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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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

posers

“The Talking Heads; Often Wrong But Never In Doubt.”

I have often posted and shared thoughts, experiences, successes and failures of being a funeral industry entrepreneur; for example Funeral Industry Entrepreneur and Funeral Entrepreneur?  The path is paved with all sorts of challenges however I thrive on teamwork, critical thinking, beta testing, along with continuous improvement.  For those fellow stalwarts that do the same, bravo my fellow comrades!  But this post is to call out and challenge the “posers” that are emerging around us.  As defined by the Urban Dictionary

Poser: 1. one who pretends to be someone whose not.  2. who tries to fit in but with exaggeration

As Social Media provides a platform for anyone to share information, whether the information provided is correct has no relevance to building their audiences.  Even more interesting, when the background and experience of such a person is further vetted, we are surprised by the lack any credentials whatsoever to position themselves as an authority.

There are copious examples to undermine the theory that in order to create something fantastic relevant to the funeral industry that one should be a licensed funeral director, and I’m not advocating such.  What I am describing fits into one or more of these:

  • No formal death care or funeral service education.
  • Never worked actively at a funeral home in any capacity.
  • Does not regularly participate or observe in person funeral arrangement sessions.
  • Assumes process without experience.

Funeral product manufacturers, service providers (insurance, marketing, technology, etc.) and now preparing for “launch season” which is pretty much the NFDA Convention in October.  Many will bring “the newest and best” thing to their booths hoping to convince buyers that their particular service or product will “make a difference” at a funeral home.  The big companies have research/marketing departments that have either repackaged something or attempting to create a new “need.”  Smaller and new manufacturers/providers simply believe they have the “next best thing” in the funeral market.

Rarely does most ever conduct any BETA testing of the service or product; meaning real funeral directors sharing with real at need families.  Actually listening to what funeral directors think or suggest much less consumer needs and acceptance.  Focus groups don’t count or provide an accurate measure of anything compared to making selections in funeral arrangements and actually paying.  However, the “posers” will provide anecdotal scenarios and spew forth inane figures based on “research” which is contrived by people who have never set foot in a funeral home, much less looked a family in the eye during arrangements.

As the “launch season” approaches, start your own research to formulate investigative questions that are relevant to your needs.  Ask for actual data (if it’s printed in a brochure, it’s likely made up) and reference names of other funeral homes that have had success with the service or product.  Does the company actually manufacture the product, have in-house technicians/content writers/designers, actually own the service/laboratory, or are just a sales agent?  Unfortunately there are few funeral industry vendors that actually produce their own product and services…most are “farmed out.”

Allow

There is a great saying; “what you will allow is what will continue.”    Ask questions or challenge to the talking heads and decide for yourself their value.  If not, expect the same results of performance and behavior.  From the desk of The Funeral Commander, Cheers Y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

think

I am creating a presentation after being asked to speak on the the topic “The State of The U.S. Funeral Industry in 2015” for an organization.  In a post earlier, Adapt and Overcome; Time for Bold Leadership, I made reference to outside influences challenging the funeral industry such as economics, shifting consumer views, and technology.  While furthering my research regarding consumers, I had a discussion recently that makes me ponder a contributing factor to our challenges; our own “internal language.”

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of visiting with the Life Celebration, Inc. team at its headquarters not far from Philadelphia.  If you have not had the occasion to do so, it’s quite impressive what this organization has created to assist funeral directors training and creating meaningful funerals. During the meetings, I had opportunity to have an in-depth discussion with Jim Cummings, Chief Experience Officer, regarding the Life Celebration, Inc. philosophy, training and offerings.  Jim made a statement that really resonated with me; “we have to change how, as funeral professionals, we view ourselves and the people we are serving.  They are not our families they are consumers, there is a difference.”

Jim has a very interesting point.  So, as part of my work for the before mentioned presentation, I looked up the definitions on dictionary.com:

family (noun; plural; families) a basic social unit consisting of parents and their children,considered as a group, whether dwelling together or not.  

consumer (noun) a person or thing that consumes & a person or organization that uses a commodity or service.

I have heard over the years and still today funeral directors refer to their customers as “my family.”   If someone didn’t know better, they would think funeral directors were actually burying or cremating a person from their own family unit (as defined and generally recognized by most of the population above).  If “my family” was accurate, a funeral director would not have to get all of the information for the death certificate nor waste copious amounts of time on the obituary.  He or she should know all this stuff about his or her “family” and funeral directors would be picking up the bill, or at least not profiting (we would never profit off of our own family…right?).  Where did this notion “my family” referring to consumers we serve come from?    Is there another profession that mirrors this philosophy; physician/patients, hotelier/guest, attorney/client, church/congregation, hospice/patient?  These other professions have compassion and love for those they serve, but don’t use the moniker, “my family.”

I believe this sort of “make believe posturing” in the funeral industry is one of the many contributing internal challenges we’ve created. Perhaps by viewing customers as what they are, consumers, we would not be failing to adapt to their needs.  If we can change the way we visualize ourselves, we will better understand those that we serve.  We would study their product/price points (not just sell whatever the vendors produce), their preferences for experience (rather than make them accept only what we have been used to offering), we would conduct services at different venues (not just our chapel or a local church) and we would communicate with them in the ways they communicate (social media, not the yellow pages) actually having something to say that is relevant to their needs.

If they are “your family,” why are they forsaking their loyalty to your firm and flocking to other funeral service providers like cremation societies, online providers, and so on?  Think about it; if they were your family, wouldn’t these consumers you are serving pretty much reflect your own family’s cultural, religious and historical funeral preferences?  Yet, we are bewildered why they won’t and don’t do what we want them to…like “our family” would.  The assumption that interjecting into a group of strangers or previously served consumer group’s life for 72 hours or so and assuming genetic ancestral linkage is just plain off base.

As usual and customary, I’ll get some push back from the Kiwi’s among us which, from my point of view, bolsters the Southern saying “a bit dog always yelps.”  My intent for this post and the presentation I am creating is to challenge conventional thinking and solicit other viewpoints to find solutions.  So, what do you think…are you yelping or helping?  From the Command Post through the fog of cigar smoke, Cheers Y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

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