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Preach It

Is the funeral industry trying to reflect or define funeral consumer demand and trends? I was provided inspiration for this post while watching a political show recently where the moderator was interviewing a Presidential candidate. The line of questioning was how certain “Washington outsider candidates” with a combined vote count (from both parties) are receiving such an overwhelming number of votes versus the “establishment” candidates. Further, the “establishment” leaders are bewildered because the will of the people is not aligned the establishment ideals. The interviewee’s answer: “The people are rejecting the notion of we’ve always done in this way with their vote.”

As a whole, the funeral industry is in the same mired quandary. The funeral “establishment” is in full attempt defining what consumers want rather than reflecting market demand. No? Last week I posted Use a Computer for Funeral Arrangements? That’s Unprofessional! causing quite a vigorous debate between funeral directors about writing or typing. Yesterday I visited a well-established funeral home in a small town and it is  the market leader (volume 250+ calls).  When I inquired to the owner about what changes he is witnessing he shared with me that in this traditional, high burial church attending town, cremations are on a significant rise (not a surprise).  However, he went on to say that visitations have sharply decreased stating: “I don’t know why I need all this room here, people are just not acting like they used to.” According to conventional wisdom, he should be charging more for visitations and showing more value (maybe free cookies) which would certainly turn the tide.

It’s not just funeral directors that are part of the “establishment” because vendors and manufacturers are of the guilty ilk as well.  Without a doubt, the upcoming ICCFA Annual Convention & Exposition in New Orleans will have the “newest and best” line of caskets that families will love turning in the showroom like crazy making a significant difference to the funeral home’s bottom line.  Yet, in 2016 cremation will eclipse burial as the consumers choice as final disposition.

Think about this: what exactly is the “establishment” vendors and manufacturers doing to address the real challenges that funeral providers face?  If you haven’t a clue what those challenges are, see Serious Funeral Home Barriers to Success for a start. Unfortunately with all the R&D funds (used to find someone else that has invented something new), it’s the same people selling the same stuff to the same flock of sheep. No answers; but one can hear whispers of The Orchestra is Lovely as the ship continues to sink.

However friends, there are sunshine rays peeking through murky clouds of the funeral industry future! I actually saw a very well established, multi-location, legacy generational, family owned funeral home create their own cremation internet business to consumers in their market!  I am also privy to several funeral home owners initiating deep dive diagnosis of their business for their future financial and operational health. We are witnessing some of the flock being healed from their accounts receivable and discount afflictions!  PRAISE THE LORD, there is hope!

Now the serious question needs to be asked, please close your eyes. Search deep into your heart and ask yourself “Am I really trying to adapt and provide what families I serve are asking for…or am I just repeating those painful actions of “We’ve always done it this way?” Friends, it’s never too late to see the light. I urge you, repent and change your ways! You can walk in the sunshine of the future and out of the darkness of the past. Amen.

From the pulpit with a cigar in hand and preaching to the congregation in the Command Chapel located on the Battlefield of Funeral Industry Innovation, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

Training funeral directors to proclaim “We are a funeral home, not a bank” is not the solution to get paid for goods and services.  Access to credit for an increasing number of consumers is becoming difficult and funeral homes are not equipped or offering funeral loans. Unfortunately, traditional lenders like banks are not offering funeral loans especially to those who are credit challenged.

The Washington Times reports that the majority, or 56 percent, of consumers have subprime credit scores (below 640), according to a report released (January 2016) by the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED), a nonprofit that advocates for policy changes to help low- and moderate-income households. As a result, these consumers are often locked out of the lending markets. And if they are borrowing, chances are they’re missing out on the lowest rates being offered to consumers with stronger credit.  “Bad credit” doesn’t always mean that the consumer does not pay their debts. Credit is a touchy balancing act: a few missed or untimely payments (slow pay) combined with a high debt to low income ratio and the consumer will find themselves in a quick negative credit score spiral.

Yet, family members of the before-mentioned 56 percent are dying and seeking ways to pay for funeral expenses; they can pay, but not borrow money to pay. With a body in building, what do you do?  I have outlined steps previously in posts Funeral Director Training: Secure Payment Before Contract Signed. and Funeral Director Training: “We ain’t got much money.”  Training funeral directors in advance to understand the parameters of your firm’s policy and the tools/services available for them to create a sensible solution for payment is easily accomplished.

