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SOTP

This evening Americans will hear our President give the State of the Union address, which is an important event for our nation.  Whether you agree or disagree, the content provided offers a perspective of “what’s going on” in our country.  I wrote an article, published in The Director magazine, providing my perspectives about the State of the Profession.  You may download the article by following this link Step Up_ 2018 State Of the Profession Address  or read below.  Yes, there are a few statements that some may deem controversial and take umbrage, however I always welcome your thoughts for discussion.  Cheers y’all!

Step Up

As I began to write this article, my mind conjured up the image of our country’s State of the Union address. The president is announced, and upon entering the House chamber, he shakes the hands of well-wishers. Of course, no matter which party is in power, the opposition is generally less exuberant as the exalted speaker continues toward the podium. Imagine with me the magnitude of the words spoken, and with that scene in your head, I now present you with the State of the Profession address.

Fellow funeral professionals, providers, suppliers and supporters, we are living in a unique time of opportunity and challenge to our livelihood. Our noble profession serves families during a most difficult life event, the death of a loved one.

Like a hospital, your funeral home does not have the luxury of set hours of operation because life can end at any hour. The men and women who serve families spend countless hours tending to the needs of others, often to the detriment of personal time with their own families. Missing birthdays, holidays and other special events is a common occurrence. And while most consumers do not have knowledge of or an appreciation for our craft, when we are called upon, all understand the importance of our mission.

The future of the funeral service profession is excellent for those embracing new paradigms of education, operations, communications and willingness to adapt to consumer demand. It’s time for leaders of our industry to rise, take charge and apply contextual intelligence.

An example of such behavior is Steve Jobs. He didn’t just create the Apple computer; his vision was to bring technology to the fingertips of everyone, rather than just the privileged and businesses. True leaders look beyond the current landscape to consider a broader vision of society, politics, technology and demographics. The funeral profession is in dire need of contextual intelligence from its emerging leaders.

Because our industry has so many facets, we have no one leader to guide the direction for the future. In fact, we have no collective, unified voice, as evidenced by the many similar yet autonomous membership organizations. The Have the Talk of a Lifetime program is about as close to a combined effort as I have witnessed, and support among professionals is growing.

There are more pressing issues that will have severe ramifications for many funeral service operators than a membership organization can address, nor does it have the capacity for deliverables. I’d like to take time now to review the serious challenges to funeral service businesses and look at opportunities for leaders to take charge.

Unfortunately, the major headlines regarding the funeral profession seem to be dictated by Chicken Little. Yes, cremation now eclipses burial in the United States, and the change will become more rapid in the coming years. Cremation is a challenge, but it’s not the biggest challenge. I’ll address the leadership opportunities for cremation later in this address.

What is the biggest expense on a funeral home’s profit and loss statement? It’s not caskets, hearses, limousines or building maintenance. Its personnel – the people who work in funeral homes who make our profession a profession. Soon we’ll begin to see the senior ranks of active serving funeral directors decline due to retirement and death.

Unfortunately, the influx of new funeral directors to backfill for the attrition of senior directors will not keep pace. The number of bright-eyed, bushy-tailed students entering the funeral profession is dwindling. Why would a bright student want to go into debt attending mortuary college, earning a degree and taking national exams just to work as an indentured servant, er, apprentice until finally licensed as a funeral director? How many people want to work for low pay and ridiculous hours in a stressful environment?

Without a doubt, we have firms across the country with stellar operations that are rewarding their employees handsomely. However, there are also horror stories of low pay, long hours and HR nightmares involving overtime, harassment, etc. Once again, leadership is the solution to this growing problem.

Now let’s review the ridiculous licensing requirements that require a funeral director to also be an embalmer. Let’s face it, embalming is an art as well as a science, but it’s not for everyone. In fact, the skillset and personality requirements for an embalmer are significantly different than those for an arranger/planner. Additionally, the average pay scale for these professionals is not attractive enough to recruit the best and brightest.

The transfer of knowledge to practice is another important yet lacking facet that does not help with retention of funeral directors. Regular, meaningful training must be part of a funeral home’s operations to assist with developing skills and reducing vulnerabilities.

