Archive

Tag Archives: Funeral Nation TV

1ec03o

 

The largest expense for funeral home overhead is payroll and employee expenses.  Unfortunately, many funeral home owners poorly manage this facet of their business and in doing so not only decrease profit but place themselves in peril for labor lawsuits. Some firms over-staff which puts pressure on margins and others under-staff which places the owner in violation of Department of Labor violations. Speaking of the DOL, we are only weeks away from significant rule changes that have effect on the majority of funeral homes in the United States.  Below are three highlight of the changes that take effect December 1st:

  • The minimum salary level an employee must earn to qualify for overtime will change from $23,600 to $47,476.
  • Highly compensated employees have a new minimum earning level requirement of $134,000
  • New mandatory mechanisms to increase levels of compensation will trigger every three years.

What does this mean?  Frankly, in many cases it’s going to cost funeral home owners more money to operate their business. This means that the three basic tenets of running a business come into play; raise prices, conduct more calls, or cut costs.  Some owners will ignore the regulations (just like the 25% violating the FTC rules) and do nothing. However, if owners choose to operate hoping that a director will not keep his or her notes regarding overtime worked without just compensation, those owners are really placing themselves in a bad position.

I have found in my practice as a funeral and cemetery consultant that many owners think they have covered their bases by having an employee handbook (which has not been updated in years), assigning “exempt” status to employees that don’t qualify, and refusing to get professional advice or council. As I have said many times, I find it interesting that funeral professionals chide families for “buying cheap” or using other services/products than what is offered at their particular funeral home. You know the, “You get what you pay for crowd.” But when it comes to hiring professional experts in subject matter other than funeral, they themselves “cheap out” and regularly fail at the “DIY” method.

Folks, these new Department of Labor changes in overtime status are serious and could have grave (yeah, deadly) consequences for funeral homes if employees are not compensated properly. If you think that having a state inspection is a big deal, try having the federal government on your ass because of an employee complaint. One way or another, funeral home owners are going to have to write checks; when and how much will only be determined based on following the regulations.

From the Command Post (West), 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

 

doc n a box

Recently we’ve been made privy to reports from NFDA (2015 Member General Price List Survey) and CANA (Cremation Rate Doubles in 15 Years & Correlation Between Cremation/No Religious Affiliation.  These reports provide excellent data of where we came from, where we are now, and initiates further need to focus on where we are going to meet the demands of consumers in the future.  In fact, Ryan and I discussed these topics at the top of Episode #2 of Funeral Nation which will air Tuesday October 13th.

I have been a proponent of continuous improvement of our funeral service brands from training, technology, services/products provided to the physical environment of where we operate.  This focus in my not so humble opinion is how we will both survive and thrive in the years to come as funeral service providers.  As I was watching this morning’s news, a medical segment was profiling an online or “virtual doctor visit.”

The online consultation is provided by a licensed physician or nurse practitioner though a webcam for personalized treatment.  When necessary, the professionals can submit an e-perception for pick up at a local pharmacy.  Online consultation is for the convenience of the patient and according to this particular story; patients are moving this direction in droves.  Convenience? Eliminating the hassles of scheduling an appointment during “normal clinic hours,” long waits at the ER or urgent care,  and the costs associated with a doctor visit, etc.  This new service allows the patient to remain in their comfortable surroundings and receive consultation; any guesses of what’s in the next paragraph?

As I write at this very moment I can see “we’ve always done it that way” (aka WADITW) smirking and thinking “that’s terrible service and unprofessional.”  Is it?  Similar service is being provided now across the country by savvy funeral directors that are in the quest of continuous improvement.  Yep, total online offerings with the consumer never leaving their comfortable surroundings and the cremated remains delivered to their front door.  Ole WADITW is smirking once again thinking “well, they can’t get a burial done that way and my families would never go for this.”   Yeah, you’re right Sparky.  But make sure and read the before mentioned reports above and maybe conduct some consumer research.  Remember when we heard “nobody will use a dang card instead of writing a check and I need a travel agent?”  Cremation is rising like the Pillsbury Dough Boy’s brother in a 400 degree oven!

As usual, my mission is provide fodder for thought by funeral professionals to consider and discuss.  If you don’t like the message or challenge for continuous improvement, then how about this provocative question: matching suits and ties or not?  From the Command Post and a thick fog of cigar smoke, Cheers Y’all!  #thefuneralcommander #funeralnationtv

change positions

Funeral directors meet with families during a time which most agree is very difficult.  Arranging the funeral of a loved one is stressful and often the necessary decisions made are clouded by varying emotions as well as grief.  Part of the regular funeral director training provided at our funeral homes for arrangements include role play; our funeral directors plan the funeral of their closest loved one in detail.

The role a funeral director performs is to provide information so the family can make educated decisions.  Without ever “wearing the shoes of the next of kin” the anguish is only observed and not experienced.  I have personally been part of this training and I can attest how emotional the process may be, even in a training environment.

I have conducted funeral home training on this subject and the results were enlightening.  One of the interesting scenarios created was that the deceased loved one had not pre-planned with a trust, had no life insurance and the expenses must be paid out of the role playing funeral directors personal resources.  As you read this, put yourself in that position; it’s up to you to pay for everything you select for services and products right now out of pocket.  Ask yourself; what would that do to my current personal financial status?  Having this thought in mind, would you buy the best of everything?  What would your choices be if you we financially responsible for the goods and services selected today?

When meeting with families, it’s natural to wonder why sometimes the decisions made seem to be other than what is customary or expected.  On top of financial stress, family dynamics enter the picture sometimes.  Just like many of you, I have personally witnessed strained funeral arrangements with a bad cocktail of financial woes and family discourse.

Finally, I know many funeral industry professionals that experienced unexpected loss of their spouse, child and parent.  After talking with some, their perspective of wearing the shoes of the people they normally serve changed.  If you are a funeral professional and lost a loved one, you know the angst.  Otherwise, think about conducting funeral director training for arrangers and changing shoes with those you normally guide; it may have lasting impact.

Funeral News! Ryan and I recorded our inaugural Funeral Nation TV web cast show that will be aired October 6th…I am certain you’ll enjoy the FN show! From the desk of The Funeral Commander, Cheers Y’all.  #thefuneralcommander #funeralnationtv

%d bloggers like this: