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Funeral Innovation

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As a funeral business consultant, I scour internet articles and search for relevant business content that is industry specific.  Interesting, but not surprising little fresh content is available for the masses regarding funeral or cemetery business.  Try yourself; google funeral business news.  The top of the page is none other than www.connectingdirectors.com which is no surprise.  Frankly, that’s the only accessible site for daily funeral and cemetery news at one location.  Everyone else in the space demands payment or a subscription. I do believe the effort necessary to create and deliver in-depth content, a fee should be charged to access the information because of the expense to produce such work. Not everything you read should be free.

But from a different angle of “how to,” let’s dig a little deeper. What if you were a funeral home owner wanting information on particular subjects, let’s say “how to reduce accounts receivable for funeral homes?” Go ahead, Google it.  There are a few articles that pop up including yours truly Funeral Director Training: Failed Payment Policy is on the Owner’s Shoulders and  Funeral Director Training: When is the pain too much? .  Still, there is no one easily accessible collection point for professionals to conduct research or “study up.”

Wouldn’t it be great to have volumes of relevant funeral and cemetery business content at your fingertips without having to subscribe or dig thorough printed magazines for articles? What if, and this is a big one, I hate to use Dan Isard’s most hated F word, but let me state it here: THE CONTENT WAS FREE?

Of course, there is a point to this post.  As a loyal follower of The Funeral Commander you know I have a purpose for my penetrating questions and provocative prose.  Friends, there is good news and I’ll give you a little whisper in this season of joy: there is new innovation on the horizon.  It will offer a new way of sharing business content that can be implemented to make your business better.

Yep, it’s a magical time of the year and The Funeral Commander is busy innovating and creating.  Be on the lookout…more to come.  From the Command Post (West) and yes, a thick fog of cigar smoke, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommader

 

nfda-2

Freshly returning to the Command Post (East) from #NFDA2016 in Philadelphia, I’m providing an After Action Review of what I saw, didn’t see, and my experience perspective this year.  From the logistical front, the NFDA team could not have selected a better venue that provided a huge Expo floor with easy access to educational seminars and walking distance to many hotels. Also, the NFDA app was a stroke of genius! I give the entire NFDA staff a salute for a well-executed and attended event.

From my perspective, the biggest influential segment of this year’s event was Social Media and Technology.  Facebook was on fire with posts, selfies, and live updates from attendees as well as vendors.  Homesteaders Life and  Disrupt Media sponsored a Social Media Lounge providing attendees a venue for all things social.  Live feeds by Funeral Nation TV were given and frankly, the funeral world is turning a corner and starting to “get it.”  Technology abounded, with website developers adding new services and add-ons.  Funeral home software continues to permeate the norms of doing business and my choice of the best was Passare with their collaboration platform connecting families to the arrangement process with their easy-to-use program.  There also were some “newcomers,” attempting to breach the market with very narrowly and poorly thought-out “new funeral apps;” however it’s obvious they did not do their homework, as most redundant offerings have failed to gain any traction in the past.

From a product standpoint, there was noticeably larger presence of foreign casket providers than ever before.  The Sich Casket booth was full continuously and I have to give them the “win” for marketing with their surprise “God Bless America” flash mob and free coffee stands.  Urns were everywhere and I’ll admit, I saw some unique designs that are “upping the game.”  What struck me was the flood of “same old stuff” in many booths.  (Are consumers still buying these relics or are the vendors trying to dump inventory?)  Outer burial containers didn’t offer any new “wows.”  I have to say the most personable was the Darby Family at Trigard Vaults.  You are always guaranteed hugs and hairdos with them!  At the Pierce Chemical booth I watched (and took video of) an artist bringing life to the lifeless.  The Pre-Need Builders after care program was also a breath of fresh air in the service market.

