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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

AFE Post

I’m blessed to travel and meet funeral industry professionals literally all over the globe; most recently I have just returned from the Asia Funeral Expo in Macau, China.  This is a small world and the funeral industry continues to become smaller as we collaborate with others globally. Please allow me to provide some “color” on my experience and observations while in China.

Just traveling to the Far East is exhausting…from the Command Post to Hong Kong includes a 14.5 hour plane ride and a loss of 12 hours. Often I am asked “where do you live” and I respond “Marriott.”  I live in Marriott’s and change underwear in Roanoke VA…thus I seek out my beloved Marriott’s for consistency of brand and the Courtyard in Hong Kong did not  disappoint.  Getting around via cab is quite easy and once I conduct a walking “recon” of the area I’m staying I become comfortable venturing out.

I had the opportunity to visit a funeral home while in Hong Kong that conducted an average of 10 services per day…in one building.  It was fascinating to learn the different cultural customs of both burial and cremation; all according mostly to the religious preferences of the family. The team at this particular location operated on a precise time-clock of service and served as if only one family was in the building.  Some of the displays of flowers and “towers of buildings” were quite elaborate, others were very simple and plain; not much different than here in the US…the family has choices.

The Expo took place in Macau, China which was a 30 minutes high speed ferry ride away.  My partner Mike Grehan from LifeArt Caskets is based in Hong Kong and I was provided a spot at their booth.  The LifeArt team was quite interesting as they represented the engineering/manufacturing elements as well as the sales/relationship side.  Having a personal knowledge of US casket manufacturing as well as sales, the same in Asia is a whole different ball game.

Unlike the the US (from State to State), the biggest difference in the Asia region is that each country operates completely different from the other.  The approach is similar because what a surprise, relationships are key.  Another difference for example going out (exporting) of China is not to difficult, going in (importing to) is another ball game.  Sort of like selling in New Jersey and New York.

There were familiar faces from the United States present; of course Christine Pepper (CEO of NFDA) along with some of her crew including Bill Wappner and Anna Bernfeld.  My friend (and best looking guy in his age category) Walker Posey of Posey Funeral Directors provided seminars which included one about service; spot on my friend!  The skilled Matt Smith offered an outstanding set of presentations on restorative arts…this guy is really talented!  In attendance also was Jim Malamas from ACE Casket Funeral Products, LTD of Las Vegas as well and a few folks from America including a hearse company.  I even saw someone from a US vault company there…

Otherwise, the “show floor” was smaller but more concentrated than we have here in the US.  There were some urn manufacturers, a make up booth and some other interesting representations.  My new friends from Isreal Alon & Assaf Nativ of Aley Shalechet, LTD and Cees Janssen of Jewel Concepts (along with his bride) from the Netherlands provided me new insights/opportunities with their existing brands.  What was missing?  Technology similar to what we are used to in the US…what, no Facebook in China?  Online obits are just taking off …I met a great guy Matt McLean of Heaven Address from Australia.   Of course there were some caskets on display and upon close inspection, quite nice ones! The days of claiming poor quality, at least from what I saw coming from China, is behind us.  For all the nay-sayers at funeral homes that puff their chest about “American Made” products, simply put, every product for the most part has an offshore component today…even the highly regarded and precious fleet cars.

Today, I have a partner in Spain, another in Scotland, and another in Toronto area working with funeral homes…I’m back in the United States working with the many initiatives we are launching in the funeral industry.  As an industry, we have moved beyond just our local communities with talent and access to education.  There is much to take advantage of internationally or right here at home to improve our operations, services and products offered; it’s a matter of choice to “get in the game” or just “sit in the stands.”  Where do you fit in?  From the desk of The Funeral Commander, cheers y’all! #thefuneralcommander

Expo 14During my tenure in the military, upon completion of each mission/exercise we conducted an “After Action Review.”  Basically we what as supposed to happen, what actually happened, why was there a difference and what can we learn to train/improve upon.  I’d like to amend the process a bit and share with you my viewpoint/perspectives from the NFDA Expo 2014 in Nashville last week.

First, the venue was outstanding.  Nashville provided a perfect city that offered not only the Music City Center for the Expo and meetings, but also great accommodations along with a variety of restaurants as well as entertainment opportunities (and shopping…I saw many boot boxes while checking out of the hotel). I was able to briefly chat with Christine Pepper, the Executive Director of NFDA during the welcome reception party at the Wildhorse Saloon and congratulate her; she and her team really threw a fabulous gathering which was a prelude to what was ahead for the next few days.

