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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

 

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

parting-logo@2x

Parting.com launched its site which has virtually every funeral home in the United States with pricing for services listed for consumer comparative analysis.  This disruptive innovation is the first of its kind in the funeral industry; the FTC, State and other funeral directory websites have never been able to accomplish…listing General Price List information for consumer comparison.  It’s reported that a small percentage (9%) of funeral homes offer any pricing information on their website which provides Parting.com with a tremendous opportunity for consumer search using the internet for funeral homes.

Parting.com offers line item pricing from the GPL for basic services, embalming, visitations, etc. as well as direct cremation from the funeral homes listed.  As a service to the consumer, the listed funeral home’s prices for at typical funeral (basic service fee, transfer of remains, facilities for viewing, facilities for ceremony/staff, embalming) are conveniently added from the GPL listed.  Average national prices for a casket, dressing/casketing and outer burial container are separately listed but all added together to provide the consumer a comparative look at firms in the particular area of search.

In addition, most of the funeral homes listed have photos of the location (most look like Google earth shots), a link to make an appointment as well as a function for a consumer to review the service provided at the funeral home.

Innovation in the funeral industry continues to evolve especially in technology sector.  I remember in the recent past funeral homes that did not have a computer in the building (I still get applications for one of my companies that appear to be completed on a typewriter) and had a fax with the rolled paper.  From my vantage point, Parting.com has created a truly disruptive innovation site that no doubt is defined below:

Wikipedia defines Disruptive innovation: is an innovation that creates a new market and value network and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network, displacing established market leaders and alliances. The term was defined and phenomenon analyzed by Clayton M. Christensen beginning in 1995.[2] More recent sources also include “significant societal impact” as an aspect of disruptive innovation.[3]

Interestingly, if a consumer is already searching the internet for a funeral home, they certainly have no or very little relationship with a provider.  Consumers now will have the benefit of comparative pricing if they are so inclined to use Parting.com instead of having to call or visit the funeral home for additional information.  Parting.com has “upped the ante” for funeral homes to create more interactive and informational websites to showcase their particular value, services, etc. to secure the internet shopping consumer.

Want to know more?   Tune into Episode #9 of Funeral Nation TV we interview the founders of Parting.com and learn about their disruptive innovation in the funeral industry.  From behind a thick fog of smoke and the Command Post, Cheers Y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

funeral zombie v1

It’s almost Halloween when all get dressed up to scare someone with their ghoulish garb and deathly appearance.  However I have begun to notice that either some in the funeral profession think Halloween is year round or they are confused thinking they are leaving an Emit concert.  Often pale looking vampire-like with black or strangely colored hair (I can’t say much, I put white in mine to look “mature”), dark clothing with a touch of skull or other “death flair” and some even have all sorts of metal protruding from the visible parts of their body (I shudder to think what we can’t see).  Of course they most likely sport visible tattoos, but I’m not “hating” because I’m tatted myself, just not seen until I show my glorious physique in public at the beach.

Sometimes you’ll catch a glimpse of them at funeral related events, however they often lurch in the corners and shadows alone.  Most of the time you can have sightings of them slinking in the back doors of funeral homes yet upon entry rarely appear outside of the embalming room of the facility.  What are these strange and mysterious phenoms?  FUNERAL ZOMBIES (FZ)!  You know, they are part of the death groupie bunch that spends too much time with fascination in the macabre and all things death.  Artwork, jewelry, skulls, bones, caskets, graveyards, ravens and bats causes an FZ to hypnotically gravitate like a bug to a neon bug zapper on a front porch in Louisiana.

The Funeral Zombies actually create a dilemma for the funeral industry because they often portray the very persona that funeral directors don’t want to be tagged by the public…weird.  Another issue is that Funeral Zombies are enrolling in mortuary schools (gasp) to become licensed caretakers of the dead; the dream job for a FZ.  Of course, when a FZ graduates and initiates their quest to start their career, they become confused and disillusioned by the continued rejection for employment in the funeral industry.  Why?  Well, which one below do you want to make arrangements for your mother or to be your funeral product salesperson:

                                                          FD 1   or   junior

Just so I don’t get accused of being misogynistic and not providing equal time, which lady would you prefer for your mom’s arrangements or knocking on the door selling funeral stationery:

