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Association Discussion; Opening A Can of Worms

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak and present a CEU session to a group of funeral professionals of a state funeral organization at their annual convention. The audience was great with excellent discussions and engagement.  What I found perplexing was there was another funeral organization, from the same state, meeting at the same time a few blocks away.  I’m going to address what appears to be obvious and initiate a conversation that may “open a can of worms.”

Why is there two organizations with common issues and needs meeting at the same time, in the same city, but separately? For that matter, why are there so many organizations that are so similar yet choose to segregate themselves?  In Virginia alone, there are 3 state funeral director organizations that all are autonomous with their own conventions/meetings, staff, memberships and money spent. With all the scrutiny that we face by the news media, consumers, governmental and regulatory agencies; is all the segregation really the best portrait of funeral directing?

It’s 2015 and on the surface, one would think, gasp…that some of the organizations are divided by race.  Okay I said it…so, now refute it.  I am also aware of local “funeral director organizations” that are actually part of state associations that will not allow certain competitive funeral homes to join. Yes, licensed funeral homes are not allowed to participate.  I personally have knowledge of firms that are refused membership. What’s your take?

Not long ago I was a vendor and working the convention schedule in a few different states.  In some cases, the dates overlapped but in all cases the money spent to register, display, stay, eat and entertain was pretty much equal.  The company I worked for began scaling back budgets for state conventions because of escalating costs, lack of ROI and dwindling need to physically display because of new technology for messaging of products or services.  But at each convention, pretty much the same vendors and programs were provided.  The differentiation was the staff running the convention, location, people in attendance and non-essential time activities.  Make sense to you?

As for national organizations, one does not have to conduct in-depth research to surmise that the secondary tier organizations are struggling. It’s all about resources and value to the membership.  If a “one stop shop” organization offers CEU’s (education/training), legislative representation (advocacy), cremation resources (education/training) and a well presented annual convention which has a tremendous expo/trade show, why do the other “second tier” organizations even exist? What’s your take?

Just a few days ago, one second tier organization touted “breaking attendance records” at their recent annual gathering.  A breakdown of the “participants” shows that less than 1/3 are actual funeral directors and the rest of the attendees are comprised of vendors, spouses or kids.  Great spin, but the reality is that this type of “national organization” is drawing less than some state conventions.

What are your thoughts about all the different organizations that for the most part have a common purpose of representing the funeral profession? There are organizations that have excellent positive impact for education and influence, and others that seem to be more fraternity in nature. For sake of discussion, what are your thoughts of how we as an industry best should be represented…collectively with a strong and cohesive voice or segmented?

Don’t shoot the messenger, I’m just stating the obvious (as usual) and addressing what seems to be a colossal waste of resources. Cheers y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

conversation starterI’m just returning from another funeral convention and I would like to provide “color” on my observations.  I had conversations and meetings with many people from practically every facet of the funeral industry, however I am certain those conversations would not get published in any industry magazines…somewhat lends back to “The Truth” series I recently posted.

From vendors, the majority complained of a lack of attendance from buyers and decision makers. On opening day of the exhibit hall, a cannon could have been fired down most isles and not hit nary a funeral service provider.  Something new and never done before was the presence of a suicide prevention booth; however it was hard to get in as it was jam packed with new vendors/first timers seeking counseling trying to figure out why their booth is not full of buyers (I guess they failed to read and take my advice on being an entrepreneur in the funeral industry).  The non-conventional conversation among this particular crowd (vendors) was that “second tier” organizations should consider events with exhibits such as these perhaps every other year.  The cost to attend, lack of ROI, and dwindling attendance is going to force some tough decisions in the future from a vendor participation perspective.  Suggestions of one big annual funeral expo that covers funeral directors, cremationists and cemeterians would suffice with perhaps individual breakout sessions if needed for organizations.  The individual organization fiefdom is a drain on vendors, members and participants.  Every state has its own annual organizational gathering repeating the same madness but on a smaller scale.  The smart states have completely eliminated exhibits.  So my vote (and I’m sure lots of others if they had one) is to let’s quit doing the same thing the wrong way over and over again…what’s that called?

The speakers and breakout sessions had excellent content with relevant information.  Again on the notion of “one big funeral gathering” with many speakers and subjects would stop the redundant messaging under different flags…so maybe the presentations given at the “one big funeral gathering” could be recorded then retrieved in an archived library for those not attending.  That sounds like a smart revenue generation model with mass appeal, but what do I know?

Speaking of tough decisions, the funeral service providers I had the privilege of chatting with provided me with realistic reports of their experiences at providing services/products to the ever changing consumer.  Outside of the emerging Social Media, technology and of course DNA collection (yes, that’s a shameless but true plug) they saw nothing really addressed how to provide better service to the consumers they serve.  Think about that for a moment.  Basically, if the company/vendor is not providing or improving upon a technology based solutions (sales, service, arrangements, B2C marketing, operations, or product) then the relevancy to a funeral service provider is benign.

