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I am creating a presentation after being asked to speak on the the topic “The State of The U.S. Funeral Industry in 2015” for an organization.  In a post earlier, Adapt and Overcome; Time for Bold Leadership, I made reference to outside influences challenging the funeral industry such as economics, shifting consumer views, and technology.  While furthering my research regarding consumers, I had a discussion recently that makes me ponder a contributing factor to our challenges; our own “internal language.”

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of visiting with the Life Celebration, Inc. team at its headquarters not far from Philadelphia.  If you have not had the occasion to do so, it’s quite impressive what this organization has created to assist funeral directors training and creating meaningful funerals. During the meetings, I had opportunity to have an in-depth discussion with Jim Cummings, Chief Experience Officer, regarding the Life Celebration, Inc. philosophy, training and offerings.  Jim made a statement that really resonated with me; “we have to change how, as funeral professionals, we view ourselves and the people we are serving.  They are not our families they are consumers, there is a difference.”

Jim has a very interesting point.  So, as part of my work for the before mentioned presentation, I looked up the definitions on dictionary.com:

family (noun; plural; families) a basic social unit consisting of parents and their children,considered as a group, whether dwelling together or not.  

consumer (noun) a person or thing that consumes & a person or organization that uses a commodity or service.

I have heard over the years and still today funeral directors refer to their customers as “my family.”   If someone didn’t know better, they would think funeral directors were actually burying or cremating a person from their own family unit (as defined and generally recognized by most of the population above).  If “my family” was accurate, a funeral director would not have to get all of the information for the death certificate nor waste copious amounts of time on the obituary.  He or she should know all this stuff about his or her “family” and funeral directors would be picking up the bill, or at least not profiting (we would never profit off of our own family…right?).  Where did this notion “my family” referring to consumers we serve come from?    Is there another profession that mirrors this philosophy; physician/patients, hotelier/guest, attorney/client, church/congregation, hospice/patient?  These other professions have compassion and love for those they serve, but don’t use the moniker, “my family.”

I believe this sort of “make believe posturing” in the funeral industry is one of the many contributing internal challenges we’ve created. Perhaps by viewing customers as what they are, consumers, we would not be failing to adapt to their needs.  If we can change the way we visualize ourselves, we will better understand those that we serve.  We would study their product/price points (not just sell whatever the vendors produce), their preferences for experience (rather than make them accept only what we have been used to offering), we would conduct services at different venues (not just our chapel or a local church) and we would communicate with them in the ways they communicate (social media, not the yellow pages) actually having something to say that is relevant to their needs.

If they are “your family,” why are they forsaking their loyalty to your firm and flocking to other funeral service providers like cremation societies, online providers, and so on?  Think about it; if they were your family, wouldn’t these consumers you are serving pretty much reflect your own family’s cultural, religious and historical funeral preferences?  Yet, we are bewildered why they won’t and don’t do what we want them to…like “our family” would.  The assumption that interjecting into a group of strangers or previously served consumer group’s life for 72 hours or so and assuming genetic ancestral linkage is just plain off base.

As usual and customary, I’ll get some push back from the Kiwi’s among us which, from my point of view, bolsters the Southern saying “a bit dog always yelps.”  My intent for this post and the presentation I am creating is to challenge conventional thinking and solicit other viewpoints to find solutions.  So, what do you think…are you yelping or helping?  From the Command Post through the fog of cigar smoke, Cheers Y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

front lines

From my vantage point, the funeral industry is experiencing an era of significant change due to primarily outside influences; economics, shifts in consumer views about caring for our dead, and technology are among the top.  These particular challenges mean that we are adapting to change outside our control and innovative/bold leadership is required to “fight the battles” ahead.  The enemy (for sake of analogy) is the before mentioned influences; however do we have leaders in place to not only win the battles, but ultimately the war?  The war may be characterized along a few fronts; remaining relevant to consumers (of value), financially stability (funeral homes, product manufacturers, etc.) along with the integration of technology which is essential for relevancy and financial stability.

