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I recently attended an outstanding funeral business seminar during which my “different from the obvious” observation skills kicked in.  The speakers were offering transformational information about essential elements of funeral business from addressing consumers in arrangements to profitability.  As I intently listened to the content provided by experts in our profession, my focus shifted to those in attendance.

And in my innate smart-assed sense of being, it hit me; the messengers are pleading for action of the attendees.  Interaction, response, nodding of heads, raising hands all to provide the speaker acknowledgement their message is resonating.  A funeral seminar (or other seminars for that matter) may be just like attending church or going to a strip club.  As a note, I have been in more churches than strip clubs in my life, neither of which seem to have made a difference in my life.  What are the similarities?

Seminars, churches, and strip clubs all want their seats full.  At most funeral seminars and strip clubs, you have to pay to get in to see the talent.  Churches offer free admittance but generally collect early on before the best of the content is delivered.  The talent (or presenter) does their best to get the attention of the attendees with jokes, graphics, compelling content, or some other form of mesmerizing skill.

Where the attendees sit is interesting.  Those that are eager to participate generally sit up front.  The front row folks interact with the talent in different forms from verbal affirmation to throwing money.  They also hope to reap rewards like being called on for a response or getting some type of goodie like a t-shirt, candy, or recognition by the presenter. The front rowers also don’t mind getting heckled a bit either.

Those in the middle want to hear what’s being said, but not make too much of a commitment.  The “middle crowd” dips their toes in the participation water by taking copious notes, occasionally raising their hands and show relative interest without being subject to singled out…unless the presenter is mobile and happens to venture into their “safe space.”

The most skeptical seem to sit in the back.  Their modus operand (what they do for folks of non-legal knowledge) is to watch what everyone else does and not live in fear of participating or being called upon.  Unfortunately, the skeptical also miss out sometimes on the true flavor and essence of the talent. This particular behavior is evident in funeral seminars, churches, and strip clubs alike. Oh, and don’t forget, rarely are photos made of those in the back and they have the best angle of a quick departure if necessary.

Lastly, and most interesting to me, the content has not changed.  At funeral seminars the presenters share why funeral professionals should up their game by focusing more on the ‘business of doing business” and how to correlate the desires of the families they are serving with their P&L rather than inane subjects like the all-important matching tie debate.  At church, the presenter shares how changing behaviors and thoughts lead to a better life lived.  At strip clubs, the presenter shares how life may be lived differently, albeit a fantasy not reality, and it pretty much has a cost for continued thoughts usually a dollar at a time.

In closing, whether a seminar, a church, or strip club, messages are being delivered for attendees to take action.  The physical location of the attendee may be a sign of whether just notes are taken, participation level engaged, or serious action may be taken.  Different observations, but the correlation of reception is relevant. As long as there is a need, there will be messengers attempting to change lives, good or bad.

From the Command Post (West) and chuckling a bit about the responses, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

at need payment

Funeral payment plans used to be an option for consumers pay funeral expenses that did not fund pre-need, had limited life insurance, cash or credit card balances.  The days of funeral homes offering in house payment plans have gone away with the sales of bronze and copper caskets.  Why?

Administering the process of billing, collecting and accounting is a colossal waste for the actual return of the revenue sought after.  Another reason is the age old “when the tears dry up so does the checkbook” theory of consumers failing to pay for funeral expenses over time.  Finally, the credit worthiness of consumers has dramatically shifted in a downward spiral due to continuing unemployment, falling home value and of course other negative economic pressures.

But these folks are dying too and funeral home owners are struggling to maintain a balance between offering services/products that family’s desire with getting paid for services rendered.  This dilemma is not new and I have written several posts At Need Payment PlansDon’t Ask the Kids to Pay, along with Is it About Honoring the Life or Paying the Bill?  This “underbelly issue” of the funeral home business is not being addressed and is one that will continue to grow as fast as the shift from burial to cremation.

