Archive

Funeral News

The King and I II

May 2nd began new era for me; I am now the Director of Marketing for The Foresight Companies. Over the last 2 months, Dan Isard and I have conducted in-depth due diligence, meetings, sharing of philosophies concluding that this opportunity is right for both of us.  Learning from Dan as an understudy and gleaning from his vast 30 years of funeral consulting expertise is indeed a fantastic opportunity.

Fortunately, I am not only  going to get a PhD in funeral consulting, I also broaden the platform of reach through The Funeral Commander blog  as well as the Funeral Nation TV with my co-host and social media expert Ryan Thogmartin continuing to “raise the flag” for our industry.  Additionally, the At Need Credit company fits nicely into The Foresight Companies wheel house especially with our Simple Funeral Payment Plan software platform to clean up accounts receivable for funeral homes.

Yes, this a significant change and commitment for both of us.  Dan shaped up his intention for my future in an early email to me: “It was a story told that the young Egyptian kings would eat the eyes of the former king so that the young king would have seen all that their predecessor did.  I am better today at what I do based on what I have seen for 30 plus years.  I have to try to pass that on to my protegé as quickly as possible.”

So there you have it. I’m in the process of fantastic professional growth and educational experience.  If you know both Dan and I , you will also know that our wit and humor are aligned (see Funeral Nation TV Episode #30 to get a flavor of how we are working together. So when you see Dan at future conferences and conventions, take a few moments to ask him what type of service dog he is training with. As for me I’m studying exactly which rum pairs well with eye balls.

From the new Command Post (west) and in dire need to find a cigar lounge that I can work from, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

 

APR fool

TFC-BS Wire: Early this morning we have confirmed reports from the Cornfield that casket sales are soaring!  Funeral homes report the increased demand for full service burials are causing serious issues from scheduling of services, dwindling inventory of embalming fluids, lack of limousine/hearse stock to scarcity of high end caskets. Additionally, cemeteries report land grabs akin to “the gold rush” for spaces available to bury the masses at their final resting place.

This phenomenon has a negative effect as consumers are abandoning cremation in droves. Crematory operators are scrambling to find solutions to find revenues as cardboard container sales, urn and online cremation sales are plummeting.  Cremation societies and what was deemed as “cut rate cremation” providers but the funeral industry are now facing foreclosures and bankruptcy.

APR News

WAKE UP!

Yes, it was only a dream and of course it’s April 1st.  No such luck, its all a dream!

From the Command Post with a big cigar and laughing at the absurdly of wishful thinking; Cheer’s Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

Today, we’d like to a moment and share a recent interview with AtNeedCredit.com managing partner, Jeff Harbeson.

Jeff has been in the funeral industry for many years, has founded or co-founded numerous funeral-related businesses and websites and shares valuable insights from his experience.

He regularly contributes his expertise to publications, both offline and online, is co-host of Funeral Nation TV (an online show for the funeral industry) and writes regularly on his blog, The Funeral Commander. We welcome Jeff Harbeson to the CareCap blog.


 

Ed:  Thanks for joining us today, Jeff, on the CareCap blog.  So, can you tell us a little about yourself and your background? What’s your story?

Pull-Quote-Jeff-Harbeson-01-768x768Jeff:  My story has many chapters and the story is ongoing.  The most important chapters are my marriage to my wife Jacque for 32 years.  Bless her heart, she deserves a special place in heaven!  We have two fantastic sons Hunter (off my payroll) and Jackson (finishing high school). 

Often folks ask what I do, and my response is: 

“I am raising my daughter-in-law’s husband and my grandchildren’s father.  My work is merely a support for their well-being and my habits (cigars, rum, golf and travel).” 

Ed:  (LOL) Well, that’s a pretty great answer, I can tell you have a healthy sense of humor. similar to my father- he served in the Navy for 20+ years, but I know you were an Army man, so I’m sure you’d still all get along! How long were you in service to your country?

Jeff:  I was honored to serve our country for 20 years in the Army including deployment to the Middle East for service in Operation Desert Storm.  I was trained to be a leader and had the opportunity to be a TAC Officer (drill instructor) at Officers Candidate School where I trained over 400 enlisted and non-commissioned officers to become combat leaders, some still serving today.

My official retirement papers came September 11, 2001 and I retired as a Captain.  I have a personal mantra of “A vision is only a dream without execution” and a gift of working alongside some very smart people.

Oh yeah, I also don’t want to leave out that I’m not going to tell you to go to hell, but I’ll tell you the truth, which may feel like hell! J And I expect the same from those around me that I place my trust and emotional equity.

Pull-Quote-Jeff-Harbeson-02-768x768Ed:  Well, that’s a no-nonsense approach to life and in doing business, one that I can appreciate. So, after your time serving in the military, how did you get started in the funeral industry and what drew you to it?

Jeff:  My original start in the funeral industry was as a manufacturer providing custom made cremation cabinets in Ireland.  I learned quite a bit about the landscape and was later recruited by Batesville Casket Company in sales.

As I worked with funeral home owners, I was astounded at the lack of business acumen and leadership that was pervasive in the industry. 

Many times I was told by funeral home owners and directors alike “we have always done in this way” and “you can’t change that.”

So after dealing with those challenges in the funeral industry, I decided that I would create an entirely different funeral home operating platform using six-sigma methodology which is today trademarked as TouchPoints.

Later on, some partners and I started our own funeral service provider brand in Virginia from the ground up, Family Choice Funerals & Cremations.

As a partner/owner I was provided a fantastic education and training of how to develop a successful business.  The funeral home operation also provided me a platform for trying new theories of service, marketing, technology and management.

I have a penchant to provide information so that families can make an educated funeral decision and our team is dedicated to continuous improvement.

Full-Width-Pull-Quote-Jeff-Harbeson-01-1024x427

 

Ed:  After recognizing these challenges in the funeral industry and what you’re seeing on the market today, what are some of the top things funeral homes are seeing as advancements or trends?

Certainly, technology and communication has changed the funeral home operating landscape and the expectations of the funeral consumer.  As a whole, funeral homes are reluctant and slow to embrace anything new.  To their detriment, this legacy characteristic offers entrepreneurs like me to take competitive advantage.

Our funeral homes use computers and tablets for all operations,which eliminates waste in human resources expense, such as administrative staff. Combining technology with social media is a tremendous advancement for our industry; however, the vast majority of funeral homes have not embraced the opportunities.

Another example of keeping up with consumer expectations is an online cremation service called Select Cremation that our team developed, which allows a funeral consumer to make complete arrangements for their loved one online and the cremated remains delivered to their house without ever leaving their comfortable surroundings.funeral-nation-tv_300x300

The way we communicate even within our industry is changing, for example I co-host an online show Funeral Nation TV which is viewed by over 20,000 people monthly in over 75 countries.  Frankly, it’s the best FN thing going in the industry 😃.

Ed:  It sounds like you’ve got a great handle in developing a strong online presence and embracing technology to share your challenges, success stories, etc. within your industry, great work!

With so many changes in technology and communication coming at us so fast in the business world, what would you say is the #1 business challenge funeral directors are facing today?

Jeff:  The lack of leadership of doing “the business of the business.”

Funeral professionals are compassionate caregivers providing a necessary service at what is considered one of the most difficult events in life; the loss of a loved one.

However, the typical funeral home is poorly managed from the business and financial standpoint.  Failure of owners to take accountability and leadership of their business places many firms in shaky financial postures.

Full-Width-Pull-Quote-Jeff-Harbeson-03

Ed:  I’m sure, as you say, funeral directors face many obstacles to running a funeral business as best as they can, while remaining compassionate to people dealing with a difficult time in their lives.  Speaking of finances, when dealing with consumers and their challenges at covering funeral expenses, how can funeral homes help?

Jeff:  When a deceased person does not have a funded pre-need trust/insurance or little to no life insurance, survivors are placed in a difficult spot.  Many families have limited credit card balances and little to no savings set aside to pay for unexpected funeral expenses.

Most people do not realize that funeral homes as well as cemeteries require full payment prior to services rendered.

at-need-credit-small-logo-768x185

At Need Credit offers Funeral Directors two payment options for consumers, for funeral homes to recover their costs for goods and services.

FuneralPayPlan (info available at AtNeedCredit.com) is an online loan company providing funeral consumers loans for funeral expenses.  Simple Funeral Payment Plan, powered by CareCaps (also found at AtNeedCredit.com) is a versatile payment plan for funeral directors to bill payments over time as well as recover accounts receivable due.

Of course, funeral home owners must be proactive in training their funeral directors on how to assist families that have financial challenges.

At Need Credit offers such training that eliminates discounting and extraneous accounts receivable work.  Yet again, it takes leadership to make changes.