Speaking of the art of restoration/embalming, I heard some rumblings about the lack of embalming subject matter presented in seminars.  However, this is indicative of the focus in perhaps the most important segment that needs to be addressed to funeral home owners/directors:  financial health.  Consumers are dictating the direction of our profession.  Adapting to better business practices, understanding consumer needs, how to better communicate to and reach families, along with becoming profitable for the swelling tide of cremation, are topics that were at the forefront of the majority of seminars.

The Foresight Companies had a “free money grab” at their booth which again makes sense;  if a funeral home is not making great profit at least you can have a chance to grab free cash.  From the financial services segment I noticed the lack of new companies present.  The representation of pre-need companies seems to have leveled as well as that of the insurance assignment firms.  The largest footprint of assignment companies was from C&J Financial and  American Funeral Financial (shout out to Jackie Williams and Chuck Gallagher for their new “live stardom”).

I did not see companies like Save My Ink, Trey Ganem Designs, Qeepr, DNA Memorial, The Help Card, and many others. In the competitive funeral industry product/service marketplace and although they may still be operating, the lack of presence along with top-mind advertising is pretty much a kiss of death (no pun intended)…you have to BE there!

I posted  It’s about the relationships, not the productivity this week at the onset of the Convention.  Truly, relationships are the defining factor of funeral business.  Seeing longtime friends is a bonus for me personally at these events.  Talking with clients and receiving accolades in person that our work makes a difference in their lives is irreplaceable.  Conversations with prospective clients and listening to their situations of working in such a tough environment bring me excitement, because we have solutions.  The bottom line is that we are all in the funeral business to serve families at one the most difficult events in life:  death.  How we as an industry intertwine our businesses, relationships, strengthen financial heath, and bring the most positive light to our profession is the key to long term victory.

The synopsis of #NFDA2016 is of a huge success from the many observations shared above.  Watch Ryan and I next week on Funeral Nation TV for a full follow up of this year’s event.  Today is the “new funeral year,” so it’s time to get back to work.  From the Command Post (East) with my comrade Rat Terrier at my side, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

d-vs-g

My last post Funeral Industry David vs. Goliath was referring to innovation in the funeral industry. From all intents and purposes, Goliaths dictate and Davids innovate.  There is no greater example of this analogy in the funeral business than casket manufacturers.  Just recently one of the casket Goliaths was recognized for their “innovation.”  What is innovation?

Webster’s Dictionary: Innovation; a new idea, device, or method.

Have we become so complacent in our industry that throwing “old wood” on a casket is considered innovation?  The definition should be expanded to include making products for less cost (Chinese hardware and cloth for interiors) and moving South of the Border for manufacturing. YES!  Now that’s innovative; however with these cost saving measures why are you paying more for Goliath Company’s caskets?

There was a time when the casket peddlers led the industry with messages that their product was “the center of the world” and families would pay premium prices.  At that point in history (before Al Gore invented the Interweb) funeral home owners drank the Kool Aide by selling families Bronze, Copper, Stainless Steel, and Mahogany caskets even some adorned with gadgets.  Good idea, right?  I mean, the profits from these transactions had to be incredible. How’s that “innovation” working out for ‘ya today?  Funeral homes filled their casket rooms (later to become known as Hallmark Stores) with good, better, best, and ignoring the service side of their business.  What did the Goliath’s do?  After the contracts were signed and the rooms were filled, prices began swelling faster than a Krispy Creme doughnut in hot oil. Fast forward to 2016; when was the last time your firm sold a Bronze, Copper, or Mahogany casket at need?  In fact, exactly what material (Gauge or Wood type) is the average casket your firm sells now? Now Goliath’s are spewing “don’t raise our prices, raise your service prices” as they hand you the new X% more casket price-list for 2017.