Think I’m wrong about this?  Take a look at all of this years (2015) convention and meetings.  How many seminars were presented that shared how to deal with consumers that are financially struggling, how to bridge the gap between wants of families vs. revenue generation, or cash flow solutions for at need funerals?  Nope, we still are listening to the soothsayers and pundits blithering about “charge more/show more value,” “how to market your funeral home (with no measurable results),” along with other subjects that are basically repackaged from the last seminar offering nothing remotely important to serving the broke ass consumer (I threw that in just to see if anyone reads this far down and paying attention).

Over the coming weeks I’m going to further delve into this particular subject and offer solutions.  At this very time I am working with a team of lending experts and organizations to create new a suite of funeral payment plans that will be offered by At Need Credit with several choices of options that funeral directors may choose based on their particular needs.

The new roll-out will be in January and will include everything from offering payment plans to excellent credit consumers, poor credit rated consumers, billing opportunities to accounts receivable collection.  If you know me, it’s not just talking, it’s all about execution.  The Funeral Commander is “getting it done” for funeral payment plans. From the command post through the smoke of a fat maduro cigar, Cheers y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

A Simple, Village Undertaker

Rubbing it in from Roanoke, VA. Rubbing it in from Roanoke, VA.

Two men.

Two Football games

One, big difference.

The Story:                                                                                                                             I was watching the USC Gamecocks get embarrassed on SEC TV (again)  and was texting my buddy, Jeff “The Funeral Commander” Harbeson regarding a commercial for a product that he and I are interested in.   Jeff was relaxing  in his forward command post,  football game on and  a fine cigar in hand. (see attached photo). 

I might be the king, but that would never be allowed in my castle, where the queen…

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Fathers Day 2015

It’s early morning Father’s Day, like 5:15 am early in the morning.  It’s not unusual for me to be awake and I have the unfortunate disposition of when my eyes open, that’s the end of sleeping because my mind begins to work.  My mind this morning is reflective of Father’s Day and the title of Father. Obviously I think of my two sons and the years that I have held this position; the only position I have held longer is Husband.

I am one to measure most everything by success or failure, either is works or it doesn’t, and no one is a harsher critic of me than the guy that stares back at me in the mirror.  What is a successful Father and on self evaluation, how do I measure up?  If providing myself a realistic and true evaluation, this is a tough question for me to ponder.

When I found out that  I was going to earn the Father title, I was excited and scared to death.  Excited by the possibilities and scared because I was really in all honesty, not prepared for what was ahead of me…but is anyone really?  I did all the things expected of a Father which from my point of view is to love my children, provide for them and to do what I could for them to have a life far better than I.  In many aspects, I believe that I have success in these three areas, but a deeper look, I admittedly failed miserably along the way.  My personality “wiring” is pretty much all or nothing, leave nothing on the table, first one in/last one out and do it right the first time, or don’t bother.  For many segments of life these traits are admired and often revered with such accolades of “leader,” “winner,” and such.  But in the title of Father, such is not necessarily positive or productive.

I was formally trained as a leader, and I had none as a Father.   Expectations of my personal standards are high because as a leader, I have to “have my stuff together” before I could demand that others do the same.  Unfortunately, I have often been wrong in this particular area of parenthood.  The task of being a Father is not to mold a child into a clone; a clone that is better, more driven, or more successful.  The task of being a Father is not to challenge my kids  to reach personal expectations or to make up for the failure in my own life…you know “if I had my time to go over again, I would have” type mentality.

As I write this morning evaluating my position of Father thinking “if I had time to go over again” for last nearly 24 years,  what would I do different?  Love more, correct and expect less.  Let the little and many of the big things go.  As I am told all the time by their Mother (thank God for her), in the end and the big scheme of life, does this incident really matter?  On my deathbed, does cutting the grass too low all the way down to the soil or a dent in the side of my car change the way life will turn out?  No.

What’s most interesting about my position of Father is that my two sons actually have taught me more about life than I thought imaginable.  For all my failed reactions, my high expectations and my demands for excellence on them, all they require of me is to love them for who they are…because that’s what they do for me.  My boys (really men is a better term) love me despite those times when I miserably failed with them.  Of course we have had more happiness and great times than speeding tickets or bad grades; but those times of turbulence place cracks in the foundation of what is built up in the “big scheme of life.”  All the cracks are directly attributed to my handling of situation.

