Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, March 4, 2020
Updated: Friday, July 31, 2020
At the end of February, CANA hosted our annual Cremation Symposium in Las Vegas. That’s right, we encouraged people to travel to meet up with more than one hundred people and network in a popular tourist destination — it was a different time. Unsurprisingly,
the topic of discussion on the floor was the coronavirus pandemic, or the spread of COVID-19.
Fortunately, the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) has released guidelines with information on handling infected, or potentially infected, cases at your funeral home, crematory, prep room, etc. These preventative measures align with current best practices
in the prep room or crematory (i.e. wear universal PPE, limit exposure to the disease, and clean all surfaces carefully) that protect you from everything from the common cold to tuberculosis.
Current estimates suggest that
more than 220,000 people will die from COVID-19 in the US by November. But your cases are not the only potential source of infection in your businesses. Of those that contract COVID-19, 80% are estimated to be mild which means they are
more likely to transmit the disease. Experts are warning that rest of 2020 will be difficult depending on our response, and likely to continue until there is a readily available and adopted vaccine.
With state and local governments setting the current restrictions and guidance, current and accurate information is important to track. Consider designating one staff member in your office as point person to monitor reports and updates from the CDC and
your local jurisdictions, at least daily, to make sure your business is operating with the best information. As this post is updated,
newest content will appear in gold to highlight latest information.
So what do you need to know to prepare your business when an outbreak hits?
Make a Business Plan
Since "workers performing mortuary services, including funeral homes, crematoriums, and cemetery workers" have been officially listed as Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers,
it is even more important to make sure your business is prepared for this challenge. Inform, educate, and train your staff of the CDC recommendations.
Now that this post is getting so long, we've added a Table of Contents linking to information below:
- Caring for the Deceased
- Operating the Crematory
- Business Support
- Serving the Living
- Managing Staff
- Directing the Funeral
As a reminder, if there are federal and local orders/laws in conflict, follow the most restrictive to ensure that you comply with both, and ask for additional guidance and support as needed. Some resources to consider are: your state governor,
local mayor, local health agency, as well as the Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Teams (D-MORT),
Emergency Management Agencies (EMA) or Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) plus the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) and the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO). Be sure to check with health and government authorities any time you have questions to ensure safety and compliance
for you, your staff, and your business. If you are designated an essential worker in an area under an enforced lockdown, consider carrying staff identification, state professional license, or some other information that demonstrates your status for
ease of movement.
Caring for the Deceased
For any staff who handle the dead, the National Association of Funeral Directors (NFDA) and the Funeral Service Association of Canada (FSAC/ASFC) have useful resources for embalming, prep room, and removal staff in accordance with CDC guidelines (including specific guidelines for funeral homes)
which clearly state recommendations for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), transporting the deceased, and cleaning surfaces. Many authorities believe that cases and deaths are under-reported,
so anyone coming in contact with the deceased should operate assuming that the case is positive.
In the case of embalming, funeral homes are encouraged to follow families wishes assuming that the firm and embalmer have access to PPE and the time to embalm safely. Remember, as important as it is to wear PPE when handling the deceased, it is also important
to follow the recommended sequence for putting on and removing the equipment.
Cremation is a sure way to destroy any contagion on a deceased body, which is why it's preferred for Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease and Ebola,
but the WHO has stated that "people who have died from COVID-19 can be buried or cremated. Confirm national and local requirements that may
dictate the handling and disposition of the remains." The CDC has not released definitive information on how long the coronavirus lives in a deceased body, but they do say that "there is currently no known risk associated with being in the same room at a funeral or visitation service with the body of someone who died of COVID-19."
As always, families should do what's right for them, which can include caring for the deceased themselves.
They can have funerals and burials as long as they follow their state and local mandates regarding the number of people and social distancing guidelines.
Operating the Crematory
Most guidelines that have been released do not specifically mention the crematory or operator. The following assumes that the crematory operator does not come into direct contact with the deceased, rather handles the container. If the operator in your
business handles the deceased, see above.
CANA recommends the following:
- accept only cases in leak-proof, sturdy cremation containers per CANA Crematory Operations best practices
- the use of Standard Precautions should ensure safest possible work conditions. This includes PPE, as mentioned above, which is in short supply so follow
optimize your use per CDC guidelines.
- clean all shared tools, equipment, and surfaces frequently - e.g. the cremation container, door or loader, refrigerator, door handles and light switches
- maintain social distancing between co-workers and other people who may enter the crematory
- Limit witnessed cremations to ten or fewer people total, including the funeral director and operator or other staff present.