Ed:  Do you see any drawbacks to any of the payment options currently available to the funeral industry, such as At Need Credit?

Jeff:  There is no downside to funeral homes offering payment plans through a program such as At Need Credit.

However, if funeral homes offer credit or payment plans that charges interest, they are most likely out of federal lending compliance.  When a loan is offered (payment plan, credit or accounts receivable recovery) consumers must be provided with a Truth-In-Lending Act statement as well as calculated Annual Percentage Rates, at the time of application.

I have yet to see a funeral home in compliance of these regulations, thus a third party company like At Need Credit is their best option.

Ed:  It’s clear that every business, including the funeral industry, needs to be compliant when offering financing and that by contracting with a third party to handle payment options, they can avoid the finance compliance issues.  In terms of searching for a third party funeral financing or payment plan solution, what type of advice would you offer to a Funeral Director when he/she is evaluating a payment solution for their business?

Funeral directors should research what others are saying about the payment platform, the tool should offer the ability to create and modify customized payment plans, ensure that deposits can be paid out quickly and that they doesn’t aren’t charged unusually high or unnecessary start up fees.

I’d recommend they also go through a full demo of the payment system, to test out the system before implementing in the funeral home business.

Lastly, select a company that has established and updated training for funeral directors, in order to understand how to offer payment plan options during the funeral arrangement session.

Ed:  You’ve owned, operated and managed many funeral industry-related businesses. What advice would you recommend for a family planning a funeral in today’s environment?

I would recommend to everyone they discuss their own end-of-life wishes with family members.  Although this may sound odd, it can be enlightening and provide impetus to collect necessary documents (life insurance policies, wills, advance medical directives, DD-214, etc.) and at least know the location of these important documents, in case of an unexpected death. 

Humor makes the conversation so much easier.  Discussing outfits, after parties and other events often leads to more important matters. 

Full-Width-Pull-Quote-Jeff-Harbeson-03

I have personally planned my event in Aruba at the Bugaloe Beach Bar headed by my Italian Catholic, Southern Baptist and Jewish funeral director friends leading the bereaved with cigars and lots of rum.  Sounds like a hell of a sendoff, huh? 

Unfortunately, we cannot predict death, especially when we lose those that are younger than us.  Just recently I had such an experience and shared the story on my blog: https://thefuneralcommander.com/2015/11/24/its-personal-grief-grace-gratitude/.

Ed:  Your event you have planned in Aruba, definitely sounds like a hell of a way to celebrate your life!

And I definitely agree with what you recommend, that people take the time to discuss and notate what their end of life wishes should be.  Too many times, friends or family members pass away and we as the survivors, face challenges and awkward moments planning and carrying out what we think are the best wishes on their behalf.  Your advice of taking care of creating and managing the necessary documents is something that might be a challenge at first, but important to do so for the sake of our loved ones.

Thanks so much for your time and sharing your story and advice from your years in the funeral business and serving our country in the military; do you have any last words you’d like to share with our readers as we sign off?

I would encourage everyone to take each day as a gift and love deeply those closest because tomorrow may not come.  Plan, talk, laugh and love.

Full-Width-Pull-Quote-Jeff-Harbeson-02

Ed Bisquera

Digital Marketing Consultant at Bisquera Digital
Ed is a guest author on the CareCap blog, providing articles and tips to businesses on using digital marketing tactics to gain more customers. You can reach him on Twitter or LinkedIn or post in the comments section below. Disclaimer: Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official corporate policy or position of CareCap.

Remedy 2

When funeral home owners and managers are challenged regarding their failed payment policy of collecting funds for their goods and services, finger-pointing begins.  Often I hear “Once that arrangement door closes, there is not much I can do” and “We have a payment policy, but funeral directors are just not following it” along with other nonsensical gibberish. When statements are made like this I think about the old saying “The inmates running the asylum.”

I had the opportunity to present a Continuing Education Unit over the weekend at Tidewater Community College on the subject “Cash Flow Solutions for At Need Services.” The attendees were very engaged and truly seeking solutions to create better financial postures and processes of recovering the hard-earned revenues of their respective funeral homes.  The problems can be solved with four steps.

Leadership: Step up and be the leader your funeral directors need and initiate solutions with immediate action.  Any non-action to address failure is failure.

