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jj1

 

I am going to admit that I will drive out of my way when traveling for a Jimmy John’s #9 Italian Nightclub with extra peppers (hot). So when the news hit (via my funeral home partner who saw it on Facebook) that my beloved sandwich shop had their mouthwatering piles of meat and fix-in’s on fresh baked bread for $1.00, I trekked on over for a treat.

My cohort and I arrived at the local eatery in a bit of disbelief that the line stretched out the doors spilling into the parking lot (see picture above). Of course you know me, I started thinking, “How can a funeral home get people lined up out the door to do business like this?” Answer: They can’t. Advertising in the funeral business is simply not the same and consumers do not respond in the same manner. A $995 cremation sale (even if you pre-need today!) is not going to bring long lines of excited consumers waiting to get the best deal in the death business.

My co-host on Funeral Nation TV and social media genius Ryan Thogmartin of Disrupt Media and I consistently trumpet branding/messaging. Jimmy John’s touts gourmet sandwiches and made or delivered really fast. They don’t sell burgers, tacos, hot dogs, keepsakes, or urns. As mentioned above, when traveling I eat at JJ for another reason: consistency. No matter where I am, I get exactly what I want: great sandwich really fast.  I find value in their brand. Value: not about price (wink, wink Dan Isard).

Can I get a sandwich somewhere else cheaper? Yes. Can I get what I want somewhere else?  No. Can a consumer get a cremation or burial cheaper?  Yes. Can they get what they want at another funeral home?  Probably.  WHAT?  How will they know the difference if you don’t share your brand and message?  After all, a sandwich is a sandwich and a cremation or burial is a cremation or a burial…right?

Get it yet? Probably not. IT’S ABOUT YOUR #FNbrand message!  I ate inside the restaurant so I could watch the operations and behaviors. Guess what?  Gourmet sandwich’s really fast even with a line out the door…training anyone? What is your funeral home brand? Is it distinguishable from your competitors? What are you doing to share the message?  If your funeral home message is: “We’ve been here since Sherman burnt down the South,” “We care more,” “We’re family owned, they’re not,” on the paper place-mat in the diner, I suppose all this nonsense about the interweb marketing is just gibberish.

From a completely satisfied Jimmy John’s customer in the Command Post; Cheers 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

Nope

I don’t think there is a single funeral director, funeral home owner or cremation provider in the funeral industry that doesn’t know that the death rate in the foreseeable future is going to steadily increase due to the Baby Boomers moving on the the permanent Villages in the sky.  Funeral industry pundits, soothsayers and oracles are continually propagating the “Boomer Boom” which will place all on solid footing and growth.

Visions of funerals that “reflect the life lived” with cocktail parties, receptions, doves, fly bye’s, movies, and theaters full of mourners wondering how they can “one up” such send off when their time comes dance in the heads like kids on Christmas eve.  If I had sound to enter this written prose, this is where I would place the screech of nails on a chalk board (I bet some of you hear it and reacting as you read this) to get your attention.

The Baby Boom has potential for Bust for many funeral homes.  WHAT?  Captain, you are such an idiot because we are showing more value and charging more…how could we possibly go wrong?  Take a look at the article posted in My Budget 360 regarding the financial posture of the pending retirement of Boomers.  Couple this information with the financial heath of the Boomer’s Offspring and the visions before mentioned reflecting the life lived are for $695 cremation, a box of Bojangles chicken and a Dollar Tree balloon released “in honor of” because “that’s what they would have wanted” are more realistic.

We are entering the convention season which includes seminars and CEU credit classes.  Just for your own observation and edification, take a look at the fall sessions and see if you can find “Strategies to Serve Broke Baby Boomers and Their Families.”  The seminar would not as flashy, hopeful or sexy as the talk of a lifetime, but it’s worth discussing.  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

burning ad

Yes, “Cremation with integrity” depicting an urn showcasing a Nazi soldier is a real advertisement in the The Jefferson City News Tribune that was printed Sunday July 19th for the Millard Funeral Chapels and their Columbia MO – based crematory operated by Parker Funeral Service.  I can’t even make this up.

Let’s “unpack” this debacle for learning purposes because this exemplifies so many lessons and insights.

1.  Let us try to imagine the funeral home marketing “think tank” session: “We need to do something about our low cost cremation competitors and tell the community why they should use us.  Any ideas?”  <Hand raised from a staff member>: “we can’t match their prices, but we can tell the public that WE CREMATE WITH INTEGRITY!”  Brilliant!  <Person in charge of the think tank>: “let’s show our best-selling urn with a soldier, because the military depicts integrity and get the local paper to put the ad together and run it on a Sunday.  Good job team…this will help us bring back the business we are losing to the other guys.”

2.  The message itself minus the Nazi soldier image is hilarious on its own merit.  Cremation with integrity?  Help me understand…does this ad imply that competitors cremate without integrity?  I think that Missouri has regulations and certifications necessary to be a crematory operator performing cremations, so is there an inference of unscrupulous cremations going on in town by other cremation providers?  This is a blatant example of “we are better than them, we care more, we give better service,” blah blah blah of no of interest to the consumer, rather more of a 7th grade school yard spat.  Lesson:  words have meaning, think about the message you want to send.

3.  What is the correlation of the image of a soldier (albeit a bad one that was apparently selected by the local paper, not the funeral home) and “integrity of cremation?”  Why a soldier or any military personnel?  As a retired soldier and father of a soldier, my perspective is that this funeral home was trying to use an image that may exemplify integrity (as an image of a military person would).  But could they not muster much thought of an internal example of themselves?  Did the owners and funeral directors at this firm served our Country or just use images to boost their own self esteem for business?  Stolen valor comes to mind…  Frankly, I think Karma kicked their ass in this one with the depiction of a Nazi soldier…think about it.  Lesson: don’t try to be something you are not.

4.  Unfortunately, the person in charge of this project failed miserably as it’s obvious no editing or proofing was conducted with the “newspaper production department.”  A basic tenet of funeral director services, is to review and edit (sometimes even create) an obituary that also appears in local newspapers. Lesson: people do what you inspect; not what you expect.

5.  We consistently are striving to remind consumers that the services we provide are of value, have meaning, and therefore require the guidance of a licensed funeral professional.  There is an undercurrent from consumers and others that “do it yourself” or limited need for funeral directors is on the rise.  However, for some reason, many in funeral home management see no value in professional management from marketing/Social Media companies and attempt to “do it themselves.”  As the comedian Bill Engvall says: “here’s your sign.”   I can just imagine my friends at Disrupt Media (Ryan Thogmartin) and L.A.Ads (Rolf Gutknecht & Dan Katz) laughing hysterically at this entire scenario.  Lesson: hire a professional for marketing and advertisement.  

6.  Irony:  This advertisement was created for use in a local newspaper for local readership, however it turned into a Social Media nightmare being broadcast all over the world including the local television station, radio along with numerous funeral industry Facebook pages.  I guess the advertisement got quite a bang for its buck.  Lesson:  refer to #2, #3, #4, and #5 above.

We all make mistakes and this was a whopper; however as always there are lessons to be learned and teaching points to consider so that the mistakes are not repeated.  What are your thoughts and comments?  From the desk of The Funeral Commander, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

TFC-Truth & HellI posted Can We Handle the Truth? a few weeks ago with tremendous feedback from many points of view.  Most  were in agreement with the notion that we in the funeral industry need to take a step back and reevaluate our businesses from many avenues of approach.  There were some that agreed with the post content, but doubted that such a collective discussion would ever take place, much less have impact.

I have traveled extensively the last few weeks attending a “meeting of funeral professionals” (I’ll leave out the name of this particular event to protect the innocent), meeting with several funeral home/large cremation providers and with a prominent/high volume funeral financial provider. At the funeral professionals meeting the format allowed for various speakers within our industry present a multitude of topics from how to manage change to the importance of social media (yawn…old news talking about it, implementation and execution are foreign strategy topics).  I listened intently to most of the speakers and one stood out as a practical real world, experienced voice.  In a nutshell this funeral provider actually understands consumer segmentation, invested, created, and implemented services/products to meet demand.  This man and his company created several different value propositions based on consumer needs/demands finding tremendous success; how refreshing.

In the very same week, an article was published by a well-respected industry leader regarding price competition.  The message had excellent points  such as projecting a clear message to consumers differentiating your brand versus competition along with providing value and customer service.  Let’s take a short look at how Walgreen’s does it:

What’s the message?  If one brand offers the exact same service for a better price (value) and can clearly communicate to consumers…what are the results?  Why didn’t the commercial show the pedicure for $30.00 ($10.00) more…would the lady react  the same? The truth is that a basic cremation is transfer of a body from place of death, the necessary paperwork, and the crematory fee. Most states require a minimum cremation container which adds to the cost.  How can a firm clearly articulate the difference to consumer on these basic charges in a value proposition?  Well, “we’ve been here forever, we care more, we have a bigger building, etc.” is not much of a definitive set of reasons to pay over $1000 more for exact services.  But here is the rub; the next piece of advice in the article is raise your prices.

