Truth Discussion: Part III

Innovation word cloud glowing

Why are new ideas so difficult to introduce in the funeral industry?  The historic level of success for introduction, adoption and broad acceptance is low, at best.  I’ve been around this market now for several years and have witnessed products, services and vendors come and go.  At nearly every convention and expo, bright eyed newcomers rent booth space for display just knowing they will capture the hearts and minds of those that will share their ideas with the families they serve.  The truth is, most fail.

One factor for low success is that most of the “new idea” people are from outside the industry.  Consumer research may indicate opportunity will abound for success; however the stark reality becomes evident once launched.  Standing in the booth hoping funeral directors and perspective buyers will show interest by taking time for the new exhibitor to share their ideas becomes a lonely and expensive lesson.  Often if a cool and free giveaway is available, traffic will be akin to Halloween with open bags to take the trinket, but no real interest otherwise.  A fishbowl full of business cards may provide a glimmer of follow up hope with the vendor measuring success by all the “contacts” made, but the reality is few will ever respond. Speaking of business cards, it’s hilarious to me how may attendees “forget” their cards and if one is in their possession, how many have no email address.  I would venture to guess if these same folks were at a local church picnic, bake sale, pig picking, Friday night out at the diner or other “major marketing” event they would be handing out cards like methadone at a drug clinic.

Most of the naysayers including those that fill their goodie bags with “free stuff” along with the non-card carrying bunch have never created anything in their life other than a checking account for their check to be deposited.  Thus not having any idea or appreciation for the difficulty bringing a product/service/idea to market.  These same smug and often borderline rude people are the barrier between funeral consumers and innovation in the industry, however their stranglehold is weakening.  I recently saw a great commercial from Go Daddy (which I use) that reminds me of this crowd…named the Doubters:

Unfortunately the “new idea” people are often ill prepared to launch for several reasons.  The product/service has not been proven or beta tested in actual arrangement sessions.  This is an important factor because without data and feedback from the presenter (funeral director) to the consumers they are meeting, it’s impossible to gauge consumer acceptance.  Many new vendors haven’t a clue the intricate nuances that take place during an at-need arrangement session, nor are most directors willing to introduce something new outside their normal routine. Therefore, price points, presentation materials and the sales process are not vetted which is an uphill climb to any market penetration.  I wrote a post Funeral Industry Entrepreneur? relative to starting something new in the funeral industry; it’ not for the faint at heart.

Another factor is need…what does the funeral industry really need? Frankly there is over capacity of urns, caskets, vaults, fluids, funeral coaches, paper goods, pre-need offerings, life insurance factoring, and such.  Generally the same vendors are offering “new and improved” of the same stuff year after year.  The relationships developed between suppliers and customers usually remain firmly entrenched.  For funeral homes to make a change from one supplier to another usually takes place primarily because of finances; don’t kid yourself, it’s all about the money. The well funded deep pocketed suppliers will go to great financial lengths to retain or attract new business from a limited field of buyers which often squeezes out the “newbies” and smaller competitors (yep, I have seen HUGE discounts and rebates climbing over 40%).  Many of the “big boys” are rearranging the chairs on their own Titanic due to the shifting consumer, increase of cremation, decrease of burials and their own lack of innovation.  However, changing suppliers or adding new products/services also takes effort on the buyer side which deters many due to the sheer upheaval and operations of the “we have always done it that way” crowd.  Even if “new or different” costs less, easier to use, provides better service, or fills a needed gap, the resistance to change generally rules.

What if the approach to launching new funeral related products and services changed?  I think (I haven’t conducted much research on this) there are more living people at this very moment than those that are arriving at funeral homes.  Huh?  What if vendors/suppliers reach consumers prior to arriving at the funeral home creating demand for their particular product/service?  Basically consumers walking into funeral homes asking for the product/service by name…would this conduct change the market?  Of course, I can almost hear (even with some great Spotify tunes blaring on my speakers) “well, I don’t carry or do that, so you will have to choose from what I have to offer” from the before-mentioned “we’ve always done it this way” crowd.

