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washed outIt’s the time of year that summer comes to a close…the end of a season associated with happy, warm and carefree days. However, this description of summer is not necessarily reflective in the funeral industry.  Just like the ocean, the death rate has an ebb and flow; historically the death rate is higher in the 1st and 2nd quarter of any given year and the 3rd quarter (summer) is significantly slower.  This historical trend offers the opportunity for timely discussion.

As a funeral home owner/manger, how do you prepare for the ebbs and flows of the death rate for expected “slow times?” Does your firm adjust prices based on recent revenues?  What type of marketing campaign do you launch (if the phone isn’t ringing, then go out singing is one of our firm’s methods)?  Or  are you the proponent of the ever popular “we have experienced this before” and do nothing?  The problem of decreased death rate in today’s atmosphere is coupled with other issues; competition (locally and online), shopping consumers, increase of cremation, decrease of traditional burials, and of course when a call is lost, so is the revenue along with that family most likely not returning either.

Lest we forget: it’s price increase time!  Yes, if not yet, your happy supplier will visit soon telling you how much you are loved and appreciated…and that love will cost you more this upcoming year!  Now, don’t forget that suppliers have to make profit and if you review the wall street owned ones, they do handsomely.  Nothing wrong with profit, frankly I’m in favor.  Back to my point, this time of year.  The funeral homes that I am owner/partner, we operate our fiscal year January-December.  However, the major suppliers find it necessary to impose their fiscal calendar upon us to suit their financial needs…this time of year.

What does this mean to you and your firm?  Well, first it’s time for you to make adjustments to your GPL and product price lists or absorb the product price increases starting October 1.  Remember the “slow” summer season just ending?  Now you have to account for those losses and adjust for upcoming increased product costs.  Frankly, if your firm has been adjusting prices along the way, this is not a big deal.  However, the majority of funeral homes in the US only make price changes this time of year, when dictated by suppliers, if any adjustments are made at all.  I know it’s hard to believe, but I see GPL’s and price lists that are actually dated “2010.”  Second, are the prices you are paying for products (and getting ready to pay more) a value to your firm and families?  At some point, there is a price for “loyalty,” just ask consumers.  I’ll address this question in another post soon.

So for discussion sake, how does your funeral home address “slow periods?”  Anyone out there heard the latest price increase numbers?  What are your methods to formulate price adjustments? How often does your firm adjust prices and what time of the year if only annually? Happy Labor Day (I’m working, but doing so with a cigar as part of the celebration).  Cheers y’all! #thefuneralcommander

cheap funeralOver the weekend I was at a social gathering and the host introduced my wife and I to 8 others we were meeting for the first time.  When I was asked about my profession, the subject matter turned to funerals.  After finding out I was in the funeral business, almost in unison, they exclaimed “I want the cheapest funeral possible” followed by sentiments of disdain from recent experiences of burying their parents. Interestingly, the people at the table were the “target” Baby Boomers (I’m in this category, however these folks are about 15 years my senior) that are supposed to want “so much more” for their life celebration and these folks were not anywhere near financially challenged.

So I asked them what they thought the “cheapest funeral” would be in terms of cost and service.  One lady shared that she just buried her husband last year and she hated the entire process.  She said that going to the funeral home with her kids and in her words “consternation of dealing with those people” left a bad taste in her mouth.  She said that she told her kids that in no way shape or form does she want them to go through the same process….”I told them to just cremate me and have a party at the lake house…I paid over $12,000 for the whole thing and I’ll haunt my kids if they waste that much on me.”

Another lady said “I don’t want anyone looking at me dead in a casket” followed by “just cremate me…what does that cost about $1,000.”  I told her in this particular area that cremation is anywhere from $1600 to about $3500.  With that, more discussion ensued around cremation.  One interesting point a gentleman made was that he had been considering selling his burial family burial plots. “I don’t like visiting a cemetery and I know my kids don’t and won’t…why waste the money?”  From there went the discussion of where cremated remains should rest…from putting them in the lake to scattering in the garden (I suggested they research viable locations before making a decision).  I shifted the discussion to what type of service…almost all said that they don’t want to be in a church or a funeral home.  From the lake house to the country club, the general consensus was to have some sort of party, but nothing dour for this group.

