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blog post SC

What does the recent primary in South Carolina tell us about the funeral industry? Let me start this post with a disclaimer: I’m simply providing observations and I am not endorsing or promoting any candidate who is running for the office of President of the United States. Additionally, I will note that my family (both my mother and father) come from the Palmetto State. We have deep roots since the very beginning of this nation, so I know what I’m talking about when proclaiming: South Carolina is considered the bastion of conservatism in America with a history of “sticking to their guns” with whatever they believe. It’s a state that is certainly considered “the buckle of the Bible Belt.”

My takeaway of the primary results last Saturday has relevance to the funeral industry. The winner did what most would consider blasphemous and everything that should have led to defeat.  For example: calling out a much loved and revered former President (especially in SC) regarding the 9-11 attack; calling competitors liars and saying that a controversial women’s medical provider actually does have some good points. All this and more coming from a Yankee spending far less than his competitors  while also using social media to resonate his message: “No more PC gibberish; let’s just call it like it is and make America great again.”

The competitors had the endorsements from the State party establishment elected officials, endorsements from the mainline religious groups, spent millions on trying to convince voters to follow the past “establishment direction,” and even made sure everyone knew the front runner was divorced but was now married to a “foreigner.” The competitors also had infrastructures developed with volunteers knocking on doors and making phone calls.  In the State where a particular religious group reigns, against conventional thought the tactics failed and the stale messages did not stem the rising tide of change.

What are some of the similarities of the campaign in SC with the funeral industry?  A few observations:  the funeral establishment has long coined rivals (new business models) as discounters and direct disposers which basically means nothing to the consumer. Interestingly, some have their own little discounters and direct disposal businesses but don’t share much about them in public or funeral meetings (sort of like not claiming “that side of the family”).  The rhetoric “you get what you pay for” is a back firing message because consumers are questioning the cost and see no value in what they are paying for with the traditionalists.  Millions of dollars are spent on advertising in an attempt to convince consumers to hold on to tradition rather than invest in creating and seeking solutions to meet consumer demand.  Pundits preach (see a blog post by funeral home owner Dale Clock The New Normal) at conventions and meetings to charge more and show more value but never address the real issues like how to serve the financially-struggling family (who are flocking to discounters and direct disposers).  Value now is the ability to pay in full.

The results from the South Carolina primary offer a glimpse into the future of the funeral industry. Consumers are demanding change, rejecting the established past. They are educating themselves online and taking action on the information provided without visiting nary a funeral home. Consumers couldn’t care less about internal industry bickering and name calling; they are leaving tradition behind. The establishment’s message is fragmented and falling flat for a number of reasons including its methods of delivery (very few funeral organizations use social media or offer consumer-friendly websites). I don’t think nor do I advocate that the traditional funeral home is going away or  it is irrelevant.  However, the recent report, SCI saw fewer funerals, declining revenue in 2015, is news to which every funeral provider should pay attention.

The voters (funeral consumers) are speaking loudly and clearly asking for new models of service and a change in how we go about offering our services. We have an abundance of smart, talented, experienced, willing funeral industry professionals and organizations ready to work together for the betterment of our collective future. The platforms for communicating and working together are right at our fingertips. I raise my hand and volunteer, what about you?

From the smoke filled Command Post, Cheers Y’all.  #thefuneralcommander

 

 

TOTT

In the investment world there is a saying “Trees don’t grow to the sky.” The meaning is a warning that stock prices for a given company will not increase forever, they top out. When I thought about writing this post a few analogies came to mind relative to the funeral industry whether you are a funeral home operator or product/service provider.

First, take a look at the tree in the image above. I know there are exceptions (as I am not a tree expert), but trees tend to narrow at the top when they stop growing. If your funeral home has stopped growing more than likely it’s pretty narrow at the top with only a few branches “near the sun” failing to notice the root system beginning to weaken. The same holds true for funeral industry product/service vendors (look what’s happening in the cornfield).