A few thoughts about raise your prices. I get it, I really do.  If a business has expansive real estate and huge operating overhead costs, raising prices is just about all that can be accomplished. OR can change the model, cut fat out of operating costs by updating with technology and training personnel to perform better.  Perhaps earn new business by (fill in the blank) marketing?  Maybe even do as the speaker I referred to above, invest in developing different brands to meet consumer demands. Three elements of sustaining a business: 1. Do more business 2. Raise prices 3. Cut costs.  Does the current economy dictate that raising prices is the best answer right now?  Competition (like the Walgreen’s commercial) is savvy communicating their message to consumers.  Basically, they can do what you can do…for less and actually make profit.

There are many firms in the US that have created fantastic opportunities for celebrating life with upgraded facilities, offerings of services, technology, clear messaging and a true reflection of “you get what you pay for.”  The same firms invest and respond by creating value and realize that “one size does not fit all” by broadening their business (most cremation societies are owned by large funeral homes).

Just for fun, let’s look at Merriam-Webster’s definition: Valuethe amount of money that something is worth : the price or cost of something: something that can be bought for a low or fair price: usefulness or importance.  The funeral industry definition: Value: pay more for something that can be bought for a lower or fair price just because we say so.  The article is right on point; show value…

An analogy:  2015 Cadillac ATS vs. 2015 Toyota Corolla; ATS base $33,215-Corolla base $16,950.  Now the question is: for the majority of working Americans, which is the best value?  Both are transportation and designed to take you from one place to another.  Many would absolutely agree the ATS…however, if the consumer does not have the ability to buy the ATS, the value means nothing.  Are we trying to convince consumers that a Corolla should be priced the same as an ATS and has the same value?  Value is defined by the person making the purchase, not by the person selling…it’s hard to show the value of a Cadillac if you only have money for bus fare, “I Only Have Bus Fare But I Want to Buy a Cadillac”, sound familiar?

The truth is the consumer is dictating changes that some funeral providers are unable to meet because their operating model is outdated only allowing for “raise prices” and a willful refusal to make hard choices for change. The funeral consumer is finding information online (not necessarily from funeral home websites), shopping for “better deals,” seeking celebrants for direction, and choosing offers/products/services outside of traditional funeral channels.  The funeral consumer is choosing cremation over burial at a rapid rate which applies pressure to funeral homes and manufactures to find new revenue.

With all the meetings and discussions over the last few weeks, the recurring need for adaptation to accept consumer change is at the top of the list.  Yes, there are companies and funeral homes making significant strides in the right direction.  However, the truth is, the vast majority of funeral providers will continue the status quo…just like Radio Shack did.  From the desk of the Commander, Cheers Ya’ll! #thefuneralcommander

back homeThe Wall Street Journal just provided an interesting article Younger Generation Faces a Savings Deficit which outlines how the millennial generation is financially struggling.  Basically the economy has not been particularity kind to this group and due to many factors; they pretty much have no savings. Why is this an issue for the funeral industry?

We all know the millennial generation, for the most part are children of Baby Boomers.  And as we are also aware, Baby Boomers have not been the most fiscally responsible generation of all time.  Yep, we (Baby Boomers) are living longer which means we are spending more money on medical care to keep us alive and depleting our funds towards end of life. In many cases, we are still supporting our college educated millennials that have returned home in debt and unemployed (or underemployed working at low wage jobs with a high cost degree).  I am privy to daily inquiries for funeral funding of a relative that had no life insurance or made any provisions to pay for their own funeral, but relegate such to survivors.  It’s shocking to know that people actually say they have nothing, no funds to pay for their deceased loved one’s final expenses.

If the deceased left noting and their survivors are the generation depicted in the Wall Street article, how is your funeral home going to get paid?  Even more disturbing is the fact that millennials will most likely struggle to pay for a cremation out-of-pocket much less a funeral and all the cash advances like cemetery charges.  How does that affect the financial health of your funeral home?

I recently posted The Orchestra is Lovely regarding the bad news about Genesis Casket closing and indicators about the future of such companies.  If you are in the casket business and depending on millennials to buy caskets for their deceased Baby Boomers, the future is rather dim.  Another post from earlier this year Is it About Honoring the Life or Paying the Bill? reiterates the facts regarding how funeral homes are facing an increasing consumer base in financial difficulty.

Whats the good news?  We all have time to make smart decisions and choices to meet the changing demographics of funeral consumers.  A thorough analysis of operating costs, processes and re-engineering of how our funeral home operates is essential for not only growth, but survival.  I am fortunate to have “the secret sauce” with a team of real professionals that essentially function on “continuous improvement.”   There are some great consultants that will provide you and your firm the due diligence, solutions and oversight necessary to meet this tide of change.  I can attest they are not the ones hawking “new and improved” caskets (not to mention all the other goodies in their bag like websites, urns and funeral toilet paper), but consultants that actually know what a robust and healthy funeral home P&L should contain.

