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Expo 14During my tenure in the military, upon completion of each mission/exercise we conducted an “After Action Review.”  Basically we what as supposed to happen, what actually happened, why was there a difference and what can we learn to train/improve upon.  I’d like to amend the process a bit and share with you my viewpoint/perspectives from the NFDA Expo 2014 in Nashville last week.

First, the venue was outstanding.  Nashville provided a perfect city that offered not only the Music City Center for the Expo and meetings, but also great accommodations along with a variety of restaurants as well as entertainment opportunities (and shopping…I saw many boot boxes while checking out of the hotel). I was able to briefly chat with Christine Pepper, the Executive Director of NFDA during the welcome reception party at the Wildhorse Saloon and congratulate her; she and her team really threw a fabulous gathering which was a prelude to what was ahead for the next few days.

As predicted and customary, the major players in the industry participated displaying their products and services along with some “new kids on the block.”  From my perspective; After Action:

In the casket display genre, Aurora Casket led the way at their booth by displaying their culture; they had a “vibe” that reflected warmth and relationships rather than antiseptic “we’re really big, look at us.”  What personally struck me was their Be Remembered website that provides us with the ability to capture our life with a “bucket list,” write our life story in our own words, and plan our desires for services at our death.  It’s a brilliant tool for anyone to use, and as a matter of fact, I’m using it myself.  Aurora also had, in my humble opinion, a fantastic new wood casket that exemplified simple, down to earth, but classic.

Life Art Caskets has broken the barrier between the cardboard cremation container and the bland products we are accustomed to offering families in lower cost cremation containers.  Their cremation containers actually provide a reason for a family to choose something better for their loved one with an array of styles/colors all the way to customized products.  I know that Life Art has excellent success internationally and I am certain that we’ll be seeing quite a bit more about them in the near future.

ASD launched their Mobile 3.0 app MobileFH™ feature while in Nashville.  Kevin Czachor and team are leading the way in the funeral home communications arena.  In particular first calls; not only making the lives of funeral directors better, but managing response and needs of families from the onset.

As you can imagine, urns were everywhere.  The standout was Foreverence Urns, a new and unique offering of custom product blended with technology.  If you can envision what you want, they can design and create an urn truly reflective in their unique art.  The Foreverence use of 3-D technology and ceramic art is a breath of fresh air in the crowded urn field of over saturation.

Speaking of getting crowded, jewelry and glass art has taken hold as a staple in many funeral home showrooms.  Pardon the pun, but the clear front-runner in glass art is Crystal Remembrance.  Perhaps I have an affinity to doing something well and sticking to it, plus their patented DNA double helix design doesn’t hurt either.  The Crystal Remembrance art is an elegant and tasteful keepsake that is a generational heirloom for any family.

I can’t say enough about the continued emergence of Disrupt Media as the leader and only full service social media company in the funeral industry.  Ryan Thogmartin (also of Connecting Directors) melds his experience, relationships and knowledge of the funeral industry to reach multiple audiences which includes engagement of funeral consumers.  I was privy to some exciting initiatives that he an other funeral industry media superlatives are launching in the near future to reach both consumers and connecting funeral directors (I could not help myself).

To complete my personal highlights and to provide a “keep your eye on” is a company called Lifescapes that offers a new and simple product which holds excellent value.  Lifescapes offers family, friends and colleagues a unique way to collectively reflect on the deceased at a visitation, funeral, memorial or celebration of life.  In a word, it’s a collection of many words.  As a side note, I found out from my youngest son over this weekend one of my word descriptors: “enigma.”  I’ll write about that one in the future.

There was lots of “new and improved” but really nothing that I believe was noteworthy.

What didn’t I see?  If you read my blog and posts I continuously have the belief that many of the funeral industry woes can be addressed with training.  Really, pick a subject where training would not solve a problem we all face.  Maybe I missed it, but I did see nor was made aware of any funeral director in-service training tools or programs.  I’m not referring to CEU’s, the “travel junket” seminars (that most funeral directors never get to attend) or Mortuary Schools.  I mean regularly scheduled and intentional training for funeral directors…but hang on friends; I have an idea!  More to come.

Wonderful to see friends like Jeff Staab (Cremation Solutions), Dan Katz &, Rolf Gutknecht (LA Ads), The Deyonne of Death, AKA Gail Rubin (A Good Goodbye), along with Allison Sullivan & Patti Bartsche (Kates-Boylston).  I met new people and had interesting conversations relevant to our continued quest to refine our approach to serving families.

Unfortunately, the Carolina Panthers have been turned into “cheese whiz” in Green Bay and my cigar is at it’s end (yep, I did take the band off).  I trust that if you were unable to attend the NFDA Expo in Nashville, this post provided some information that you may find interesting and you’ll take a little time to look at the companies/websites I think were noteworthy.  So from the Command Post, cheers y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

 

 

 

old phoneSince returning from my shangri la also known as Aruba, I have jumped back into the business of doing business.  I’m continually amazed by the new entry of entrepreneurs into the funeral industry and the technology that is being introduced to consumers at their fingertips.  Recently I read the results of a communication survey conducted by Answering Service for Directors ( ASD Communications Survey).

The information provides us with a really good snapshot of how funeral homes are using technology to manage their operations and communicate with the families they are serving.  I found the data encouraging that many of us are, and continue to realize, that the more information we provide to the consumers, the funeral consumer families can make educated funeral decisions.

One of the results I found interesting was Website Merchandise Sales.  Of the survey respondents, 55% acknowledged that they were making some type of merchandise sales from their website.  As reported, 97% of the respondents had a website of some kind…I guess the 3% that don’t have a website are still enjoying resounding success with the stone tablets handed down over the generation.  My observation is that 45% of the funeral homes produce no revenue sales of merchandise from their website and the earnings that are earned are pitiful.

So who is getting the other 45% of the online merchandise sales of funeral products?  I also wonder if those other sites are generating the anemic revenue numbers as the funeral homes report?  With annual funeral industry sales in the $billions based on the survey funeral homes are clearly not capitalizing on website merchandise sales potential.  So, one must ask, “who is making direct sales to consumers from websites and what type of revenues are they realizing from consumers versus funeral homes?”

I applaud ASD for excellent work on the survey and providing us with results.  As always, I wanted to offer fodder for funeral professional discussions and just point out what I see is painfully obvious…what do you say?  Cheers y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

ASDI have the opportunity to travel across the country interacting with funeral home owners as well as owners of companies that provide various services and products to the funeral industry.  As large as our industry seems to be, it’s a relatively small group of companies and people that provide products and services to funeral homes.  Being a funeral home owner/partner and part of the vendor world, I truly enjoy having conversations with others about their views of the “temperature” in the funeral business from a vendor perspective along with their particular company positions about offerings to our customers, funeral homes.

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Kevin Czachor of Answering Service for Directors (ASD) at a state convention expo.   If you don’t know Kevin or ASD, on a simplistic definition, ASD is a family owned and operated business that provides answering services for funeral homes.  However, saying ASD is just an answering service is like saying the Marines are just a group of soldiers.

Family owned and operated at ASD means that Kevin’s 11 year old daughter accompanied him at the convention and was quite the pleasant young lady at their booth.  Frankly, she was more attentive and engaging than many in other booths that were sitting behind tables with bowls full of candy, brochures, pens and not offering any engagement other than brief eye contact with a nod.  A while back, I visited ASD’s operations center in Pennsylvania meeting key staff including Kevin’s sister Kathy and brother Marty.  Besides the impressive surroundings of technology one would imagine CIA headquarters would look like (I’ll address this later), the genuine reception, tour and engagement of the staff is an obvious testament to the culture of service by the Czachor family.

I believe that a company is defined by it’s leadership.  Creating the service and product is undeniably important; however consistent performance, growth, training, customer engagement, and respect is not achieved by happenstance.  In the military we called it “command influence and intent.” Basically, if leaders create a climate of example and expectations, the troops will follow.

ASD is doing it right.  Training, technology, work environment, opportunity and respect is provided to all staff which translates into a culture within their workforce of service to their customers.  The use of technology and thirst for seeking solutions for their customers is part ASD’s success as evidenced in their operations center.  Interestingly, you don’t have to take a trek to Pennsylvania, you can see for yourself by visiting http://www.myasd.com/tour.  Technology anyone?  ASD is one of the few funeral industry service companies that actually use and excel with social media messaging.  Jessica Fowler offers interesting insights about ASD, it’s employees and customers along with sharing relevant information about the funeral industry on a regular basis.

If you regularly read my blog I share my perspectives about the funeral industry.  I have been part of a big public funeral product manufacturing company, I have developed from scratch successful funeral homes with proprietary operating platforms, and I have created funeral related service and product companies.  My past military experience offered me the ability to provide relevant funeral director training that produces measurable results.  Whether you agree or dislike my particular sharing of observations, you know that I’m not just “shooting from the hip.”

So why am I writing this post?  Hand’s down, ASD is doing it right in the funeral industry and frankly as funeral home owners and industry suppliers we should take note.  As funeral home owners/management we can learn about developing a real culture of service.  As suppliers, a thirst for finding new services to better our customers operations and profitability should be at the top of our list every day.

I did not ask for permission or let anyone at ASD including Kevin know that I was writing this post, but after my last conversation with him, I was inspired to share my thoughts.  If they give me some flak, it won’t be the first time in my life, I’ve actually been shot at and dodged SCUD missiles before.  Along with my often recalcitrant posts, I am a believer also in providing deserving kudos…this one, to ASD; they are doing it right.  Cheers y’all! #thefuneralcommander.

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