Denying the truth doesn’t change the facts. The truth is funeral home owners are not training staff to create solutions for consumers are struggling financially or providing the tools necessary. These facts manifest themselves with discounts of goods and services along with accounts receivable hampering the cash flow of the business. Solutions are available; take a step in the right direction by contacting me.  To initiate improvement of your financial strength and take charge.  Funeral Pay Plan is the only funeral industry company with funeral home leadership and the experience to change your facts. We have some big news on the horizon which will add to our strength as the at need solutions leaders for cash flow in the funeral industry, stay tuned!

From the Command Post, Cheer’s Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

 

Doc

I recently visited my cardiologist for my annual checkup (yes, to make sure I have a heart). The process at this practice starts with me on the scales (ugh) and then escorted into an examination room for nurses to take my blood pressure (120/82) and ask questions updating my health habits. When asked about smoking, of course I proudly shared my cigar affinity (’till death do us part) only to be met with scowling looks.

A trainee nurse was taking all the information and conducting the vital stuff with a seasoned nurse providing oversight.  The trainee used software while entering my information on a tablet device.  I didn’t think much of it until the cardiologist came into my little room (35 minutes later or course).

Upon entry we shook hands, chatted a bit and then he opened up his laptop (see photo above). Immediately I asked the physician permission to take a photo of him (not showing his face). I explained why, and he complied.  He also showed me the software he uses providing my entire medical history and information important to him on a dashboard.

Not long ago I was part of a lengthy discussion with funeral directors regarding their opinions using computers during funeral arrangements with families. Needless to say, there were quite a few emotional responses (imagine that with funeral directors). My favorite was “Using a computer with families is unprofessional” and “You have your head down typing and can’t look the family in the eyes while talking to them.”

Two problems:

  1. “Unprofessional” to use a computer in arrangements?  I suppose physicians, financial advisers, bankers, CPA’s and the “other professionals” have it wrong! Certainly the information they are entering is far less important than what funeral directors have to capture.  Only the “other professionals” make so many mistakes and spelling errors that they really need to use a computer when dealing with their patients or clients.  Without a doubt, the handwriting funeral directors “care more.”
  2. “Head down typing.” Really? If you learned how to type or truly could become advanced by sharing your laptop or tablet screen on a 60 inch TV, the family could watch as well as participate in the process!  By the way, who writes without looking down? I’d love to see how that turns out.

It’s time for our industry to align with other professions by investing and training funeral directors to become proficient at basic business skills. “I can’t type on a computer” or “I’m not comfortable using a computer.” is simply unacceptable.  Go to a community college, ask a 7 year old to teach you, get trained, and step up your game.  Funny how fear and reluctance of change actually inhibits professionalism and service; it’s the little things that count.  It’s time to #Fnchange by getting your #FNhustle on to build a better #FNbrand for yourself and your funeral home.

From the foggy cigar smoke filled Command Post, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

Secure Payment

The funeral isn’t over if the funeral home has not been paid in full for services rendered.  I recently read a statistic that the average funeral home has around $17,000 in accounts receivable or past due money owed for services that have already taken place. I have personal knowledge of firms owed hundreds of thousands of dollars. Why?

Funeral home ownership and management has failed. Frankly, simple solutions exist however it takes leadership to change behaviors in the arrangement session and accountability of funeral directors that sign funeral contracts. How? Let’s start with no funeral contract is signed until payment is secured. Payment secured, what does that mean?

  1. Valid pre-need trust with enough funds to pay for goods and services.
  2. Verifiable life insurance-assigned to funeral home by factoring company and fees paid by the family.
  3. Payment in full by cash, check, or credit card.
  4. If any payment above cannot be paid in full, at least 80% of funds must be paid with cash, check credit card or life insurance as a down payment with an approved payment policy in place. If a family cannot pay 80% up front, it’s the wrong service offered by the director.  Reduce services and products to match affordability of the family. If a family can’t pay the majority of the service, the firm will likely not collect the balance due.
  5. No discounts. If a family needs help, use #4.

Of course I know there are extenuating circumstances and funeral directors cry the proverbial “what if the family?”  What if the owner would do their job and train funeral directors process in arrangements to properly explain the payment policy of the funeral home (above 1-5)?  What if owners held funeral directors accountable to not sign a contract until payment is secured?  Here’s what if for you: “What if the funeral director signed a contract without securing payment and if the payment was not collected when due, the funeral director paid out of their salary?” Let that one sink in.

