Monthly Archives: November 2013

Why be efficient at something that does not need to be done in the first place?  The answer is often: “we have always done it that way.”  At the beginning of my funeral service career, I used to work with funeral home owners on their product displays, how to present the products, merchandising, etc.  Beyond that, I had absolutely no experience of funeral home operations, processes and costs.   I often posed a question; “if a family did not buy a casket or vault, how much profit would you net from services alone?”  The reason I wanted to know was if there was a deficit, then the pricing of the casket and vault needed to be proportionate to the profit margin of services (or lack thereof).

Most of the time, I received a benign answer which meant that the person I asked the question did not know.  Along that same line of questioning I would ask “how much does an embalming or a cremation actually cost?”  When I asked “if you charge $450 for embalming and the cost to open and close a grave is $700, are you shortchanging your firm?  Embalming can only be conducted by an educated and trained professional in regulated conditions, yet someone with a backhoe on a tractor gets paid more for their services.”  I often got the response “well, we’ve just always done it that way…”

Alan Creedy ( wrote a fantastic piece recently and referenced declining profits.  By taking your total funeral home revenue (minus cash advances) and divide that number by your total number of calls over a three year span, comparing year over year, Alan would bet that the overall average revenue per call has declined.

This is the time of year when many funeral homes update their GPL’s and product pricing.  Does your firm perform the serious work of evaluating every aspect of operations, overheads, cost of goods to retail price, and revenue generated per director, etc?  If you use Alan’s suggestion, conduct realistic evaluations and compare, the exercise should reveal the necessary changes that need to be made for profitability and viability of your business.  Then the real hard work begins of implementation, training staff and measuring the results.  Now as a funeral home owner/partner, I can’t fathom any other way doing business.

Or, does your firm just take a look at how much a vendor raised their wholesale prices and raise the price (just a little) of a few services offered on your GPL?  Of course not adding too much because it’s not about what you need to charge and additional revenue needed, it’s more about what the other firm charges. Then you can be proud and say “we’ve always done it that way.”  Please share what your firm is doing do stay on top…

Happy Thanksgiving!


On any given day you can find someone wearing a pair of running shoes.  I suppose that I would like to clarify that since the athletic shoe market is so broad and specialized, the shoes I am describing are those that are manufactured for the wearer to actually use them to run (exercise).

My thoughts are how many people actually use the running shoes for their manufactured purpose?  There are those that wear running shoes as a fashion statement; although I personally think by doing so the wearer has no sense fashion whatsoever, especially if worn with jeans.  There are those that wear running shoes because they are comfortable.  Of course, but the shoes were made to be comfortable while actually running.  What I find hilarious is many that wear running shoes in both these categories can’t or don’t run anywhere.

The analogy I want to share from my point of view is about our professional life.  There are many that put on their “professional shoes” to just be fashionable.  Basically, this person always looks the part, but frankly is just window dressing…never contributing other than showing up, much less creating something or actually leading others in their field.  However, the fashionable wearers are usually the first ones in line seeking advancement or praise.  Then we have the people who wear their “professional shoes” for comfort.  This person just goes through the motions, doing the minimum to get by, often complaining about the fashionable ones, but never stepping up for their “intended use.”

Finally, there are those that wear their “professional shoes” for the intended use…actual “professionally working out,” doing what fashionable and comfort could not fathom accomplishing.  Similar to the general populace, the funeral industry profession has “fashionable, comfort and intended use” wearers.  So take a minute to look down at your shoes, or in your closet; and use the analogy to self identify your type of shoes…do you wear your “funeral professional shoes” for fashion, comfort or intended use?


I am continuing a blog I wrote earlier this week on the subject matter of stepping out from a comfort zone and into a space where innovation is created.  The intent of the written thoughts are to generate discussion about others that have “stepped out” in the funeral industry to innovate, and explore the results of their efforts.  There has been good feedback about this topic and I solicit your thoughts.

Refreshing the point, I am blessed to travel extensively and meet many funeral industry professionals, both licensed and not.  A definition of innovate is “improve something with a new idea or procedure, or produce a product using a new or better way.”  This actually defines G2 Funeral Group and their truly innovative brand of funeral service utilizing a proprietary operating platform.

G2 Funeral Group developed, owns and manages the Family Choice Funerals & Cremations brand of funeral homes . What’s unique about Family Choice is the brand was created from scratch utilizing Lean/Six Sigma principles for every aspect of its operations, named TouchPoints.  Family Choice opened its first location January 2010 in Roanoke Virginia and it’s second in Virginia Beach May of 2010.  The distance between the two locations is 4 hours…purposely to prove the TouchPoints operating platform. Serving over 280 families a year, the brand has gained consumer acceptance, recognition and loyalty in a very short time period.