I have written and posted about this subject Are You a Kiwi or an Eagle regarding leadership (or lack thereof) in the funeral industry.  Because I am challenged daily as a leader from many “battle fronts” like: development/structure of new companies/brands which involve legal, accounting, capital investments, regulations (local, national and international), assembling teams, delegating, creating company cultures, personnel issues, marketing, websites, customer acquisition, retention and such; I study leaders, leadership styles and results.

A quote “most battle plans rarely survive the first shot” and there is some truth to this.  Think about it, most of our doctrines and current operations are based on what we experienced in the past.  An example was this past week’s attacks in Paris; the enemy now is successfully using new tactics, attacking not where we thought they would (a battlefield “over there”), and they successfully spread their message; every news media on the planet brought to our eyes all over the world exactly what they stood for.  We are obviously unprepared for such attack and pitifully exposed that we are reactionary (the attacks were conducted as planned, lives were lost, the message of fear propagated).  In the funeral industry, are we following old doctrine and not studying or training to defeat the “enemy” that may cause harm to us?

GSP Painting

One of my favorite leaders in battle and war is George S. Patton; confident, decisive and “told it like it was.”  Many did not like his bold personality and style of leadership; but few questioned the results (sound familiar?).  General Patton once said “fixed fortifications are the stupidity of man” as a prognostication about the German Siegfried Line of fortresses for defense.  This particular quote resonates with me because many in the funeral industry are hell-bent on continuing to build “fortifications of defense” in attempts to ward off the inevitable; consumers gravitating to cremation, declining traditional burial, economic downward spiral, and seeking alternative services outside our offerings, etc.

Another favorite quote from Patton: “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.”  For the funeral industry as a whole, this frankly is an indictment.  Yes, there are innovators and forward thinkers however many are still heading in the same direction they were 5 years ago. The same tired discussions continue; generally just bitching most of the time about the innovators, forward thinkers, vendors and always their competitor…yet rarely taking decisive action to initiate change.

If you took some time to dig a little deeper into and beyond General Patton’s brashness, you would find that he demanded accountability of himself and his subordinate leaders “Always do everything you ask of those you command.”  Furthermore, he was not a tight-fisted leader, but actually wanted people to be innovative; “Never tell people how to do things…tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity” and “If you tell people where to go, but not how to get there, you’ll be amazed at the results.”  Patton demanded creative thinking and allowed for leadership of those that followed him.  We need more of this from funeral home owners…unfortunately there are many, I think because of their own frailties, that don’t allow for “surprise of ingenuity” or “get amazed by results.”  Dictatorial leadership is rarely successful and those subject to “serving the kingdom” cheer at the Dictators inevitable demise…sometimes assisting in their demise (funeral coup?).

Patton’s “Nobody ever defended anything successfully, there is only attack and attack and attack some more” basically meant to train, stay on the move, innovate and attack; but don’t keep moving the sandbags around hoping you’ll win the battle.  We have to be proactive as leaders and never satisfied that we have reached any sort of  pinnacle, stay “on the attack.”

As for me, I’m going to continue to adapt and overcome as well as “shoot the donkeys” (unless of course I see the need for use as the US soldier did in the featured image).  I detest having jackasses hold up an entire column of warriors ready to do battle; just shoot them, throw them over the side of the bridge, keep moving to fight the battle, and win the war.  I’m laughing to myself because I know the jackasses will take umbrage to my school of thought, but as Patton also said “We herd sheep, we drive cattle, we lead people. Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way.”  From the Command Post and through the cigar smoke; Cheers y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

part 2The first post “Loyalty and The Funeral Industry (part 1)” has created great responses.  When I say great I mean many responses, not all them happy with me.  I was particularly pleased to find out that my readership includes some “big company executives” that I suppose perpetuated the old Southern saying “a bit dog always yelps.”  I’d like to remind readers that I am sharing my experiences and perspectives from being a funeral industry product/service provider, a funeral service provider, and from funeral consumers themselves.