Want more insight?  Send me a message and I’ll gladly offer you some ideas of who can help you and how to prepare for the what lies ahead. From the Command Post: Cheers y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

GenesisThe news broke yesterday on Connecting Directors  about Genesis Casket Company closing it’s doors.  I read comments from various people in the funeral industry touting their opinions regarding the company’s poor leadership and conjecture why the company failed.  Let’s take a different view at why a casket company going out of business at this point and time in our history is really bad news especially for the funeral industry.

Many of the funeral industry pundits, most  which are marketing “superlatives” that have never made a home removal or know the difference between a rough box and a alternative container have been leading the sheep about the oncoming huge spike in death because of Baby Boomers.  Sounds like great news from the Willie Wonka crowd, but a reality check of what’s happening is quite different.  Baby Boomers are living longer, spending more of their money to live, therefor dying with less. Guess what skippy? If your funeral home is relying on the Baby Boomers’ offspring to pay for the Disney Experience funeral from their own pockets, you’re in trouble because that age group is having difficulty paying for access to the annual county fair.  If there is money left for the next generation, they are paying for their own debt and bills (assuming they are actually living on their own and have not “boomeranged” back home). Take a moment and read an eye opening article from The Guardian about what’s going on in England and “the funeral poor.”  I know, “that’s happening over there” but the news continues:

Cremation is the fastest growing market segment and in the near future, cremation will surpass burials.  I’m not really good with math, but how many cremations must a firm perform to equal the same net revenue as a burial?  The consumer shift away from burial to cremation is not the best economic news for most funeral service providers because of the antiquated model of their operations.  No need for the big chapel, hearse, limo’s, embalming room, caskets, vaults and personnel.  In fact, no need for anything because a quick Google search and a consumer can not only order a pizza online, but also have grandma’s ashes delivered to the front door.

As usual, I’ll receive some of the snarky comments from the “establishment” about how great the orchestra on the Titanic sounds and their classy outfits make the experience so much better.   To circle back to reality; Genesis Casket Company closing is terrible news for the funeral industry.  If the market was so great, the Boomers would be dying at record pace with festivities rivaling a Super Bowl halftime and casket companies would be sprouting up all over the place.  What’s even more pathetic are those that take joy in the failure of Genesis and the people now out of work.  Well, you know what they say about Karma.  By the way, I think the orchestra is playing your tune…

From the Command Post; Cheers y’all! #thefuneracommander

cheap funeralOver the weekend I was at a social gathering and the host introduced my wife and I to 8 others we were meeting for the first time.  When I was asked about my profession, the subject matter turned to funerals.  After finding out I was in the funeral business, almost in unison, they exclaimed “I want the cheapest funeral possible” followed by sentiments of disdain from recent experiences of burying their parents. Interestingly, the people at the table were the “target” Baby Boomers (I’m in this category, however these folks are about 15 years my senior) that are supposed to want “so much more” for their life celebration and these folks were not anywhere near financially challenged.

So I asked them what they thought the “cheapest funeral” would be in terms of cost and service.  One lady shared that she just buried her husband last year and she hated the entire process.  She said that going to the funeral home with her kids and in her words “consternation of dealing with those people” left a bad taste in her mouth.  She said that she told her kids that in no way shape or form does she want them to go through the same process….”I told them to just cremate me and have a party at the lake house…I paid over $12,000 for the whole thing and I’ll haunt my kids if they waste that much on me.”

Another lady said “I don’t want anyone looking at me dead in a casket” followed by “just cremate me…what does that cost about $1,000.”  I told her in this particular area that cremation is anywhere from $1600 to about $3500.  With that, more discussion ensued around cremation.  One interesting point a gentleman made was that he had been considering selling his burial family burial plots. “I don’t like visiting a cemetery and I know my kids don’t and won’t…why waste the money?”  From there went the discussion of where cremated remains should rest…from putting them in the lake to scattering in the garden (I suggested they research viable locations before making a decision).  I shifted the discussion to what type of service…almost all said that they don’t want to be in a church or a funeral home.  From the lake house to the country club, the general consensus was to have some sort of party, but nothing dour for this group.

I was frankly surprised at the positions of those at the table.  These were relatively affluent people that had defined opinions from recent experiences.  Their candid sharing of thoughts was interesting…what are yours about the conversation?  Cheers y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

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