Unequivocally, one of the best franchises in the United States is Chic-Fil-A.  Their operating platform, training and culture, the service and product is the same from each location…always ending with “my pleasure.”  So why do funeral homes with multiple locations under the same name/brand have such operational differences from each location?  If a large firm has multiple funeral directors, why is there such a disparity of outcome in arrangements?

G2 has perfected the process with TouchPoints by each location functioning operationally the same making management simpler, training as a daily part of the culture, the proprietary arrangements provide that every family receives the same information, and that the entire process can be duplicated…anywhere.  The Family Choice brand is now working with funeral homes that want to expand in their own or other markets in a quasi “franchise” type operational agreement, with the first new location opening in early 2014.


“Life Begins at the End of Your Comfort Zone”~Neale Donald Walsch.  This quote recently caused me to ponder where exactly my professional comfort zone boundaries are, and what would happen if I ventured out beyond those limits.  More importantly, if I’m outside my “space of comfort”, what could I accomplish versus staying inside the “safe zone.”  Is outside the comfort zone the place where creativity, ideas and true innovation are born?

We don’t have to look far to find a long list of success stories and examples of people who ventured out of perceived comfort zones; Richard Branson, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Christopher Columbus, The Wright Brothers, etc.  These people and countless others didn’t jump off the deep end, take blind risks or ridiculous gambles just for the sake of being different.  They made calculated decisions knowing that failure, ridicule and continuous adjustments were part of the process to create their vision.  But the common thread among successful entrepreneurs is their passionate belief of possible, when others just see impossible.

In the funeral industry, moving beyond the predictable routines that we are accustomed is not exactly commonplace…basically we are generally slow to change, much less accept and adopt something new.  I saw a definition of innovate;improve something with a new idea or procedure; or produce a product using a new and better way.”  So, with this definition in mind, what is innovative in our industry?  I am blessed to be in position to travel, meet and be exposed to some really interesting funeral professionals.  Some are licensed funeral directors and some are not, but the commonality is they all have a vision of making our industry better.

So in the next few weeks through this blog I would like to share some of the people, products and ideas that I think are fantastic.  Most interestingly, none were showcased or even had a booth at the recent NFDA Convention in Austin.  However in my opinion, we’ll be seeing more of them in the near future…these are people with passion who stepped out of their comfort zone to innovate (see the definition above) in the funeral industry.

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting with Mike Squires, CFSP, Funeral Director and Editor of Southern Calls (, a new funeral industry magazine.  The editorial content of Southern Calls embraces the rich heritage of funeral service in the South featuring compelling stories and striking pictorial content of the region’s People, Places and Passions. What makes Southern Calls more unique beyond the beautiful photos, well written stories, and the obvious well-developed publication, is passion. Mike’s passion for our profession bleeds through each page and in colorful display for the world to see.  Southern Calls is innovative, a Garden & Gun for the funeral industry…visit their website, take a look, and get a copy.  You’ll be glad you did.

Southern Calls

On the eve of the 11th day of the 11th month which we celebrate the service of our Veterans, I want to provide a few personal thoughts.  We get caught up with our daily lives and what matters most to us personally, rarely thinking of the freedoms provided to us by the sacrifice of others.  Generations of Veterans have created the life we as Americans enjoy, but rarely do we give thanks for what we most take for granted.

I am one of those guys that will call someone out at an event where the National Anthem is played; talking through the song, not removing their hat, or otherwise have a total disregard for the reverence of the gratitude they owe to our Country.  One can read history and understand that we really are not in tough times…all of this freedom today just did not happen.  Just think if we were in the middle of World War II and our citizens were told they have to sacrifce…get drafted to fight, work in factories to support, or rationed basic necessities.  How about during the darkest time of our history…the Civil War?  Do you really think things are tough today?  We are raising a generation that has never known a really bad day…yes, they may not have received a ribbon for 6th place at a sporting event or they received a totally unfair grade from a teacher that “just doesn’t get it.”  What if we had to tell our under 40 group and their kids that the pair of shoes they are wearing will be it for this year, there is a war going on…

So when you see a Veteran wearing his medals or saluting the flag at a ceremony, offer your gratitude.  Veterans gave something bigger than themselves; a willingness to die for their Country.  I am blessed to come from a family with generations of Veterans including my father and my son that is currently serving.

I offer my personal salute to those Veterans that served before, alongside, and after me.  Remember, freedom isn’t free.

