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Monthly Archives: May 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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