I was frankly surprised at the positions of those at the table.  These were relatively affluent people that had defined opinions from recent experiences.  Their candid sharing of thoughts was interesting…what are yours about the conversation?  Cheers y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

modernDuring a recent funeral pricing debate on Face Book, a funeral director actually made the statement “we give better service.”  I have personally been part of conversations with both funeral directors and funeral home owners about this very statement.  Fasten your seat belts, let’s take this topic for a spin.

When I hear “we give better service” my first thought and response to the statement is “what does your firm do that that other firm does not?” Usually there is quite a pause of conversation because the person making the statement actually has to think about what they said and provide some factual basis for their position.  I have heard  with my own ears; “We have new carpet in our chapel…our chapel is bigger…our fleet is newer…the water bottles we give out at graveside has our name on it…we have a bigger parking lot…they wear different suits/ties…we care more…and we have more staff on a service.”  My ALL TIME FAVORITE is “they don’t even have an organ”…how in the world did the State Board issue that firm a license?

My responses to such ridiculous blithering is “what type and year was their carpet installed, what are the dimensions of their chapel versus yours, what year models are their cars, does your name on the water bottle make the water taste better, how many cars will their parking lot hold, what color suits/ties do they wear, the other firm cares less…how many staff dictates a better service and of course how in the world do they provide music there without an organ?”  While the other person is pondering what I asked, I throw the grenades; “how many services have you attended at your competitor and if they have such inferior service, why is their market share increasing?”  Sort of a glazed look comes over their eyes, but no answer.

Does “we give better service” mean that a huge chapel like St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City gives better service than a country church like my family church, Indian Field Methodist in St. George, SC?  By the way, St. Patrick’s parking is terrible and many Indian Field’s attendees park on grass. Can an attendee of services find God in both places?

How about an analogy in the restaurant business?  Does the famous Chic-fil-A “my pleasure” culture with $5.00 chicken sandwiches/fresh flowers on their tables pale in comparison to Morton’s of Chicago’s fine dining, linen and expansive menu?  Is the customer at Chic-fil-A any less full or served than the the Morton’s customer?  Crickets.  Basically just mindless chatter with absolutely no basis.  I know what some of you are thinking, “you get what you pay for.”  That’s my next post topic…stay tuned.

poster 1I have attended services at all sorts of funeral homes across the country…I have seen mistakes made at both.  Family cars all lined up in disarray to actually leaving an old woman in a limousine after services were over back at the funeral home (this was at a huge several location funeral home always “crowing” serving since Sherman burnt down the South).  Just because a visitation at a funeral home has an old man opening the front door for you…pointing to an old lady across the foyer…and she points/directs you to another old lady down the hall…which she points you to another old lady standing at the register stand, and after you sign the book she then points you to the old lady in the casket…does not necessarily transcend into “better service.”  Perhaps this funeral home would get high marks for an “evening senior day care center.”  I have been to funeral homes with small staff and no one greeting at the door…but the visitation was lively…people laughing, hugging and conversing (even to the like of “Enter Sandman” playing over the music system).  How would that song sound on an organ?

The point  I’d like to get at here is “we give better service” is quite a far fetched and inane discussion point especially when the person making the statement has never attended the “other funeral home.”  However making assumptions is always easy, but we all know what happens when we assume…Like I have been told all my life and have actually said to my kids; “don’t worry what so-in-so is doing, do it the best you can and move on.” Cheers y’all.

 

 

questionFuneral pricing is an interesting topic.  Last week I posted about Cheap Cremation which provided excellent response from both consumers and funeral directors.  A notable post along the same line was from Kim Stacey The Price? Good Question on Connecting Directors which she discussed posting funeral pricing on a funeral home website and pricing transparency.  Additionally, I was part of a Face Book thread last week originally posted by Mike Strickland of Family Choice Funerals & Cremations in Virginia Beach, VA where Mike posted a GPL funeral price comparison of his and local funeral homes.