When I took the leap from the field sales role into entrepreneurship of developing and owning a funeral home, I wanted to take a different approach.  First, I wanted to learn all I could about funeral home operations, processes, the consumer and the markets that I intended to operate.  Because I had no shackles of legacy keeping me bound to “we’ve always done it this way” (a phrase I abhor), I initiated what I was taught in the military called a “table top exercise.”  I went on home removals, facility removals, sat in on arrangements, studied P&L statements, etc. and basically categorized what I believed to be each step of the process on paper. Yep, I wrote down every step, one by one.  Simultaneously, I studied the principles of Six Sigma to create a template of process to overlay of my observations.

One of the most important steps during this process was listening to families during arrangements.  Obviously I could not ask families anything, however I created questions later to be asked in a focus group. The focus group study was conducted in another state with a similar demographic of the first location to be opened.  The issue of funeral home brand loyalty was important because we had no brand or name within the community and we wanted to know how to attract families to our new approach to service.

We had 2 sessions with consumers (about a dozen or so in each, multi ethnic) that had at some recent point made arrangements for a funeral of their loved one.  In a focus group study you may know that the questions sought after are not always asked “point blank,” but they are woven into the process.

One question was “if a new funeral home opened in your town, say in a former bank building in a nice area, would you use that location?” Some of the respondents raised their hand, but only a few.  For those that did not, the question was asked why? Basically, they did not know anything other than it being a new funeral home and didn’t know who was involved which would make them reluctant. The facilitator went on to other questions and then came back around asking “if that new funeral home in the bank building had licensed funeral directors, perhaps with a history of service, would you then give them a try?”  About 2/3 of the participants raised their hands indicating yes.  Again, the facilitator moved to other questions and then settled on prices that they actually paid at various local funeral homes.  We had already surmised the local average of burial and cremation costs by conducting a GPL survey.

We found it interesting that the participants responded with all sorts of dollar values.  The facilitator had to further explain that he was looking for the price of the burial services/casket or cremation services/urn only, not cemetery, outer burial container or obituaries (quite a lot of negative response on obit costs).  Finally, the question came back to “remember that new funeral home in the bank building, operated by licensed directors with experience or credibility?”  “What if that funeral home offered similar burial services and caskets for at least $2000 less, would you use the new funeral home?”  All the hands went up.  Then “if this same new funeral home offered similar cremation services and urns for at least $1,000 less, would you use the new funeral home?” Again, all hands went up responding positively. So there was one of the answers we were seeking; there is a point where loyalty has a price.  This group offered us quite a bit more from how/where they got their information (internet, newspaper, television, etc.) to importance (or lack of) having the actual product on hand or digitally presented would sit with them; all important elements of creating a new operating platform.

We have experienced success at our new brand of funeral service because of this and other “listen to the consumer” processes put into place.  Asking the consumer to provide us information prior to actually physically coming to the funeral home either on home removal or online was met with positive response.  Basically, my theory of getting all the “data collection” out of the way early and focusing in on the life lived was right.  Our proprietary TouchPoints arrangement system engages families in a co-creative process, not a “inquiry of data.”  We made tremendous strides operationally including the death certificate prepared prior to arrangements, digital presentations, consumer engagement via social media which all created a positive funeral experience…building loyalty the new way.

In development, I knew that price was not the compelling reason because other factors are even more important.  I always hear “well, you get what you pay for” in many circles when new competition starts eroding market share. Again, back to the car analogy; the next funeral you have look at the make and models of the cars on the lot (if there are a lot of Buick’s, you are in trouble). The consumer will decide the value proposition.

Frankly in my opinion (and we all know I have one) loyalty must not only be earned, but maintained.  Just because your firm has been serving since Sherman burnt down the South does not dictate loyalty.  Continuous improvement is sometimes painstaking and changes must be made.  A great example of this is a dear friend of mine that has been in the business 35 years and is an owner of a firm serving a local community, primarily Italian, since the early 1920’s (yes, he’s from “up North” and my friend).  The traditional families his firm serves for over 90 years has shifted to a nearby township leaving his location in the middle of a demographic market that has completely changed, including real estate values.  The families still come to him, but he realizes at some point they will begin to look elsewhere for many reasons.  Being proactive, he made a decision to follow the families by moving the entire operation to the township where the majority of his market has moved. His summation is that he needs to follow his market, not stubbornly resist the inevitable. Go into cities and look at boarded up churches…consumer shifts from not only location, but from traditions.  Sound familiar?  I think someone famous once said “go where they are.”

