If we asked, “Do you know your community?” most of you would say, “Yes, I know the community I serve.” You know the demographics, you know the population, you know the general make up of it. Yes, you know your community.
But your own personal experiences shape your view of the communities you serve. If we encourage you to broaden your perspective, you’ll find resources and tools to help you look at your community from outside your personal experiences—perhaps shedding a new light and a providing a new vision.
If you are reading this post, you are not satisfied with a simple answer or benchmark and are ready to move beyond business as usual. Congratulations to you! You’re eager to position your business more strategically.
Find the Data
You have data that paints an overall picture of the market: disposition data, what motivates consumers, what they’re buying, etc. Understanding statistics is a good way to forecast your business’s future. Start with the data you collect at your funeral home. Train your directors and apprentices on the specific things that should be entered into your computer software. From this, you can tell where your deaths come from, the ZIP code, the average age, the race, the average cremation sales average—all with just a few requests through the software program.
Then there are trusted sources of information for our industry to get a big picture of the forces at work.
Be sure to visit your local public library. It can be a great resource for accessing and interpreting business data.
Apply the Data
Assume that you do nothing to expand or change services to cremation families over the next five years. Find the cremation rate of your state or province and your business. Compare those rates against the rate of cremation growth and your total calls. Think about your sales averages now and consider what they will look like projected in the coming years. Ensure your casketed burial sales are not subsidizing your cremation sales. The number of deaths is increasing but so is the cremation rate, both of which are projected to increase for the next 20+ years.
Initiate this exercise with your staff at the next staff meeting: Engage them in tracking a variety of your business transactions. Keep a record of each keepsake sold, each special request fulfilled, etcetera and log them in your software to help you build a better data set and transform your numbers into solid metrics. An added benefit to this training is your staff becoming more conscious of interactions and opportunities. Discuss the trends and experiences you all have regularly to learn from each other. New package opportunities may emerge. Trends and feedback may drive marketing language. Your people, employees, colleagues and families are your best champions through their own behavior and interactions.
As the cremation rate climbs, steadily, with an anticipated plateau north of 70%, metrics and statistics become increasingly important. Cremation customers want personalized experiences and therefore your service offerings will be transformed. Your revenue mix becomes more complex and margins shrink so every family served matters. Every option every time can be overwhelming, or it can be your core.
The number of deaths are increasing and will do so for the next 20+ years. The cremation percentage, and therefore numbers, will also increase. So now,
- What does this mean for your business?
- How will you define your business in a crowded cremation marketplace?
What's Your Blind Spot?
We all have them. Those unknowable unknowns that no book, report, or presentation will answer. We assert that your blind spot is understanding who your competition is and how much market share you hold. It is nearly impossible to quantify as businesses become more specialized and competition more fierce. Keep counting obituaries and tracking your nearby funeral homes and cremation societies. But be aware of other sources of competition. For instance, the statewide online service that offers direct cremation and provides solutions to boomers making arrangements out of state.
Business Planning with Data
After reviewing your data, you may find you need to grow. Look at the numbers again and determine how much you need to grow to remain profitable in your developing market. Then calculate whether that amount of growth is possible—and we’ll go ahead and tell you that yes, it is entirely doable! Let’s look at three main strategies for growth: acquisition, organic growth within your current market, and redefining your market.
“But we’ve been trying to grow for several years and so far it hasn’t worked!” you say? That means you’ve got to do something new. This blog post will ask you to do something a little different, to think a little bit outside of your norm, and help you understand why there is value in that. Let’s look at what this means financially. Look at your data and look at your goal in terms of sales revenue. Let’s say that 20% growth is 20 additional calls and $140,000 of additional revenue. Long-term, that’s $100,000 in profit and an additional $500,000 in business value. Imagine if you increased those figures. So, we ask you, “Is it worth it to look at things differently and to really understand the community?”
Strategy #1 • Acquisition
Whenever you look at growth the first strategy to explore is acquisition. It’s a good strategy. But depending on the amount of growth you want to see, it may not be feasible. What capital is needed to buy a new business and how long will it take to recoup? If your goal for growth is only an additional 20 calls, buying a new business is would be over the top. If you do have your sights set higher, we refer you to the expert consultants who work to evaluate businesses for sale and growth. This piece is about statistics, so we’ll move on.