If you think this is all a made up scenario and impossible, then you are wrong. Our funeral homes and cremation company conducts almost 500 services a year; we have $0.00 owed to us.  Want to have the same for your firm?  Contact me 540-589-7821 and we’ll set up a time to further discuss how to lead your funeral home with training as well as director accountability.

Next week I’ll discuss steps how to recover from the failure of training and accountability of funeral directors which resulted in accounts receivable in the “book of promises.” From the Command Post, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

How to Implement Change in the Funeral Home: An Interview with Jeff Harbeson, The Funeral Commander

Posted February 24, 2016

8 min read

We sat down with Jeff Harbeson, a retired military Captain and funeral home owner/partner, also known as The Funeral Commander, to get his insights on how funeral directors can follow best practices to implement change in their firm. Read on to also see what Harbeson recommends to funeral home leaders who are looking to help their staff better empathize to have greater perspective with grieving families.

Jeff Harbeson: I am a retired as Captain with 20 years of service, including deployment to Operation Desert Storm and a TAC Officer at Officers Candidate School where I taught over 400 non-commissioned and enlisted soldiers to become leaders. I began my funeral industry journey first as a casket sales rep taking me to today as a funeral industry leader operating multiple businesses within the industry.

Those businesses include two successful funeral homes, the TouchPoints Six Sigma funeral home operating platform, an online cremation service, an at-need payment company, a successful consulting company and co-host of the Funeral Nation show. I felt that The Funeral Commander would provide a perfect description of my military and funeral leadership experience.

Q: What is your advice for funeral directors who are looking to implement change? What can they do to support desired change in their firm?

Jeff Harbeson: Before implementation of any change, one has to acknowledge that a problem exists and understand where to initiate correcting the problem. When I first started this journey in the funeral industry, I wanted to learn everything I could about the processes, operations and costs of a funeral home. However, I could not find consistent or credible information simply because no real training existed to find the answers to my questions.

Before implementing any sort of change, my advice is to understand the process or problem and determine if change is necessary. The next logical step is seeking solutions to take corrective actions. Then rebuild the process, train and implement.

One factor to consider is identifying the audience that will be affected by the change. If it’s the funeral consumer, then you also must take into account that behavior modification (training of funeral directors) and monitoring of the process has to take place.

An analogy would be if you’re a baseball player and striking out frequently. You would have a coach analyze your swing so that he could teach you to take corrective measures. After modifications are made, then the hard work of practice and implementation takes place.

My team and I created a complete, alpha to omega six sigma based funeral home operating platform called TouchPoints. TouchPoints identifies every possible step that a funeral director and staff take, and we train multiple times per week to follow those processes. This system allows us to manage workflow and easily identify problems when they occur to take quick corrective measures. Again, back to the baseball analogy: there is a process in place for professionals to follow and they are in continuous improvement mode even practicing before a game.

Unfortunately, the funeral industry has hurt itself simply because once a funeral director gets out of school and gets hired to work, the general funeral home training program consists of: follow me and do what I do. The “trainer” may not have the best route to follow thus perpetuating the problem for the new director. Our system actually provides such great training that new hires, even if newly licensed, are making funeral arrangements on their own in a matter of weeks.

From a funeral industry training standpoint, we have CEU’s however in many cases are a colossal waste of time and resources. Many CEU’s have no intrinsic value to a funeral director and no “teeth.” Many times a funeral director is basically sitting in a session for an hour simply to sign off on a paper and get credit for attendance. No measurement of proficiency, just pay a fee and get credit. TouchPoints has a series of training programs so that our funeral professionals are performing to standards proficiently and are continuously sharpening their skills.

Returning to the question: you have to train to make change—just like professional baseball players take batting practice before a game. Making change takes intentional leadership effort and consistent relevant training for provide a solid foundation.

I can’t think of one issue or subject in the funeral industry that could not be corrected, addressed, or changed without training. From my point of view, training is behavior modification and it’s impossible to make corrective measures nothing is in place from the start. The majority of funeral homes have no training program or process in place to make changes.

Q: When looking at the entire experience a family has with a funeral home, it can be valuable for funeral home professionals to “see” that experience from the family’s perspective. How can we teach or train our staff to see this perspective?