The advent of Social Media has created a tremendous path to reaching and educating consumers about new services or products.  FTC Funeral Rule actually stands in the consumers’ corner regarding their choices.  Now this could create quite a quandary let alone great headlines for marketing of such products or services.  So, you don’t think this is possible?  Take some time to read about Invisalign and their launch into the dental market.  Early adopters enjoyed success and competitive advantage for their new service/product innovation. The push-pull strategy has not been attempted in the funeral service industry…

But don’t fret!  The Funeral Commander is developing a 5 Paragraph Operations Order that will have many scratching their heads and others proclaiming “well, I’ll be damned.”  The truth is, there are other avenues of approach to effect change.  For the early adopters, forward thinkers and those with the capacity to adapt for change, we have quite a great ride ahead.  For the others, please don’t change, really we need you! From the thick smoke of a great cigar at The Funeral Commanders desk, Cheers Y’all!  #thefuneralcommander #dnamemorial

  1. I have often defined funeral service as “165 years of tradition, unaffected by progress”. If the doubters read your stuff, they wouldn’t like you. Fortunately, they don’t and don not know who you are…yet. I can smell the fragrant cigar smoke from here.


  2. cougar said:

    And don’t thank me for reading your post. I won’t be doing that any longer.


  3. Steve Zittle said:

    As a funeral director, I have been very surprised at certain urns that sell well, and others that do not. This should prove that we know what WE like, but we can’t always predict consumer behavior. I agree that sometimes, funeral directors are the biggest obstacle in the way of true innovation in our industry. So, knowing the plethora of options available to us, how DO we pick the products/services to offer our families?


  4. Jeff Harbeson said:

    My friend, trust me some doubters read this and the DO NOT LIKE IT…but, I have yet to have one of them send me a check. Let’s connect soon and share a cigar sit down. Cheers.


  5. Hey, wait a minute, I was going to peddle my BONZ Barb BQ Sauce at the Indy NFDA conference. I should be OK I think because all FD’S need BONZ to keep the doors open right?…and the families need BONZ to celebrate all life..and to top it off, I AM PREPARED…do you think I would fail being an outsider? hehe. Seriously, great article. Positioning is EVERYTHING in a saturated market…whatever that is. Do you know how many BBQ Sauces there are in the world…Wow!! Also knowing the community, and asking the question to everyBODY …”What do YOU want?” and by listening carefully, will inform the objective director what they need to make available to their families. Remember the consumer is starting to shop now before they contact the funeral home. Many may be bringing products they bought on EBAY for use in the service. Kuddos to the new start up companies for having a vision and going for it. Although some crash and burn, they do have the burden of proof that their concept makes sense for the general public. Otherwise, the public image of ultimately the funeral home may suffer. After all, (the director is hopefully articulating a vision that makes people passionate and shows value about the options available) they are presenting the bill. In general, expositions/trade shows set the stage for vendors to collect contact 411 from the attendees. What they do with that contact 411 when they get back to the shop will decide whether or not participating in the show was worth it. Gotta “work those leads” they say… Cultivating good business relationships is what wins the day…oh and incentives help too. Keepm’ coming Jeff! Peace.


  6. Jeff Harbeson said:

    We love your BONZ Julie! Indy will be licking their fingers!


  7. I could not help but smile reading your article. I have been with GWIC for 27 years and have seen the funeral industry change ever so slowly. It’s a struggle when it comes to trade shows because you know the benefit will not be great; however, if you are not in attendance, your clients and competitors either wonder if your company is trouble and competitors like to use it as an advantage to make sure your client recognizes your absence. Very rarely are the decision makers there, and the give-a-ways are typically taken by the children of the attendees. I have found it nice to catch up with people with whom I have not seen in a while, but seriously the cost of displaying is ridiculous for the amount of new business you do not get. Let’s face it; society is more educated than ever before and being a pre-need provider my experience is a funeral home is not usually compelled to make a change unless something is terribly wrong. Unfortunately, often times there are certain aspects of products they are using that are terribly wrong in which I would like to point out, but nobody likes to know that they have missed something. However insurance products are easy to hide certain provisions and it’s not up to the funeral home owner to be an expert. It’s about earning trust – attending a trade show does not provide that trust.


  8. Jeff Harbeson said:

    Thank you for reading and commenting Shelly. You certainly have experience and perspective!


  9. Jeff, I love new perspectives. I have been on both sides of the supplier/funeral director trade show experience for the better part of my life. As a supplier, I say – bless the new ideas as they are thrown into the sea of the “good ole boy” network and it is hard to break in for sure. Trade shows are so tough because you have a short time to get your message out there – like 15 seconds if you are lucky and there is so much competition for the attention of the attendees. The funeral industry needs new ideas like a fire needs water and we do really want to hear them, but…

    As a funeral director, I can truly say that the unique attitude of the funeral director may appear rude. However, I would invite all folks with new ideas to consider their audience: a set of passionate, hard working, caring individuals who literally live their lives from one tragedy to another. Because funeral director’s can’t make a reasonable work schedule nor can most of them ever really count on a good nights sleep, they tend to be excited about new ideas. That is until they get four death calls of which one is their old school buddy’s 10 year old who died of cancer. They are emotionally wrecked by the time the child’s funeral is done and have trouble remembering in their sleepy state what that new idea was that they were so excited about. They read about the new idea on their phone at 2 am while waiting on their partner to go on a death call – their 4th grade teacher.