We all know that trees have roots and can live for hundreds of years but the fact is trees reach a peak of vertical growth.  If your funeral home has deep and a strong root system, yet peaked vertical (market) growth, what do you do?  Perhaps just stand tall, firmly rooted and simply continue to serve in your sphere of ground.  It’s not a bad thing at all.  But your funeral home has stopped growing and perhaps vulnerable to planting/maturing of competitive funeral homes in your market.  From a vendor perspective, new technology is being created in some cases before products even hit the market.  Remember all the video folks?  “New and improved” simply by a color or interior cloth change is basically putting lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig.

Perhaps the notion of planting more trees (seedlings) from the tall and healthy (but ceased growing) tree is an option. Many funeral homes, successful, longstanding and deep rooted have planted seedlings that are maturing. New locations to serve different market areas and new models to serve different consumer segments are signs of recognition the original tree has ceased growing, but recognize the need to have a stronger presence of the brand. There few products and services in the funeral industry that are linear as well as strong enough to survive on their own. Yes, there was a time when funeral home website development, custom casket panels, “personalization” and such were revolutionary. But today many products/services are ordinary and being produced everywhere for significantly less than originally introduced into the market.  Unfortunately, most new products and services are not developed from within or from the traditional industry providers, thus the analogy of the tree.

The point of this post is that trees truly don’t grow to the sky and there is a limit to growth. However, recognition by analysis of costs, market-share, real estate, market (consumer) shifts (demands), competitive landscape and growth potential should be a focal point of funeral home leadership.  Unfortunately, many  funeral home leaders are not equipped, possess the tools, or recognize the importance of such assessments. Conversely many product/service providers have armies of mutants in their basements providing such data, but often try to maneuver/manipulate the market rather than supply the demand. Why? Because their “tree has stopped growing” and still functioning on outdated models not understanding (or blatantly ignoring) the real needs of funeral home operators success.

As a funeral home owner or industry vendor, don’t become too busy at the top taking in the sun and assuming anything. Want to know more?  Let’s connect to assess how to expand your brand for growth in your own forest at 540-589-7821. From the haze of cigar smoke in the Command Post, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

TFC2

I have conversations daily with funeral directors nationally about funeral payment plans and collecting full GPL prices prior to engaging in a funeral contract.  More often than not I get questions from funeral directors: “What if the family?” I’m going to address some of those questions I get from the field.

What if the family does not have any money?  My immediate response (and yes we have trained our staff and we actually give the same response when asked in an arrangement session): How much is no money?  Not anecdotal, but I literally witnessed this same question posed to a funeral director and the family ultimately paid over $15,000 in cash for a complete funeral!  Does your funeral home train how to provide a response?  When a family says “they have no money” what exactly does that mean?  Most funeral directors dive straight to the bottom without engaging further to better understand the financial posture of the people they “are directing.”  The appropriate response is: “How much is no money?”  Then, close your mouth, listen, when appropriate inquire more, and then create a solution that suits their budget.  I know you’re sitting there saying “what if they have NO money?” Back at your here, what do you do?

“What if the family does not qualify for a loan at FuneralPayPlan.com?”  You go back to the drawing board.  The next step is to let the family know that you will accept a minimum  cash, credit card or life insurance assignment for full payment.  No funeral contract is signed by the funeral director until the payment is secured.

“What if the family can’t come up with the X% up front?”  You are offering them the wrong service and products; they simply can’t afford the current services or product selections!  I wrote about this a while ago “I Only Have Bus Fare But I Want a Cadillac” and basically once you know that a family can’t afford what you are offering, then you must change their options.  If not, you are part of the problem.

“What if the family gets money from FuneralPayPlan.com deposited in their account but they use it to buy something else?”  Well, I guess I can only answer this one: “here’s your sign”

TFC1

I have much more to say from experience and training firms to cash flow better for at need services, so this subject will continue in other posts. This post will generate enough fodder for those that #FNhustle and want to make #FNchange; so feel free to contact me to initiate training to make positive steps to build your #FNbrand. Of course, the others will simply smirk and continue upon their path of “often wrong but never in doubt.”