Interesting that the casket Goliath’s even attempt to be “business consultants,” however 90% of the road warriors haven’t a clue how to interpret a funeral home P&L, much less understand the process of operations.  Perhaps I should create a “funeral home business and operations quiz” so that the next time Skippy the Casket Clown knocks at your door, you may find out just how much he knows about your business.  The results of the quiz will be devastating to Skippy.  But no fear!  Skippy will reach into his bag to reveal that he can improve your website (with a template), increase your cremation revenue (with his company’s Chinese urns and “proven presentation strategies”) along with various and sundry useless items for sale.  Innovation would be to improve the funeral home operating processes and providing solutions to elevate the positive financial posture for profitability.  Wait!  Maybe a trip, game tickets, or a nice meal will make everything better.

Let’s get down to the truth, shall we?   Caskets are made of wood or metal (unless you get the ones made in Mexico, they are wood composite).  The definition (according to my indoctrination in the cornfield) of a casket is “a container for precious materials.”  The deceased (precious loved one) is placed in a casket, their loss mourned, their life celebrated, and they are buried never to be seen again.  If your funeral home’s financial life depends on one of Goliath’s spawn, your business will be in a container for precious materials as well.

What would be innovation for caskets?  How about finding a way to manufacture a quality product for less?  The casket manufacturing Davids have already done so.  A simple price analysis and side by side comparison of local distributor, small manufacturer, or offshore caskets will reveal Goliath is out of touch and David has an arsenal of rocks in his sling.  Oh yeah, one more “innovation” that Goliath created:  “off brand” caskets that are sold through the local distributors.  Yep, the same casket you may be paying up to 50% more with a 1-cent sticker comes right off the manufacturing line as the “off brand” does.

Thanks to the itnerweb and frankly, enlightenment of funeral directors, the casket Goliaths are taking more rocks to the head from the casket Davids.  The Goliath notion of treating funeral directors like mushrooms (“keep ‘em in the dark and feed ‘em crap”)   days are coming to a close.

I am more than happy to further this line of factual thought with anyone that chooses to reach out to me.  I challenge any Goliath representative to a public debate on Funeral Nation TV to refute these points of innovation.  What the heck, its debate season so the floor is open!

From the Command Post (West), without libation or cigar for clear thinking, Cheer’s Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

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David kicked Goliaths ass.  Interestingly, David’s fellow warriors remained on the sidelines, huddled like a covey of quail, and just waited to see David get beat down by the giant.  But David was not only brave, he was an innovator.  He knew there was a simple solution to attack to win, versus the conventional “we’ve always done this way (and getting our ass kicked too)” crowd.

Guess what, fellow family-owned, small suppliers, and free thinkers of the funeral business:  “Goliaths” don’t innovate.  They dictate! 

Think about it.  What new innovation has made serious impact on the way we serve families or make our job better in the last 10 years?

Recently I was having a conversation with a funeral home owner client and he was lamenting how the funeral industry seems to be completely driven by “the big boys.”  And by “big boys,” he meant publicly-traded funeral homes and casket companies, membership organizations and other funeral industry providers who seem to determine our direction.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to address different categories of funeral industry Goliaths and highlight the emerging Davids.  I have a sling in one hand and rocks in another.  Yeah, this is going to be fun!  From the Command Post (West), Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

return

I consider vacation a blessing that provides time for me to relax and reflect prior to returning to “the world.”  I learned several years ago that just a few days off does not offer me the time necessary to “download and relax.” Therefor annually I take anywhere from ten to fifteen days off.  Of course, my favorite place on the planet to vacation is in Aruba.

happy place

Relaxing from the fast pace and my own self prescribed high energy constant motion is no easy task.  The beautiful beach, cigars, libations, and being with my bride creates such an atmosphere for me to completely unwind.  I become introspective about my personal and work life while on this annual trek. Similar to a birthday, I believe that God provided me another year to enjoy such a time as this and I look forward to what the future has in store for me, my family along with my professional life.  I am blessed.

