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parting-logo@2x

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

funeral zombie v1

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

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

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

                                                          FD 1   or   junior

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

                                                        fd 6 or fd 5

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

fd 7

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

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 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

 

 

 

 

out of orderI was working a funeral service this past Saturday and experienced strange occurrences that I frankly don’t care to ever live through again. During the services, a young lady came to me to say that one of the restrooms had an “issue.”  Apparently, a roll or so of toilet paper just barely got the job done.  I proceeded to do my best plumbing expertise of using a plunger to fix the problem.  Well, it didn’t even come close…as I was sloshing away, the door opened with a man telling me that the other restroom has “an issue.”  Great…so I stopped plunging and opened the door of the other restroom and observed the same problem.

After exhausting all my best efforts to clear the hatch, I let my fellow participant in hell know we were in dire need of a plumber…on Saturday, in the middle of a funeral service.  My partner let me know that the family requested more memorial folders and the printer for some reason had decided that it also was overwhelmed for the day refusing to submit and he was up to his elbows in ink.  As the service let out, my job was to let folks know the bathrooms were unavailable due to an emergency…imagine the look of horror on some ladies faces upon hearing the news.

To add to the fun, a family of 11 walks into the funeral home to make arrangements for their mother that literally just died 45 minutes ago at the local hospital…and they really want to “get this part over with so that they can party.”  As we cleared the building of the service and initiated the arrangement session with the party family, the plumber arrived. I showed the plumber and his team the problem areas and they started to work, which included turning off the water causing all kind of alarms to start going off. On cue, the party family thought that was a sign that maybe they should take another of their six smoke breaks of the arrangement session.

My hat is off to those that serve the public in so many capacities, and especially those in the funeral service field.  We don’t just stop; we make adjustments, and carry on.  Saturday could aptly be described as a “crappy day”…but the sun came up on Sunday.  Please share some of your “one of those days” with us…Cheers y’all.

 

paying for the funeralThe subject matter of finances continues as I converse with funeral directors across the country.  As most have shared with me,  pre-need sales are stagnant or “not what they used to be.” With the shaky economy and consumers paying close attention to expendable dollars in their household budget, this should not be a big surprise.

Additionally, consumers arriving at funeral homes with life insurance are decreasing as well.  As reported by the Life Insurance Marketing Research Association; “the proportion of U.S. adults with life insurance protection has declined to an all-time low with 41% (95 million) of all adults have no life insurance at all.”

So if a consumer did not pre-pay/plan their funeral goods and services with a contract, the surviving family members that remain behind are making decisions for funeral goods and services with lingering thoughts:

  • If the deceased had valid life insurance, is the amount enough to pay for the goods and services that we desire?
  • If the insurance is not enough, should we pay the balance out-of-pocket or just spend only the amount of the policy?
  • If the deceased had valid life insurance, how much should we spend on funeral goods and services?
  • If the deceased had valid life insurance, should we use some of that money for other bills (medical, survivor needs, etc.)?

Of course, the above questions arise only in the cases that life insurance exists.  So with no pre-paid contract and no life insurance, what thoughts exist?

  • How much are the funeral goods and services going to cost?
  • We have savings, but should we dip into those funds?
  • Do we have enough credit card balance to charge the funeral goods and services?
  • What can we get for the amount we have…or willing to spend?

A funeral director must tailor the funeral goods and services to the budget that a family desires to spend.  And this is where the quandary begins with two sometimes opposing forces at work:

  • Satisfying the family’s desires for honoring their loved one within their budget.
  • Collecting funds for goods and services rendered that provide profitability for the funeral home.

Just like any other business, funeral home owners are being forced closely scrutinize their operating expenses and make decisions for financial sustainability.  A thorough evaluation of fixed costs, personnel management and cost of goods should be conducted.  Upon gaining a firm grasp of expenses, projections of revenue is essential.  As with most firms, the revenue projection process is like nailing Jell-O to the wall.

What is abundantly clear to most funeral home owners is that many consumers are making significant changes how they choose to provide final rites for their deceased loved ones.  “Traditional” burial is decreasing and cremation is increasing…no surprise there.  However; competition of getting the attention of consumers for how they can better budget their “funeral dollars” is rampant…within our industry along with outside of the funeral industry influences.

What does a firm offer for the growing demographic of funeral consumer that has little to no life insurance or limited funds for goods and services?  What strategies and training are in place to increase revenue along with cash flow from these consumers that meet the financial needs of the funeral home?  What are the messages and how are they sent to attract this growing market segment?  Are these conversations even taking place…or is the firm ignoring what the marketplace is telling them?  Times and consumers are changing.  The good old days are long past the funeral industry.

ShhhThe funeral industry is slow to make changes in its operations and customs.  Consumer’s views about death and funerals are challenging funeral directors to make adjustments to their demands.  It’s rare now not to find a funeral home without a website; something considered “out of the box” 15 years ago.  With the popularity of cremation, many funeral homes have been forced to change their offerings to funeral consumers.  Some cremation funeral services are indistinguishable from burial funeral services; with the body present complete with all of the other traditions such as a wake, visitation, services, use of hearse, etc.

However, there is one underlying and very important fact that has not been regularly disclosed to funeral consumers by funeral providers; the cremation process obliterates all medical and genetic DNA, and the process is irreversible. That’s right.  Once a body is cremated, there is no traceable medical or genetic DNA that can be harvested from cremated remains.

Why would someone want their deceased loved ones DNA? If you are not aware, Angelina Jolie recently had a double mastectomy because she found through DNA testing that she possessed a mutation in her BRCA1 gene.  This discovery indicated that she had a 87% chance of developing breast cancer. Angelina found the DNA testing to be important to her health and future.

I also have a personal reason for the collection of DNA. My wife’s father and Jim “Catfish” Hunter are brothers.  If you don’t know the name “Catfish Hunter,” he was a Hall of Fame Baseball Player, Cy Young award winner pitching a perfect game as well as a pitcher for both the Oakland A’s and New York Yankees during some of their World Series wins.  “Jimmy” died of ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) or “Lou Gehrig’s Disease” in September of 1999.  Unfortunately, my wife’s first cousin and Jimmy’s nephew, Gary Hunter died in April 2006 of ALS as well.  I have two sons Hunter, 22 and Jackson, 15…DNA of our deceased relatives Jimmy and Gary Hunter would be important for my son’s future.

For some people genealogy is important and becoming more popular for search of family history.  So the collection of DNA of a deceased family member has several practical applications that surviving family members may want to consider.

Wikipedia explains “DNA Genetic testing, also known as DNA testing, allows the genetic diagnosis of vulnerabilities to inherited diseases, and can also be used to determine a child’s parentage (genetic mother and father) or in general a person’s ancestry. In addition to studying chromosomes to the level of individual genes, genetic testing in a broader sense includes biochemical tests for the possible presence of genetic diseases, or mutant forms of genes associated with increased risk of developing genetic disorders. Genetic testing identifies changes in chromosomes, genes, or proteins.  Most of the time, testing is used to find changes that are associated with inherited disorders. The results of a genetic test can confirm or rule out a suspected genetic condition or help determine a person’s chance of developing or passing on a genetic disorder. Several hundred genetic tests are currently in use, and more are being developed.”

As science continues to progress our eyes are continually opened through information.  In the funeral industry, we know the fact that upon conclusion of the cremation of a person, all physical genetic and medical DNA are obliterated.  Funeral service professionals have an obligation to provide this information to a family so that they may make educated funeral decisions.

Funeral consumers should conduct research prior to making funeral arrangements and ask their funeral director what happens to their loved one’s DNA after cremation.  The cremation process is irreversible and so is the decision not to collect the DNA of their loved one.

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