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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

d-vs-g

My last post Funeral Industry David vs. Goliath was referring to innovation in the funeral industry. From all intents and purposes, Goliaths dictate and Davids innovate.  There is no greater example of this analogy in the funeral business than casket manufacturers.  Just recently one of the casket Goliaths was recognized for their “innovation.”  What is innovation?

Webster’s Dictionary: Innovation; a new idea, device, or method.

Have we become so complacent in our industry that throwing “old wood” on a casket is considered innovation?  The definition should be expanded to include making products for less cost (Chinese hardware and cloth for interiors) and moving South of the Border for manufacturing. YES!  Now that’s innovative; however with these cost saving measures why are you paying more for Goliath Company’s caskets?

There was a time when the casket peddlers led the industry with messages that their product was “the center of the world” and families would pay premium prices.  At that point in history (before Al Gore invented the Interweb) funeral home owners drank the Kool Aide by selling families Bronze, Copper, Stainless Steel, and Mahogany caskets even some adorned with gadgets.  Good idea, right?  I mean, the profits from these transactions had to be incredible. How’s that “innovation” working out for ‘ya today?  Funeral homes filled their casket rooms (later to become known as Hallmark Stores) with good, better, best, and ignoring the service side of their business.  What did the Goliath’s do?  After the contracts were signed and the rooms were filled, prices began swelling faster than a Krispy Creme doughnut in hot oil. Fast forward to 2016; when was the last time your firm sold a Bronze, Copper, or Mahogany casket at need?  In fact, exactly what material (Gauge or Wood type) is the average casket your firm sells now? Now Goliath’s are spewing “don’t raise our prices, raise your service prices” as they hand you the new X% more casket price-list for 2017.

Interesting that the casket Goliath’s even attempt to be “business consultants,” however 90% of the road warriors haven’t a clue how to interpret a funeral home P&L, much less understand the process of operations.  Perhaps I should create a “funeral home business and operations quiz” so that the next time Skippy the Casket Clown knocks at your door, you may find out just how much he knows about your business.  The results of the quiz will be devastating to Skippy.  But no fear!  Skippy will reach into his bag to reveal that he can improve your website (with a template), increase your cremation revenue (with his company’s Chinese urns and “proven presentation strategies”) along with various and sundry useless items for sale.  Innovation would be to improve the funeral home operating processes and providing solutions to elevate the positive financial posture for profitability.  Wait!  Maybe a trip, game tickets, or a nice meal will make everything better.

Let’s get down to the truth, shall we?   Caskets are made of wood or metal (unless you get the ones made in Mexico, they are wood composite).  The definition (according to my indoctrination in the cornfield) of a casket is “a container for precious materials.”  The deceased (precious loved one) is placed in a casket, their loss mourned, their life celebrated, and they are buried never to be seen again.  If your funeral home’s financial life depends on one of Goliath’s spawn, your business will be in a container for precious materials as well.

What would be innovation for caskets?  How about finding a way to manufacture a quality product for less?  The casket manufacturing Davids have already done so.  A simple price analysis and side by side comparison of local distributor, small manufacturer, or offshore caskets will reveal Goliath is out of touch and David has an arsenal of rocks in his sling.  Oh yeah, one more “innovation” that Goliath created:  “off brand” caskets that are sold through the local distributors.  Yep, the same casket you may be paying up to 50% more with a 1-cent sticker comes right off the manufacturing line as the “off brand” does.

Thanks to the itnerweb and frankly, enlightenment of funeral directors, the casket Goliaths are taking more rocks to the head from the casket Davids.  The Goliath notion of treating funeral directors like mushrooms (“keep ‘em in the dark and feed ‘em crap”)   days are coming to a close.

I am more than happy to further this line of factual thought with anyone that chooses to reach out to me.  I challenge any Goliath representative to a public debate on Funeral Nation TV to refute these points of innovation.  What the heck, its debate season so the floor is open!

From the Command Post (West), without libation or cigar for clear thinking, Cheer’s Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

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

analogy P or p

A few days ago while assisting Mrs. Commander at the grocery store, there was a shortage of “baggers” that normally place our purchases into bags at checkout. Of course being the man of action that I am (Mrs. Commander issued a command), I jumped into position and began performing the bagging myself.  As you read this post, here is where you insert “well, you have finally found something that matches your talent” comments.  I’m old enough to remember when all the groceries were placed in paper bags which meant if something leaked or if it was raining, the bags disintegrated and the contents would spill out.

As our society changed, someone invented the plastic shopping bag that eliminated the leaking/disintegrating problems.  Additionally, the plastic bag also was less expensive to manufacture and I recall something about saving trees making the plastic bags environmentally better.  During this time of transition, we were asked “paper or plastic” by the bagging staff at most grocery stores…remember?

The environmental superiority of the plastic bag took a turn for the worse as they do not fare well in trash dumps and identified as a litter hazard.  Then, in some states, the paper and plastic bags were “outlawed” or taxed.  A consumer must purchase an environmentally friendly bag for repeated use or reuse the plastic they had from “days of yore.”

If you read this blog, you know that I am one that enjoys providing analogies about the funeral industry (see Funeral Directors: Are You Practicing Basic Blocking and Tackling Skills and The Hotel and Funeral Industry: What Can We Learn?).  There was a time (not so long ago) that we all went to the funeral home and it was assumed that we would have a burial (just like we got paper bags at the grocery store).  At some point, and perhaps about the same time we started getting the question “paper or plastic,” consumers increased their ask for cremation rather than burial while at the local funeral home.  Just like the transition from paper to plastic, cremation is becoming the preferred choice over burial for consumers.  Consumers are shopping online for their funeral needs and DIY choices are becoming popular (just like bring your own bags to the grocery store to “save the environment”).  Not only are consumers not pining for the paper bags, but some are not even going to the local grocery store (ordering online and grow your own)!  See the shift?

Unfortunately as a whole, our industry is still acting like we are going to have a huge comeback to the paper bag era.  The casket companies continue to try convincing the sheep that “paper will never go out of style” offering useless contracts, taking up valuable funeral home space with “showrooms” (Hallmark stores…how well are they doing?), and of course charging more/discounting more, etc. etc.  Consumers are flocking in droves to the internet for information, yet few funeral homes post any pricing forcing the consumer to either call or “stop by” if they want information. I have asked this question many times; if you were shopping online and the website had no pricing information, what do YOU do?

Our society is continuing to change for many reasons including diffusion and views about how we treat our dead is certainly noticeable.   What is your funeral home doing to transition from “paper to plastic?”  From the desk of The Funeral Commander, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommmander

consumer debtConsumer economic news last week reports that 35% Americans in Debt Collections which continues to add pressure to funeral home revenues.  The thought that one out of every three people are past due on their mortgages, credit cards, car payments, student debt and even gym memberships certainly has relevance on the funeral industry.

I don’t make the news, I just comment and provide my perspective about how it relates to all of us.  From my point of view, this report sheds light on continuing shifts in consumer trends of how they care for their deceased loved ones.  This particular segment of consumers have loved ones die and as we all know, exacerbates an already difficult financial situation.

Think about it: you are behind on your mortgage, credit cards maxed out and now a loved one unexpectedly dies.  What happens next?  If the loved one had a pre-need trust in place or life insurance in force, then you are in luck.  However, if this is not the case, and more often than not it is, then if you are the responsibility of paying the funeral bill lies on your shoulders.  Now you are sitting in front of a funeral director that has taken your loved one into their care making arrangements…what happens next?

Let me repeat: 35% of ALL Americans are in Debt Collections.  We are serving this financially challenged families.  How is your funeral home staff addressing this issue?  It’s not going away…share your thoughts.  Cheers y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

old phoneSince returning from my shangri la also known as Aruba, I have jumped back into the business of doing business.  I’m continually amazed by the new entry of entrepreneurs into the funeral industry and the technology that is being introduced to consumers at their fingertips.  Recently I read the results of a communication survey conducted by Answering Service for Directors ( ASD Communications Survey).

The information provides us with a really good snapshot of how funeral homes are using technology to manage their operations and communicate with the families they are serving.  I found the data encouraging that many of us are, and continue to realize, that the more information we provide to the consumers, the funeral consumer families can make educated funeral decisions.

One of the results I found interesting was Website Merchandise Sales.  Of the survey respondents, 55% acknowledged that they were making some type of merchandise sales from their website.  As reported, 97% of the respondents had a website of some kind…I guess the 3% that don’t have a website are still enjoying resounding success with the stone tablets handed down over the generation.  My observation is that 45% of the funeral homes produce no revenue sales of merchandise from their website and the earnings that are earned are pitiful.

So who is getting the other 45% of the online merchandise sales of funeral products?  I also wonder if those other sites are generating the anemic revenue numbers as the funeral homes report?  With annual funeral industry sales in the $billions based on the survey funeral homes are clearly not capitalizing on website merchandise sales potential.  So, one must ask, “who is making direct sales to consumers from websites and what type of revenues are they realizing from consumers versus funeral homes?”

I applaud ASD for excellent work on the survey and providing us with results.  As always, I wanted to offer fodder for funeral professional discussions and just point out what I see is painfully obvious…what do you say?  Cheers y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

room viewNot long ago, I posted Drinking Water From A Fire Hydrant which describes how busy we become working and living life.  I have just returned from a 2 week vacation celebrating 30 years of marriage in the paradise of Aruba.  Yes, you have permission to say “well, bless her heart” regarding my beautiful wife’s sacrifice of spending over half of her life with me.  I’m the lucky one.

As we landed in Aruba, I asked my wife to think about what has transpired from our take off in 1984 from Norfolk going on our honeymoon to landing 30 years later in 2014.  How does time go by so fast…which means in 30 short years I will be 83…really?  Reflecting on all the adventures, my kids, relationships, jobs and life over the past was great…but that was then, I live for what’s ahead.

We learned several years ago that time away is important to success.  Rest, relaxing, rekindling, and reflection (sounds like a Ritz Carlton advertisement) is essential for well being.  I sat at the desk in our gorgeous room and peered out at the spectacular view (see photo) and thought about seeing the world from a different view… way different from my office.

A different view not only from the surroundings and a visual context, but from a mental state.  For me, it seems to fully relax I have to travel to another country for a period without constant distraction of media, email and phone calls to “download.”  I had the luxury of “quiet time” everyday which consisted of an after breakfast cigar sitting in a chair with my feet in the sand and water…a different view.  During this time I reflected about life…the past and the future.

I certainly liked the view from where my “thinking” occurred and being blessed to live life for 2 weeks in such a relaxed carefree manner.  But I must say, I don’t think I could do that forever.  Most of the time while on vacation at such a wonderful place, we start thinking of how we could manage to stay at that location and survive…you know, “live on vacation.”  I could certainly work at the local cigar shop at the beach bar…but I know it wouldn’t last long.  I was ready at the end of our time in paradise to return to my life.  I know that sounds nuts; but being a Dad (the ultimate sense of purpose), excitement of what’s next, working alongside great people and daily focusing on making a difference in the world is really more appealing than selling cigars on an exotic island to me.

I had an opportunity for a different view; but one that allowed me to recharge the batteries and return to get back in the saddle of the reality of life. By they way, I have a brand new saddle on a powerful young Thoroughbred that I’ll be riding…but that will be announced in the days ahead.  For now, the countdown begins for returning to Aruba in 2015…only 50 weeks left!  Cheers y’all!

 

 

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