One last observation I personally experienced learning about is online funeral consumers.  By paying attention, we found that families were seeking online services from other states for their deceased loved ones right in our operational zip codes only because our locations were conducting the trade work. So what did that mean?  This particular segment of consumer had no “relationship” with a local funeral home (including ours), searched online, and made a choice based on the information found on a website.  Now I know what some of you will say (yes, I know who you are). “Well, we wouldn’t do the trade-work which is perpetuating the whole thing in the first place.”  Don’t.  The family clearly did not choose your firm in the first place for whatever reason, why not at least get some revenue from the transaction?  Being proactive, we addressed this consumer segment accordingly.  The online funeral consumer segment is growing.  If you think about it, this is the epitome of no loyalty.

So, what’s your firm doing to create and maintain brand loyalty including capturing the folks in your zip codes looking elsewhere?  Why are they seeking funeral services by some other firm that yours? Perhaps your website is not suitable with information (really, take a look at funeral home websites, I dare ya), or the prices you charge may be out of balance for the market (and the consumer has to come see you to get them at your location in a bad area of town).  “Networking” at the Lions Club is going stale, “marketing” by obituary placement in the local paper, restaurant place mat ads and printed calendars is failing.

“We’ve always done it this way” is not the answer for loyalty in the funeral business.  As usual, I am looking forward to the responses prompted by what I shared.  As always, don’t shoot the messenger (however I have been shot at before), but let’s have lively discussions.  So from the Command Post and through a blur of cigar smoke, Cheers y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

part 1I have spent some time in the past years studying the shifts of “loyalty” in the funeral industry from a few different perspectives; from a funeral industry product/service provider, as a funeral service provider, and from funeral consumers themselves. My observations are from actual experiences/research including my tenure as a sales representative for a funeral products company, a funeral home owner/partner and a funeral industry entrepreneur.  There is quite a large amount to share, so this blog will have several segments over the next few weeks.

My first real loyalty (or lack thereof) experience in the funeral industry was when I worked for a big funeral products company. It was my mission to sell our provided products/services to the funeral homes in my assigned territory(s) and secure those relationships with multi-year contracts.  The contract was primarily to provide caskets, urns and some ancillary stuff at a discounted/rebated rate for 100% of the funeral home product purchases. My reality check was during my visits to the funeral homes I would notice products in the garages being stored that were not from our brand.  Additionally, you know how funeral directors love to talk, I was always made privy to why the urn sales were down by “you didn’t hear this from me, but we have whole closet full of X brand urns in the basement.”  What made these example scenarios interesting was “rebate check” time when I delivered the rebate check and it was lower than expectations.  Then it was “chickens come home to roost time” because the number of services provided and products sold were way off base. One of my favorite responses was “we are really here to assist you, but paying you a rebate for purchases from another company was not added to the contract.”

The even larger disillusionment while busting my fanny to not only sell for the company but to generate revenue for my family came when I unwittingly uncovered that I was not the only one in my territory selling my company products; so was my company.  Through local distributors under a different brand name my company was selling a “less expensive product with different features” to the same funeral homes that I supposedly had developed business relationships and even “100%” contracts.  Of course, my direct supervisor vehemently denied that any such activity was taking place until I actually showed him a price list and photos of the product.  That’s where the fun began.

During a particular company meeting I addressed this issue to the company leadership and frankly the responses were hilarious.  First starting with denial, then to “not the same products, these don’t have the same blah blah features” to “they are not manufactured with the same standards and finally “these products are not going to your customers.”  Being like the Coast Guard motto “Semper Paratus” I came with all the evidence with photos of the “non-features” and those photos taken in funeral homes within my assigned territory base.  You can imagine my popularity numbers were flying high with the company “big cheeses.”