Remedy

Training: Create a training program that is easily adapted, intentional and produces measurable results.  If your funeral home does not have organic competence or experience (most don’t) for training, hire a professional. Interesting in the funeral profession there is much howling of directors “hire professional funeral directors” to consumers rather than use online services, “disposers” or “discounters.” Yet when the same barking ilk are in need of assistance in an area that they possess no background or expertise, they seek remedy’s that rarely produce results by non professions. Some examples: Business Management, Financial Advisory/Oversight, Marketing and Social Media Management.

Remedy 3

Accountability: As a funeral home owner or manager, hold yourself accountable first. If you know there are problems (accounts receivable, discounts, life insurance recovery), then it’ your obligation to raise your hand and ask for help, not the funeral directors or employees.  Once you initiate training, then accountability on all levels may be assigned.

Remedy 4

Monitor/Measure/Improve: Training without monitoring the process, measuring results, and continuous refining is a futile exercise.  In fact, the funeral industry has created the notion that “education/CEU” is sufficient. If that’s the case, why do 30% of our colleagues get repeatedly fined by the FTC for simple GPL violations?

MMI

After reading this post look at your YTD (year to date, you know the start of 2016 to now) accounts receivable and discounts allowed. If you don’t know how to find this data, you are in huge trouble.  If this report reveals any AR balances or discounts given, you are in some trouble because your payment policy does not work. Multiply those numbers x 4 to see how bad your year is going to turn out. If you have $0.00 accounts receivable and have not offered any discounts, congrats as you are among a small few of your peers (or you don’t have a clue and in denial).  Get professional help now, remedies and resources are available but you have to raise your hand (and write a check). Want to know who and how? Contact me.

Look for a BIG announcement from At Need Credit shortly regarding a strategic alliance of funeral industry financial funding leaders forming the most comprehensive solutions group for funeral homes to recover their at need revenues. It’s all about #FNchange, #FNhustle and #FNbrand people!

From the smoke-filled Command Post; Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

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

 

 

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

 

 

who is laughing

Many current owners, managers, funeral directors, and leaders of the funeral industry grew up in the same era I did.  As for the younger crowd, this will be foreign to you simply because you were not alive during this period and the world has significantly changed…for the better.

There was a time that American consumers made fun of foreign-made Datsun, Honda, and Toyota cars because they were classified as cheaply made and unreliable especially by the American auto manufacturers.  Fast forward to 2016; Datsun (now Nissan), Honda, and Toyota are all on top of the heap for value, reliability, and sales in the U.S.  Evolving from those same manufacturers are the Infiniti, Acura and Lexus luxury brands.  I’m certain the haughty and powerful American auto executives back in the day would be mortified at just how wrong they were having underestimated the resolve of their competition and the change in American consumer attitudes toward these cars today.  Anyone catching on yet?

  • “My families would never cremate.”
  •  “My families would never use someone else.”
  • “My families would not like that.”
  • “You get what you pay for.”
  •  “We are a full service funeral home, not a discounter.”
  • “Using computers in arrangements is impersonal.”
  • “If they want our prices, then they will have to meet with us first.”
  • “We only use American made caskets, urns and fleet.”

Many in the funeral industry have the same echo hubris as the auto exec’s of yesteryear regarding their competition and the consumer market.   But, what if?

What if the competition made a better product or provided a better service, value, and dependability?  What if the competition could reach the same families with a better message moving market share?  What if the competition figures out how to offer the current funeral consumer options they are seeking rather than what is customary?  What if the competition could do what you do, but better?  What if import caskets are a better value (price and quality) than cornfield caskets?  You don’t think this is possible?  Ask the good old boys from Detroit that smoked cigarettes in their offices (if any of them are alive), who’s laughing now?

There are flashes of brilliance out in the funeral world from multi generational funeral providers, forward thinkers, and manufacturers who are executing #FNchange by taking chances as well as simply out #FNhustle everyone else.  Meanwhile, the rest of the herd hasn’t looked inside the door of their American made car to see where the parts come from, still believe that caskets assembled in the cornfield are American made (I guess if Mexico and China are new states, this is true), think cremation is just a fad, and lead the discussion of whether women should wear pants or skirts (below knee with pantyhose, of course) who will continue their decent into the abyss of irrelevance (remember travel agents?).

Got comments or thoughts or are you just going to sit there and smirk?  What are you doing to #FNchange and #FNhustle? From a very thick fog of cigar smoke generated by a 60 ring gauge Maduro in the Command Post, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

%d bloggers like this: