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SOTP

This evening Americans will hear our President give the State of the Union address, which is an important event for our nation.  Whether you agree or disagree, the content provided offers a perspective of “what’s going on” in our country.  I wrote an article, published in The Director magazine, providing my perspectives about the State of the Profession.  You may download the article by following this link Step Up_ 2018 State Of the Profession Address  or read below.  Yes, there are a few statements that some may deem controversial and take umbrage, however I always welcome your thoughts for discussion.  Cheers y’all!

Step Up

As I began to write this article, my mind conjured up the image of our country’s State of the Union address. The president is announced, and upon entering the House chamber, he shakes the hands of well-wishers. Of course, no matter which party is in power, the opposition is generally less exuberant as the exalted speaker continues toward the podium. Imagine with me the magnitude of the words spoken, and with that scene in your head, I now present you with the State of the Profession address.

Fellow funeral professionals, providers, suppliers and supporters, we are living in a unique time of opportunity and challenge to our livelihood. Our noble profession serves families during a most difficult life event, the death of a loved one.

Like a hospital, your funeral home does not have the luxury of set hours of operation because life can end at any hour. The men and women who serve families spend countless hours tending to the needs of others, often to the detriment of personal time with their own families. Missing birthdays, holidays and other special events is a common occurrence. And while most consumers do not have knowledge of or an appreciation for our craft, when we are called upon, all understand the importance of our mission.

The future of the funeral service profession is excellent for those embracing new paradigms of education, operations, communications and willingness to adapt to consumer demand. It’s time for leaders of our industry to rise, take charge and apply contextual intelligence.

An example of such behavior is Steve Jobs. He didn’t just create the Apple computer; his vision was to bring technology to the fingertips of everyone, rather than just the privileged and businesses. True leaders look beyond the current landscape to consider a broader vision of society, politics, technology and demographics. The funeral profession is in dire need of contextual intelligence from its emerging leaders.

Because our industry has so many facets, we have no one leader to guide the direction for the future. In fact, we have no collective, unified voice, as evidenced by the many similar yet autonomous membership organizations. The Have the Talk of a Lifetime program is about as close to a combined effort as I have witnessed, and support among professionals is growing.

There are more pressing issues that will have severe ramifications for many funeral service operators than a membership organization can address, nor does it have the capacity for deliverables. I’d like to take time now to review the serious challenges to funeral service businesses and look at opportunities for leaders to take charge.

Unfortunately, the major headlines regarding the funeral profession seem to be dictated by Chicken Little. Yes, cremation now eclipses burial in the United States, and the change will become more rapid in the coming years. Cremation is a challenge, but it’s not the biggest challenge. I’ll address the leadership opportunities for cremation later in this address.

What is the biggest expense on a funeral home’s profit and loss statement? It’s not caskets, hearses, limousines or building maintenance. Its personnel – the people who work in funeral homes who make our profession a profession. Soon we’ll begin to see the senior ranks of active serving funeral directors decline due to retirement and death.

Unfortunately, the influx of new funeral directors to backfill for the attrition of senior directors will not keep pace. The number of bright-eyed, bushy-tailed students entering the funeral profession is dwindling. Why would a bright student want to go into debt attending mortuary college, earning a degree and taking national exams just to work as an indentured servant, er, apprentice until finally licensed as a funeral director? How many people want to work for low pay and ridiculous hours in a stressful environment?

Without a doubt, we have firms across the country with stellar operations that are rewarding their employees handsomely. However, there are also horror stories of low pay, long hours and HR nightmares involving overtime, harassment, etc. Once again, leadership is the solution to this growing problem.

Now let’s review the ridiculous licensing requirements that require a funeral director to also be an embalmer. Let’s face it, embalming is an art as well as a science, but it’s not for everyone. In fact, the skillset and personality requirements for an embalmer are significantly different than those for an arranger/planner. Additionally, the average pay scale for these professionals is not attractive enough to recruit the best and brightest.

The transfer of knowledge to practice is another important yet lacking facet that does not help with retention of funeral directors. Regular, meaningful training must be part of a funeral home’s operations to assist with developing skills and reducing vulnerabilities.

Finally, it’s time for funeral home leaders to pay serious attention to HR violations concerning overtime pay and hours. Most funeral home owners do not even have basic job descriptions, up-to-date employee handbooks or procedure manuals. The Department of Labor offers guidance and requirements for these subjects, and we have experts in our ranks to remedy what is broken.