This issue simmered for a few months and finally fully substantiated on a customer trip visit to the manufacturer.  While touring one of the plants, I noticed unfamiliar shells of caskets on the factory floor.  There was a point of manufacturing process that we prided ourselves as “unique.”  I watched one of the unfamiliar products go right through that same line and the process performed exactly like the other “core-line” products by the same personnel.  Taking the initiative, I asked the person performing the task in the factory “what type of casket it that, we don’t have those in our area?”  God bless him, he beamed “it’s a BR549 (names and brands not used here to protect the guilty).”  Basically, my suspicions confirmed that my company was manufacturing, selling and offering caskets to the customers in my territory without me receiving any of the revenue for those sales.  Some loyalty.

The influx of “foreign” caskets a few years ago was all the flurry of conversation.  Articles written, comparisons made, law suits brought about.  The “American made” label was touted by some of the companies basically offering that consumers would be totally off-put and “no one should be putting their momma in one of those.”  Hold it a second.  Remember that factory tour?  Stacks and stacks of “Made in China” boxes were abundant and in clear view for all to see.  Huh? And oh yea, how about the “we have a plant in another country, but it’s still our skill and craftsmanship that makes the difference.  I won’t even get started on urn manufacturing, just turn over the product and look for the “made in what country” label for your own answer.

There are other instances but not enough ink or finger typing endurance to share more.  My summations for the reasons for these examples of “lack of loyalty” are simple.  Although funeral homes enjoy the support provided by some of the vendors that provide their products and services, as owners we always seek better pricing.  If nothing else, the contract is supposed to be a binding “loyalty” contract, however I dare say they are pretty much nothing more but a piece of paper.  The vendors get all indignant about this issue, but as the example above with the BR549 product line, contracts really don’t mean anything to the vendor either.  It’s a vicious cycle; funeral homes vie for the best price (notwithstanding contracts) and manufactures sell however and to whomever they can find to buy their products.

I’m old enough to remember vehicles made overseas and how we viewed those vehicles.  Guess what’s at the top of the best selling cars on the road in America?  Some of those very cars we made fun of back then (see 20 Best Selling Cars July 2014).  The point here is consumers demonstrate some of the exact purchase and loyalty behaviors that we mimic but complain about in the funeral industry.

Why are we so shocked that consumers choose less expensive service/products (to some in our industry the analogy code words are “discounters,” cremation societies and online purchasing)?  Subsequent posts to this blog will address these same behaviors from consumers.  Don’t shoot the messenger, it’s an issue worth addressing;  I look forward to your responses and the discussions.  My cigar is about completed…so from the Command Post; Cheers y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

 

 

innovationThis past week famed musician Bono of U2 announced that their new album “Songs of Innocence” would be released free to anyone with iTunes (Bono Explains U2’s Deal).  The idea of reaching new customers with their brand/style of music is a brilliant marketing campaign on many levels.  Of course, Apple is participating and launching products of their own simultaneously which creates buzz for all involved.

Let’s see; reaching a new audience of listeners (not even the same genre’s), collaborating with another company to deliver the message, and a fresh approach to consumers.  Any lessons/ideas here for us in the funeral industry?  I have a few ideas, but I’d love to hear from from you.  Cheers y’all! #thefuneralcommander

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

washed outIt’s the time of year that summer comes to a close…the end of a season associated with happy, warm and carefree days. However, this description of summer is not necessarily reflective in the funeral industry.  Just like the ocean, the death rate has an ebb and flow; historically the death rate is higher in the 1st and 2nd quarter of any given year and the 3rd quarter (summer) is significantly slower.  This historical trend offers the opportunity for timely discussion.

As a funeral home owner/manger, how do you prepare for the ebbs and flows of the death rate for expected “slow times?” Does your firm adjust prices based on recent revenues?  What type of marketing campaign do you launch (if the phone isn’t ringing, then go out singing is one of our firm’s methods)?  Or  are you the proponent of the ever popular “we have experienced this before” and do nothing?  The problem of decreased death rate in today’s atmosphere is coupled with other issues; competition (locally and online), shopping consumers, increase of cremation, decrease of traditional burials, and of course when a call is lost, so is the revenue along with that family most likely not returning either.