    Long live new ideas and the brave souls who desire to bring them to funeral directors who need new tools to serve their families and touch the lives of the hurting.


  10. Jeff Harbeson said:


    I know exactly the sentiment and emotional scenarios you are expressing. At our funeral home, I have been subject to being awakened at all hours and assisting people at what may seem the worst of their days…when we are personally involved, we share the anguish. I experienced such with a friend of one of my sons that was tragically killed in an auto accident. I get it…but we still need to seek continuous improvement, no matter the profession, but especially in a service business.


  11. Thanks for your article. I Couldn’t help but smile as I read it. I exhibited at my first funeral expo a few months ago. Whilst I considered it to be rather successful in launching my product and branding to the market, I have also realised that it’s not an easy market to get into. Building relationships (consistently) is definately a key and also trying different marketing styles to find the most effective angle. Whilst testing the market from the inside prior to exhibiting would have been very helpful, unfortunately it’s not the most practical option to implement. Asking the families through public avenues what they would choose… A winning option. Now just to expand the responses from the funeral directors from “we don’t stock that, but you can have this” to “no problem, if you would like that, I’ll organise it for you!” After all, isn’t a new product expanding the services they can offer to families? Thankfully I was always taught, if at first you don’t succeed , try try again’ ! 🙂


  12. Jeff Harbeson said:

    Bravo and congrats on your launch of Cami-Bear! I will be traveling your way soon, we need to connect. Jeff


  13. Thank you Jeff, I’m encouraged. Look forward to meeting you


  14. We enjoyed the article Jeff. Having been a supplier to the funeral industry in Australia for some 20 years, we have faced many challenges. It takes a long time to build credibility and prove that you are going to be there to serve families into the future. Your article points out many of the same obstacles facing new suppliers within Australia and we have seen a lot of suppliers come and go.

    Utilising the internet to showcase some of our range has proven beneficial for us, with families then approaching funeral homes for our products (in some cases, funeral homes that showed no interest in our products when we first approached them, but who have now become our clients).


  15. Jeff Harbeson said:

    Thank you for reading and your comments! My intent was to share difficulty, however the tide of change is occurring much due to social media and different avenues of approach. Your products at Final Touch look fantastic…let’s keep in touch! Jeff


  16. Jeff brilliant article. I love to read your blog any chance I get. I am experiencing that as we speak. Funeral directors dont like change. And I think sometimes that becomes their downfall. Where I am so many small family owned homes are being brought out by corporate companies. I think that if they open their minds just a little the possibilities are endless. If not, cremation will continue to drown the industry.


  17. Jeff Harbeson said:

    Thank you Keristan…I appreciate you reading and taking time to comment. I differ with you regarding cremation drowning the industry…I see it as an opportunity for those funeral directors that will become creative with their offerings and services. #thefuneralcommander


  18. Great read. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Jeff!


  19. In Australia, cremation is around 70%. Funeral directors here have always embraced cremation and provided full services just as if a burial was taking place. Families really appreciate it. So, I’m with you Jeff, it is an opportunity for the US. In particular it is an opportunity for the funeral directors to continue to assist and guide families in their grieving process as they have always done. Choosing cremation does not make someone’s loss any less.


  20. Here in Harford county we only have 2 funeral homes that offer cremation. From what I’ve am seeing and experiencing families are choosing that route more often these days. The family owned homes in my opinion from speaking to them do traditional services for families that have been using that home for years to bury loved ones. But I do respect you guys opinions as well. Thanks for the replies. 🙂


  21. Jeff, I couldn’t agree with you more about the need to seek continuous improvement! If you are ever interested, I would love to connect with you at some future time – our goal in life right now is to provide technology and ideas to help improve the offerings of funeral homes.


  22. Jeff Harbeson said:

    I would enjoy chatting with you…please email me a and let’s select a date/time. Cheers, Jeff


  23. Jeff Harbeson said:

    funny you can’t identify yourself…”a real”…lmao, but I already know! Cheers.


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