Generally, viruses are killed above 200 degrees Fahrenheit, so the cremation process kills the coronavirus. There is no concern about virus exiting the building
via emissions through the stack or remaining in cremated remains, however the operator should wear PPE to ensure transmission from operator to urn does not occur.
When releasing cremated remains to the family, limit the size of groups to ten or fewer, but also consider bringing the urn and paperwork to the client waiting in the car. Try to minimize physical paperwork with electronic documents and signatures, or
providing gloves, to cut back on touching paper. Similarly, keeping clearly marked sanitized and used pens to take and return for cleaning will cut back on multiple use.
In this pandemic situation, some crematories are concerned about regulations which limit the cremations a business can perform. CANA is supporting state associations who are working with these regulators to address these permits in the hardest hit areas.
With the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), passed March 18 and effective April 1 through December 31, 2020, businesses have new requirements for managing staff. All
employers with 500 or fewer employees must provide paid Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave and paid sick leave – this is new for those who manage companies with fewer than 50 employees who were previously exempt from such requirements. The Department
of Labor, Wage and Hour Division has required posters and useful information to communicate with your staff.
As an employer who was previously exempt, this could be overwhelming, so it’s important to open lines of communication with your staff and establish a clear chain of command to address rapidly developing information. Don’t assume that all staff will immediately
take advantage of these benefits and leave the business in a time of crises. Provide guidance and support in addition to addressing their concerns about
what to do if they or a family member get sick. Don’t be afraid of questions or to admit that you don’t know. Importantly, communicate often to make sure staff are okay and keep lines of communication open.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, passed March 27 and retroactively effective to February 15, 2020, offers financial assistance to small businesses and large corporations alike. The US Senate Committee on Small Business &
Entrepreneurship has provided the Small Business Owner’s Guide to the CARES Act resource. If your business is having financial difficulty, you can apply for relief through the Payment Protection Program (PPP) with the US Small Business Administration (SBA) and your current bank. Alternately, you can seek support from the Employee Retention Credit (ERC), however a business cannot receive both the PPP and the ERC.
To better understand how both resources effect your business, CANA recommends contacting services who manage and administer your payroll, business insurance, health insurance, preneed providers, and bank. These are groups carefully monitoring how these
regulations and opportunities impact your work in your area, and know your business best.
For those in need of extra staff support, state associations in hard-hit areas and the NFDA have organized volunteer
programs to help. Reach out to these associations with your need or availability.
Serving the Living
But don’t forget that the living are actually your primary audience, and the ones your staff come into contact with every day. The CDC has special recommendations for the workplace in “Guidance for Businesses and Workplaces to Plan, Prepare, and Respond.”
Many of the roles at a funeral home, like funeral directors, embalmers, crematory operators, don’t do the kind of jobs that let you work from home. We cannot access the prep room from our living room, or arrange with families from our beds. So encouraging
proactive measures to keep employees well, then being flexible when people are ill, is key to keeping your staff and the community safe in any outbreak.
By now, everyone knows the top four guidelines on personal safety:
- Wash your hands often, for at least 20 seconds.
Are you sick of singing the A, B, C’s while washing your hands? The good news is some other popular songs have 20-second choruses,
including Landslide by Fleetwood Mac, Raspberry Beret by Prince, Jolene by Dolly Parton, Fever by Peggy Lee, Africa by Toto, Mr. Brightside by The Killers, and Truth Hurts by Lizzo. Mix it up and keep scrubbing.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, mouth, and ears.
- Cough and sneeze into a disposable tissue and discard it.
- Maintain at least six-feet (2-metres) around others, particularly sick persons.
When making arrangements or directing a funeral, these measures are important. The CDC now recommends, and many states mandate, "covering your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others."
Of course, the most vulnerable populations are typically older generations and those with pre-existing conditions (including smokers). If a staff member is concerned
that they have been exposed, the CDC has issued guidelines for Safety Practices for Critical Workers which include frequent temperature
readings, mask wearing, and frequent disinfecting of work spaces. The CDC and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have released joint guidance on
appropriate disinfectants and cleaners. Shared work spaces include break rooms,
vehicles, and any shared equipment. The CDC has developed a toolkit with language and posters you can use to
communicate with your staff.
And don't forget your four-legged co-workers. Some animals have tested positive for the coronavirus, though it's unclear whether the virus can spread
from pets to humans. To protect your pets, service animals, and your community, the CDC recommends limiting their interactions as well.