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

 

economics post

The issue of families struggling to pay funeral expenses is ongoing and I believe poses an increasing threat to funeral home financial health.  Take a few moments and read an article posted in Forbes last month: 63% Of Americans Don’t Have Enough Savings To Cover A $500 Emergency.   Now let that sink in a bit…

Depending on the zip codes your funeral home serves, regularly working with families who struggle paying for your goods and services may not be an issue.  However, there is enough negative economic news to support my continued message that we as an industry need to start paying attention.  Take a look at the chart below (courtesy of the St. Louis Federal Reserve and found by my fellow funeral professional Raymond Aikens):

FED Economic Data

One of the solutions for dealing with this problem is to train funeral directors how to address families in an arrangement session regarding payment options.  Yes, I know that your firm accepts full payment before services rendered and you have a payment policy.  So why do you have accounts receivable? Because your funeral directors sign contracts prior to securing the funds to pay for services rendered, the family walks out the door, the service is over and you have an unpaid bill. It’s your fault, period.

I, The Funeral Commander offer training and solutions of how to secure payment before a funeral contract is signed and also programs that will put your funeral home in a $0.00 accounts receivable status.  If your firm has past due accounts, our Funeral Pay Plan provides a program to not only collect much needed funds, but also keep your firm in compliance with federal lending regulations.

This year I will be offering CEU’s at conventions and meetings to address cash flow for at need services. Contact me for further details and let’s do something about the ongoing problem with a solution, not just talk about it.  From the Command Post, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander #FNhustle #FNchange

 

Feb Blog

Funeral service providers have a reputation for reluctance to make changes even if necessary for their own good, are generally slow to adopt pretty much anything new and rarely create from within. What if we took the example of the canary in the coal mine?  You know, a safety net just in case we were to get a sniff of dangerous carbon monoxide and can abandon the mine before coming to harm?  This business is not that simple, however so few ever get to taste the sweetness of success after taking a risk.

Why is that?  If we watch an episode of Wild Kingdom starring Marlin Perkins following the annual migration of wildebeests we can see in real time how we seem to act.  Just keep our heads down, move with everyone else and don’t venture away from the herd.  “Damn that river crossing, I’m staying right in the middle and just trying to survive.” Never mind a new route that may make more sense.

Does the fear of failure suppress risk taking?  Creation of new products or services should be initiated among funeral professionals because that’s where the “rubber hits the road” (more on this particular reference in the next paragraph), but the majority of something new comes from outside, not within.  Is it because everyone is so busy and simply putting extra time into something that may not work out isn’t worth the effort?  Did you know the modern day church truck was invented by Samson Diuguid, a funeral director back in the 1800’s in Lynchburg, Virginia? Because church aisles were too narrow for pallbearers to walk on both sides of a coffin, Diuguid created a much used product that made our job easier and the funeral experience better.

What about taking a risk in the funeral industry that my invoke ridicule and embarrassment?  Oh no, not from fellow funeral professionals!  Back to the Diuguid folks, they actually had the gall to use a rubber wheeled and a motorized hearse to carry a casket!  It’s said that other funeral directors made fun of Diuguid and even coined the contraption “blasphemous to the profession.” We have the same twits in abundance today and you can see them flitting around “busy” at funeral meetings and conventions.  They are easy to spot; usually adorned in full funeral director dress inclusive of suit, white shirt, and not too flashy tie.  Funny, since there isn’t a family to serve in site…impressive huh?  Interesting about this particular sect of the herd is that they themselves have never invested, created or invented anything in their lives however are the first in line with nay saying gibberish ridicule of “my families won’t” or “that will never” and so on. Funny though, when the something new takes hold they follow rest of the herd sometimes too late as the crocks are lurking for the finely-adorned stragglers.

As for me, I’m going deep in the mine with a cage full of canaries and keeping my #FNhustle on to make #FNchange to better our industry. Yep, I’m going to fail at some of my initiatives.  Yep, I’m going to be ridiculed (however not to my face because the before-mentioned finely-adorned, nay-saying eunuchs who literally don’t have the balls to do so).  And yep, I’m going to succeed and just keep mining.

I challenge you to go get some canaries and enter the mine; it’s hard, nasty work, you might fail and get laughed at or you may actually do something to make a difference. If not, please start shopping because the new season of conventions and meetings are starting and you’ll need to be seen.  From behind a thick fog of smoke in the Command Post, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

who is laughing

Many current owners, managers, funeral directors, and leaders of the funeral industry grew up in the same era I did.  As for the younger crowd, this will be foreign to you simply because you were not alive during this period and the world has significantly changed…for the better.