The Face Book thread was interesting because there were responses by funeral directors and consumers.  A particular local funeral director was incensed that Mike had the unmitigated gall to post GPL funeral price comparisons and her (the other funeral director) position was that a consumer must come to the funeral home to become educated about their funeral home selections.  I took a look at her funeral home website and a consumer could find out everything there is to know about funerals on that site but, what a surprise…funeral pricing for the firm was not posted.   Unfortunately, part of her defense of not showing funeral pricing on her firm’s website “because a family needs to see things like how nice the parking lot is.”  As we say here in the South “bless her heart.”

As a subject, funeral pricing is not going away.  Yes, I know someone will inevitably respond “but we have to make a profit just like hospitals and hotels, etc.”  I get that and that is not the point here.  The point here is there is usually a direct correlation between a funeral home’s overhead costs to the price that is charged to consumers.  Simple as that.  If a firm has a large expanse of real estate, fleets of cars, a large staff…well they obviously have to charge more. There are additional costs if a firm is publicly traded such as corporate governance and investors seeking returns. Smaller firms, smaller staff and less overheads usually means less cost to the consumer.

It’s the cost of doing business like any other industry…however, does Ruth’s Chris gave a rat’s fanny what Chick-fil-A charges?  No.  Why?  Because they serve two different markets with completely different choices.  The difference is that in the funeral industry, we all pretty much serve the same menu; caskets, urns, embalming and cremation.  That’s where the “casserole hits the fan”  because more expensive firms have difficulty explaining variances in prices such as “direct cremation” (removal, services of a funeral director, alternative container, and crematory fees).  Same exact services (not like Ruth’s Chris steak vs. a Chic-fil-A chicken sandwich) but sometimes thousands of dollars in difference.

Funeral pricing varies simply because it costs some firms more to operate.  I have also outlined the responses to “well, we give better service and you get what you pay for” post for later this week for those that love to sling that “casserole.”   Funeral pricing…what say you? Cheers Y’all.

juniorA humorous thought came to me recently after visiting a funeral home, is it really a good idea to turn over your funeral home to the kids?  I was introduced to the “next generation” as Dad described “my retirement plan and opportunity to stay at the beach house all summer.”  “Next Gen” was sitting on a foyer couch playing on his IPhone and so intensely enthralled with a video game of some sort that I received a kinda “what’s up” head nod which I suppose should have impressed me; at least he acknowledged the introduction by his Father.  Obviously Dad has grand visions of passing on the family torch to “gameboy”…for some reason I was thinking that his name was Gordon, like the kid in the Sprint commercial saying “it’s pronounced Gor Don.”

I thought to myself “Dad, you better have a big pile of cash squirreled away somewhere for retirement and I wouldn’t be packing the car for the beach anytime soon.” For a brief moment I saw some potential there…”Next Gen” knows how to work a phone!  But then reality hit me that the likelihood of him actually conversing with someone was probably a stretch.  I wasn’t sure of my other thoughts of “Bless His Heart” was for Dad or “next gen”…maybe both.  Somewhere in my mind I could hear the conversation between Dad and Mom…with Mom saying “well, YOU were given a chance; YOU turned out alright; HE’s not YOU; YOU just have to learn to accept HIM for who HE is, HE’s a good boy and YOU are too hard on him like the time YOU made HIM play sports, blah, blah, blah.”

I’m certain that grandfathers and dads for generations have thought that when looking in the eyes of their “legacy”…the end of the business is near. One of my all time favorite movie scenes is from Smokey and The Bandit which is posted below…which depicts as we all know, sometimes “legacy” comes with issues. I’d like to solicit readers to share some “legacy fails” of funeral home ownership…please do not mention the name of the funeral home, the town or the people involved…just the stories.   Cheers Y’all!

 

cremation blogCheap cremation.  While attending the ICCFA last month I did not see any of the vendors of urns, retorts, training or otherwise advertise cheap cremation.  However, when our team convened early this morning for our weekly after action report, the term “cheap cremation” came up twice from funeral directors.  Their use of the term “cheap cremation” was from consumers that were shopping for services over the weekend.  We further discussed the conversations and the results…meeting the two families this morning!  Training does pay off.