Finally, it’s time for funeral home leaders to pay serious attention to HR violations concerning overtime pay and hours. Most funeral home owners do not even have basic job descriptions, up-to-date employee handbooks or procedure manuals. The Department of Labor offers guidance and requirements for these subjects, and we have experts in our ranks to remedy what is broken.

Unfortunately, because our profession has no unified leadership, I believe that the opportunity exists for individual funeral home owners to create an atmosphere of opportunity within their firm to attract new funeral professionals who see the value of a career, not just a job. 

At the beginning of my address, I stated that we find ourselves in a time of opportunity. While the funeral industry generates more than $17 billion in annual revenue in the United States, our business of doing business has changed and is still changing significantly due to shifting consumer trends coupled with the costs associated with managing a financially healthy funeral home. One number rarely discussed is funeral home profit, which is less than 7% of revenue. It’s a cancer that is permeating our businesses and is deadly to our future. Owners must get a firm grasp on the financial operations of their firm, armed with data to make decisions for profitability. Unfortunately, a majority receive financial information on their P&L statements but haven’t a clue how to interpret the numbers or identify trends.

It’s time for leaders to step up and recognize that pricing methods should not be based on competition. Rather, they should understand their own true overhead and charge not just to cover overhead but to make some profit. After all, long-term sustainability of a business is profit, even in the funeral profession.

At no other time have so many products been made available by suppliers from all corners of the world. The quality and sheer number of choices of funeral goods has increased over the last few years, creating a buyer’s market for savvy purchasers. Long gone are the days of suppliers demanding exclusive offerings of their products with unbalanced contracts detrimental to buyers. Handshakes for business are a thing of the past, and funeral home owners can use RFPs (request for proposal) to select products that fit business needs.

At the risk of upsetting the “opposition party” (those who keep the status quo and live the “we have always done it this way” motto), I am going to speak the truth: The funeral business in not unique. A business needs a service or product to offer, customers to buy those offerings, prices for those offerings (that offset the cost and taxes), payment for the offerings and, finally, to make a profit.

Again, our profession does not have a solution for the entire industry to solve this problem because we cannot regulate profitability. We do, however, have an opportunity for leaders to focus their attention to ensure that their business is poised for long-term financial sustainability, including controlling overhead, proper pricing for services/products, eliminating accounts receivables, paying attention to tax vulnerabilities and taking advantage of different product offerings. Because of technology and education, individual leaders have more resources that ever before at their fingertips, so it’s time to make profit great again! 

ellow professionals, I have touched on our greatest resource – human capital – and addressed the need to focus on profitability. But I would be remiss if I did not discuss the rise of cremation in our country.

Without a doubt, we must be accountable for our poor early response as cremation demand increased. Frankly, we blew it. But it’s not over until we say it’s over! I am bullish on the opportunity for funeral professionals to embrace cremation as one of our great offerings of service to families. Training arrangers to provide information so families can make educated decisions can provide tremendous benefits to those we serve as well as to our bottom line.

Leaders need to provide continuous training and monitor results. For example, the presentation of cremation opportunities should always include embalming, services and products. The first part of this address was about our people, and again, people are the solution for greater opportunity for meeting the cremation demand.

The theme of financial matters loops around to matters of cremation as well. Funeral home owners, pay attention to my words: You must charge appropriately for your cremation services, period. I understand your fear of pricing with so many providers offering services for less, but you must overcome your fear with the reality of numbers. If discount or low-price cremations were all consumers desired, this article would not exist because neither would the thousands of funeral homes that support this periodical.

The truth is, your competitor does not have your overhead, and you can’t charge the same for like services. At some point, the dam of burial families subsidizing cremation families is going to burst. Cremation families must pay the same fee for services as burial families. Transfer and basic services fees should be the same regardless of disposition. A cremation needs to include a full removal price, full basic services fee, transportation to the crematory (if necessary) and full cremation fee.

Cremation is not going away; in fact, it’s increasing, offering funeral home leaders the opportunity to look beyond their current way of operating and into the future. To be successful, it’s critical to train personnel and monitor and measure results to adapt to the increasing consumer demand. Equally important is developing and instituting appropriate pricing.

People, finances and cremation are all challenges and opportunities for funeral professionals. Our industry continues to experience a new facet in the business that did not exist in the past – technology. It is imperative that funeral homes embrace and engage with the technology available to conduct our business and serve families better. There are those among the opposition who still have poor websites, use paper and pen in the arrangement conference and shun social media as a means to bolster their position within the communities they serve.

Funeral home leaders have a tremendous opportunity to integrate technology into practically every facet of operations. Doing so reduces mistakes, eliminates waste, creates a positive family experience and increases profit.

Another piece of the technology puzzle fits into our discussion of attracting and recruiting talent. Funeral homes that embrace and use technology in their day-to-day operations will attract a better candidate versus those operating in 20th century mode.

I would like to reiterate my thoughts on the state of the funeral profession address by quoting President Franklin D. Roosevelt: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” We have an opportunity to develop our funeral homes into work environments that provide a noble service. Not only can we provide superior products and services to those who have lost a loved one, we can provide a secure financial future for our own families and our employees. We’re at a point at which we can dictate how consumers view cremation by training our staffs to provide information to families to make educated decisions. Technology has presented funeral professionals a better way to serve, communicate and attract funeral consumers.

The only impediment to our bright future is ourselves. We have no room for complacency and hubris; it’s time for leaders to step up into their rightful place. 2018 is a landmark year to embrace and engage our destiny. I ask you: What’s holding you back? What are you scared of? Turn your vision into reality – all it takes is execution.

 

 

TFC Returns FB (3)

I’m certain that as a follower of this blog, you’ve noticed an absence of postings for a while.  No, I haven’t ceased my relentless pursuit of spreading the Funeral Gospel according to the Commander.   For the latter part of 2017, I spent a great deal of time, as the Director of Marketing, dedicated to The Foresight Companies, which is a monumental task in itself.  Not to mention co-hosting Funeral Nation TV, for which Ryan Thogmartin and I recently published our 102nd show.  I haven’t exactly been sitting around waiting for the funeral industry to change. Rather, I’m leading the conversation, providing common sense commentary and solutions for problems some see perplexing, yet I see invigorating.

Hence, I’m broadening my position as a funeral industry superlative to offer several avenues of approach for fellow professionals to hear/see what needs to be said: WAKE UP!  In the next few weeks, you’ll see a new articles, short blog pieces, videos, and basically get a snout full of my perspectives about our industry.  From business practices, training, suppliers, industry news, and stuff that comes to mind…it’s all going to be here at The Funeral Commander and shared throughout my vast social media connections.  Please follow me at LinkedInFacebook, and Twitter) as well as at The Foresight Foreca$t.  Be vigilant and remember, “A vision is only a dream without execution.”  Cheers y’all!

 

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As we launched into 2017, I see all sorts of resolution and other feel good articles how to live a better life this year.  Frankly, I wonder why we need prompting to do what should be done in the first place.  For most people, there are a few top “resolutions” with simple solutions:

  1. Want to lose weight and get in shape? Quit eating poorly and exercise.  The food that goes into your mouth comes directly from your own hand.  You don’t need a gym membership to roll your carcass out of bed in the morning and take 30-45 minutes to walk/run, do some push ups, planks, and get on with your day.  Get your ass out of bed a little earlier in the morning, exercise, and quit eating junk. Why is that so difficult?
  2. Want to make more money? Focus on what brings in revenue rather wasting time on crap that does not pay the bills.  Take a look where the money comes from and increase your effort to make more.  The harder you work, the luckier you get, monetize everything!
  3. Want to live a better life? Read 1 & 2, then organize your time:
  • Each day has 24 hours and each week has 168 hours.
  • If you work 45 hours per week, that leaves 123 hours.
  • If you sleep 48 hours a week (8 hours a night), that leaves 75 hours.
  • So that leaves 75 hours a week, 10.71 hours a day that you are not working or sleeping.  Surely if you want to better educate yourself, start a new hobby, spend more time doing anything, the math above dictates that it’s possible.

