralnationtv

change positions

Funeral directors meet with families during a time which most agree is very difficult.  Arranging the funeral of a loved one is stressful and often the necessary decisions made are clouded by varying emotions as well as grief.  Part of the regular funeral director training provided at our funeral homes for arrangements include role play; our funeral directors plan the funeral of their closest loved one in detail.

The role a funeral director performs is to provide information so the family can make educated decisions.  Without ever “wearing the shoes of the next of kin” the anguish is only observed and not experienced.  I have personally been part of this training and I can attest how emotional the process may be, even in a training environment.

I have conducted funeral home training on this subject and the results were enlightening.  One of the interesting scenarios created was that the deceased loved one had not pre-planned with a trust, had no life insurance and the expenses must be paid out of the role playing funeral directors personal resources.  As you read this, put yourself in that position; it’s up to you to pay for everything you select for services and products right now out of pocket.  Ask yourself; what would that do to my current personal financial status?  Having this thought in mind, would you buy the best of everything?  What would your choices be if you we financially responsible for the goods and services selected today?

When meeting with families, it’s natural to wonder why sometimes the decisions made seem to be other than what is customary or expected.  On top of financial stress, family dynamics enter the picture sometimes.  Just like many of you, I have personally witnessed strained funeral arrangements with a bad cocktail of financial woes and family discourse.

Finally, I know many funeral industry professionals that experienced unexpected loss of their spouse, child and parent.  After talking with some, their perspective of wearing the shoes of the people they normally serve changed.  If you are a funeral professional and lost a loved one, you know the angst.  Otherwise, think about conducting funeral director training for arrangers and changing shoes with those you normally guide; it may have lasting impact.

Funeral News! Ryan and I recorded our inaugural Funeral Nation TV web cast show that will be aired October 6th…I am certain you’ll enjoy the FN show! From the desk of The Funeral Commander, Cheers Y’all.  #thefuneralcommander #funeralnationtv

At Need Credit SMALL logo

Just last week, the HelpCard sent notice to their funeral home customers that they are no longer providing credit for funeral consumers.  I have written many posts (At Need Payment PlansWho Pays Funeral CostsSecret Sauce) concerning the growing problem of funeral professionals face collecting funds for their goods and services from consumers that have limited life insurance (or none), cash or credit card balances.  At Need Credit is accepting inquiries from HelpCard funeral home customers to provide funeral payment plans.

At Need Credit offers 3 tiers of payment plans to funeral consumers ranging from excellent to poor credit ratings with no recourse to the funeral home. As a note, Danial O’Connor of At Need Credit will be a guest for interview on the October 6th Funeral Nation web show (stay tuned for details of how to view the show).  The problem of consumers having difficulty paying for funeral expenses is not going away and companies offering payment plans/credit to those with mediocre to poor credit is diminishing.  For inquiry, visit http://atneedcredit.com/ for details.  From the desk of The Funeral Commander, cheers y’all!  #thefuneralcommander #funeralnation #funeralnews

Sep 25

How is your funeral home “pre-planning?”  Death is inevitable but so are shifts in the funeral marketplace, consumer behavior, the economy, and so on.  Pre-planning for funerals is a tenant of the funeral industry which millions of dollars are spent to compel consumers to make choices prior to their own demise.  I am totally on board for all efforts to propagate funeral pre-planning for a myriad of reasons like easing the burden from those left behind, making personal choices and it most cases it makes good financial sense for the consumer as well as the funeral home.

As a matter of fact, take a look at what consumers are finding in the market place for planning. The conversation and topic is widespread for individuals to get their “affairs” in order.  End of life planning companies like Everplans.com are providing planning platforms offering a vast array of services and advice from wills, trusts, closing online accounts to final wish funeral preferences.

So as an industry if we believe that pre-planning is so important, how are we pre-planning for the future at our funeral homes?  Take a look in the employee break room (some places known as “the bull pen”) or where the work schedule is regularly posted.  Is there a schedule for training anywhere to be found?  Not CEU’s that frankly don’t have impact for maintaining or enhancing funeral directing professional skills (which based on the news reported by the Star Press in Indiana 30 Hoosier Funeral Directors Cited would have been a good idea). Planning for regular, intentional and relevant training should be on every planning calendar in every funeral home.

How about pre-planning for marketing?  This Social Media thing requires more effort and thought than placing obits on Facebook pages (and as note, LinkedIn is NOT the medium for such).  A recent article written by Ryan Thogmartin of FuneralSocial.com  posted on funeralOne’s blog Do’s and Don’ts-Future of Facebook Obits should be a training session in itself.  A well placed plan for posts, topics and editorial not only on Facebook but also funeral home blogs provide returns to the funeral home with positive exposure.  Does your funeral home have a media manager that schedules and plans for messaging/content?  My favorite mediums (yes, I’m being sarcastic) of the paper place mat ads in the diner or calendars don’t usually provide much planning effort, so it’s time to GET SOCIAL!