Jeff Harbeson: Funeral directors meet with families during a time which most agree is very difficult. Part of our funeral director using TouchPoints for arrangements includes roll play. We actually get the funeral director to plan their own closest loved ones’ funeral. On top of that, we also have the role-playing director to make choices based on their own financial resources to pay out of pocket. It’s a valuable training session and enlightening for those that are fortunate enough receive. Without ever “wearing the shoes of the next of kin,” the anguish is only observed and not experienced.

Jeff Harbeson: Funeral home operations, in general, have not changed at all and many funeral homes are still serving the consumer the way they did 50 years ago.

However, the consumer has made a tremendous shift in several different directions. For example, consumers know more about our business simply because it’s readily available on the Internet. Twenty-five years ago, consumers had to actually visit a funeral home if they wanted information. Also, the way we communicate has completely changed. Therefore, the consumer is researching and making decisions however many providers have not adapted to using technology to reach the “undecided” consumer with relevant messaging.

In the past, a funeral home was in a community and if someone died or needed to make inquiry, they would physically visit the funeral home to get information from a funeral director. Today a consumer sits in front of a computer and conducts their own research without leaving the comfort of their surroundings. If a funeral home website or social media provides the information sought after, the consumer may then inquire. However, if the website is too “funeral-esque” (like playing piano music when you land, or funeral-wordy), the consumer moves on to other sources.

The trend of people separating from organized religion is a factor that requires attention. If a family is not affiliated to a particular faith and does not think that ceremony is necessary, that’s a problem for many funeral homes with significant investments in real estate as well as recovering revenue from funeral services, visitations, and wakes.

Another significant yet not widely addressed trend is how we are serving financially struggling families. The typical American worker earns less than $50,000 per year. Forbes recently posted a story about how 63 percent of our consumers don’t have$500 cash to pay for an emergency. As a general rule, funeral homes provide no training to their directors how to address the needs of financially struggling families.

Everything comes back to training: how do we address or how do we adapt to emerging trends? We need to know what we offer meets the demands of consumers. Identify those gaps, create a solution, train, monitor and refine.

About Jeff Harbeson, The Funeral Commander

Jeff Harbeson aka “The Funeral Commander” provides leadership on the battlefield of funeral industry innovation. By developing strategic alliances and relationships with other influencers to execute his visions, several successful companies were launched. Jeff is one of the Founders of Family Choice Funerals & Cremations™ as well as the Select Cremation™ brand of funeral service providers. Additionally, Harbeson and team developed a proprietary Six Sigma based funeral home operating platform, TouchPoints™. Also creating Funeral Pay Plan, the company became the funeral industry leader providing loans and payment plans for consumers to pay funeral expenses. As a funeral industry entrepreneur, Harbeson pens the well-known blog, The Funeral Commander and he is also co-host of theFuneral Nation TV web show with social media expert Ryan Thogmartin.

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blog post SC

What does the recent primary in South Carolina tell us about the funeral industry? Let me start this post with a disclaimer: I’m simply providing observations and I am not endorsing or promoting any candidate who is running for the office of President of the United States. Additionally, I will note that my family (both my mother and father) come from the Palmetto State. We have deep roots since the very beginning of this nation, so I know what I’m talking about when proclaiming: South Carolina is considered the bastion of conservatism in America with a history of “sticking to their guns” with whatever they believe. It’s a state that is certainly considered “the buckle of the Bible Belt.”

My takeaway of the primary results last Saturday has relevance to the funeral industry. The winner did what most would consider blasphemous and everything that should have led to defeat.  For example: calling out a much loved and revered former President (especially in SC) regarding the 9-11 attack; calling competitors liars and saying that a controversial women’s medical provider actually does have some good points. All this and more coming from a Yankee spending far less than his competitors  while also using social media to resonate his message: “No more PC gibberish; let’s just call it like it is and make America great again.”

The competitors had the endorsements from the State party establishment elected officials, endorsements from the mainline religious groups, spent millions on trying to convince voters to follow the past “establishment direction,” and even made sure everyone knew the front runner was divorced but was now married to a “foreigner.” The competitors also had infrastructures developed with volunteers knocking on doors and making phone calls.  In the State where a particular religious group reigns, against conventional thought the tactics failed and the stale messages did not stem the rising tide of change.

