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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

 

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I rarely call out funeral homes by name simply because they usually know who they are when I write particular content. However, the high and mighty at Lindquist Mortuaries in Ogden, Utah gets a special Funeral Commander shout out! Wendy Thoresen Green was interviewed by the Standard Examiner, a newspaper in Ogden, UT  with title Meet ‘Funeral Lady,’ a Pleasant View woman who loves all things funeral-related. Linquist, WTF (What The Funeral) are you thinking by distancing  yourself from talent within your own funeral home? Please read an excerpt from the article:

Today, Green sells funeral plans for a local mortuary. We say “local mortuary” because, frankly, her boss would prefer his company not be named in a piece about Green and her obsession. She’s been called “eccentric” and “definitely not mainstream” in an industry where eccentricity and deviation from that stream isn’t exactly the dignified image mortuaries are trying to project

Now you boys don’t get your starched underwear in a wad; the article was published and as usual, I’m just pointing out the obvious.  See, we in the funeral industry are inquiring minds, we just want to know.

“Loves all things funeral related” seems to be a great headline, however this particular crowd doesn’t see it that way. Is passion and a calling into the funeral industry consdiered an “obsession?” Definition of Eccentric: (of a person or their behavior) unconventional and slightly strange. (“My favorite aunt is very eccentric.”) Maybe Wendy is not mainstream in Ogden Utah, but I shudder at the thought of what that definition may include in those parts of our country.

I have a question for the Lindquist’s Mortuary leaders: After looking at your website (with no social media links whatsoever) and seeing your staff, why are there no female funeral directors listed? Are women only relegated to pre-need sales and general staff… is that what you consider mainstream? Another question: Why you would be ashamed of someone like Wendy who projects a positive image for the funeral industry? Why wouldn’t Lindquist’s Mortuary proudly boast about such a devoted and dedicated employee?  Certainly no retribution will come as a result of her sharing her heart to the community.

Ok, all you non-Neanderthals in the business, how about let’s show the value of women in our industry and teach something about social media to the “He-man Woman Haters Club” in Ogden! I implore you to comment, post, and share this story on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Unfortunately, it appears the “leaders” don’t know much about this interweb social thing.  However, we can shed light on the darkness of their “mainstream.”

From the Command Post (West) and thick fog of cigar smoke along with being a bit pissed off about how backwards people try to push down achievers…Cheers Y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

 

 

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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.  Want to know how? Email me jeff@f4sight.com.  From the Command Post (West), Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

Pick YP

The three “R’s” will literally poison a funeral home; Human Resources, Accounts Receivable and ‘Rithmatic. I recently attended The Foresight Companies funeral boot camp where my fellow recruits and I were provided an in-depth look at our funeral homes. During the three days of training, it became glaringly obvious that the vast majority of funeral homes are just a lawsuit, failed collection or miscalculation away from serious problems.

Human Resources: Does your firm have a Human Resources professional on staff or on retainer?  If not, here is an example of the poison I’m referring to that will make you spit out your coffee this morning. Perhaps you are a funeral home owner that crowns managers making them “exempt from overtime” so that you can go to your beach house and not work weekends. Yet the manager isn’t authorized to fire the funeral director that goes to the big church replacing them with a much better intern; and/or if said crowned manager cannot give the employee under their command a raise, you are in big trouble if DOL (Dept. of Labor) knocks on your door. The classification of “non-exempt employee” according to the US Department of Labor includes several more specific parameters such as managing two or more employees (mere supervision doesn’t count), and the authority to hire and fire, or establish compensation. In fact, the DOL can make your funeral home DOA pretty quickly over an overtime dispute. There are many more facets of HR that can poison your firm; these are just a few examples. Beware.

Accounts Receivable: Unless you are mega firm and have serious funds stored away, cash flow is king at a funeral home.  With the average funeral home in the US holding over $17,000 of receivables, financial failure is a real possibility.  Leadership, training and accountability are the collective remedies to reverse the AR poison.  However, the majority of funeral home owners simply ignore the slow death from drinking the tainted AR Kool-Aide rather than address the obvious and take charge of their business.

Rithmatic: Do the math.  I mean conduct a complete analysis of costs/overhead structure, then pricing, monitor and adjust.  I may be insensitive to those “running the ministry the grieving.” However, even churches pay attention to their books.  If you and your staff are not capable or you don’t have an accountant that conducts a complete P&L review including measurement of budget to outcome, hire a professional.  I know you love the families you serve, but you may love them to death-the death of your funeral home.

Yep, I’m a retired Captain and I have captioned the moniker of The Funeral Commander for a reason.  “I’m not going to tell you to go to hell, I’m going to tell you the truth and it may feel like hell.”  Quit poisoning your funeral home.  That’s the truth.  Oh, and a new one I picked up over the weekend (thanks Mark Fisher): No one gets offended by a statement that doesn’t apply to them.”