We all know it’s that time of year; price increases by casket companies which means the majority of funeral home owners change their price lists to reflect and offset rising costs.  Of course, I have much to say on this subject, however for this post I’ll limit the observation to why only now?  Why only once a year?  What type of formula is used by your firm to calculate pricing? It’s all about planning.

Succession planning is a topic that should be put into place at every funeral home, it’s like having a will for the business.  What would happen if the owner gets hit by a bus?  Who takes over and more importantly, who is capable of replacement?  By the way, some owners would answer this question with: “no one could step into my shoes, this place would fall apart without me.”  What type of training is being provided for such an event?  I have personally witnessed and know of funeral home owners making attempt to sell their business and retire only to be abruptly stopped come business valuation time.  A rude awakening comes when dreams collide with reality.  Our industry has professionals such as Succession Planning Associates for such advice.

The point of this post: are we as an industry practicing what we preach?  What type of planning does your firm conduct, how often and what are the benefits being reaped from this ever-changing business?  As we all know, life can change pretty quickly (or at least that’s what we tell consumers), what’s your plan?  Speaking of planning, stay tuned for details about the best FN news and commentary show in the funeral industry:

funeral nation_logo (3)

From the desk of The Funeral Commander, cheers y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

Nope

I don’t think there is a single funeral director, funeral home owner or cremation provider in the funeral industry that doesn’t know that the death rate in the foreseeable future is going to steadily increase due to the Baby Boomers moving on the the permanent Villages in the sky.  Funeral industry pundits, soothsayers and oracles are continually propagating the “Boomer Boom” which will place all on solid footing and growth.

Visions of funerals that “reflect the life lived” with cocktail parties, receptions, doves, fly bye’s, movies, and theaters full of mourners wondering how they can “one up” such send off when their time comes dance in the heads like kids on Christmas eve.  If I had sound to enter this written prose, this is where I would place the screech of nails on a chalk board (I bet some of you hear it and reacting as you read this) to get your attention.

The Baby Boom has potential for Bust for many funeral homes.  WHAT?  Captain, you are such an idiot because we are showing more value and charging more…how could we possibly go wrong?  Take a look at the article posted in My Budget 360 regarding the financial posture of the pending retirement of Boomers.  Couple this information with the financial heath of the Boomer’s Offspring and the visions before mentioned reflecting the life lived are for $695 cremation, a box of Bojangles chicken and a Dollar Tree balloon released “in honor of” because “that’s what they would have wanted” are more realistic.

We are entering the convention season which includes seminars and CEU credit classes.  Just for your own observation and edification, take a look at the fall sessions and see if you can find “Strategies to Serve Broke Baby Boomers and Their Families.”  The seminar would not as flashy, hopeful or sexy as the talk of a lifetime, but it’s worth discussing.  From the desk of The Funeral Commander, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

dont forget

Do you remember where you were on 9/11/2001 when we were attacked on our own soil and 2977 innocent people lost their lives by terrorists?  I was traveling to Hertford NC from Greenville NC for a business meeting and I was listening to the radio in my car as the news broke that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center in New York City.  My first thoughts was about my mother in law, as at the time she was a flight attendant. Immediately I called to check on her well being and she said she was watching the tragedy unfold on television.

I stopped at a hotel and went into the lobby where I watched the plane fly into the second tower.  Speculation moved from accident to obviously a more nefarious act before our eyes.  As time inched forward, the news of a plane flying into the Pentagon and a crash was reported in rural Pennsylvania was reported.  I remember the sickening feeling watching people leaping from the buildings and brave rescue attempts…then the buildings came down.

Our country, way of life and beliefs were under attack.  As one that had looked into the eyes of those that wanted to kill Americans in Operation Desert Storm, my first instinct and thoughts were to defend against an enemy which had no thoughts of killing our people in an unprovoked attack. As the day continued and information flowed from various sources, my resolve for innate Patriotism intensified.

I returned home to my wife and sons knowing that we would never be the same, the uncertainty of not knowing what we would face from this moment in time.  At some point during the late afternoon, I went to my mailbox and there it was; my official letter of 20 years credible service as a soldier…I’m now retired.  From November 1980 to November of 2000,  I fulfilled my oath of office to protect and defend the United States of America.  But on that day, there would be no reporting for duty or deployment to fight a battle.

Do you remember how our Country came together in prayer, anger and united with a sense of protecting each other?  What’s happened to us? Why have we lost our way and resolve?  On this day, I believe we should take a step back and remember all the Americans that lost their lives that day; the innocent and the brave people that responded to the call of something bigger than themselves.  Take a moment and reflect, watch this video by Toby Keith to remember:

From the desk of The Funeral Commander; May God continue to bless America…don’t forget! #thefuneralcommander

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