2Lt. Jeff Harbeson, 1984

2Lt. Jeff Harbeson, 1984

On a daily basis, I work with funeral home owners and managers to review their cash flow, revenue recovery and accounts receivable.  I always ask them to conduct a review of the last six months goods and services statements, and compare their GPL price to what was actually paid for and collected for each case category:

  1. Pre-Need: For every case, what is the current GPL price for goods and services rendered compared with the contract payment? (no cash advances)
  2. Life Insurance:  For every life insurance case, what is the current GPL price for goods and services rendered compared with the payment from life insurance proceeds? (no cash advances)
  3. Credit Card, Check, Cash (a combination of, and NO life insurance):  For every case that payment was made with credit card, check, or cash and no life insurance; what is the current GPL price for goods and services rendered compared with the payment collected? (no cash advances)?

When this particular review is conducted, in most cases, the owner gets an eye opener of how much revenue is not collected.  I have personally seen hundreds of thousands of dollars in discounts which are categorized as “family appreciation, veteran, special needs, charity, pre-need, etc.”  There are a myriad of reasons for discounts; from competitive (match the other firm), actual need, the family only having $X, to “friends, church, etc.”  I am not advocating nor suggesting there is not a place for such in our business.  The point here is for owners and managers to know the exact the amount of those dollars that are not being recovered.

As a funeral home owner or manager paying attention to the rise of cremation,  rise of cost of goods,  rise in cost of overhead operating expenses and competition for the customer the question should beg to be asked: Is our firm recovering the maximum amount of revenue per call necessary to not only stay financially stable, but to grow?


Its football season…and football is played with energy and passion.  Coaches lead their teams by motivating and encouraging their player’s that every snap is an opportunity to change the outcome of the game.  As legendary head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant said: “It’s not the will to win that matters—everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.” So do you have a head coach at your funeral home preparing your team to win?

The head coach at a funeral home should be the leader that demands excellence and leads by example. The head coach provides his funeral home team with relevant training, coaching new techniques or initiatives, and holds the team accountable to established standards. With a constant focus seeking improvement, the head coach motivates his team to perform beyond their normal capabilities…to leave nothing on the field.  A current example of a great head coach is at the University of Alabama, Nick Saban.  There is no doubt that his players are prepared, coached, and there is an expectation to follow the game plan…his team consistently produces positive performances.

I have seen so many football teams on the field with the players only functioning because the clock is still ticking…no enthusiasm, just going through the motions.  Their coaches on the sideline just stand by watching and do not provide motivation or the coaching necessary for better results…they too are just going through the motions.  I can only imagine what goes on at practice and game preparation; the results from the lack of such are glaring when “the lights come on.”

So which of these analogies sound familiar at your funeral home?  What type of training and coaching is being regularly conducted at your funeral home?  Are there new techniques, products or initiatives regularly introduced for better performance, profit and family satisfaction?  Is your firm’s “head coach” teaching, leading and setting the example…is your team simply going through the motions, waiting for time to pass and not making any effort for continuous improvement or is your team leaving nothing on the field?

Share your thoughts about your funeral home head coach and team performance…Image

The Census Bureau recently released data that the median income in the US remained “flat” in 2012 at $51,017.  Interestingly, in 1999 the median income was $56,080.  With the average funeral (without cash advances or cemetery charges) at $7045 (NFDA 2013), that means the cost of a funeral is almost 14% of a family’s annual income.

So if this report is correct, take a look at your 1999 GPL prices and compare to the prices that are current in your funeral home.  What is the difference between those prices then and now?  If you are serving “median” families in your community, how are you addressing their needs to honor their loved one, their financial position, and balancing the revenue necessary to keep your funeral home financially stable?

Just more questions for conversations that we should be having in our industry…please share what you are doing at your funeral home.


I came across this quote from Robert Frost recently; “the only way out is through.” We all sometimes encounter what seem to be insurmountable obstacles. While in the proverbial mire, it’s extremely difficult to focus much beyond the current situation. However, I believe that while trudging through the current obstacle, inspiration for something better is born. Inspiration comes from looking further into all angles, even those ideas that earlier that may have been deemed impossible. Taking the time to work through what seems to be improbable creates opportunity to connect the dots…in a direction that would not have revealed itself unless we were facing the obstacle. The point is not to become overburdened with the obstacle, but focus on what’s on the “other side” and the avenues of approach to get there. Success comes when we continually seek improvement and not settling for the current situation we may find ourselves, obstacle or not. So, if you’re “in”…the only way out is through. Keep going.

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