Lest we forget: it’s price increase time!  Yes, if not yet, your happy supplier will visit soon telling you how much you are loved and appreciated…and that love will cost you more this upcoming year!  Now, don’t forget that suppliers have to make profit and if you review the wall street owned ones, they do handsomely.  Nothing wrong with profit, frankly I’m in favor.  Back to my point, this time of year.  The funeral homes that I am owner/partner, we operate our fiscal year January-December.  However, the major suppliers find it necessary to impose their fiscal calendar upon us to suit their financial needs…this time of year.

What does this mean to you and your firm?  Well, first it’s time for you to make adjustments to your GPL and product price lists or absorb the product price increases starting October 1.  Remember the “slow” summer season just ending?  Now you have to account for those losses and adjust for upcoming increased product costs.  Frankly, if your firm has been adjusting prices along the way, this is not a big deal.  However, the majority of funeral homes in the US only make price changes this time of year, when dictated by suppliers, if any adjustments are made at all.  I know it’s hard to believe, but I see GPL’s and price lists that are actually dated “2010.”  Second, are the prices you are paying for products (and getting ready to pay more) a value to your firm and families?  At some point, there is a price for “loyalty,” just ask consumers.  I’ll address this question in another post soon.

So for discussion sake, how does your funeral home address “slow periods?”  Anyone out there heard the latest price increase numbers?  What are your methods to formulate price adjustments? How often does your firm adjust prices and what time of the year if only annually? Happy Labor Day (I’m working, but doing so with a cigar as part of the celebration).  Cheers y’all! #thefuneralcommander

10489664_10204233373373040_6140789426579688307_n (3)Living in the entrepreneur world is quite an experience. Thinking of an idea/process/product, development and working through to completion which is basically market acceptance and penetration, is a great reward of satisfaction that drives our motivation.

The hard part of being an entrepreneur is not all the creative, coordination, structure development, testing and so on.  That part of our “existence” is why we engage in our endeavors.  One of the most difficult facets of entrepreneurialism is the struggle with people that have either no understanding or will to learn about our creative initiatives.  Interestingly, even after vetting products/services in “beta” situations (at need arrangements) with real funeral directors with real funeral consumers, posting positive revenue numbers and elimination of “glitches,” skepticism abounds.  So why is the phenomenon of knee jerk “well, that won’t work” so pervasive?

I believe and understand that we all have natural skepticism about anything new.  Having stated this, I also believe that many people don’t possess natural intellectual curiosity to research for themselves prior to providing their opinion.  Thus, the term “knee jerk” is appropriate; just what comes off the top of mind with no real foundation or reasoning to support a given position.  Is this because the “opinionated” has never invented or created anything in their life and merely shows up everyday to perform repeated tasks for their livelihood, thus hating change?  Or is the “opinionated” always positioning or believing themselves as the smartest person in the room, resentful of not being the one that created the enterprise?  We see this type of reaction is pervasive in our society today on social media (mindless reactions) and even in our Nation’s leadership;  “JV team” comment sound familiar?

In particular, the funeral industry is quite adept in providing “often wrong but never in doubt” opinions on a wide variety of subjects.  However much like the reference to the Middle East scourge, the issues we face are real and not going away.  In fact, the problem is getting worse and there is no plan of how to address the escalating and dangerous situation we are finding ourselves.  For example, in many cases our approach to cremation, use of technology, regulations, competition, price transparency, the economic environment we are operating and shifting consumer views of funeral service have not been a track record of stellar business practices.

Ten years ago, we were so surprised when consumers actually choose a custom cap panel, or shopped prices, purchased a non-gasketed casket, or asked for a “direct cremation.”  Today these examples are common and closer the norm.  So when the subjects of technology to serve families (bricks and mortar not necessary for services provided), use of celebrants, declining revenues from financially challenged consumers, DNA in the funeral industry, sending cremated remains into space, alkaline hydrolysis and such…are they so far fetched?  However, remember your first Thumbie sale? I suppose the proprietors and change leaders of our industry that now enjoy the fruits of their effort are humming the Toby Keith song “How Do You Like Me Now?”