I know and I have witnessed some of my before-mentioned traits that I have passed to both of them, which is necessary in some instances of life, but not all.  Both my son’s love deeply and forgive quickly; their expectations for life are driven to enjoy the moment.  These two cause me to pause, take a step back to realize that I need to be more like them, follow their example.  Yes, I am a successful Father…thanks to my sons providing me unconditional love and becoming better men than I.  That’s all a Father can ask for.  From the desk of The Funeral Commander; Happy Father’s Day Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

3 a

WOW!! What great response to the post Truth Discussion: Part III from literally all over the world; thank you (except to the woman with the handle  “Cougar” that called me a few expletives, but she certainly typified the Southern saying “a bit dog always yelps”).   One of my brilliant readers (a seasoned and well respected industry pro) and I had a long Skype discussion about the funeral industry buying and selling process a few days ago. During our chat, the notion of perceived value was discussed from a funeral product perspective.  The truth is, because of overcapacity many manufacturers of funeral products are in survival mode.

Think not?  Here is a question to ponder:  Especially regarding caskets, if products have such great value…why offer such HUGE discounts? As I mentioned in Part III, I have recently seen a combined discount/rebate over 40% offered for a nominal amount of casket purchases.   Leading with value?  Not a chance…absolutely leading with price!  If the main product manufactured has to be highly discounted to attract/retain customers and if the focus for sales reps is to sell all sorts of ancillary products such a paper goods, “business” systems, urns, websites, etc. then the truth is, things aren’t going so well.

Given this scenario, what are your thoughts? I’d like to hear from everyone your experiences of just how much a funeral industry product/service company wanted your business (discount/rebate, parking lots paved, vacations paid for, etc.).  What are some of your stories and observations?  We all know that just about anyone can be given a name-tag, tour, fed, getting all liquored up on free drinks in the middle of nowhere, entertained with game tickets, rounds of golf and such; but how about some of the more “colorful” attempts at “loyalty development?”

The truth is most funeral directors don’t ever see or get to experience such perks, I suppose that’s why the “Halloween” bags are so important at conventions/expos.  What’s hilarious is some may read this and have no clue of what I’m talking about…oh well.  From the desk of The Funeral Commander, Cheers Y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

Nice post by Dan Katz of LA ads.

Funeral Advertising for the Perplexed

storybookHaving minimal research on this point, I’ll still propose that just as soon as Man could communicate, he told stories.  Storytelling seems to be embedded into the human DNA.  We understand much of our world through the stories we are told because stories, not mere recitation of facts, put things into perspective.  Fables, myths, history, even the Bible, are passed along from one to another by stories that illuminate the consciousness.

Stories are also how great marketing works.  Which is why I include it as one of the Six Essential Traits of Effective Marketing: UniquenessClaritySimplicity, Surprise, Story and Experience.

So, for instance, you want people to know you have the most compassionate team in town.  You could simply say so.  Or you could relate a story about how one of your support crew noticed a family member shaking in the cold and took off his…

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bad dealIt’s September; kids are back to school, college football is here, we pack away our white shoes, and some casket companies are playing “let’s make a deal.”  Obviously it’s been a tough year for casket sales and once again they are making last minute efforts to “make the year” for their investors (but more important for company bonuses).  It used to be called “pull ahead” where funeral home owners were asked to buy extra caskets at a “great deal” meaning a discount on top of the normal discount and savings from the upcoming price increase.  However, upon a close look and drill down into the numbers, it’s not difficult to decipher which entity is getting the best end of the deal.

Just this past week a fellow funeral home owner reached out to me for my opinion on a casket company’s “let’s make a deal” offer.  Immediately, I found it amusing the casket company was making an offer that was contrary to their original contract and the assumptions made from the wrong date of contract expiration.  Contract?  Who needs a stinking contract? This was the first evidence of desperation and what appeared to be deception attempting to “make the year.”