An interesting and emerging segment that was present in technology seems to be a platform for consumers to memorialize themselves using an online portal to capture their life stories, videos, etc. (I guess Facebook/online obits is just not getting the job done).  The fallacy for most is the choice some really odd names which I personally wonder how consumers find them in the first place.  One of those odd named providers makes claim that their product/service helps with the “family experience” but when I drilled down a bit I got the old “we’re still working on that” position.  Basically, capturing a life well lived is a great notion, in fact some of these cats have somehow found people (companies) to invest in this idea without a strong revenue generation model (you know, pay back investors’ money).  Aurora’s value added Be Remembered has all of the components for such a platform (at no cost to the consumer or funeral home) which leads me to believe that others fail to do any relevant market research before launch.

The best non-conventional conversations took place off the floor with a drink in one hand and a cigar in the other (yes, that’s my favorite environment for great conversations). I think that all would agree such funeral gatherings provide a platform for those in attendance to have all important face to face interactions.  During these important extemporaneous sessions,  I actually was made privy to a new product that I think is brilliant; cremated remains, the life story, storage and columbarium all in one…technology, sleek design and a solution.  Another was about a new brand of funeral service to consumers; a collaborative effort for a brand that will capture and address the majority market in America…the 75% that make less than $50,000.  Those folks die too, but we don’t talk about them much.  Finally, this is a big world but getting smaller.  The alliances of companies collaborating on a global scale are becoming more commonplace.  I personally had conversations with people from Canada, Australia, Spain, Italy, China, Ireland and even New Jersey.

In a nutshell, if it’s not a technology driven product at the exhibitions and expos that assists funeral directors to provide enhanced service to their consumers, the interest level is dwindling.  There is always some that will pine for the days of yore, but those days are going away with facsimile machines.  The from my vantage point, defined success for the future in the funeral industry is messaging, technology and collaboration.  That’s the view from the field and The Funeral Commander.  Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

5th yearRecently I started receiving emails and notifications from LinkedIn congratulating me on my work anniversary of 5 years.  I’m pretty staunch about remembering important dates especially after being married 30 years, but frankly I had to look at what the salutary messages were referring to as an anniversary.  Just a short 5 years ago, I left the “security” of a big company to become an entrepreneur; what a journey it has been and continues to be!

I personally believe, “a vision is only a dream without execution.”  I had a vision of an operating platform for a funeral home developed with Six-Sigma principles; a new way of operating and adapting to meet the changing consumer demands of caring for their deceased loved ones.  The vision 5 years later is being executed; 2 locations in competitive markets serving over 300 families a year led by team of associates that earn a good living because our culture dictates and supports their efforts for success.  The dream at times was a nightmare.

Starting a funeral home from scratch has it’s unique challenges.  One just doesn’t walk into a lending institution, share your vision and get your capital for startup, but if you have a compelling story people will invest in you.  A lesson I learned in the military; Officers eat last.  Basically a leader makes sure his troops are cared for above his own needs; as an entrepreneur associates often may get a paycheck when you don’t.  You just can’t walk into Verizon or sign leases, etc. to open a new business account without significant deposits (or as I see it, betting against your failure).  Of course we received the typical competitive “the bit dog yelps” rhetoric from many especially the “we have been serving since Sherman burned down the South” crowd, however I also had the pleasure of a threatened lawsuit “making sure I did not violate my non-compete.”  Yes, apparently I had a good idea because we had quite the attention from our local purveyors of funerals, but now the Toby Keith song “How Do You Like Me Now” is playing in my head as I write this.

“My failure gave me strength, may pain gave me motivation”- Michael Jordan.  Not all of the visions could be executed.  There are days when defeat and self doubt are the thought of the day.  Such days are where I found out what I was really made of; do I practice what I preach to my sons and everyone else on the planet about perseverance, effort and resilience, or throw on the proverbial towel?  When one of the initiatives does not work out, I know that my detractors find glee, but my fans wonder, “what is he going to come up with next?”  Determination, intellectual curiosity and the ability to connect with people breeds opportunity.  I am a living example.

“None of us is as smart as all of us”-Ken Blanchard.  I know what I don’t know and I am certain of what I do know.  I am blessed to have a business mentor Buddy Watson along with partners like Steve Zittle and Chris Tharp that I continue to seek guidance about many things “out of my wheelhouse.” After literally “burning my boat at the shore” in the funeral industry, I have developed relationships from professionals like Frank Immordino, Ryan Thogmartin, Kate Hamilton, Ryan Lehto, Simon Rothwell and Francine Trendler that spurred more visions which are now being executed internationally.

Interesting that this week, 5 years later I was so busy and excited “executing my vision” that I failed to even notice my anniversary of becoming a funeral industry entrepreneur.  Today, I am at the pinnacle of all the cumulative successes, failures and lessons over a business lifetime launching a life changing business.  Lives of consumers, our team and our families will be better from this journey I embarked upon 5 years ago.  In essence, Happy Anniversary to Me…it’s only going to get better.  This path is not for everyone, but it is for me, thank God for the blessings along the way.  From the Command Bunker, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

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

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

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