Strategy #2 • Organic Growth
Achievement through organic growth, means getting more from the resources that you currently have. The easiest way is to start by asking consumers how they chose you, typically in your aftercare survey. For many of families, the choice is based on personal experience. They already know the funeral director or firm. This means you want to get your funeral directors active in the community to build that awareness so that when the worst happens, people will look to you for support. Some consumers are motivated simply by location and convenience. You can’t relocate, but you can look at ways to make your location more convenient. What can you do to bring people back into your funeral home on a more regular basis so it’s part of their lifestyle?
In both cases, you want to take a look at your Aftercare and Outreach programs. Open your doors to the community to reach new sectors. Interact with them so they get to know your staff and build those relationships. Find ways to bring people into your funeral home at times that are not the emotional stress of a funeral, but throughout the year on an ongoing basis. Get people involved through social media and raise awareness of the funeral branch.
Your aftercare survey tells you about families you’ve already served and how to find more people like them—but for organic growth, you’ll need to look at the demographic data to understand your broader community.
A good place to start is evaluating your self-imposed service area. How did those boundaries get drawn? Your consumer doesn’t know that you’re constrained to a particular geographic area, so maybe you can push those borders a little further. Will your community drive a little farther for your services if you demonstrate the value they provide? Then take a look at pre-need. If you already have a program in place, look at the ages of your population. If 20% or more of the total population is 55 or older, you have what’s considered a “target-rich community” for pre-need. What can you do with your business and with your existing resources to capture additional calls through pre-need? Again, there is opportunity here.
Demographic Data Sources
There are so many data sources for demographic information that can serve as a great starting point.
Be sure to visit your local public library where they’ll have local and county reports on demographic data. It can be a great resource for accessing and interpreting demographic and business data.
Strategy #3 • Redefining Your Market
The third strategy is hardest to sell because it’s time- and effort-intensive. If you can do more with what you have, are you willing to go beyond what is traditionally considered your market and proactively look at the total market? Can you market your business as a funeral home for everyone in the community? Is there value in changing your marketing program? Look at the numbers and interpret what they’re really telling you.
Examine the growth of the minority sections of the community. The funeral home of the future will need to respond to all of the growing and developing cultures in the community. Even if you stay in your primary market area today, your market is changing. You need to start establishing new relationships in the community, changing your reputation so that you are the best funeral home for the entire community.
No matter where you are on the spectrum of cultural diversity, the more you reach out to understand and interact with the community, the more you can identify opportunities for growth. And this might not mean other ethnicities or religions. As CANA’s own demographic research pointed out, cultural shifts are occurring at every level and your old standby methods will not continue to serve us for long.
Putting a Plan into Action
It’s very easy for us to tell you how to do this. It’s easy to list these options and describe how they work in theory. But we know it’s not always so easy to implement these changes.
We also know that there are many resources out there. Go back to the start of this post and you’ll see recommendations for finding statistics reports and evaluating your situation. Look at your community. Evaluate your choices and envision the changes you might make. It may be scary to do this, but it’s even scarier not to.
Excerpted from The Cremationist, Vol 51, Issue 2: “Know Your Community: Build Your Business” as transcribed from CANA Board Members Archer Harmon and Erin Whitaker’s presentation at CANA’s 2015 Cremation Symposium titled “Meeting the Cremation Needs of a Growing and Diverse Population in North America.” Some of this post was originally written for “The Answer is in Your Numbers” by Barbara Kemmis and Bob Boetticher, Jr. and published in The Funeral Director’s Guide to Statistics, 2016 Ed. by Kates-Boylston.
Special thanks to Erin Whitaker for her Data Collection Tips, available as a free pdf.
Members can read the full article with specific examples of connecting with and meeting the needs of rising diverse populations in the community in Vol. 51, Issue 2 of The Cremationist. Not a member? Consider joining your business to access this and all archives of The Cremationist plus resources and statistics to help you find solutions for all aspects of your business -- only $470.