Here is the overview of what’s “behind door #1.” The casket company wanted the funeral home owner to purchase a pretty good size bulk number of caskets before September 30th. The bulk order would be discounted (in addition to their normal discount/rebate) and the firm would have a short time period to pay for the bulk order.  There were restrictions on what type of caskets that could be included.  AND; based on the current contract (you know the one they got the date wrong), they would “forgive” what looked like a shortfall of achieving a purchase bonus rebate and “give” the firm that particular amount calculated AND just renew the current contract for another x amount of years.

So let’s break this down.  The casket company wants the funeral home owner to buy x number of caskets now and store them until this purchase is depleted.  I have a few problems here.  Isn’t the casket company that came up with “just in time delivery” so funeral homes are not required to “warehouse” caskets? Does this defeat the purpose of that “room” the funeral home paid for over time?  So, is the funeral home owner is supposed to fork out a five figure check over a short period of time (equal payments of course) for caskets that may not be used for months?  Of course, the casket company explains how much savings are realized with such a purchase by “avoiding the impending price increase.”  So the rationale is spend five figures of cash up front to maybe save 3-5% on purchases you are going to make anyway…damn the cash flows!  Oh yeah, you can’t order the casket that you sell the most…they don’t count.

If the casket company is “sucking eggs” from low sales, do they even acknowledge that the funeral home probably has suffered financially over the same time period?  Back to the contract (you know the one the casket company holds near and dear, but willing to “forgive” all when in their odds).  In this particular case, the casket company said that if the funeral home makes the bulk order before September 30, then those caskets will make up all shortfalls for the “wrong date” and a new contract will start October 1.  The “math” says that the funeral home has another 6 months on their contract and with their average monthly casket purchase history; there could be a shortfall of maybe 30 caskets which would keep the funeral home from the “purchase bonus.”

I’m not real good with math, but if the funeral home owner buys their average amount of caskets monthly for the next 6 months and monitors their purchases, the worst case scenario would be that the funeral home would need to buy an additional 5 caskets per month.  Of course, take into account that November-February is typically the “high season” so the additional purchases may not be necessary. The amount of units the casket company offered for this “deal” exceeded the amount of the impending “shortfall.”  This smells like the fish you caught over the Labor Day weekend and just remembered are still in the cooler.

“Behind door #2” is the ability for the funeral home to continue their average casket purchases over the next 6 months, monitor purchasing units for needed additional adjustments, hang onto their cash, order just in time products (only the ones that they really need and use), earn their “purchase bonus” and renegotiate a new contract.

Let’s take a look at what should be “behind door #3” but is highly unlikely to ever get revealed.  An annual contract, not multi-year. Let’s say the casket company provided a 25% discount/rebate over 3 years.  Good deal?  Only if there are no price increases over the life of the contract.  The first year of the contract is great (unless you signed in the wrong time of year, see note below) and let’s suppose that the casket company increases their prices an average of 4% per year.  That means the last year of your 3 year sweet deal you are now getting a 17% discount/rebate in real dollars, not the “Monopoly Money” casket companies base their figures.  By negotiating annually, a funeral home can appropriately avoid the price increase shell game. Renegotiate the next contract in conjunction with price increase time.  AND make every casket purchase count.  It’s not the funeral home’s issue that the casket company “doesn’t make the same margins” on certain caskets. Certain lines, non-gasketed and cremation caskets are…caskets.  If the casket company is unwilling to include their “low margin caskets” to the count of discount/rebate/bonus, then purchase those caskets from another casket company (include this information in the contract).

If your “new best friend” casket sales representative has been (or is getting ready) to play “Let’s Make a Deal” take notice!  It’s that time of the year; price increases from suppliers, adjustment to GPL/product price lists, recovery from the financial strain of the slow summer season, and bulk purchase offers so the casket company can “make their year.”  Make good financial choices based on math, not loyalty.  After all, your competitor may have a better deal from the same company; there is no loyalty from the “Let’s Make a Deal” crowd.  Coming soon to The Funeral Commander blog: the “loyalty” post for us to ponder.  Cheers y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

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