Unfortunately, because our profession has no unified leadership, I believe that the opportunity exists for individual funeral home owners to create an atmosphere of opportunity within their firm to attract new funeral professionals who see the value of a career, not just a job. 

At the beginning of my address, I stated that we find ourselves in a time of opportunity. While the funeral industry generates more than $17 billion in annual revenue in the United States, our business of doing business has changed and is still changing significantly due to shifting consumer trends coupled with the costs associated with managing a financially healthy funeral home. One number rarely discussed is funeral home profit, which is less than 7% of revenue. It’s a cancer that is permeating our businesses and is deadly to our future. Owners must get a firm grasp on the financial operations of their firm, armed with data to make decisions for profitability. Unfortunately, a majority receive financial information on their P&L statements but haven’t a clue how to interpret the numbers or identify trends.

It’s time for leaders to step up and recognize that pricing methods should not be based on competition. Rather, they should understand their own true overhead and charge not just to cover overhead but to make some profit. After all, long-term sustainability of a business is profit, even in the funeral profession.

At no other time have so many products been made available by suppliers from all corners of the world. The quality and sheer number of choices of funeral goods has increased over the last few years, creating a buyer’s market for savvy purchasers. Long gone are the days of suppliers demanding exclusive offerings of their products with unbalanced contracts detrimental to buyers. Handshakes for business are a thing of the past, and funeral home owners can use RFPs (request for proposal) to select products that fit business needs.

At the risk of upsetting the “opposition party” (those who keep the status quo and live the “we have always done it this way” motto), I am going to speak the truth: The funeral business in not unique. A business needs a service or product to offer, customers to buy those offerings, prices for those offerings (that offset the cost and taxes), payment for the offerings and, finally, to make a profit.

Again, our profession does not have a solution for the entire industry to solve this problem because we cannot regulate profitability. We do, however, have an opportunity for leaders to focus their attention to ensure that their business is poised for long-term financial sustainability, including controlling overhead, proper pricing for services/products, eliminating accounts receivables, paying attention to tax vulnerabilities and taking advantage of different product offerings. Because of technology and education, individual leaders have more resources that ever before at their fingertips, so it’s time to make profit great again! 

ellow professionals, I have touched on our greatest resource – human capital – and addressed the need to focus on profitability. But I would be remiss if I did not discuss the rise of cremation in our country.

Without a doubt, we must be accountable for our poor early response as cremation demand increased. Frankly, we blew it. But it’s not over until we say it’s over! I am bullish on the opportunity for funeral professionals to embrace cremation as one of our great offerings of service to families. Training arrangers to provide information so families can make educated decisions can provide tremendous benefits to those we serve as well as to our bottom line.

Leaders need to provide continuous training and monitor results. For example, the presentation of cremation opportunities should always include embalming, services and products. The first part of this address was about our people, and again, people are the solution for greater opportunity for meeting the cremation demand.

The theme of financial matters loops around to matters of cremation as well. Funeral home owners, pay attention to my words: You must charge appropriately for your cremation services, period. I understand your fear of pricing with so many providers offering services for less, but you must overcome your fear with the reality of numbers. If discount or low-price cremations were all consumers desired, this article would not exist because neither would the thousands of funeral homes that support this periodical.

The truth is, your competitor does not have your overhead, and you can’t charge the same for like services. At some point, the dam of burial families subsidizing cremation families is going to burst. Cremation families must pay the same fee for services as burial families. Transfer and basic services fees should be the same regardless of disposition. A cremation needs to include a full removal price, full basic services fee, transportation to the crematory (if necessary) and full cremation fee.

Cremation is not going away; in fact, it’s increasing, offering funeral home leaders the opportunity to look beyond their current way of operating and into the future. To be successful, it’s critical to train personnel and monitor and measure results to adapt to the increasing consumer demand. Equally important is developing and instituting appropriate pricing.

People, finances and cremation are all challenges and opportunities for funeral professionals. Our industry continues to experience a new facet in the business that did not exist in the past – technology. It is imperative that funeral homes embrace and engage with the technology available to conduct our business and serve families better. There are those among the opposition who still have poor websites, use paper and pen in the arrangement conference and shun social media as a means to bolster their position within the communities they serve.

Funeral home leaders have a tremendous opportunity to integrate technology into practically every facet of operations. Doing so reduces mistakes, eliminates waste, creates a positive family experience and increases profit.

Another piece of the technology puzzle fits into our discussion of attracting and recruiting talent. Funeral homes that embrace and use technology in their day-to-day operations will attract a better candidate versus those operating in 20th century mode.

I would like to reiterate my thoughts on the state of the funeral profession address by quoting President Franklin D. Roosevelt: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” We have an opportunity to develop our funeral homes into work environments that provide a noble service. Not only can we provide superior products and services to those who have lost a loved one, we can provide a secure financial future for our own families and our employees. We’re at a point at which we can dictate how consumers view cremation by training our staffs to provide information to families to make educated decisions. Technology has presented funeral professionals a better way to serve, communicate and attract funeral consumers.

The only impediment to our bright future is ourselves. We have no room for complacency and hubris; it’s time for leaders to step up into their rightful place. 2018 is a landmark year to embrace and engage our destiny. I ask you: What’s holding you back? What are you scared of? Turn your vision into reality – all it takes is execution.

 

 

TFC Returns FB (3)

I’m certain that as a follower of this blog, you’ve noticed an absence of postings for a while.  No, I haven’t ceased my relentless pursuit of spreading the Funeral Gospel according to the Commander.   Not to mention co-hosting Funeral Nation TV, for which Ryan Thogmartin and I recently published our 102nd show.  I haven’t exactly been sitting around waiting for the funeral industry to change. Rather, I’m leading the conversation, providing common sense commentary and solutions for problems some see perplexing, yet I see invigorating.

Hence, I’m broadening my position as a funeral industry superlative to offer several avenues of approach for fellow professionals to hear/see what needs to be said: WAKE UP!  In the next few weeks, you’ll see a new articles, short blog pieces, videos, and basically get a snout full of my perspectives about our industry.  From business practices, training, suppliers, industry news, and stuff that comes to mind…it’s all going to be here at The Funeral Commander and shared throughout my vast social media connections.  Please follow me at LinkedInFacebook, and Twitter). Be vigilant and remember, “A vision is only a dream without execution.”  Cheers y’all!

 

nfda-2

Freshly returning to the Command Post (East) from #NFDA2016 in Philadelphia, I’m providing an After Action Review of what I saw, didn’t see, and my experience perspective this year.  From the logistical front, the NFDA team could not have selected a better venue that provided a huge Expo floor with easy access to educational seminars and walking distance to many hotels. Also, the NFDA app was a stroke of genius! I give the entire NFDA staff a salute for a well-executed and attended event.

From my perspective, the biggest influential segment of this year’s event was Social Media and Technology.  Facebook was on fire with posts, selfies, and live updates from attendees as well as vendors.  Homesteaders Life and  Disrupt Media sponsored a Social Media Lounge providing attendees a venue for all things social.  Live feeds by Funeral Nation TV were given and frankly, the funeral world is turning a corner and starting to “get it.”  Technology abounded, with website developers adding new services and add-ons.  Funeral home software continues to permeate the norms of doing business and my choice of the best was Passare with their collaboration platform connecting families to the arrangement process with their easy-to-use program.  There also were some “newcomers,” attempting to breach the market with very narrowly and poorly thought-out “new funeral apps;” however it’s obvious they did not do their homework, as most redundant offerings have failed to gain any traction in the past.

From a product standpoint, there was noticeably larger presence of foreign casket providers than ever before.  The Sich Casket booth was full continuously and I have to give them the “win” for marketing with their surprise “God Bless America” flash mob and free coffee stands.  Urns were everywhere and I’ll admit, I saw some unique designs that are “upping the game.”  What struck me was the flood of “same old stuff” in many booths.  (Are consumers still buying these relics or are the vendors trying to dump inventory?)  Outer burial containers didn’t offer any new “wows.”  I have to say the most personable was the Darby Family at Trigard Vaults.  You are always guaranteed hugs and hairdos with them!  At the Pierce Chemical booth I watched (and took video of) an artist bringing life to the lifeless.  The Pre-Need Builders after care program was also a breath of fresh air in the service market.

Speaking of the art of restoration/embalming, I heard some rumblings about the lack of embalming subject matter presented in seminars.  However, this is indicative of the focus in perhaps the most important segment that needs to be addressed to funeral home owners/directors:  financial health.  Consumers are dictating the direction of our profession.  Adapting to better business practices, understanding consumer needs, how to better communicate to and reach families, along with becoming profitable for the swelling tide of cremation, are topics that were at the forefront of the majority of seminars.

The Foresight Companies had a “free money grab” at their booth which again makes sense;  if a funeral home is not making great profit at least you can have a chance to grab free cash.  From the financial services segment I noticed the lack of new companies present.  The representation of pre-need companies seems to have leveled as well as that of the insurance assignment firms.  The largest footprint of assignment companies was from C&J Financial and  American Funeral Financial (shout out to Jackie Williams and Chuck Gallagher for their new “live stardom”).

I did not see companies like Save My Ink, Trey Ganem Designs, Qeepr, DNA Memorial, The Help Card, and many others. In the competitive funeral industry product/service marketplace and although they may still be operating, the lack of presence along with top-mind advertising is pretty much a kiss of death (no pun intended)…you have to BE there!

I posted  It’s about the relationships, not the productivity this week at the onset of the Convention.  Truly, relationships are the defining factor of funeral business.  Seeing longtime friends is a bonus for me personally at these events.  Talking with clients and receiving accolades in person that our work makes a difference in their lives is irreplaceable.  Conversations with prospective clients and listening to their situations of working in such a tough environment bring me excitement, because we have solutions.  The bottom line is that we are all in the funeral business to serve families at one the most difficult events in life:  death.  How we as an industry intertwine our businesses, relationships, strengthen financial heath, and bring the most positive light to our profession is the key to long term victory.

The synopsis of #NFDA2016 is of a huge success from the many observations shared above.  Watch Ryan and I next week on Funeral Nation TV for a full follow up of this year’s event.  Today is the “new funeral year,” so it’s time to get back to work.  From the Command Post (East) with my comrade Rat Terrier at my side, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

cremation tfc

As a funeral consultant, I interact with at least 25 funeral home owners on a typical week and through social media I’m in contact with hundreds of funeral directors.  When I ask, “What’s the biggest challenge you face in the funeral profession?” almost on key I hear, “cremation is killing us.”  Cremation is by no means the major challenge we are experiencing, it’s our failure of “doing the business of the business.”

Let me explain by asking questions.

  • Cremation is a disposition. As such, funeral directors have the same opportunity to embalm as burial. Why doesn’t that conversation take place during cremation arrangements?
  • Why do burial families pay full price for basic service fee and cremation families get a discount on the exact services performed?
  • Why doesn’t every family receive a complete presentation for disposition of cremated remains including interment, scatter, keep, urn, and jewelry options?
  • Why don’t funeral homes get paid in full or secure payment prior to signing a goods and services contract?
  • Why don’t funeral directors train on their profession (not CEU) weekly to improve their skills (like the four questions above)?
  • Why do funeral home owners pay accountants that give them a P&L statement and balance sheet but no advice on how to increase their profit?

Take a moment and answer these questions honestly.  It’s not cremation; put some mirrors up in the funeral home and you’ll see the problem.

From the Command Post (West), Cheer’s Y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

The King and I II

May 2nd began new era for me; I am now the Director of Marketing for The Foresight Companies. Over the last 2 months, Dan Isard and I have conducted in-depth due diligence, meetings, sharing of philosophies concluding that this opportunity is right for both of us.  Learning from Dan as an understudy and gleaning from his vast 30 years of funeral consulting expertise is indeed a fantastic opportunity.

Fortunately, I am not only  going to get a PhD in funeral consulting, I also broaden the platform of reach through The Funeral Commander blog  as well as the Funeral Nation TV with my co-host and social media expert Ryan Thogmartin continuing to “raise the flag” for our industry.  Additionally, the At Need Credit company fits nicely into The Foresight Companies wheel house especially with our Simple Funeral Payment Plan software platform to clean up accounts receivable for funeral homes.

Yes, this a significant change and commitment for both of us.  Dan shaped up his intention for my future in an early email to me: “It was a story told that the young Egyptian kings would eat the eyes of the former king so that the young king would have seen all that their predecessor did.  I am better today at what I do based on what I have seen for 30 plus years.  I have to try to pass that on to my protegé as quickly as possible.”

So there you have it. I’m in the process of fantastic professional growth and educational experience.  If you know both Dan and I , you will also know that our wit and humor are aligned (see Funeral Nation TV Episode #30 to get a flavor of how we are working together. So when you see Dan at future conferences and conventions, take a few moments to ask him what type of service dog he is training with. As for me I’m studying exactly which rum pairs well with eye balls.

From the new Command Post (west) and in dire need to find a cigar lounge that I can work from, 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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