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Monthly Archives: August 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apples and satsumasMy personal mantra “a vision is only a dream without execution” is impossible without a team.  As an entrepreneur, my most important realization is I’m unable to execute without being surrounded by people that have talents beyond my capability. Finding competent expertise in areas necessary to the success of the initiative is essential, however, the ability to cast the vision or “plant the seed” effectively to a team is crucial.

A critical component of building a new business today is melding technology with the process needs of the company along with making the customer experience simple and easy.  When the “customer” is a funeral director, this is especially true.  Along with being a funeral home partner/owner, my experience over the past several years of B2B development, operations and sales of funeral related services/products has taught me this lesson.

I am blessed with a team of seasoned Funeral Directors, Scientists, Educators, Technology, Financial, Sales and Marketing Professionals that cohesively share a common desire to deliver products/services that are huge “gaps” in consumer need/demand in the funeral industry.  Additionally, at the forefront of all decisions is “how can we make this better for the funeral director to serve their families?”  Each individual entity performs it’s tasks and provides other team members relevant input that may have impact on their particular area of responsibility.  As a team we measure our success by our customers providing our services/products to the families they serve and the feed back from both funeral directors along with the end user, the funeral consumer.  Our team is literally executing visions and we are witnessing the fruit being produced from seeds planted in the past.

Communicating a vision for team execution is not exclusive to entrepreneurs building new businesses.  The same processes exist while operating a funeral home.  Each new family, each new service is technically a new business…unique; just like the life lived, the family grieving, the services selected and provided.  What vision is your funeral home team executing?  Share with us the fruit being produced from seeds planted in the past. Cheers Y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

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

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

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

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

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

When considering these facts, basically a funeral director is offering the “last chance” for a family to collect and bank their deceased loved ones DNA.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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