                                                        fd 6 or fd 5

Just like any other faddish and misguided group the trend is actually losing steam.  For example, the Zombie Walk in Toronto actually conducted a “funeral” for lack of funding as reported in the The Star recently.   So what happens to the Funeral Zombies when the fad wanes and in a few years, this is what they look like:

fd 7

I am going to take a wild guess, but I don’t think this one will be working the register stand at visitations.  However, I think that being a curator at the Museum of Death, a hawker at Ripley’s Odditorium in Myrtle Beach, play a role in Friday 13th Nightmare at the Mortuary, or end up entrenched/sentenced in the embalming room for life (and whatever they think comes after that) is pretty much reaching a pinnacle for a Funeral Zombie.  In any event, to all the Funeral Zombies on your special day, my heartfelt Happy Halloween to you and…BOO!  From the Command Post and through a thick cloud of Maduro cigar smoke, Cheers Y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

change positions

Funeral directors meet with families during a time which most agree is very difficult.  Arranging the funeral of a loved one is stressful and often the necessary decisions made are clouded by varying emotions as well as grief.  Part of the regular funeral director training provided at our funeral homes for arrangements include role play; our funeral directors plan the funeral of their closest loved one in detail.

The role a funeral director performs is to provide information so the family can make educated decisions.  Without ever “wearing the shoes of the next of kin” the anguish is only observed and not experienced.  I have personally been part of this training and I can attest how emotional the process may be, even in a training environment.

I have conducted funeral home training on this subject and the results were enlightening.  One of the interesting scenarios created was that the deceased loved one had not pre-planned with a trust, had no life insurance and the expenses must be paid out of the role playing funeral directors personal resources.  As you read this, put yourself in that position; it’s up to you to pay for everything you select for services and products right now out of pocket.  Ask yourself; what would that do to my current personal financial status?  Having this thought in mind, would you buy the best of everything?  What would your choices be if you we financially responsible for the goods and services selected today?

When meeting with families, it’s natural to wonder why sometimes the decisions made seem to be other than what is customary or expected.  On top of financial stress, family dynamics enter the picture sometimes.  Just like many of you, I have personally witnessed strained funeral arrangements with a bad cocktail of financial woes and family discourse.

Finally, I know many funeral industry professionals that experienced unexpected loss of their spouse, child and parent.  After talking with some, their perspective of wearing the shoes of the people they normally serve changed.  If you are a funeral professional and lost a loved one, you know the angst.  Otherwise, think about conducting funeral director training for arrangers and changing shoes with those you normally guide; it may have lasting impact.

Funeral News! Ryan and I recorded our inaugural Funeral Nation TV web cast show that will be aired October 6th…I am certain you’ll enjoy the FN show! From the desk of The Funeral Commander, Cheers Y’all.  #thefuneralcommander #funeralnationtv

Sep 25

How is your funeral home “pre-planning?”  Death is inevitable but so are shifts in the funeral marketplace, consumer behavior, the economy, and so on.  Pre-planning for funerals is a tenant of the funeral industry which millions of dollars are spent to compel consumers to make choices prior to their own demise.  I am totally on board for all efforts to propagate funeral pre-planning for a myriad of reasons like easing the burden from those left behind, making personal choices and it most cases it makes good financial sense for the consumer as well as the funeral home.

As a matter of fact, take a look at what consumers are finding in the market place for planning. The conversation and topic is widespread for individuals to get their “affairs” in order.  End of life planning companies like Everplans.com are providing planning platforms offering a vast array of services and advice from wills, trusts, closing online accounts to final wish funeral preferences.

So as an industry if we believe that pre-planning is so important, how are we pre-planning for the future at our funeral homes?  Take a look in the employee break room (some places known as “the bull pen”) or where the work schedule is regularly posted.  Is there a schedule for training anywhere to be found?  Not CEU’s that frankly don’t have impact for maintaining or enhancing funeral directing professional skills (which based on the news reported by the Star Press in Indiana 30 Hoosier Funeral Directors Cited would have been a good idea). Planning for regular, intentional and relevant training should be on every planning calendar in every funeral home.

How about pre-planning for marketing?  This Social Media thing requires more effort and thought than placing obits on Facebook pages (and as note, LinkedIn is NOT the medium for such).  A recent article written by Ryan Thogmartin of FuneralSocial.com  posted on funeralOne’s blog Do’s and Don’ts-Future of Facebook Obits should be a training session in itself.  A well placed plan for posts, topics and editorial not only on Facebook but also funeral home blogs provide returns to the funeral home with positive exposure.  Does your funeral home have a media manager that schedules and plans for messaging/content?  My favorite mediums (yes, I’m being sarcastic) of the paper place mat ads in the diner or calendars don’t usually provide much planning effort, so it’s time to GET SOCIAL!