I have returned to the Command Post (West) ready to continue leading on the battlefield of funeral industry innovation and making positive changes in our profession.  I’m back…#thefuneralcommander

silly

The funeral profession has some really quirky regulations and irregular standards that cause undue scrutiny every time one of our illustrious colleagues performs a stupid stunt. We have states that require a dual license (embalmer and director), we have a state that requires no license (Colorado). We have states where a funeral home must have at least 6 caskets in the building.  Another prohibits casket sales other than from a funeral home. And even a state that requires a hearse be parked on the premises. Most fascinating is that regulations are “interpreted” just like some interpret the Bible-whatever suits personal position. The Funeral Rule is one of the clearest cut and simplest regulatory set of rules I have ever seen.  Yet, nearly 30% of funeral homes inspected annually are in violation.

Who makes all these silly regulations? Funeral directors. Consider dual licensure.  Does anyone think some personalities and talents are more suited for arrangements versus embalming?  Bringing Igor out of the dungeon expecting a Billy Graham arrangement session is ludicrous.  Why not 3 caskets in the building, or maybe an even dozen?  What’s the legal definition of a hearse? Could it be a van with the respectful “landau” strip of metal on the side?

We are our own worst enemy creating barriers for success because we attempt a façade of some messed up nobility which supersedes common sense. One thing I really like about the “new generation” of funeral directors that are entering the marketplace. They don’t take your word for it, they Google and fact check.  You know, actually find the regulations on their smart devices and challenging the absurd when Foghorn Leghorn starts crowing.

We are entering a new era in the funeral business where the light is being shined on the darkness simply because of information.  And when you have information, you become educated.  When you get educated, you have a platform to effect change.  Rather than embrace “what is,” run the risk of failing scrutiny because you’ve processed regulations in a self serving way, let’s get educated and busy. Perhaps the time has come to clean up this ridiculous mess.

From the sunny Command Post (West), Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

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I am going to admit that I will drive out of my way when traveling for a Jimmy John’s #9 Italian Nightclub with extra peppers (hot). So when the news hit (via my funeral home partner who saw it on Facebook) that my beloved sandwich shop had their mouthwatering piles of meat and fix-in’s on fresh baked bread for $1.00, I trekked on over for a treat.

My cohort and I arrived at the local eatery in a bit of disbelief that the line stretched out the doors spilling into the parking lot (see picture above). Of course you know me, I started thinking, “How can a funeral home get people lined up out the door to do business like this?” Answer: They can’t. Advertising in the funeral business is simply not the same and consumers do not respond in the same manner. A $995 cremation sale (even if you pre-need today!) is not going to bring long lines of excited consumers waiting to get the best deal in the death business.

My co-host on Funeral Nation TV and social media genius Ryan Thogmartin of Disrupt Media and I consistently trumpet branding/messaging. Jimmy John’s touts gourmet sandwiches and made or delivered really fast. They don’t sell burgers, tacos, hot dogs, keepsakes, or urns. As mentioned above, when traveling I eat at JJ for another reason: consistency. No matter where I am, I get exactly what I want: great sandwich really fast.  I find value in their brand. Value: not about price (wink, wink Dan Isard).

Can I get a sandwich somewhere else cheaper? Yes. Can I get what I want somewhere else?  No. Can a consumer get a cremation or burial cheaper?  Yes. Can they get what they want at another funeral home?  Probably.  WHAT?  How will they know the difference if you don’t share your brand and message?  After all, a sandwich is a sandwich and a cremation or burial is a cremation or a burial…right?

Get it yet? Probably not. IT’S ABOUT YOUR #FNbrand message!  I ate inside the restaurant so I could watch the operations and behaviors. Guess what?  Gourmet sandwich’s really fast even with a line out the door…training anyone? What is your funeral home brand? Is it distinguishable from your competitors? What are you doing to share the message?  If your funeral home message is: “We’ve been here since Sherman burnt down the South,” “We care more,” “We’re family owned, they’re not,” on the paper place-mat in the diner, I suppose all this nonsense about the interweb marketing is just gibberish.

From a completely satisfied Jimmy John’s customer in the Command Post; Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

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