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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

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I have funeral home owner clients that are astounded when the epiphany of the number of calls are irrelevant to their profit.  In a few weeks, the Super Bowl of funeral service is in Philadelphia where the pontificating will be at extreme heights.  One of the biggest of all is the “tale of calls” (not to be confused with the tail of a whale).

Allow me to explain.  A firm touts they are having a great year tracking to conduct 250 death calls over the 225 last year.  If the casketed calls this year are only 40% (100 of 250) of the total versus 50% (112 of 225) last year…is the firm really doing better?  If the firm “picked up” 38 new calls this year which are non-casketed, did those calls even budge an increase to their profit margin, most likely not.

In a recent Funeral Boot Camp where attendees learn how to properly charge for goods and services as well as understand measurement of profitability, I saw something remarkable…or so it would seem.  A 60 call firm had more cash in the bank and net profit than a 200 call firm.  How is that possible?  Revenue per call, proper pricing, and frankly they are a great client of ours (meaning this firm is making good decisions).  Since the revelation or the before mentioned “epiphany,” the 200 call firm has seen the light and now on their own path to profitability with our guidance.

So the next time you hear Foghorn Leghorn “crowing” about his call volume, ask ‘ole blabby what his profit margin is…and listen for the crickets.  The more you know, the smarter you are.

From the Command Post (West), 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

 

In my funeral business consulting practice one of the most frustrating phrases I hear from funeral home owners and managers: “Oh, my local guy handles our accounting.”  I take a deep breath and think, “your local guy doesn’t know a rough box from an alternative container, yet he is in charge of your business’ financial advice?”  A Profit & Loss statement tells a story for a funeral home.  However if your accountant doesn’t know the language it’s doubtful the next chapters are going to change and the story is going to end poorly.  The average funeral home makes 7% profit; if your funeral home is at or below this average then you need to consider changing your accountant.

  • If your accountant has not addressed the comparison between your current year budget/forecast (if you have one), current year actual activities, and the last few years…YOU GOT THE WRONG ACCOUTANT!
  • If you your accountant does not provide you with analysis and suggestions of where to reduce cost and increase revenue (making profit) on a regular basis… YOU GOT THE WRONG ACCOUNTANT!
  • Take a look at your P&L and compare it to the same month last year and the year before. If your funeral home is not making more money versus  years past… YOU GOT THE WRONG ACCOUNTANT!
  • If your accountant can’t look at a trocar and casket key and identify what they are…YOU GOT THE WRONG ACCOUNTANT!

So, ask yourself; am I going to keep doing the same thing over and over again because I’ve always done it this way? From the Command Post (West) and a cigar just waiting to be lit, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

cremation tfc

As a funeral consultant, I interact with at least 25 funeral home owners on a typical week and through social media I’m in contact with hundreds of funeral directors.  When I ask, “What’s the biggest challenge you face in the funeral profession?” almost on key I hear, “cremation is killing us.”  Cremation is by no means the major challenge we are experiencing, it’s our failure of “doing the business of the business.”

Let me explain by asking questions.

  • Cremation is a disposition. As such, funeral directors have the same opportunity to embalm as burial. Why doesn’t that conversation take place during cremation arrangements?
  • Why do burial families pay full price for basic service fee and cremation families get a discount on the exact services performed?
  • Why doesn’t every family receive a complete presentation for disposition of cremated remains including interment, scatter, keep, urn, and jewelry options?
  • Why don’t funeral homes get paid in full or secure payment prior to signing a goods and services contract?
  • Why don’t funeral directors train on their profession (not CEU) weekly to improve their skills (like the four questions above)?
  • Why do funeral home owners pay accountants that give them a P&L statement and balance sheet but no advice on how to increase their profit?

Take a moment and answer these questions honestly.  It’s not cremation; put some mirrors up in the funeral home and you’ll see the problem.

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

At Need Payment Training

In my consulting practice, I spend quite a bit of time with funeral home owners and directors providing solutions to get paid for their goods and services.  For the most part, when honest with themselves (and me), their payment policy is useless resulting in increasing accounts receivable as well as pressure on cash flow for the business.  However, the acknowledgement doesn’t always translate into corrective action.  So my question is, “When is the pain of not getting paid for your work intense enough that you actually take action to correct the problem?”

If your firm does not secure payment prior to conducting the service, you have a problem.  If you are not getting paid within 5 days on your insurance assignments, you have a problem.  If you have accounts receivable over 30 days, you have a problem.  If you knew you had cancer, what would you do? Wait until the pain becomes unbearable before seeking help? Or, would you immediately seek the finest specialists to eradicate the disease?

You know you have a problem, but is the pain great enough for you to take action or are you going to wait for the lump to grow completely out of control?

If you have one of the problems above, let’s communicate.  Yes, I am a specialist and I have the solution to your failed payment policy, lack of training, as well as accounts receivable problems.  From the Command Post (West), Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander.

not a winner

I was recently traveling and saw the sign providing glory for the 4th place team in the 2009 Illinois Class 4A Basketball (I don’t know if there was a championship of some sort, the sign doesn’t say). Is congratulations in order for a 4th place?  What are your thoughts? #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, and libation 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

I posted this a few years back and continue to travel quite a bit. It’s now vacation summer season and I’d like to share this humorous look at how I see things from my view…enjoy!

The Funeral Commander~Jeff Harbeson

plane I spend more time in hotel beds than I do in my own bed at home.    When someone asks me where I live, I generally reply “Marriott.”  For  those that don’t travel regularly making their living and think it’s  glamorous, well it’s simply not.  I’m on a plane as I write this and I just  have so share with you observations about our fellow humans at  airports.

Alright folks, it’s the 21’st century and you should be able to slide your credit card in a “computer machine,” read the instructions, and touch the screen when directed…it’s something most 1st graders can do now.  Anyone not aware that you must go through security prior to gaining access to the boarding gate?  Why doesn’t it register with some that the articles of clothing worn, items that are packed, and the bags that are carried will affect the process of getting…

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