What are some of the similarities of the campaign in SC with the funeral industry?  A few observations:  the funeral establishment has long coined rivals (new business models) as discounters and direct disposers which basically means nothing to the consumer. Interestingly, some have their own little discounters and direct disposal businesses but don’t share much about them in public or funeral meetings (sort of like not claiming “that side of the family”).  The rhetoric “you get what you pay for” is a back firing message because consumers are questioning the cost and see no value in what they are paying for with the traditionalists.  Millions of dollars are spent on advertising in an attempt to convince consumers to hold on to tradition rather than invest in creating and seeking solutions to meet consumer demand.  Pundits preach (see a blog post by funeral home owner Dale Clock The New Normal) at conventions and meetings to charge more and show more value but never address the real issues like how to serve the financially-struggling family (who are flocking to discounters and direct disposers).  Value now is the ability to pay in full.

The results from the South Carolina primary offer a glimpse into the future of the funeral industry. Consumers are demanding change, rejecting the established past. They are educating themselves online and taking action on the information provided without visiting nary a funeral home. Consumers couldn’t care less about internal industry bickering and name calling; they are leaving tradition behind. The establishment’s message is fragmented and falling flat for a number of reasons including its methods of delivery (very few funeral organizations use social media or offer consumer-friendly websites). I don’t think nor do I advocate that the traditional funeral home is going away or  it is irrelevant.  However, the recent report, SCI saw fewer funerals, declining revenue in 2015, is news to which every funeral provider should pay attention.

The voters (funeral consumers) are speaking loudly and clearly asking for new models of service and a change in how we go about offering our services. We have an abundance of smart, talented, experienced, willing funeral industry professionals and organizations ready to work together for the betterment of our collective future. The platforms for communicating and working together are right at our fingertips. I raise my hand and volunteer, what about you?

From the smoke filled Command Post, Cheers Y’all.  #thefuneralcommander

 

 

TOTT

In the investment world there is a saying “Trees don’t grow to the sky.” The meaning is a warning that stock prices for a given company will not increase forever, they top out. When I thought about writing this post a few analogies came to mind relative to the funeral industry whether you are a funeral home operator or product/service provider.

First, take a look at the tree in the image above. I know there are exceptions (as I am not a tree expert), but trees tend to narrow at the top when they stop growing. If your funeral home has stopped growing more than likely it’s pretty narrow at the top with only a few branches “near the sun” failing to notice the root system beginning to weaken. The same holds true for funeral industry product/service vendors (look what’s happening in the cornfield).

We all know that trees have roots and can live for hundreds of years but the fact is trees reach a peak of vertical growth.  If your funeral home has deep and a strong root system, yet peaked vertical (market) growth, what do you do?  Perhaps just stand tall, firmly rooted and simply continue to serve in your sphere of ground.  It’s not a bad thing at all.  But your funeral home has stopped growing and perhaps vulnerable to planting/maturing of competitive funeral homes in your market.  From a vendor perspective, new technology is being created in some cases before products even hit the market.  Remember all the video folks?  “New and improved” simply by a color or interior cloth change is basically putting lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig.

Perhaps the notion of planting more trees (seedlings) from the tall and healthy (but ceased growing) tree is an option. Many funeral homes, successful, longstanding and deep rooted have planted seedlings that are maturing. New locations to serve different market areas and new models to serve different consumer segments are signs of recognition the original tree has ceased growing, but recognize the need to have a stronger presence of the brand. There few products and services in the funeral industry that are linear as well as strong enough to survive on their own. Yes, there was a time when funeral home website development, custom casket panels, “personalization” and such were revolutionary. But today many products/services are ordinary and being produced everywhere for significantly less than originally introduced into the market.  Unfortunately, most new products and services are not developed from within or from the traditional industry providers, thus the analogy of the tree.

The point of this post is that trees truly don’t grow to the sky and there is a limit to growth. However, recognition by analysis of costs, market-share, real estate, market (consumer) shifts (demands), competitive landscape and growth potential should be a focal point of funeral home leadership.  Unfortunately, many  funeral home leaders are not equipped, possess the tools, or recognize the importance of such assessments. Conversely many product/service providers have armies of mutants in their basements providing such data, but often try to maneuver/manipulate the market rather than supply the demand. Why? Because their “tree has stopped growing” and still functioning on outdated models not understanding (or blatantly ignoring) the real needs of funeral home operators success.