If you are offended, then you are drinking the 3R poison and fooling yourself.  Want to get off the Kool-Aide?  Email me jeff@theharbesongroup.com and  let’s set up a time to chat. If not, plan your own funeral home funeral…but of course, that’s a post for another day. From the blurred and smoky Command Post, 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

 

Today, we’d like to a moment and share a recent interview with AtNeedCredit.com managing partner, Jeff Harbeson.

Jeff has been in the funeral industry for many years, has founded or co-founded numerous funeral-related businesses and websites and shares valuable insights from his experience.

He regularly contributes his expertise to publications, both offline and online, is co-host of Funeral Nation TV (an online show for the funeral industry) and writes regularly on his blog, The Funeral Commander. We welcome Jeff Harbeson to the CareCap blog.


 

Ed:  Thanks for joining us today, Jeff, on the CareCap blog.  So, can you tell us a little about yourself and your background? What’s your story?

Pull-Quote-Jeff-Harbeson-01-768x768Jeff:  My story has many chapters and the story is ongoing.  The most important chapters are my marriage to my wife Jacque for 32 years.  Bless her heart, she deserves a special place in heaven!  We have two fantastic sons Hunter (off my payroll) and Jackson (finishing high school). 

Often folks ask what I do, and my response is: 

“I am raising my daughter-in-law’s husband and my grandchildren’s father.  My work is merely a support for their well-being and my habits (cigars, rum, golf and travel).” 

Ed:  (LOL) Well, that’s a pretty great answer, I can tell you have a healthy sense of humor. similar to my father- he served in the Navy for 20+ years, but I know you were an Army man, so I’m sure you’d still all get along! How long were you in service to your country?

Jeff:  I was honored to serve our country for 20 years in the Army including deployment to the Middle East for service in Operation Desert Storm.  I was trained to be a leader and had the opportunity to be a TAC Officer (drill instructor) at Officers Candidate School where I trained over 400 enlisted and non-commissioned officers to become combat leaders, some still serving today.

My official retirement papers came September 11, 2001 and I retired as a Captain.  I have a personal mantra of “A vision is only a dream without execution” and a gift of working alongside some very smart people.

Oh yeah, I also don’t want to leave out that I’m not going to tell you to go to hell, but I’ll tell you the truth, which may feel like hell! J And I expect the same from those around me that I place my trust and emotional equity.

Pull-Quote-Jeff-Harbeson-02-768x768Ed:  Well, that’s a no-nonsense approach to life and in doing business, one that I can appreciate. So, after your time serving in the military, how did you get started in the funeral industry and what drew you to it?

Jeff:  My original start in the funeral industry was as a manufacturer providing custom made cremation cabinets in Ireland.  I learned quite a bit about the landscape and was later recruited by Batesville Casket Company in sales.

As I worked with funeral home owners, I was astounded at the lack of business acumen and leadership that was pervasive in the industry. 

Many times I was told by funeral home owners and directors alike “we have always done in this way” and “you can’t change that.”

So after dealing with those challenges in the funeral industry, I decided that I would create an entirely different funeral home operating platform using six-sigma methodology which is today trademarked as TouchPoints.

Later on, some partners and I started our own funeral service provider brand in Virginia from the ground up, Family Choice Funerals & Cremations.

As a partner/owner I was provided a fantastic education and training of how to develop a successful business.  The funeral home operation also provided me a platform for trying new theories of service, marketing, technology and management.

I have a penchant to provide information so that families can make an educated funeral decision and our team is dedicated to continuous improvement.

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Ed:  After recognizing these challenges in the funeral industry and what you’re seeing on the market today, what are some of the top things funeral homes are seeing as advancements or trends?

Certainly, technology and communication has changed the funeral home operating landscape and the expectations of the funeral consumer.  As a whole, funeral homes are reluctant and slow to embrace anything new.  To their detriment, this legacy characteristic offers entrepreneurs like me to take competitive advantage.

Our funeral homes use computers and tablets for all operations,which eliminates waste in human resources expense, such as administrative staff. Combining technology with social media is a tremendous advancement for our industry; however, the vast majority of funeral homes have not embraced the opportunities.

Another example of keeping up with consumer expectations is an online cremation service called Select Cremation that our team developed, which allows a funeral consumer to make complete arrangements for their loved one online and the cremated remains delivered to their house without ever leaving their comfortable surroundings.funeral-nation-tv_300x300

The way we communicate even within our industry is changing, for example I co-host an online show Funeral Nation TV which is viewed by over 20,000 people monthly in over 75 countries.  Frankly, it’s the best FN thing going in the industry 😃.

Ed:  It sounds like you’ve got a great handle in developing a strong online presence and embracing technology to share your challenges, success stories, etc. within your industry, great work!

With so many changes in technology and communication coming at us so fast in the business world, what would you say is the #1 business challenge funeral directors are facing today?

Jeff:  The lack of leadership of doing “the business of the business.”