Fortunately the funeral industry has forward thinking and operating professionals that actually provide leadership by having the intestinal fortitude and broad view to pave the way for those that don’t.  Actually, I addressed these leaders in a post Kiwi or Eagle earlier this year.  So from my view as a funeral home owner/partner and funeral service/product business owner/entrepreneur, there is a bright future for the funeral industry Eagles!  As for the Kiwi’s, well as we say in the South, “Bless your heart,” your beak is getting warmer as we speak.  Cheers y’all! #thefuneralcommander

cremation blogCheap cremation.  While attending the ICCFA last month I did not see any of the vendors of urns, retorts, training or otherwise advertise cheap cremation.  However, when our team convened early this morning for our weekly after action report, the term “cheap cremation” came up twice from funeral directors.  Their use of the term “cheap cremation” was from consumers that were shopping for services over the weekend.  We further discussed the conversations and the results…meeting the two families this morning!  Training does pay off.

While pondering the term cheap cremation, I decided to do some homework.  What does this term mean? According to Merriam-Webster online: Cheapnot costing a lot of money; of low quality; not worth a lot of money; charging low prices.  Cremationto reduce (as a dead body) to ashes by burning. 

I decided to conduct my own research this morning and call three different funeral service providers that offer cremation; all three are in the same competitive market within about 4 miles of each other.  I asked the person answering the phone to give me a quote on cheap cremation.  Here are the results:

Location 1: (cremation provider advertised online with pricing on their website): “Our complete cremation which includes taking the body into our care, the necessary paperwork, an alternative cremation container is which is required, the crematory fee and a temporary urn is $895.”  The person asked me if they could email me more information or if I had any other questions.  I replied no, I’m just checking around, thanked them and competed the call.

Location 2: (family owned funeral home with no prices on their website): “Has a death occurred? What type of cremation do you want?” I told them no, I just want a quote on a cheap cremation. “Our cheapest cremation is $1,575.”  I asked what was included; “Picking up a body, the paperwork, an alternative container and crematory charge.” The person did not ask me anything else in sort of a strange silence, so I thanked them and ended the call.

Location 3: (publically owned, corporate funeral home no mention of price on their website): “Has a death occurred? Do you want services?” I said no, I just want a cheap cremation. “We charge $4,390 for a direct cremation.”  The person went on to explain “included in the $4,390 is taking your loved one into our care, all the funeral director services including documents, a cremation container which a body is placed into the crematory and crematory fees.”  I asked “I just called 2 other places near you and they charge $895 and $1,575 for the same thing, what do I get for my extra $3,000 that I would pay you?”  The person answered “well, we are a full service funeral home and we provide more than just the minimum.”  I replied “but I’m only asking for the minimum, why so much from your funeral home”…the person’s reply “because we do more than the other funeral homes and we have facilities, others can’t accommodate all your needs.”  I replied that I only need a cheap cremation; and thanked him for his time. He then said “We have an affiliate that only charges $1,395 for a direct cremation, can I give you their number?”  I then asked where the affiliate was located, “right here in <name of city>, but all they do is direct cremations.”  I took the number and again thanked him for his time…and ended the call.

Wonder why a consumer is confused about cremation?  A few personal observations.  Location 1 and 2 at least provided me information on their respective website, but were not much on conversation or concern on the phone.  Location 1 gave me information and did not care if a death occurred, but offered a follow up where location 2 did not.  The most engaging was location 3, which is expected for an additional $3,000; however their follow up was referring me to another place to call and not to be bothered with my situation at their particular location. The lack of engagement from all three was astounding...AND NOBODY ASKED MY NAME!

So for your Monday morning wakeup call funeral directors and funeral home owners; shoppers are looking for cheap cremation.  What is going to be your answer?  Are your prices on your website?  Do you randomly “secret shop” your funeral home and competitors? What training are you providing your staff about phone engagement? As a consumer, which one of the locations would you have chosen based on the information provided above?    Cheap cremation is not going away and neither is the consumer that is looking online and calling to engage your staff.  What’s your solution? Cheers y’all. #thefuneralcommander

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