As predicted and customary, the major players in the industry participated displaying their products and services along with some “new kids on the block.”  From my perspective; After Action:

In the casket display genre, Aurora Casket led the way at their booth by displaying their culture; they had a “vibe” that reflected warmth and relationships rather than antiseptic “we’re really big, look at us.”  What personally struck me was their Be Remembered website that provides us with the ability to capture our life with a “bucket list,” write our life story in our own words, and plan our desires for services at our death.  It’s a brilliant tool for anyone to use, and as a matter of fact, I’m using it myself.  Aurora also had, in my humble opinion, a fantastic new wood casket that exemplified simple, down to earth, but classic.

Life Art Caskets has broken the barrier between the cardboard cremation container and the bland products we are accustomed to offering families in lower cost cremation containers.  Their cremation containers actually provide a reason for a family to choose something better for their loved one with an array of styles/colors all the way to customized products.  I know that Life Art has excellent success internationally and I am certain that we’ll be seeing quite a bit more about them in the near future.

ASD launched their Mobile 3.0 app MobileFH™ feature while in Nashville.  Kevin Czachor and team are leading the way in the funeral home communications arena.  In particular first calls; not only making the lives of funeral directors better, but managing response and needs of families from the onset.

As you can imagine, urns were everywhere.  The standout was Foreverence Urns, a new and unique offering of custom product blended with technology.  If you can envision what you want, they can design and create an urn truly reflective in their unique art.  The Foreverence use of 3-D technology and ceramic art is a breath of fresh air in the crowded urn field of over saturation.

Speaking of getting crowded, jewelry and glass art has taken hold as a staple in many funeral home showrooms.  Pardon the pun, but the clear front-runner in glass art is Crystal Remembrance.  Perhaps I have an affinity to doing something well and sticking to it, plus their patented DNA double helix design doesn’t hurt either.  The Crystal Remembrance art is an elegant and tasteful keepsake that is a generational heirloom for any family.

I can’t say enough about the continued emergence of Disrupt Media as the leader and only full service social media company in the funeral industry.  Ryan Thogmartin (also of Connecting Directors) melds his experience, relationships and knowledge of the funeral industry to reach multiple audiences which includes engagement of funeral consumers.  I was privy to some exciting initiatives that he an other funeral industry media superlatives are launching in the near future to reach both consumers and connecting funeral directors (I could not help myself).

To complete my personal highlights and to provide a “keep your eye on” is a company called Lifescapes that offers a new and simple product which holds excellent value.  Lifescapes offers family, friends and colleagues a unique way to collectively reflect on the deceased at a visitation, funeral, memorial or celebration of life.  In a word, it’s a collection of many words.  As a side note, I found out from my youngest son over this weekend one of my word descriptors: “enigma.”  I’ll write about that one in the future.

There was lots of “new and improved” but really nothing that I believe was noteworthy.

What didn’t I see?  If you read my blog and posts I continuously have the belief that many of the funeral industry woes can be addressed with training.  Really, pick a subject where training would not solve a problem we all face.  Maybe I missed it, but I did see nor was made aware of any funeral director in-service training tools or programs.  I’m not referring to CEU’s, the “travel junket” seminars (that most funeral directors never get to attend) or Mortuary Schools.  I mean regularly scheduled and intentional training for funeral directors…but hang on friends; I have an idea!  More to come.

Wonderful to see friends like Jeff Staab (Cremation Solutions), Dan Katz &, Rolf Gutknecht (LA Ads), The Deyonne of Death, AKA Gail Rubin (A Good Goodbye), along with Allison Sullivan & Patti Bartsche (Kates-Boylston).  I met new people and had interesting conversations relevant to our continued quest to refine our approach to serving families.

Unfortunately, the Carolina Panthers have been turned into “cheese whiz” in Green Bay and my cigar is at it’s end (yep, I did take the band off).  I trust that if you were unable to attend the NFDA Expo in Nashville, this post provided some information that you may find interesting and you’ll take a little time to look at the companies/websites I think were noteworthy.  So from the Command Post, cheers y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

 

 

 

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