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d-vs-g

My last post Funeral Industry David vs. Goliath was referring to innovation in the funeral industry. From all intents and purposes, Goliaths dictate and Davids innovate.  There is no greater example of this analogy in the funeral business than casket manufacturers.  Just recently one of the casket Goliaths was recognized for their “innovation.”  What is innovation?

Webster’s Dictionary: Innovation; a new idea, device, or method.

Have we become so complacent in our industry that throwing “old wood” on a casket is considered innovation?  The definition should be expanded to include making products for less cost (Chinese hardware and cloth for interiors) and moving South of the Border for manufacturing. YES!  Now that’s innovative; however with these cost saving measures why are you paying more for Goliath Company’s caskets?

There was a time when the casket peddlers led the industry with messages that their product was “the center of the world” and families would pay premium prices.  At that point in history (before Al Gore invented the Interweb) funeral home owners drank the Kool Aide by selling families Bronze, Copper, Stainless Steel, and Mahogany caskets even some adorned with gadgets.  Good idea, right?  I mean, the profits from these transactions had to be incredible. How’s that “innovation” working out for ‘ya today?  Funeral homes filled their casket rooms (later to become known as Hallmark Stores) with good, better, best, and ignoring the service side of their business.  What did the Goliath’s do?  After the contracts were signed and the rooms were filled, prices began swelling faster than a Krispy Creme doughnut in hot oil. Fast forward to 2016; when was the last time your firm sold a Bronze, Copper, or Mahogany casket at need?  In fact, exactly what material (Gauge or Wood type) is the average casket your firm sells now? Now Goliath’s are spewing “don’t raise our prices, raise your service prices” as they hand you the new X% more casket price-list for 2017.

Interesting that the casket Goliath’s even attempt to be “business consultants,” however 90% of the road warriors haven’t a clue how to interpret a funeral home P&L, much less understand the process of operations.  Perhaps I should create a “funeral home business and operations quiz” so that the next time Skippy the Casket Clown knocks at your door, you may find out just how much he knows about your business.  The results of the quiz will be devastating to Skippy.  But no fear!  Skippy will reach into his bag to reveal that he can improve your website (with a template), increase your cremation revenue (with his company’s Chinese urns and “proven presentation strategies”) along with various and sundry useless items for sale.  Innovation would be to improve the funeral home operating processes and providing solutions to elevate the positive financial posture for profitability.  Wait!  Maybe a trip, game tickets, or a nice meal will make everything better.

Let’s get down to the truth, shall we?   Caskets are made of wood or metal (unless you get the ones made in Mexico, they are wood composite).  The definition (according to my indoctrination in the cornfield) of a casket is “a container for precious materials.”  The deceased (precious loved one) is placed in a casket, their loss mourned, their life celebrated, and they are buried never to be seen again.  If your funeral home’s financial life depends on one of Goliath’s spawn, your business will be in a container for precious materials as well.

What would be innovation for caskets?  How about finding a way to manufacture a quality product for less?  The casket manufacturing Davids have already done so.  A simple price analysis and side by side comparison of local distributor, small manufacturer, or offshore caskets will reveal Goliath is out of touch and David has an arsenal of rocks in his sling.  Oh yeah, one more “innovation” that Goliath created:  “off brand” caskets that are sold through the local distributors.  Yep, the same casket you may be paying up to 50% more with a 1-cent sticker comes right off the manufacturing line as the “off brand” does.

Thanks to the itnerweb and frankly, enlightenment of funeral directors, the casket Goliaths are taking more rocks to the head from the casket Davids.  The Goliath notion of treating funeral directors like mushrooms (“keep ‘em in the dark and feed ‘em crap”)   days are coming to a close.

I am more than happy to further this line of factual thought with anyone that chooses to reach out to me.  I challenge any Goliath representative to a public debate on Funeral Nation TV to refute these points of innovation.  What the heck, its debate season so the floor is open!

From the Command Post (West), without libation or cigar for clear thinking, Cheer’s Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

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David kicked Goliaths ass.  Interestingly, David’s fellow warriors remained on the sidelines, huddled like a covey of quail, and just waited to see David get beat down by the giant.  But David was not only brave, he was an innovator.  He knew there was a simple solution to attack to win, versus the conventional “we’ve always done this way (and getting our ass kicked too)” crowd.