As a funeral home owner or industry vendor, don’t become too busy at the top taking in the sun and assuming anything. Want to know more?  Let’s connect to assess how to expand your brand for growth in your own forest at 540-589-7821. From the haze of cigar smoke in the Command Post, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

FD Training Mistakes

I am the first to admit that I don’t make an A on every test.  In fact, I often struggle with taking and passing tests much less reach a level of consistent perfection.  Just this week I made a very visible mistake by posting the wrong word in the title because my lack of focus and self-editing.  It did not take long for the “edit police” to quickly point out my error, so I corrected the mistake and then made fun of myself along with thanking the “good eye” folks.

I always find that acknowledging mistakes with an apology and humor tends to work, at least for non-life threatening stuff like spelling errors.  Other more egregious mistakes (or any made as a husband or father) take an elevated/expedited response of contrite begging for forgiveness followed by some sort of restaurant visit. One recent very public mistake was made by Steve Harvey when he announced the wrong winner of Miss Universe. Steve quickly corrected the mistake and took responsibility.  At Christmas, he even made fun of himself in a tweet:

mistake

During a recent funeral home training session we actually addressed the subject of correcting mistakes.  Why would correcting mistakes be a training issue?  How we correct the mistake is highly important simply because when errors happen in the funeral home, the reaction as well as the corrective measures make a difference.  So, when correcting a mistake:

  1. Be accountable and acknowledge your mistake.  Don’t pass blame on to anyone or on any circumstance.  You did it, own it.
  2. Be humble and contrite in being accountable for making the mistake.  Most of us are far more willing to forgive if the person asking has accepted responsibility and sincerely asked for forgiveness.
  3. Correct the mistake immediately.  If the mistake is really bad, you may have to not only correct the mistake but also compensate for any resulting harm.  Always do so, but within reason.
  4. Once you have completed 1-3, then train on or document how to avoid repeating the mistake.

Does your funeral home have a training program to provide guidance and a “road map” of processes to follow?  Training for funeral directors and staff is essential to continuous improvement for funeral homes.  When a new funeral director arrives to work (seasoned or newly licensed), what training is provided that will keep consistent performance and behaviors aligned with the company culture?  Most funeral homes have the “follow me around and do what I do” training program which provides vulnerability to mistakes, some that may ultimately prove costly.  For example; why are funeral homes all over the country being consistently fined by the FTC for GPL violations?  Yep, we have training specific to the GPL based on the FTC Funeral Rule and I dare say that our funeral homes will never fail that particular test.

Funeral director training is not difficult or greatly time consuming but must be intentional with relevant content.  If you want to know more about how to implement training in your funeral home contact the me at 540-589-7821.  Until next time, try to keep the mistakes to a minimum and I’ll get someone to proofread this before publishing.  Cheers y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

 

 

Feb Blog

Funeral service providers have a reputation for reluctance to make changes even if necessary for their own good, are generally slow to adopt pretty much anything new and rarely create from within. What if we took the example of the canary in the coal mine?  You know, a safety net just in case we were to get a sniff of dangerous carbon monoxide and can abandon the mine before coming to harm?  This business is not that simple, however so few ever get to taste the sweetness of success after taking a risk.

Why is that?  If we watch an episode of Wild Kingdom starring Marlin Perkins following the annual migration of wildebeests we can see in real time how we seem to act.  Just keep our heads down, move with everyone else and don’t venture away from the herd.  “Damn that river crossing, I’m staying right in the middle and just trying to survive.” Never mind a new route that may make more sense.

Does the fear of failure suppress risk taking?  Creation of new products or services should be initiated among funeral professionals because that’s where the “rubber hits the road” (more on this particular reference in the next paragraph), but the majority of something new comes from outside, not within.  Is it because everyone is so busy and simply putting extra time into something that may not work out isn’t worth the effort?  Did you know the modern day church truck was invented by Samson Diuguid, a funeral director back in the 1800’s in Lynchburg, Virginia? Because church aisles were too narrow for pallbearers to walk on both sides of a coffin, Diuguid created a much used product that made our job easier and the funeral experience better.