There was a time that American consumers made fun of foreign-made Datsun, Honda, and Toyota cars because they were classified as cheaply made and unreliable especially by the American auto manufacturers.  Fast forward to 2016; Datsun (now Nissan), Honda, and Toyota are all on top of the heap for value, reliability, and sales in the U.S.  Evolving from those same manufacturers are the Infiniti, Acura and Lexus luxury brands.  I’m certain the haughty and powerful American auto executives back in the day would be mortified at just how wrong they were having underestimated the resolve of their competition and the change in American consumer attitudes toward these cars today.  Anyone catching on yet?

  • “My families would never cremate.”
  •  “My families would never use someone else.”
  • “My families would not like that.”
  • “You get what you pay for.”
  •  “We are a full service funeral home, not a discounter.”
  • “Using computers in arrangements is impersonal.”
  • “If they want our prices, then they will have to meet with us first.”
  • “We only use American made caskets, urns and fleet.”

Many in the funeral industry have the same echo hubris as the auto exec’s of yesteryear regarding their competition and the consumer market.   But, what if?

What if the competition made a better product or provided a better service, value, and dependability?  What if the competition could reach the same families with a better message moving market share?  What if the competition figures out how to offer the current funeral consumer options they are seeking rather than what is customary?  What if the competition could do what you do, but better?  What if import caskets are a better value (price and quality) than cornfield caskets?  You don’t think this is possible?  Ask the good old boys from Detroit that smoked cigarettes in their offices (if any of them are alive), who’s laughing now?

There are flashes of brilliance out in the funeral world from multi generational funeral providers, forward thinkers, and manufacturers who are executing #FNchange by taking chances as well as simply out #FNhustle everyone else.  Meanwhile, the rest of the herd hasn’t looked inside the door of their American made car to see where the parts come from, still believe that caskets assembled in the cornfield are American made (I guess if Mexico and China are new states, this is true), think cremation is just a fad, and lead the discussion of whether women should wear pants or skirts (below knee with pantyhose, of course) who will continue their decent into the abyss of irrelevance (remember travel agents?).

Got comments or thoughts or are you just going to sit there and smirk?  What are you doing to #FNchange and #FNhustle? From a very thick fog of cigar smoke generated by a 60 ring gauge Maduro in the Command Post, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

Vendor Life

I am blessed to meet, converse and especially learn from a wide swath of funeral professionals globally.  Most every contact I always ask, “how did you get into the funeral business” and more often than not the answers are fascinating.  Part of this blog and the Funeral Nation TV show is to provide others with different points of view, personalities and fodder for thought.  Below (with permission of the author) is a story resulting from my asking “how did you get in the funeral business?”  It’s a young man’s journey exemplifying perseverance, dedication to our industry as well as #FNchange and #FNhustle.  From the desk of #thefuneralcommander, enjoy this story; Cheers Y’all!

The Move To Vendor Life…

“If you’ll serve a family in the way that they need to be served… and not in the way that you wish to serve them… then the sales will occur organically.  At that point, you have become a true Service Professional.”

~ Dylan Stopher

I am a funeral director and embalmer.  I am also a husband, father, friend, musician, teacher, author, poet, small group leader, and a myriad of other things.  But I am a funeral director and embalmer.

I’m 37 years old, and I started in the funeral profession when I was 19.  Like most of us, it was something that just sort of “happened,” and I couldn’t really explain to you at the time why I was okay with moving from bar-tending and restaurant management to funeral service.  But I can now tell you, I am so glad that it happened… and I’d make this leap a thousand times over if I had to.

I started young, yes, and I worked in a state that allowed me to complete half of my apprenticeship before going to school.  I did 4 of the 6 months, and then moved away.  Once I enrolled in school, I started work for a funeral home in the city.  It was an amazing time of growth and learning, both in the book smarts of the business and the common sense practical wisdom from the directors I served with.  (If any of them are reading this now, they’ll know who they are… and how much they mean to me.).

After school I returned home to complete the remaining 8 months of apprenticeship, and then received my license.  I worked for a couple years, and then there was a change needed… due to an immaturity and inability to deal with the death of children.  This is a very, very real issue in our business, and it caught up to me quickly.  But I did something unique with that opportunity… I left and expanded my skill set.

