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arms I have had recent conversations with several young funeral directors  about their future.  These were both male and female, legacy (those that  their family owns the firm) along those that are employees.    Interestingly, the majority of their visions of the future were similar and  mostly dependent on where they are currently positioned; legacy, employee, corporate owned or family owned.

The common theme was their leaders/managers rarely solicit their ideas or viewpoints of how, if they had an opportunity, would improve upon different subjects.  I don’t think this issue is strictly a funeral home occurrence as “junior associates” in many industries such as banking, legal and such fare the same.  From my personal experiences, I am excited to listen to fresh perspectives from newly licensed or apprentice directors.  Our particular brand had greatly benefitted in such areas as use of technology, our proprietary arrangement process and other operational aspects.

The most concern I have from these conversations, even from legacy directors, was the lack of excitement for their future.  When these bright minded and aptly educated directors aren’t engaged in a culture that is propagating continuous improvement, why would they be excited?  Basically, the notion of doing their job, following the mundane routines of a funeral director and long hours should suffice.  I always ask “if you were in charge, or you could start your own firm, what would you do” and I get a litany of ideas.  These folks are thinking and have interesting perspectives. 

My favorite question is “would you like to own a funeral home” and most answer that it would be impossible…which bothers me the most.  I’m afraid we are losing the entrepreneurial spirit with our next generation of directors.  In many cases, they face an uphill battle.  Securing the capital to purchase  is difficult enough and funds for a startup funeral home stepping out on their own are even harder.

So as a matter of conversation, from “tenured” funeral directors to those at the beginning of their career, what are your thoughts?  Are we providing our next generation with enough engagement to maintain their interest or squashing their spirit? 

 

entrepenuer I recently heard a definition of an entrepreneur as one that jumps off a cliff  and builds a plane on the way down…this has a ring of truth.  We often see  news about people that have been successful bringing their ideas not only  to fruition, but made gazillions of dollars like Zuckerberg and Jobs.  But as  for the people that toil, try, fail, and start all over again, they rarely get much  press.

I personally know some in the funeral industry that daily get up and “build the plane”  with internet companies, products, processes, training modules and yes, new funeral home operating models.  I am often fascinated with how these folks envisioned their respective ideas and their take on how to penetrate the huge market.  The idea is not the hard part, it’s in the development, implementation and penetration of the market.  What many of my entrepreneur friends don’t realize early on that their product or service generally must be presented/sold/offered by funeral directors.  This particular part of the equation is frankly the most difficult to overcome and develop into a large scale.

I have a personal saying “a vision is only a dream without execution” meaning it’s not enough to dream, it’s all about making it happen.  I was part of developing a new funeral home operating model based on Six Sigma and Lean practices that opened in 2010.  The utilization of digitized arrangements for consistent messages to consumers, training of processes like home removals, all being done from computers which eliminated the need for office staff.  The service focus is providing families with a positive funeral experience, not wasting their time or money with outdated funeral processes.  Of course, the industry and competitive neigh sayers wanted to pigeon hole us that we don’t provide service, can’t this, don’t that, blah, blah. Interestingly and over 800 death calls later, our executed vision is growing with a great start to our fourth year in 2014.

The lessons learned as a funeral entrepreneur at the funeral home development level prepared me for other services and products.  I found that it was most important to listen to the consumer, not to “industry norms” or funeral directors about “what our families don’t like or we’ve tried that before.”  Funny thing when the consumer is provided with information, they make good funeral decisions.  But left up to some in our industry, the consumer would never have known nor had opportunity for selections.  The funeral consumer market is continually shifting and demand changes over time.  For instance, the current economy is significantly different than just 10 years ago, but many firms are presenting the same services and products without refreshing to current conditions.

Armed with this experience, I am involved with bringing new products and services to the funeral market.  Prior to launching with the general funeral home populace, we BETA tested.  I spent most of the effort listening to consumers and their acceptance/demand.  Along with feedback of best practices from the funeral directors that actually presented these services and products, I am certain of the success.  I sat in on arrangements simply to observe and learn.  Unfortunately, our industry does not take this same approach to new services and products. Rather, an idea is born, the product/service developed, and then the developers spend every effort trying to convince funeral directors of their particular success…without truly vetting both those that present and the end users; at need funeral consumers.

Knowing that consumers want and need a product or service, yet operating in an industry reluctant to offer anything new, the avenues of approach are significantly different than other industries.  So, for my fellow funeral industry entrepreneurs, here is some advice:

  1. Meet face to face with funeral home owners and directors or present using digital technology.
  2. Don’t waste your time trying to convince the entire industry, just find a few that are progressive enough to understand and execute.
  3. Use social media to promote your brand, services and products.
  4. Spend time with a firm and staff training them to present your service/product.
  5. Do the math…use realistic numbers for their revenue projections from sales of your service/products.  Measure the results.
  6. When funeral homes begin offering your service or product, support their efforts.  Listen to their feedback of best practices and what their families have to say.  Ask to sit in on arrangements to find out for yourself if your products or services are being presented correctly…listen to families.
  7. Provide firms with tools to inform the public of the new service or products they are offering (press releases, articles , social media avenues, and marketing techniques/tools such as information seminars to hospice or other organizations)

There is plenty of opportunity in the funeral industry for entrepreneurs, but few that make the effort and even less that succeed.  Keep building the plane…Cheers Y’all.

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