Guess what, fellow family-owned, small suppliers, and free thinkers of the funeral business:  “Goliaths” don’t innovate.  They dictate! 

Think about it.  What new innovation has made serious impact on the way we serve families or make our job better in the last 10 years?

Recently I was having a conversation with a funeral home owner client and he was lamenting how the funeral industry seems to be completely driven by “the big boys.”  And by “big boys,” he meant publicly-traded funeral homes and casket companies, membership organizations and other funeral industry providers who seem to determine our direction.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to address different categories of funeral industry Goliaths and highlight the emerging Davids.  I have a sling in one hand and rocks in another.  Yeah, this is going to be fun!  From the Command Post (West), Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

In my funeral business consulting practice one of the most frustrating phrases I hear from funeral home owners and managers: “Oh, my local guy handles our accounting.”  I take a deep breath and think, “your local guy doesn’t know a rough box from an alternative container, yet he is in charge of your business’ financial advice?”  A Profit & Loss statement tells a story for a funeral home.  However if your accountant doesn’t know the language it’s doubtful the next chapters are going to change and the story is going to end poorly.  The average funeral home makes 7% profit; if your funeral home is at or below this average then you need to consider changing your accountant.

  • If your accountant has not addressed the comparison between your current year budget/forecast (if you have one), current year actual activities, and the last few years…YOU GOT THE WRONG ACCOUTANT!
  • If you your accountant does not provide you with analysis and suggestions of where to reduce cost and increase revenue (making profit) on a regular basis… YOU GOT THE WRONG ACCOUNTANT!
  • Take a look at your P&L and compare it to the same month last year and the year before. If your funeral home is not making more money versus  years past… YOU GOT THE WRONG ACCOUNTANT!
  • If your accountant can’t look at a trocar and casket key and identify what they are…YOU GOT THE WRONG ACCOUNTANT!

So, ask yourself; am I going to keep doing the same thing over and over again because I’ve always done it this way? From the Command Post (West) and a cigar just waiting to be lit, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

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The answer, “We’ve always done it that way.”  The question, “What do funeral home owners say when their market share is declining, profits are dwindling, and business in a downward spiral?”  Really?!  Can’t we agree that, by definition, this is insanity – doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results?  Wake The Funeral up!

I am continuously astounded when I talk with funeral home owners and listen to their reluctance to address the real problems they are facing in their businesses.  “I just don’t think I can get our directors to do that” and “It’s never worked in the past” are common laments.  Both statements indicate that the Inmates are running your asylum.  You may be in worse shape than you think!

At some point you are going to want to sell or transfer your business and the value is going to be less than you expect.  Lackadaisical leadership (aka poor business management) is the root cause of funeral home financial failure.  Even more interesting is that owners know they have problems but fail to hire professionals to resolve issues.  If you are a funeral home owner and your profit margin is less than 8%, you have no Human Resources manual or consistent training for your staff, and you have any accounts receivable over 60 days: I AM TALKING TO YOU!

I find it amusing that you, funeral home owners, consistently opine, “People now-a-days just don’t plan and find themselves in a mess scrambling to pay when death occurs.” Funny thing, Mr./Ms. Funeral Home Owner, you are just as bad.  Take a look at your profit margin, accounts receivable, cremation vs. burial revenues, and market share.  Are you planning for what’s ahead or just doing the same thing you have always done?

Snap out of it!  The first step in getting well is to acknowledge something is wrong. Congratulations if you’ve done so – you’re half way there.  Now, get well!  Raise your hand and ask for help. From the Command Post (West) in the cigar bunker, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

 

TFC GPL

I have trained thousands of funeral directors in my tenure and hearing I don’t like to talk about money from some always gets a reply from me: “Well, then your funeral home owner shouldn’t deposit your salary into your bank account since money is so distasteful to you.”  Now hear this! It’s your job to talk about the money! The FTC provides you with a document that actually has numbers on it; it’s called a General Price List.  The GPL is not a general services list or a memoir of the history of your funeral home.  It’s about the MONEY!

Why don’t funeral directors like to talk about the money?  A few excuses come to mind. The first, “I just do this as a ministry.”  No problem, I’ll donate your earnings to the charity of your choice.  Another, “I don’t want to upset the family when they are experiencing such a difficult time.” It’s your job, Skippy. Do you think that families show up thinking the funeral is gratis? (That’s free for y’all in West Virginia.) Still yet, “I’m here to serve and the money will take care of itself.”  Yes, you are here to serve.  However, it’s your responsibility to make sure the family knows the costs of their chosen goods and services as well as what options are available for payment…otherwise, are you going to make them guess?

The FTC makes it easy for funeral directors because it mandates (not asks, not suggests) that the General Price List be presented to a family prior to engaging in the selection of services and products.  Do me a favor; open up a GPL (you know, the leather bound, embossed folder with old English lettering and the dove on the front cover).  Take a look at the descriptions of services and then note the $ symbol with numbers next to it.  That set of symbols and numbers notates the prices; you know…how much your firm charges people for services or products.

It’s worth repeating. The FTC mandates that you share this document, the General Price List, with each and every family you serve.  What makes you think that you shouldn’t talk about THE PRICES?  Are you ashamed of what your firm charges?  Are you scared to actually do your job?  Do you think you’re doing the family a favor by keeping them in the dark?  Are you making a choice to be out of compliance with the FTC?  What is your reluctance?  Please, help me understand!

By the way, I have the “secret sauce” of how to talk about the money with families.  And guess what? Everyone pays and we have $0.00 accounts receivable.  From the Command Post (West), Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

silly

The funeral profession has some really quirky regulations and irregular standards that cause undue scrutiny every time one of our illustrious colleagues performs a stupid stunt. We have states that require a dual license (embalmer and director), we have a state that requires no license (Colorado). We have states where a funeral home must have at least 6 caskets in the building.  Another prohibits casket sales other than from a funeral home. And even a state that requires a hearse be parked on the premises. Most fascinating is that regulations are “interpreted” just like some interpret the Bible-whatever suits personal position. The Funeral Rule is one of the clearest cut and simplest regulatory set of rules I have ever seen.  Yet, nearly 30% of funeral homes inspected annually are in violation.

Who makes all these silly regulations? Funeral directors. Consider dual licensure.  Does anyone think some personalities and talents are more suited for arrangements versus embalming?  Bringing Igor out of the dungeon expecting a Billy Graham arrangement session is ludicrous.  Why not 3 caskets in the building, or maybe an even dozen?  What’s the legal definition of a hearse? Could it be a van with the respectful “landau” strip of metal on the side?

We are our own worst enemy creating barriers for success because we attempt a façade of some messed up nobility which supersedes common sense. One thing I really like about the “new generation” of funeral directors that are entering the marketplace. They don’t take your word for it, they Google and fact check.  You know, actually find the regulations on their smart devices and challenging the absurd when Foghorn Leghorn starts crowing.

We are entering a new era in the funeral business where the light is being shined on the darkness simply because of information.  And when you have information, you become educated.  When you get educated, you have a platform to effect change.  Rather than embrace “what is,” run the risk of failing scrutiny because you’ve processed regulations in a self serving way, let’s get educated and busy. Perhaps the time has come to clean up this ridiculous mess.

From the sunny Command Post (West), Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

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Would you buy your funeral business suit from a hardware store? (This question does not apply for the hard working directors in Montana.)  Would you buy a lawnmower in an Italian restaurant?  Would you buy your groceries in a proctologist’s office?  How about buying your next computer at a dairy farm?  Do these questions sound absurd?  It’s a reflection of what we are witnessing from suppliers in the funeral industry.

Why are website developers selling urns?  Why are casket manufacturers selling websites?  Why are vault companies selling caskets?  Why are embalming fluid companies selling jewelry?  Because their foundational businesses are struggling in a market where 13 year old can create fantastic Word Press websites and burial is sharply declining! Thus, this crowd is starting resemble Mr. Haney on Green Acres selling his wares in the back of his truck.

Manufacturers and providers are facing the same problems as funeral homes: declining revenues from their core business. Suppliers keep hawking anything that can turn a profit to the DAM’s (Dumb-Ass Masses) providing no significant enhancement to the funeral home bottom line or operation.  If a cornfield sticker can be put on it (you know the ones that try to disguise the country of origin) it’s for sale! Rather than funeral homes mastering what brought them to the dance in the first place by understanding the business of doing business, they continue ogle at “shiny stuff” that can be purchased or provided at a much lower cost with a quick Google search.

If you are astute enough to pay attention to the signs of how the funeral industry is in dramatic turmoil, please initiate a serious evaluation of your own business to adjust for the ongoing and future rough waters ahead. Shy away from the growing list of funeral peddlers as they are simply grasping at straws in a feeble attempt to stay afloat and try to remain relevant.  If it doesn’t make your job easier, your bottom line fatter or your family experience better, you don’t need it.

Of course for those that don’t “get it” I’ll continue to point out the obvious so at least you may have a clue when reading my posts because you aren’t going to get reality from many out in the “Funeralsphere.” Oh, and please wipe off your upper lip because no one is taking you serious with that Kool-Aide mustache.

Returning from Boot Camp energized for duty, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

Preach It

Is the funeral industry trying to reflect or define funeral consumer demand and trends? I was provided inspiration for this post while watching a political show recently where the moderator was interviewing a Presidential candidate. The line of questioning was how certain “Washington outsider candidates” with a combined vote count (from both parties) are receiving such an overwhelming number of votes versus the “establishment” candidates. Further, the “establishment” leaders are bewildered because the will of the people is not aligned the establishment ideals. The interviewee’s answer: “The people are rejecting the notion of we’ve always done in this way with their vote.”

As a whole, the funeral industry is in the same mired quandary. The funeral “establishment” is in full attempt defining what consumers want rather than reflecting market demand. No? Last week I posted Use a Computer for Funeral Arrangements? That’s Unprofessional! causing quite a vigorous debate between funeral directors about writing or typing. Yesterday I visited a well-established funeral home in a small town and it is  the market leader (volume 250+ calls).  When I inquired to the owner about what changes he is witnessing he shared with me that in this traditional, high burial church attending town, cremations are on a significant rise (not a surprise).  However, he went on to say that visitations have sharply decreased stating: “I don’t know why I need all this room here, people are just not acting like they used to.” According to conventional wisdom, he should be charging more for visitations and showing more value (maybe free cookies) which would certainly turn the tide.

It’s not just funeral directors that are part of the “establishment” because vendors and manufacturers are of the guilty ilk as well.  Without a doubt, the upcoming ICCFA Annual Convention & Exposition in New Orleans will have the “newest and best” line of caskets that families will love turning in the showroom like crazy making a significant difference to the funeral home’s bottom line.  Yet, in 2016 cremation will eclipse burial as the consumers choice as final disposition.

Think about this: what exactly is the “establishment” vendors and manufacturers doing to address the real challenges that funeral providers face?  If you haven’t a clue what those challenges are, see Serious Funeral Home Barriers to Success for a start. Unfortunately with all the R&D funds (used to find someone else that has invented something new), it’s the same people selling the same stuff to the same flock of sheep. No answers; but one can hear whispers of The Orchestra is Lovely as the ship continues to sink.

However friends, there are sunshine rays peeking through murky clouds of the funeral industry future! I actually saw a very well established, multi-location, legacy generational, family owned funeral home create their own cremation internet business to consumers in their market!  I am also privy to several funeral home owners initiating deep dive diagnosis of their business for their future financial and operational health. We are witnessing some of the flock being healed from their accounts receivable and discount afflictions!  PRAISE THE LORD, there is hope!

Now the serious question needs to be asked, please close your eyes. Search deep into your heart and ask yourself “Am I really trying to adapt and provide what families I serve are asking for…or am I just repeating those painful actions of “We’ve always done it this way?” Friends, it’s never too late to see the light. I urge you, repent and change your ways! You can walk in the sunshine of the future and out of the darkness of the past. Amen.

From the pulpit with a cigar in hand and preaching to the congregation in the Command Chapel located on the Battlefield of Funeral Industry Innovation, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

Training funeral directors to proclaim “We are a funeral home, not a bank” is not the solution to get paid for goods and services.  Access to credit for an increasing number of consumers is becoming difficult and funeral homes are not equipped or offering funeral loans. Unfortunately, traditional lenders like banks are not offering funeral loans especially to those who are credit challenged.

The Washington Times reports that the majority, or 56 percent, of consumers have subprime credit scores (below 640), according to a report released (January 2016) by the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED), a nonprofit that advocates for policy changes to help low- and moderate-income households. As a result, these consumers are often locked out of the lending markets. And if they are borrowing, chances are they’re missing out on the lowest rates being offered to consumers with stronger credit.  “Bad credit” doesn’t always mean that the consumer does not pay their debts. Credit is a touchy balancing act: a few missed or untimely payments (slow pay) combined with a high debt to low income ratio and the consumer will find themselves in a quick negative credit score spiral.

Yet, family members of the before-mentioned 56 percent are dying and seeking ways to pay for funeral expenses; they can pay, but not borrow money to pay. With a body in building, what do you do?  I have outlined steps previously in posts Funeral Director Training: Secure Payment Before Contract Signed. and Funeral Director Training: “We ain’t got much money.”  Training funeral directors in advance to understand the parameters of your firm’s policy and the tools/services available for them to create a sensible solution for payment is easily accomplished.

Denying the truth doesn’t change the facts. The truth is funeral home owners are not training staff to create solutions for consumers are struggling financially or providing the tools necessary. These facts manifest themselves with discounts of goods and services along with accounts receivable hampering the cash flow of the business. Solutions are available; take a step in the right direction by contacting me.  To initiate improvement of your financial strength and take charge.  Funeral Pay Plan is the only funeral industry company with funeral home leadership and the experience to change your facts. We have some big news on the horizon which will add to our strength as the at need solutions leaders for cash flow in the funeral industry, stay tuned!

From the Command Post, Cheer’s Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

 

Doc

I recently visited my cardiologist for my annual checkup (yes, to make sure I have a heart). The process at this practice starts with me on the scales (ugh) and then escorted into an examination room for nurses to take my blood pressure (120/82) and ask questions updating my health habits. When asked about smoking, of course I proudly shared my cigar affinity (’till death do us part) only to be met with scowling looks.

A trainee nurse was taking all the information and conducting the vital stuff with a seasoned nurse providing oversight.  The trainee used software while entering my information on a tablet device.  I didn’t think much of it until the cardiologist came into my little room (35 minutes later or course).

Upon entry we shook hands, chatted a bit and then he opened up his laptop (see photo above). Immediately I asked the physician permission to take a photo of him (not showing his face). I explained why, and he complied.  He also showed me the software he uses providing my entire medical history and information important to him on a dashboard.

Not long ago I was part of a lengthy discussion with funeral directors regarding their opinions using computers during funeral arrangements with families. Needless to say, there were quite a few emotional responses (imagine that with funeral directors). My favorite was “Using a computer with families is unprofessional” and “You have your head down typing and can’t look the family in the eyes while talking to them.”

Two problems:

  1. “Unprofessional” to use a computer in arrangements?  I suppose physicians, financial advisers, bankers, CPA’s and the “other professionals” have it wrong! Certainly the information they are entering is far less important than what funeral directors have to capture.  Only the “other professionals” make so many mistakes and spelling errors that they really need to use a computer when dealing with their patients or clients.  Without a doubt, the handwriting funeral directors “care more.”
  2. “Head down typing.” Really? If you learned how to type or truly could become advanced by sharing your laptop or tablet screen on a 60 inch TV, the family could watch as well as participate in the process!  By the way, who writes without looking down? I’d love to see how that turns out.

It’s time for our industry to align with other professions by investing and training funeral directors to become proficient at basic business skills. “I can’t type on a computer” or “I’m not comfortable using a computer.” is simply unacceptable.  Go to a community college, ask a 7 year old to teach you, get trained, and step up your game.  Funny how fear and reluctance of change actually inhibits professionalism and service; it’s the little things that count.  It’s time to #Fnchange by getting your #FNhustle on to build a better #FNbrand for yourself and your funeral home.

From the foggy cigar smoke filled Command Post, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

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