While pondering the term cheap cremation, I decided to do some homework.  What does this term mean? According to Merriam-Webster online: Cheapnot costing a lot of money; of low quality; not worth a lot of money; charging low prices.  Cremationto reduce (as a dead body) to ashes by burning. 

I decided to conduct my own research this morning and call three different funeral service providers that offer cremation; all three are in the same competitive market within about 4 miles of each other.  I asked the person answering the phone to give me a quote on cheap cremation.  Here are the results:

Location 1: (cremation provider advertised online with pricing on their website): “Our complete cremation which includes taking the body into our care, the necessary paperwork, an alternative cremation container is which is required, the crematory fee and a temporary urn is $895.”  The person asked me if they could email me more information or if I had any other questions.  I replied no, I’m just checking around, thanked them and competed the call.

Location 2: (family owned funeral home with no prices on their website): “Has a death occurred? What type of cremation do you want?” I told them no, I just want a quote on a cheap cremation. “Our cheapest cremation is $1,575.”  I asked what was included; “Picking up a body, the paperwork, an alternative container and crematory charge.” The person did not ask me anything else in sort of a strange silence, so I thanked them and ended the call.

Location 3: (publically owned, corporate funeral home no mention of price on their website): “Has a death occurred? Do you want services?” I said no, I just want a cheap cremation. “We charge $4,390 for a direct cremation.”  The person went on to explain “included in the $4,390 is taking your loved one into our care, all the funeral director services including documents, a cremation container which a body is placed into the crematory and crematory fees.”  I asked “I just called 2 other places near you and they charge $895 and $1,575 for the same thing, what do I get for my extra $3,000 that I would pay you?”  The person answered “well, we are a full service funeral home and we provide more than just the minimum.”  I replied “but I’m only asking for the minimum, why so much from your funeral home”…the person’s reply “because we do more than the other funeral homes and we have facilities, others can’t accommodate all your needs.”  I replied that I only need a cheap cremation; and thanked him for his time. He then said “We have an affiliate that only charges $1,395 for a direct cremation, can I give you their number?”  I then asked where the affiliate was located, “right here in <name of city>, but all they do is direct cremations.”  I took the number and again thanked him for his time…and ended the call.

Wonder why a consumer is confused about cremation?  A few personal observations.  Location 1 and 2 at least provided me information on their respective website, but were not much on conversation or concern on the phone.  Location 1 gave me information and did not care if a death occurred, but offered a follow up where location 2 did not.  The most engaging was location 3, which is expected for an additional $3,000; however their follow up was referring me to another place to call and not to be bothered with my situation at their particular location. The lack of engagement from all three was astounding...AND NOBODY ASKED MY NAME!

So for your Monday morning wakeup call funeral directors and funeral home owners; shoppers are looking for cheap cremation.  What is going to be your answer?  Are your prices on your website?  Do you randomly “secret shop” your funeral home and competitors? What training are you providing your staff about phone engagement? As a consumer, which one of the locations would you have chosen based on the information provided above?    Cheap cremation is not going away and neither is the consumer that is looking online and calling to engage your staff.  What’s your solution? Cheers y’all. #thefuneralcommander

dna newsThe subject of DNA continues to surface in the news.  Just recently a headline story, “Did Adolf Hitler marry a Jewish woman? DNA tests ‘show Eva Braun associated with Ashkenazi Jews’ was published (see link below).   For the funeral industry, DNA is a relatively new discussion.  Although, the facts are that the cremation process is irreversible (unlike exhuming a body after burial) and the fact that all DNA trace is destroyed by cremation.  Both of these facts are widely known by all practitioners in the funeral industry.

So the question arises are funeral and cremation providers offering these important facts to the families they are serving?  Currently there are no laws or regulatory requirements to provide this information; however do we have an ethical obligation to do so?  I believe that in our litigious society we may have this point undoubtedly tested in the future.

During funeral arrangements, notifying family members that “cremation is irreversible and DNA is destroyed” is a simple, important step that may provide a family with at least the opportunity to make a decision prior to finality.  Cheers y’all.

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/hitler-shocker-hair-dna-shows-eva-braun-jewish-roots-article-1.1746666

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