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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.   For the latter part of 2017, I spent a great deal of time, as the Director of Marketing, dedicated to The Foresight Companies, which is a monumental task in itself.  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) as well as at The Foresight Foreca$t.  Be vigilant and remember, “A vision is only a dream without execution.”  Cheers y’all!

 

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As a funeral business consultant, I scour internet articles and search for relevant business content that is industry specific.  Interesting, but not surprising little fresh content is available for the masses regarding funeral or cemetery business.  Try yourself; google funeral business news.  The top of the page is none other than www.connectingdirectors.com which is no surprise.  Frankly, that’s the only accessible site for daily funeral and cemetery news at one location.  Everyone else in the space demands payment or a subscription. I do believe the effort necessary to create and deliver in-depth content, a fee should be charged to access the information because of the expense to produce such work. Not everything you read should be free.

But from a different angle of “how to,” let’s dig a little deeper. What if you were a funeral home owner wanting information on particular subjects, let’s say “how to reduce accounts receivable for funeral homes?” Go ahead, Google it.  There are a few articles that pop up including yours truly Funeral Director Training: Failed Payment Policy is on the Owner’s Shoulders and  Funeral Director Training: When is the pain too much? .  Still, there is no one easily accessible collection point for professionals to conduct research or “study up.”

Wouldn’t it be great to have volumes of relevant funeral and cemetery business content at your fingertips without having to subscribe or dig thorough printed magazines for articles? What if, and this is a big one, I hate to use Dan Isard’s most hated F word, but let me state it here: THE CONTENT WAS FREE?

Of course, there is a point to this post.  As a loyal follower of The Funeral Commander you know I have a purpose for my penetrating questions and provocative prose.  Friends, there is good news and I’ll give you a little whisper in this season of joy: there is new innovation on the horizon.  It will offer a new way of sharing business content that can be implemented to make your business better.

Yep, it’s a magical time of the year and The Funeral Commander is busy innovating and creating.  Be on the lookout…more to come.  From the Command Post (West) and yes, a thick fog of cigar smoke, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommader

 

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If your funeral home has accounts receivable, your payment policy is worthless.  The funeral director in charge of arrangements perpetuates the problem and owners are guilty of holding anyone accountable with a lack of leadership.  As a funeral business consultant, I can quickly diagnose the situation by studying the A/R and role playing as a family member in an arrangement session.  Fortunately, I have the solution to fix the cash flow problem; however the decision lies squarely on the shoulders of funeral home ownership.

Why is the decision so difficult for funeral home owners to make a commitment to improve their cash flow and significantly reduce their accounts receivable?  By doing so it’s an admission that their arrangers care less and are unaccountable.  Owners would rather scramble to make ends meet (because cash flow is suffering) than actually take charge of their business by changing behavior of funeral directors.  Additionally, there is a cost for professionals to conduct adequate training.   Professional training solves cash flow and other funeral home operations problems, yet owners rarely seek training as a source.  Rather they create knee-jerk processes with no accountability or device to measure success or failure.  Ultimately, the inmates are running the asylum.

A working payment policy is predicated on use of the GPL and offering payment options near the beginning of the arrangement session.  “Talking about the money” should not be put off until the goods and services statement is provided at the end of the arrangements.  Ever wonder why families must take a bathroom or smoke break when the goods and services statement comes out?  It’s because the funeral director failed to do his or her job by addressing the second most important issue for a family (right behind the death of a loved one); “How are we going to pay for this?”

If a funeral home has accounts receivable, the payment policy isn’t working and neither are the funeral directors.  Don’t like it?  Do something about it and make a damn decision, or just continue the failure to collect the funds needed to make payroll.  Sooner or later, you’ll need to email jeff@f4sight.com.

Back and refreshed from cigars, libations, great food and time with my family at the Command Post (East), Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

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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.

Watch Episode #54 of Funeral Nation TV with human resources expert Stephanie Ramsey providing more color on the subject or email me jeff@f4sight.com to find out how to “CYA.”

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

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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

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I was recently shocked when a couple of friends that work for a big funeral industry supplier were told by their management “relationships don’t matter, it’s all about productivity.”  This is simply not true because a relationship is the only glue that binds the brand to the customer. Say what you may, the funeral profession is about relationships. I have yet to meet an owner of a funeral home that buys from or does business with someone they really dislike.  In fact, in many cases it costs more to work with someone you like because of the value brought to the relationship.

As funeral home owners and directors, pause and consider that the families you serve are exactly the same. The majority choose a funeral home because they have a relationship with the owner or staff. Just below in rank of why a consumer chooses a firm is because the firm served a family member or friend in the past (notice price is not even at the top two).

Large gatherings like NFDA and ICCFA offer us a reason to arrive from all corners of the earth to commune with each other for a common purpose.  These few days of the “Funeral Super Bowl” in Philadelphia provide attendees many opportunities to become better educated and access to what’s new. However, the most important aspect of the gathering is strengthening old relationships and developing new ones.

As you know, I’m all about technology, Social Media, and new sources of reaching people. But the most effective form of communication is looking into someone’s eyes, conversing face to face, and listening.  A handshake, warm introduction, and genuine conversation are more captivating that “20% discount.”  Of course my preferred method is Mano y Mano, with libations and a cigar perhaps even during a round of golf. I have a very keen bullshit meter and I easily separate authenticity from superficial and the Mano y Mano method tends to prove true.

Interesting that even lower costs or fees has no relevance in a positive relationship (unless you want a cheap date). Relationships are a two way street with mutual trust and respect at the forefront. If you are here in Philly, let’s connect at booth 4318 or send me an email jeff@f4sight.com so we can schedule time together.  I’ll shake your hand, look you in the eye, and listen.  If we can get to it, I know a great spot for a libation and cigar which is always in order.

From the FOB in Philadelphia, Cheers Y’all! #thefunealcommander

 

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