What about taking a risk in the funeral industry that my invoke ridicule and embarrassment?  Oh no, not from fellow funeral professionals!  Back to the Diuguid folks, they actually had the gall to use a rubber wheeled and a motorized hearse to carry a casket!  It’s said that other funeral directors made fun of Diuguid and even coined the contraption “blasphemous to the profession.” We have the same twits in abundance today and you can see them flitting around “busy” at funeral meetings and conventions.  They are easy to spot; usually adorned in full funeral director dress inclusive of suit, white shirt, and not too flashy tie.  Funny, since there isn’t a family to serve in site…impressive huh?  Interesting about this particular sect of the herd is that they themselves have never invested, created or invented anything in their lives however are the first in line with nay saying gibberish ridicule of “my families won’t” or “that will never” and so on. Funny though, when the something new takes hold they follow rest of the herd sometimes too late as the crocks are lurking for the finely-adorned stragglers.

As for me, I’m going deep in the mine with a cage full of canaries and keeping my #FNhustle on to make #FNchange to better our industry. Yep, I’m going to fail at some of my initiatives.  Yep, I’m going to be ridiculed (however not to my face because the before-mentioned finely-adorned, nay-saying eunuchs who literally don’t have the balls to do so).  And yep, I’m going to succeed and just keep mining.

I challenge you to go get some canaries and enter the mine; it’s hard, nasty work, you might fail and get laughed at or you may actually do something to make a difference. If not, please start shopping because the new season of conventions and meetings are starting and you’ll need to be seen.  From behind a thick fog of smoke in the Command Post, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

Vendor Life

I am blessed to meet, converse and especially learn from a wide swath of funeral professionals globally.  Most every contact I always ask, “how did you get into the funeral business” and more often than not the answers are fascinating.  Part of this blog and the Funeral Nation TV show is to provide others with different points of view, personalities and fodder for thought.  Below (with permission of the author) is a story resulting from my asking “how did you get in the funeral business?”  It’s a young man’s journey exemplifying perseverance, dedication to our industry as well as #FNchange and #FNhustle.  From the desk of #thefuneralcommander, enjoy this story; Cheers Y’all!

The Move To Vendor Life…

“If you’ll serve a family in the way that they need to be served… and not in the way that you wish to serve them… then the sales will occur organically.  At that point, you have become a true Service Professional.”

~ Dylan Stopher

I am a funeral director and embalmer.  I am also a husband, father, friend, musician, teacher, author, poet, small group leader, and a myriad of other things.  But I am a funeral director and embalmer.

I’m 37 years old, and I started in the funeral profession when I was 19.  Like most of us, it was something that just sort of “happened,” and I couldn’t really explain to you at the time why I was okay with moving from bar-tending and restaurant management to funeral service.  But I can now tell you, I am so glad that it happened… and I’d make this leap a thousand times over if I had to.

I started young, yes, and I worked in a state that allowed me to complete half of my apprenticeship before going to school.  I did 4 of the 6 months, and then moved away.  Once I enrolled in school, I started work for a funeral home in the city.  It was an amazing time of growth and learning, both in the book smarts of the business and the common sense practical wisdom from the directors I served with.  (If any of them are reading this now, they’ll know who they are… and how much they mean to me.).

After school I returned home to complete the remaining 8 months of apprenticeship, and then received my license.  I worked for a couple years, and then there was a change needed… due to an immaturity and inability to deal with the death of children.  This is a very, very real issue in our business, and it caught up to me quickly.  But I did something unique with that opportunity… I left and expanded my skill set.

I sold cars.  I know, not exactly what you’d think one would turn to, but it turned out to be phenomenally helpful for future use.  I learned the ability to qualify what someone needs, rather than what they want, and the methods through which to keep them from going into financial ruin.  It is vital that we, as funeral professionals, recognize that sometimes there are people who do have a champagne taste with a water budget, and we need to be able to protect them from themselves in this debt-ridden culture.  Trust me, they’ll appreciate that much more than the collection notices and bills that follow the funeral.

Then a hurricane forced relocation, and I started selling homes (after a brief and uneventful return to the restaurant business).  Real estate is a slower selling process, one that requires finesse and a deeper client relationship.  It was in the sale of homes that I discovered how to truly build a bond with a client, asking the right questions to gain the right answers.  Working through a slower process allowed me an immense amount of insight into the pre-arrangement side of our profession, working with clients all the way up to their time of need.  It is a phenomenal skill to have.

