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blog post 19 nov

The funeral industry continues to evolve and reflect that survival and growth are contingent on consolidation or strategic alliances.  Just recently, Pierce Mortuary Colleges  announced the merger with Worsham College of Mortuary Science.  Interestingly, the announcement was made after a provocative interview on Episode 5 Funeral Nation TV about the need for change in the funeral service education system. Coincidence?

Vandor Corporation and C.J. Boots Casket Company, Inc. announced a strategic merger agreement this week which will strengthen their collective positions in the funeral marketplace for manufactured and fine hardwood products.

Earlier this year Matthews purchased Aurora Casket creating a funeral service/product manufacturing giant.  The new company is the only of its kind offering caskets, cremation solutions/equipment, memorialization products, cemetery products as well as funeral home management solutions.  Interestingly, their primary competition in this sector has been woefully left behind scrambling around the cornfield seeking headlines of significance.  Of course the acquisition of Stewart by SCI sent a message exemplifying the necessity to consolidate for growth and survival of funeral homes.

What I have found most interesting is the reactions by funeral professionals to merger/acquisitions mentioned along with others that have been occurring as of late.  I can best categorize the majority of reactions as emotional rather than a business perspective.  When I say emotional, I mean like a street corner argument between the Sharks and the Jets in West Side Story.  “I’ll never use so and so; I’m glad I went to school here because blah, blah; these guys are taking over the world” and so on.

consolidation

The decisions of merger, consolidation and acquisition are for strategic and financial stability long term.  The due diligence ( defined as a comprehensive appraisal of a business undertaken by a prospective buyer, especially to establish its assets and liabilities and evaluate its commercial potential for those Dancing with the Stars readers) is conducted with expertise probably not taught in most mortuary school accounting classes.

Most that bitch and complain about the business of consolidation and merger rarely have done anything other than receive a check for their employment.  So little contributed yet so much said.  Few business owners or those that have developed businesses engage in the junior high cafeteria rhetoric because they have a true sense of the difficulty operating in our current market environment.

In a nutshell; in order to survive and thrive in the funeral industry whether a learning institution, funeral home, manufacturer or service provider, consolidation is key.  The decisions are made for the overall good of the brand and enterprise, not because of which colors look the best in the logo or the proverbial “we have always done it that way.”  Get used to the headlines and I can assure you there are many more such alliances ahead.  These are exciting times; either jump on board, do something yourself, create disruption or just stand there waiting for the good ole days to return.

From the Command Post and through a heavy fog of cigar smoke, 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

posers

“The Talking Heads; Often Wrong But Never In Doubt.”

I have often posted and shared thoughts, experiences, successes and failures of being a funeral industry entrepreneur; for example Funeral Industry Entrepreneur and Funeral Entrepreneur?  The path is paved with all sorts of challenges however I thrive on teamwork, critical thinking, beta testing, along with continuous improvement.  For those fellow stalwarts that do the same, bravo my fellow comrades!  But this post is to call out and challenge the “posers” that are emerging around us.  As defined by the Urban Dictionary

Poser: 1. one who pretends to be someone whose not.  2. who tries to fit in but with exaggeration

As Social Media provides a platform for anyone to share information, whether the information provided is correct has no relevance to building their audiences.  Even more interesting, when the background and experience of such a person is further vetted, we are surprised by the lack any credentials whatsoever to position themselves as an authority.

There are copious examples to undermine the theory that in order to create something fantastic relevant to the funeral industry that one should be a licensed funeral director, and I’m not advocating such.  What I am describing fits into one or more of these:

  • No formal death care or funeral service education.
  • Never worked actively at a funeral home in any capacity.
  • Does not regularly participate or observe in person funeral arrangement sessions.
  • Assumes process without experience.

Funeral product manufacturers, service providers (insurance, marketing, technology, etc.) and now preparing for “launch season” which is pretty much the NFDA Convention in October.  Many will bring “the newest and best” thing to their booths hoping to convince buyers that their particular service or product will “make a difference” at a funeral home.  The big companies have research/marketing departments that have either repackaged something or attempting to create a new “need.”  Smaller and new manufacturers/providers simply believe they have the “next best thing” in the funeral market.