We all know it’s that time of year; price increases by casket companies which means the majority of funeral home owners change their price lists to reflect and offset rising costs.  Of course, I have much to say on this subject, however for this post I’ll limit the observation to why only now?  Why only once a year?  What type of formula is used by your firm to calculate pricing? It’s all about planning.

Succession planning is a topic that should be put into place at every funeral home, it’s like having a will for the business.  What would happen if the owner gets hit by a bus?  Who takes over and more importantly, who is capable of replacement?  By the way, some owners would answer this question with: “no one could step into my shoes, this place would fall apart without me.”  What type of training is being provided for such an event?  I have personally witnessed and know of funeral home owners making attempt to sell their business and retire only to be abruptly stopped come business valuation time.  A rude awakening comes when dreams collide with reality.  Our industry has professionals such as Succession Planning Associates for such advice.

The point of this post: are we as an industry practicing what we preach?  What type of planning does your firm conduct, how often and what are the benefits being reaped from this ever-changing business?  As we all know, life can change pretty quickly (or at least that’s what we tell consumers), what’s your plan?  Speaking of planning, stay tuned for details about the best FN news and commentary show in the funeral industry:

funeral nation_logo (3)

From the desk of The Funeral Commander, cheers y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

analogy P or p

A few days ago while assisting Mrs. Commander at the grocery store, there was a shortage of “baggers” that normally place our purchases into bags at checkout. Of course being the man of action that I am (Mrs. Commander issued a command), I jumped into position and began performing the bagging myself.  As you read this post, here is where you insert “well, you have finally found something that matches your talent” comments.  I’m old enough to remember when all the groceries were placed in paper bags which meant if something leaked or if it was raining, the bags disintegrated and the contents would spill out.

As our society changed, someone invented the plastic shopping bag that eliminated the leaking/disintegrating problems.  Additionally, the plastic bag also was less expensive to manufacture and I recall something about saving trees making the plastic bags environmentally better.  During this time of transition, we were asked “paper or plastic” by the bagging staff at most grocery stores…remember?

The environmental superiority of the plastic bag took a turn for the worse as they do not fare well in trash dumps and identified as a litter hazard.  Then, in some states, the paper and plastic bags were “outlawed” or taxed.  A consumer must purchase an environmentally friendly bag for repeated use or reuse the plastic they had from “days of yore.”

If you read this blog, you know that I am one that enjoys providing analogies about the funeral industry (see Funeral Directors: Are You Practicing Basic Blocking and Tackling Skills and The Hotel and Funeral Industry: What Can We Learn?).  There was a time (not so long ago) that we all went to the funeral home and it was assumed that we would have a burial (just like we got paper bags at the grocery store).  At some point, and perhaps about the same time we started getting the question “paper or plastic,” consumers increased their ask for cremation rather than burial while at the local funeral home.  Just like the transition from paper to plastic, cremation is becoming the preferred choice over burial for consumers.  Consumers are shopping online for their funeral needs and DIY choices are becoming popular (just like bring your own bags to the grocery store to “save the environment”).  Not only are consumers not pining for the paper bags, but some are not even going to the local grocery store (ordering online and grow your own)!  See the shift?

Unfortunately as a whole, our industry is still acting like we are going to have a huge comeback to the paper bag era.  The casket companies continue to try convincing the sheep that “paper will never go out of style” offering useless contracts, taking up valuable funeral home space with “showrooms” (Hallmark stores…how well are they doing?), and of course charging more/discounting more, etc. etc.  Consumers are flocking in droves to the internet for information, yet few funeral homes post any pricing forcing the consumer to either call or “stop by” if they want information. I have asked this question many times; if you were shopping online and the website had no pricing information, what do YOU do?

Our society is continuing to change for many reasons including diffusion and views about how we treat our dead is certainly noticeable.   What is your funeral home doing to transition from “paper to plastic?”  From the desk of The Funeral Commander, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommmander

stuck

I was recently at a funeral home strategy/training meeting and the Broken Escalator video above was presented as a primer for discussion.  This is a fantastic and thought provoking example for us in the funeral industry.  The NFDA just posted estimations that cremation will eclipse burial this year (see: Rates of Cremation and Burial) and consumers are as scattered in their views about death/disposition as cremated remains in a hurricane.

Yet, the majority of funeral service providers are “stuck on the escalator.”  Here are some examples:

  • “It’s not a problem in our community.”
  • “My families don’t/won’t blah, blah, blah.”
  • “We have been through this before.”
  • “We’ve always done it this way.”
  • “Training?”

The “stuck on the elevator” syndrome is also an epidemic in the funeral supplier world:

  • Repackage the same offerings.
  • Same casket, different color.
  • Discount and rebate games.
  • “Our research shows.”