Then I took a turn in retail, working for a cellular company that holds many awards for their distinguished program of coaching and developing leaders and teammates.  I spent a few years with them in a leadership position, and learned how to properly coach people to greater levels of success.  I also learned how to read through the numerical side of a business, and analyze patterns to forecast greater success in the future.  These skills, combined with excellent practice in building relationships and rapport, would serve to be the launch pad for much greater success in my career than I could’ve hoped for.

I took a job to reciprocate my license into the state in which we were living, and that was the sole and express purpose of that role.  I am grateful to that firm for allowing me the chance to do so, and we were all aware that it would be that and likely nothing more.  When I was done, with a fresh license in hand, I went to work for a firm in a different part of our city, requiring my family to move… and there is where I began the greatest journey you could imagine.

I was a funeral director… an embalmer… then an assistant manager of a stand-alone… then an assistant manager and care center supervisor of the largest combo in the group… then a location manager of our newest acquisition.  I served a team of wonderful directors, and we led our region in averages in almost every category (trumping our far larger competitors both in percentage and dollar amounts).  I assisted our corporate trainer at times with insight, and was allowed the opportunity to train several directors in specific metrics.  And in 2012, I was awarded the Funeral Director of the Year for the highest overall sales average in both burial and cremation, both pre-need and at-need in our region.  It was phenomenal.

During that time, I met my current leader, owner of a vault production and sales license in our area of the US.  The first time I met him in 2010, I told him that when he was ready to replace himself, I’d like to have the opportunity to interview.  It took about four years, but I finally made the switch.

First, I have always wanted the opportunity to train professionals to be more successful.  I’m an avid believer that our profession thrives on education to the consumer, and that directors and counselors can only educate and serve properly if they are educated and served thoroughly.  I love to see people gain a higher level of success, and I find joy in that.

Second, I don’t do as well in a single office.  In my favorite role in a funeral home, when I managed a team of funeral directors and ran a care center in the same building, I was always busy… always running… always having a meeting for something.  I found great pleasure serving in that specific role, and it was challenging every day.  However, it was not as much fun, or as exciting, as being able to visit with as many professionals as I do now.  I drive… a lot.  And some days are very boring, riddled with time behind a windshield only to find that my intended visit for the day has had a walk-in or a death call, and had to leave the office.  But I visit with over 200 people annually, and I get to learn from their individual business models, and impart wisdom to them from a specific niche in our profession.

Third, I speak their language.  I have literally sat across a table from thousands of people who have needed the service of a funeral professional, and I’ve done what my clients do.  I know their stress, I know their pain, I know their love for serving others… and I know that if they say they need to meet another time, they mean it.  I also know that when there is an issue that needs discussion, they don’t have a ton of time to go through every fine detail.  They need answers quickly, and I can deliver them in a way that they understand (and I mean no disrespect to those who are vendors that are not also funeral directors and/or embalmers… please don’t think that).

Last, and probably most importantly, I’m crazy just like they are.  Why?  For the same reasons as above.  I’ve seen what they’ve seen, and I’ve listened to what they’ve listened to.  I know the pain of carrying the countless secrets that are shared in an arrangement office, and I know the joy of a family thanking you for a once-in-a-lifetime tribute that fits perfectly to the life of their loved one.  We laugh about the same things… and we clutch our knees in a corner and cry about the same things.  So when I speak to my clients, I’m one of them as much as I’m their vendor.

So given my individual path to becoming a vendor, there’s only a few things I can share with you in closing.  First, vendor spots are rare, and we all know it.  If this is something that calls to you as it did to me, seek it out and don’t give up until you get the position you want.  Second, there’s nothing wrong with staying in a funeral home.  I do miss serving families directly, and I can name some of those families and tell you exactly why I miss them… don’t feel like the only path up is the path out to vendor life and away from direct service to the families in need.

And lastly, possibly the most important thing I can share with you, never stop being a funeral service professional.  That might sound silly, but let me explain.  I keep my licenses current, and I’m ready to go and serve if called upon.  I maintain close friendships with the directors I know, and I forge new ones with those I meet.  I understand and remember what it’s like to be in the shoes of a funeral director under extreme pressure, and I will always temper myself towards that level.

I am a funeral director and embalmer.  I am a vendor, yes… and I serve the larger populace by serving the funeral professionals… but I am, first and foremost, a funeral director and embalmer.

Thanks Dylan for allowing me to share your story!  If you are a funeral professional and would like to share your experiences or share “how did you get into the funeral business” please call me at 540-589-7821. 

 

 

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