Rarely does most ever conduct any BETA testing of the service or product; meaning real funeral directors sharing with real at need families.  Actually listening to what funeral directors think or suggest much less consumer needs and acceptance.  Focus groups don’t count or provide an accurate measure of anything compared to making selections in funeral arrangements and actually paying.  However, the “posers” will provide anecdotal scenarios and spew forth inane figures based on “research” which is contrived by people who have never set foot in a funeral home, much less looked a family in the eye during arrangements.

As the “launch season” approaches, start your own research to formulate investigative questions that are relevant to your needs.  Ask for actual data (if it’s printed in a brochure, it’s likely made up) and reference names of other funeral homes that have had success with the service or product.  Does the company actually manufacture the product, have in-house technicians/content writers/designers, actually own the service/laboratory, or are just a sales agent?  Unfortunately there are few funeral industry vendors that actually produce their own product and services…most are “farmed out.”

Allow

There is a great saying; “what you will allow is what will continue.”    Ask questions or challenge to the talking heads and decide for yourself their value.  If not, expect the same results of performance and behavior.  From the desk of The Funeral Commander, 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

poor Saturday night I received a call from a lady that in years past I coached  her son in football.  The reason for her reaching out to me that her  niece, only 24 years old had just died at home and she wanted our  funeral home to assist their family.  Unfortunately, the young woman that  died had a debilitating disease and was released to home hospice  from a major medical center only the night before.

I know this family personally and frankly, the word pitiful comes to mind.  You know the family in your communities, truly struggling through life never seeming to get a break.  After providing me with the contact information, I forwarded the data to our on call funeral director.  Within just a few minutes, I received another call from the brother of the deceased.  He told me that he was the only one in the family with a job, almost everyone was on disability, and that finances were going to be a serious issue.  After listening, I shared with him that I understood and that our firm would certainly accommodate them to the best of our ability.  Since finances were an issue, I inquired whether he and the family would consider cremation; he said that was not an option.  They had a family farm property in another county and it was his sister’s desire to be buried there, the least that they could do.  Since this was a home hospice call, our staff was on the way as we spoke and I assured him that we would do our best and our conversation ended.

The best of our ability…this means that we (our funeral home) have to at least cover our costs; removal staff, casket and such.  Even with our offer to do this, what family wanted, they will still to struggle to cover the costs we must pay. When they came in to make arrangements, I was there simply so lend support and let them know that I truly cared for loss (I’m usually traveling all over the planet).  The funeral director conducted the arrangements as our standard; providing them information so that they could make educated decisions.

Anguishing from the experience losing their 24 year old loved one was now coupled with the living struggle of eking their way through life in financial stress…all the time.  I observed as the funeral director repeated what they were requesting from our firm, and then provided them with the cost for doing so.  We had agreed to provide what they wanted and reasonably could afford at our cost.  This family shared with the funeral director what funds they had available, and then we were able to provide them with a payment plan for the balance…still, just covering costs.

I felt compelled to share this real life event for a few reasons.  First, just plain human empathy for this family and so many others finding themselves in this very position.  Living day to day, struggling to make ends meet.  When death or another catastrophic event occurs, all of life’s regular problems are magnified for these folks.  Second, the families like this are one of the fastest growing groups in our country economically.  As a business person, whether a grocery store, shoe store, gas station, clothing store or pick a business; we have overhead costs just to keep the doors open and pay the people to provide service.  In the funeral home business, we are no different.

The difference in the funeral home business is that we are called provide service for those that have lost a loved one, regardless of their financial status.  Some states and municipalities offer indigent funds in the event of indigent death.  I have read that those offerings are “drying up” and non-existent in most areas such as our area of operations.  Many outside the funeral home business have no idea that we are not reimbursed by a government entity like Medicare of Social Security if a family has no life insurance and limited financial resources.  When a funeral home takes possession of a body, by most state statutes and regulations, we must either embalm or refrigerate within a certain time frame.  This regulation does not preclude getting paid from the family.

My heart really does go out to families that are financially suffering, God bless them.  I also understand and have concern for the gut wrenching job a funeral director does to meet their needs, both financially and their requests.  From one owner/partner of a funeral home to the others that read this, my true reason for writing this post is for more people to understand the business we run is more than just nice suits, shiny cars and transactions.  We make decisions that have profound effects on families, our employees and our business…it just isn’t what it seems.  Cheers y’all!

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