Jessica A. Smith recently published a great post  I Want A Direct Cremation, Please on the OGR blog offering common sense approaches to assist consumers with cremation choices.   The pundits and talking heads (see Talking Heads; What We Allow Will Continue) continue to lead the blind sheep over the cliff with their “charge more and show more value.”  I guess my question is; why are there so many funeral providers stuck on the escalator?  Thoughts and comments?  From the desk of The Funeral Commander, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

conversation starterI’m just returning from another funeral convention and I would like to provide “color” on my observations.  I had conversations and meetings with many people from practically every facet of the funeral industry, however I am certain those conversations would not get published in any industry magazines…somewhat lends back to “The Truth” series I recently posted.

From vendors, the majority complained of a lack of attendance from buyers and decision makers. On opening day of the exhibit hall, a cannon could have been fired down most isles and not hit nary a funeral service provider.  Something new and never done before was the presence of a suicide prevention booth; however it was hard to get in as it was jam packed with new vendors/first timers seeking counseling trying to figure out why their booth is not full of buyers (I guess they failed to read and take my advice on being an entrepreneur in the funeral industry).  The non-conventional conversation among this particular crowd (vendors) was that “second tier” organizations should consider events with exhibits such as these perhaps every other year.  The cost to attend, lack of ROI, and dwindling attendance is going to force some tough decisions in the future from a vendor participation perspective.  Suggestions of one big annual funeral expo that covers funeral directors, cremationists and cemeterians would suffice with perhaps individual breakout sessions if needed for organizations.  The individual organization fiefdom is a drain on vendors, members and participants.  Every state has its own annual organizational gathering repeating the same madness but on a smaller scale.  The smart states have completely eliminated exhibits.  So my vote (and I’m sure lots of others if they had one) is to let’s quit doing the same thing the wrong way over and over again…what’s that called?

The speakers and breakout sessions had excellent content with relevant information.  Again on the notion of “one big funeral gathering” with many speakers and subjects would stop the redundant messaging under different flags…so maybe the presentations given at the “one big funeral gathering” could be recorded then retrieved in an archived library for those not attending.  That sounds like a smart revenue generation model with mass appeal, but what do I know?

Speaking of tough decisions, the funeral service providers I had the privilege of chatting with provided me with realistic reports of their experiences at providing services/products to the ever changing consumer.  Outside of the emerging Social Media, technology and of course DNA collection (yes, that’s a shameless but true plug) they saw nothing really addressed how to provide better service to the consumers they serve.  Think about that for a moment.  Basically, if the company/vendor is not providing or improving upon a technology based solutions (sales, service, arrangements, B2C marketing, operations, or product) then the relevancy to a funeral service provider is benign.

An interesting and emerging segment that was present in technology seems to be a platform for consumers to memorialize themselves using an online portal to capture their life stories, videos, etc. (I guess Facebook/online obits is just not getting the job done).  The fallacy for most is the choice some really odd names which I personally wonder how consumers find them in the first place.  One of those odd named providers makes claim that their product/service helps with the “family experience” but when I drilled down a bit I got the old “we’re still working on that” position.  Basically, capturing a life well lived is a great notion, in fact some of these cats have somehow found people (companies) to invest in this idea without a strong revenue generation model (you know, pay back investors’ money).  Aurora’s value added Be Remembered has all of the components for such a platform (at no cost to the consumer or funeral home) which leads me to believe that others fail to do any relevant market research before launch.

The best non-conventional conversations took place off the floor with a drink in one hand and a cigar in the other (yes, that’s my favorite environment for great conversations). I think that all would agree such funeral gatherings provide a platform for those in attendance to have all important face to face interactions.  During these important extemporaneous sessions,  I actually was made privy to a new product that I think is brilliant; cremated remains, the life story, storage and columbarium all in one…technology, sleek design and a solution.  Another was about a new brand of funeral service to consumers; a collaborative effort for a brand that will capture and address the majority market in America…the 75% that make less than $50,000.  Those folks die too, but we don’t talk about them much.  Finally, this is a big world but getting smaller.  The alliances of companies collaborating on a global scale are becoming more commonplace.  I personally had conversations with people from Canada, Australia, Spain, Italy, China, Ireland and even New Jersey.

In a nutshell, if it’s not a technology driven product at the exhibitions and expos that assists funeral directors to provide enhanced service to their consumers, the interest level is dwindling.  There is always some that will pine for the days of yore, but those days are going away with facsimile machines.  The from my vantage point, defined success for the future in the funeral industry is messaging, technology and collaboration.  That’s the view from the field and The Funeral Commander.  Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

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