Make the decision to take command of yourself and life will get better.  From the Command Post (W), Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

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If your funeral home has accounts receivable, your payment policy is worthless.  The funeral director in charge of arrangements perpetuates the problem and owners are guilty of holding anyone accountable with a lack of leadership.  As a funeral business consultant, I can quickly diagnose the situation by studying the A/R and role playing as a family member in an arrangement session.  Fortunately, I have the solution to fix the cash flow problem; however the decision lies squarely on the shoulders of funeral home ownership.

Why is the decision so difficult for funeral home owners to make a commitment to improve their cash flow and significantly reduce their accounts receivable?  By doing so it’s an admission that their arrangers care less and are unaccountable.  Owners would rather scramble to make ends meet (because cash flow is suffering) than actually take charge of their business by changing behavior of funeral directors.  Additionally, there is a cost for professionals to conduct adequate training.   Professional training solves cash flow and other funeral home operations problems, yet owners rarely seek training as a source.  Rather they create knee-jerk processes with no accountability or device to measure success or failure.  Ultimately, the inmates are running the asylum.

A working payment policy is predicated on use of the GPL and offering payment options near the beginning of the arrangement session.  “Talking about the money” should not be put off until the goods and services statement is provided at the end of the arrangements.  Ever wonder why families must take a bathroom or smoke break when the goods and services statement comes out?  It’s because the funeral director failed to do his or her job by addressing the second most important issue for a family (right behind the death of a loved one); “How are we going to pay for this?”

If a funeral home has accounts receivable, the payment policy isn’t working and neither are the funeral directors.  Don’t like it?  Do something about it and make a damn decision, or just continue the failure to collect the funds needed to make payroll.  Sooner or later, you’ll need to email jeff@f4sight.com.

Back and refreshed from cigars, libations, great food and time with my family at the Command Post (East), Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

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It’s Veterans’ Day and I am going to utilize my constitutional right to voice my opinions.  Although every American has such a privilege, I’ve certainly earned mine.  Yep, I’ve turned into one of those “old crusty guys” and my uniform hangs in a closet. I’m one that places my hand over my heart standing at attention (if not saluting) when our flag passes in a parade or during the National Anthem. Today you may see many like me wearing hats adorned with ribbons and badges that to most, have no meaning.

Every Veterans’ Day I get a bit reflective and at the same time, I think about the blessing of belonging to the best fraternity in the world; people that would give their life for others. See, when we take the oath of office, we swear that we will protect and defend…everyone!  I still keep that oath and I swear, I would still fight today. In fact while writing this, I get a serious case of whoop-ass.

I have been in harm’s way and witnessed the only form of the perfect society.  Muslims, Jews, Baptists, Catholics, Blacks, Whites, Asians, Hispanics, Men, Women, and yes I’m sure a few Homosexuals prayed together because we knew we could die together. We were willing to die for something bigger than ourselves: a common purpose.

Our nation just completed an election, and many think it was seriously contentious.  Yeah, it was a bit rough, but there were times in our history we were literally battling on our own soil, even against each other. The Facebook and Twitter cowboy bravado was hilarious because it was like watching a pillow fight at a junior high girls’ sleepover. I am actually enjoying the aftermath of watching the crying and sore losers. College students are allowed to miss class to grieve the election results and protesters take to the streets because the outcome didn’t go their way, bless their little fragile cupcake hearts.

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Yes it turns my stomach, but I know it was us Veterans that gave them the freedom to display their selfish and myopic behavior. I can assure you that the men and women serving all over the world got up Wednesday morning, put their uniforms on, and did their assigned duties. Why? Because they perform their duties for something greater than themselves: our democracy. In fact, they provide the freedom for the “I didn’t get a trophy” college weaklings, the naerdowell protesters, and the knee-bending attention-seekers.

Today is our day.  The 11th day of the 11th month that honors the men and women that offered to give their life for our way of life.  I have generations of family (including my son) that served and hundreds of people I served alongside for the same principles.  There are few like us and my salute to all.

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For everyone else, just for today, if you don’t like the way things turned out, keep your pie-hole shut unless you thank those that gave an oath for your privilege to vote. From the Command Post (West) and ready to kick ass to someone that disagrees with me today, Cheers Y’all. #thefuneralcommander

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