I sold cars.  I know, not exactly what you’d think one would turn to, but it turned out to be phenomenally helpful for future use.  I learned the ability to qualify what someone needs, rather than what they want, and the methods through which to keep them from going into financial ruin.  It is vital that we, as funeral professionals, recognize that sometimes there are people who do have a champagne taste with a water budget, and we need to be able to protect them from themselves in this debt-ridden culture.  Trust me, they’ll appreciate that much more than the collection notices and bills that follow the funeral.

Then a hurricane forced relocation, and I started selling homes (after a brief and uneventful return to the restaurant business).  Real estate is a slower selling process, one that requires finesse and a deeper client relationship.  It was in the sale of homes that I discovered how to truly build a bond with a client, asking the right questions to gain the right answers.  Working through a slower process allowed me an immense amount of insight into the pre-arrangement side of our profession, working with clients all the way up to their time of need.  It is a phenomenal skill to have.

Then I took a turn in retail, working for a cellular company that holds many awards for their distinguished program of coaching and developing leaders and teammates.  I spent a few years with them in a leadership position, and learned how to properly coach people to greater levels of success.  I also learned how to read through the numerical side of a business, and analyze patterns to forecast greater success in the future.  These skills, combined with excellent practice in building relationships and rapport, would serve to be the launch pad for much greater success in my career than I could’ve hoped for.

I took a job to reciprocate my license into the state in which we were living, and that was the sole and express purpose of that role.  I am grateful to that firm for allowing me the chance to do so, and we were all aware that it would be that and likely nothing more.  When I was done, with a fresh license in hand, I went to work for a firm in a different part of our city, requiring my family to move… and there is where I began the greatest journey you could imagine.

I was a funeral director… an embalmer… then an assistant manager of a stand-alone… then an assistant manager and care center supervisor of the largest combo in the group… then a location manager of our newest acquisition.  I served a team of wonderful directors, and we led our region in averages in almost every category (trumping our far larger competitors both in percentage and dollar amounts).  I assisted our corporate trainer at times with insight, and was allowed the opportunity to train several directors in specific metrics.  And in 2012, I was awarded the Funeral Director of the Year for the highest overall sales average in both burial and cremation, both pre-need and at-need in our region.  It was phenomenal.

During that time, I met my current leader, owner of a vault production and sales license in our area of the US.  The first time I met him in 2010, I told him that when he was ready to replace himself, I’d like to have the opportunity to interview.  It took about four years, but I finally made the switch.

First, I have always wanted the opportunity to train professionals to be more successful.  I’m an avid believer that our profession thrives on education to the consumer, and that directors and counselors can only educate and serve properly if they are educated and served thoroughly.  I love to see people gain a higher level of success, and I find joy in that.

Second, I don’t do as well in a single office.  In my favorite role in a funeral home, when I managed a team of funeral directors and ran a care center in the same building, I was always busy… always running… always having a meeting for something.  I found great pleasure serving in that specific role, and it was challenging every day.  However, it was not as much fun, or as exciting, as being able to visit with as many professionals as I do now.  I drive… a lot.  And some days are very boring, riddled with time behind a windshield only to find that my intended visit for the day has had a walk-in or a death call, and had to leave the office.  But I visit with over 200 people annually, and I get to learn from their individual business models, and impart wisdom to them from a specific niche in our profession.

Third, I speak their language.  I have literally sat across a table from thousands of people who have needed the service of a funeral professional, and I’ve done what my clients do.  I know their stress, I know their pain, I know their love for serving others… and I know that if they say they need to meet another time, they mean it.  I also know that when there is an issue that needs discussion, they don’t have a ton of time to go through every fine detail.  They need answers quickly, and I can deliver them in a way that they understand (and I mean no disrespect to those who are vendors that are not also funeral directors and/or embalmers… please don’t think that).

Last, and probably most importantly, I’m crazy just like they are.  Why?  For the same reasons as above.  I’ve seen what they’ve seen, and I’ve listened to what they’ve listened to.  I know the pain of carrying the countless secrets that are shared in an arrangement office, and I know the joy of a family thanking you for a once-in-a-lifetime tribute that fits perfectly to the life of their loved one.  We laugh about the same things… and we clutch our knees in a corner and cry about the same things.  So when I speak to my clients, I’m one of them as much as I’m their vendor.

So given my individual path to becoming a vendor, there’s only a few things I can share with you in closing.  First, vendor spots are rare, and we all know it.  If this is something that calls to you as it did to me, seek it out and don’t give up until you get the position you want.  Second, there’s nothing wrong with staying in a funeral home.  I do miss serving families directly, and I can name some of those families and tell you exactly why I miss them… don’t feel like the only path up is the path out to vendor life and away from direct service to the families in need.

And lastly, possibly the most important thing I can share with you, never stop being a funeral service professional.  That might sound silly, but let me explain.  I keep my licenses current, and I’m ready to go and serve if called upon.  I maintain close friendships with the directors I know, and I forge new ones with those I meet.  I understand and remember what it’s like to be in the shoes of a funeral director under extreme pressure, and I will always temper myself towards that level.

I am a funeral director and embalmer.  I am a vendor, yes… and I serve the larger populace by serving the funeral professionals… but I am, first and foremost, a funeral director and embalmer.

Thanks Dylan for allowing me to share your story!  If you are a funeral professional and would like to share your experiences or share “how did you get into the funeral business” please call me at 540-589-7821. 

 

 

Change Hustle

As a funeral industry entrepreneur I am blessed to be privy to many facets of this business.  Funeral homes, online cremation services, financing, media and other funeral service related products and services fall into my “wheelhouse” of operations.  I have written posts describing my perspectives and experience in this lofty adventure Funeral Industry Entrepreneur?Talking HeadsNon Conventional Conversations, and so on.  With all of this said, I write with confidence that I am unequivocally qualified to provide the following commentary.

The funeral industry (yes, it’s an industry because it generates $16 billion in annual revenue in the US alone) is experiencing one of the most dramatic shifts in our history. Everything from the economy, internet, and consumer demand dictates we are in an exciting period.  However, with this shift comes change and there will be collateral damage along the way.  Don’t think so?  Read this article from the Huffington Post  which points out that over 20,000 jobs have been lost and the revenues generated from our industry have declined.  Additionally, read the OGR’s Blog regarding trends that should be “wake up calls.”  I want to be clear that we have many funeral home owners, funeral directors, vendors and manufacturers that are making #FNchange and doing the #FNhustle, but for the rest of the herd…

I see hubris and arrogance at its extreme contributing to the fore-mentioned forecasts of despair.  In many respects, we are our own worst enemy because there are so many that are simply complacent.  An old saying “pigs get fatter and hogs get slaughtered” is also in play; basically there are those who have become wealthy (funeral homes and manufacturers alike) and are not investing in change (their people, products, services, real estate, or brands).  Basically putting lipstick on those pigs in a feeble attempt to dress it up, but it’s a still pig nonetheless.

Why is the majority resistant to change and growth?  Simply, it’s hard.  Money, time, learning, focus, training, and trust of others require a great deal of effort.  Reverberating in the halls of funeral homes are echoes of “it ain’t broke, why fix it?,” and “Our families won’t like that.” A few others include “We’ve always done it that way,” and “They will come to us because we have the best service.”  All of these statements are saying “We’re lazy as hell and we are not going to make any effort change.”

As part of my work, I spend an incredible amount of time and resources on funeral home websites.  I personally know of funeral homes with no website- looking at many others, they may be better off.  If I can tell how pitiful a funeral home is by their website, what does the consumer think?  If the website is this bad, how bad is the service and building? These types have bad websites or no “interweb” (yes, I’m being facetious) are telling the entire world just we are simply too cheap, lazy or ignorant to positively present ourselves as caretakers of the deceased.

There is much to say, but in an effort to be concise, I’ll post more on change in the coming weeks.  In the meantime, watch episode Episode #15 of Funeral Nation TV and our interview with Brad Rex, CEO & President of Foundation Partners Group to get a flavor of #FNchange as well as #FNhustle.

From a very thick fog from a sixty ring gauge Maduro cigar in the Command Post, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

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