Funeral professionals are compassionate caregivers providing a necessary service at what is considered one of the most difficult events in life; the loss of a loved one.

However, the typical funeral home is poorly managed from the business and financial standpoint.  Failure of owners to take accountability and leadership of their business places many firms in shaky financial postures.

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Ed:  I’m sure, as you say, funeral directors face many obstacles to running a funeral business as best as they can, while remaining compassionate to people dealing with a difficult time in their lives.  Speaking of finances, when dealing with consumers and their challenges at covering funeral expenses, how can funeral homes help?

Jeff:  When a deceased person does not have a funded pre-need trust/insurance or little to no life insurance, survivors are placed in a difficult spot.  Many families have limited credit card balances and little to no savings set aside to pay for unexpected funeral expenses.

Most people do not realize that funeral homes as well as cemeteries require full payment prior to services rendered.

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At Need Credit offers Funeral Directors two payment options for consumers, for funeral homes to recover their costs for goods and services.

FuneralPayPlan (info available at AtNeedCredit.com) is an online loan company providing funeral consumers loans for funeral expenses.  Simple Funeral Payment Plan, powered by CareCaps (also found at AtNeedCredit.com) is a versatile payment plan for funeral directors to bill payments over time as well as recover accounts receivable due.

Of course, funeral home owners must be proactive in training their funeral directors on how to assist families that have financial challenges.

At Need Credit offers such training that eliminates discounting and extraneous accounts receivable work.  Yet again, it takes leadership to make changes.

Ed:  Do you see any drawbacks to any of the payment options currently available to the funeral industry, such as At Need Credit?

Jeff:  There is no downside to funeral homes offering payment plans through a program such as At Need Credit.

However, if funeral homes offer credit or payment plans that charges interest, they are most likely out of federal lending compliance.  When a loan is offered (payment plan, credit or accounts receivable recovery) consumers must be provided with a Truth-In-Lending Act statement as well as calculated Annual Percentage Rates, at the time of application.

I have yet to see a funeral home in compliance of these regulations, thus a third party company like At Need Credit is their best option.

Ed:  It’s clear that every business, including the funeral industry, needs to be compliant when offering financing and that by contracting with a third party to handle payment options, they can avoid the finance compliance issues.  In terms of searching for a third party funeral financing or payment plan solution, what type of advice would you offer to a Funeral Director when he/she is evaluating a payment solution for their business?

Funeral directors should research what others are saying about the payment platform, the tool should offer the ability to create and modify customized payment plans, ensure that deposits can be paid out quickly and that they doesn’t aren’t charged unusually high or unnecessary start up fees.

I’d recommend they also go through a full demo of the payment system, to test out the system before implementing in the funeral home business.

Lastly, select a company that has established and updated training for funeral directors, in order to understand how to offer payment plan options during the funeral arrangement session.

Ed:  You’ve owned, operated and managed many funeral industry-related businesses. What advice would you recommend for a family planning a funeral in today’s environment?

I would recommend to everyone they discuss their own end-of-life wishes with family members.  Although this may sound odd, it can be enlightening and provide impetus to collect necessary documents (life insurance policies, wills, advance medical directives, DD-214, etc.) and at least know the location of these important documents, in case of an unexpected death. 

Humor makes the conversation so much easier.  Discussing outfits, after parties and other events often leads to more important matters. 

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I have personally planned my event in Aruba at the Bugaloe Beach Bar headed by my Italian Catholic, Southern Baptist and Jewish funeral director friends leading the bereaved with cigars and lots of rum.  Sounds like a hell of a sendoff, huh? 

Unfortunately, we cannot predict death, especially when we lose those that are younger than us.  Just recently I had such an experience and shared the story on my blog: https://thefuneralcommander.com/2015/11/24/its-personal-grief-grace-gratitude/.

Ed:  Your event you have planned in Aruba, definitely sounds like a hell of a way to celebrate your life!

And I definitely agree with what you recommend, that people take the time to discuss and notate what their end of life wishes should be.  Too many times, friends or family members pass away and we as the survivors, face challenges and awkward moments planning and carrying out what we think are the best wishes on their behalf.  Your advice of taking care of creating and managing the necessary documents is something that might be a challenge at first, but important to do so for the sake of our loved ones.

Thanks so much for your time and sharing your story and advice from your years in the funeral business and serving our country in the military; do you have any last words you’d like to share with our readers as we sign off?

I would encourage everyone to take each day as a gift and love deeply those closest because tomorrow may not come.  Plan, talk, laugh and love.

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Ed Bisquera

Digital Marketing Consultant at Bisquera Digital
Ed is a guest author on the CareCap blog, providing articles and tips to businesses on using digital marketing tactics to gain more customers. You can reach him on Twitter or LinkedIn or post in the comments section below. Disclaimer: Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official corporate policy or position of CareCap.

blog post 19 nov

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

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

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

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

consolidation

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

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

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

From the Command Post and through a heavy fog of cigar smoke, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

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