In the event that someone does get sick, encourage them to stay home.
This is a difficult argument to make with the existing workforce shortage on top of a potentially growing caseload, because these jobs rely on you being in person to serve your families. But with the COVID-19 pandemics, you cannot serve your community
while being sick yourself. Sick employees need to stay home to recuperate and be well, but also to prevent the spread of disease in the community. As the disease continues to spread, you may encounter employee shortages from illness, school closures,
and caring for loved ones. Your business must have a plan for what you will do if you have too few staff.
Death Care Services are deemed as a low risk sector, and typically exempt from reporting to OSHA, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), or state agency incidents of illness, however CANA Member Regulatory Support Services recommends making a record of all work-related illnesses and injuries and placing that record in the affected employee’s file. For confirmed cases of COVID-19 or an employee that shows symptoms of COVID-19, this would include the employer’s directive
to an ill employee that he or she does not return to work until cleared to do so by health care professional.
The challenge with COVID-19, or any infectious disease for that matter, is knowing with absolute certainty that an illness is a result of exposure in the workplace. Especially with the high communicability of the coronavirus, sources of exposure outside
the workplace must be considered when assessing whether to report any fatality or hospitalization of an employee as a result of contracting COVID-19. However, some states are presuming that any essential worker who contracts the disease to have become
infected at work thus making them eligible for worker compensation. Check your state's department of labor for any specific requirements.
Directing the Funeral
And don’t forget that you also host community events and services with their own considerations. The CDC has special, updated guidelines for “Mass Gatherings or Large Community Events”
to help you plan and host safe services. Primarily, they recommend having posters and signs in addition to supplies on hand to keep everyone healthy, namely hand sanitizer, soap, tissues, and face coverings. Keep surfaces like door handles and light switches clean,
and remember to talk to your community volunteers about being safe, too. The CDC even has a toolkit with posters and language you can use to
communicate safe practices to your attendees.
With increasing emphasis on mitigating the spread of COVID-19, in areas with active outbreaks, the CDC recommends community-based interventions including "event cancellations, social distancing, and creating employee plans to work remotely,"
careful planning and communications with your families is important. Social distancing, in particular, runs counter to the spirit of the funeral by discouraging gatherings of more than 10 people, encouraging vulnerable populations to stay away, and
avoiding direct contact with others. Fortunately, you are professionals trained in talking to families with compassion and understanding. For ideas on making your communications meaningful, watch a
free, on-demand webinar from Lacy Robinson with "Practical Ways to Serve Families During COVID-19."
Now that federal guidelines from the White House have sunset, state governors' and state and local health authorities are determining how businesses and communities can operate — you can find this list of resources above. In some areas,
any visitation or service has been prohibited. White House guidelines to reopen businesses and services is recommended in multiple phases to keep employees healthy, prevent spread, and moderate
hospital cases and is helping states set their own reopening procedures. These recommendations will require your business to develop plans and policies to accommodate your families' preference for service while maintaining the health of your community.
Guidance from the CDC for consumers is written to help you educate your families on ways to hold services safely and the importance of taking social distance
guidelines safely. Ceremony expert Glenda Stansbury provided a free resource to help you and your families find creative solutions, such as livestreamed
services, to protect your business and the communities you serve. Grief expert Dr. Alan Wolfelt shared his suggestions on holding some form of ceremony at the Center for
Develop a plan with recommendations from the CDC including how to communicate with relevant parties. Mostly, be in touch with state and community partners to help respond to changing needs of your community. Working together facilitates communications,
response planning, and organizing when the need arises. The Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) has a list of who to contact at the state-level and the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) is a good resource for local-level needs. These are great new additions to your connections with first responders, hospices, and other community leaders.
Keep Supplies Stocked
PPE and other safety materials have been difficult to source, so it’s a good idea to take stock of the goods you use frequently and make sure you have supplies.
For those that are concerned about PPE supplies, the CDC has recommendations for Optimizing the Supply of PPE and and OSHA has issued interim guidance which brings their enforcement more in line with CDC recommendations.
The CDC has also provided a PPE Burn Rate Calculator to help facilities to plan and optimize the use of PPE. Also, reach out to suppliers, even those outside
of mortuary supply, if your need is severe. As a final resort, reach out to your local health authority, coroner, or medical examiner to explain your need and ask for recommendations. One CANA Member suggested ordering smaller quantities to prevent
large orders being flagged and redirected.
CANA Member Bass-Mollett shared their hard work finding the answer on how to request N95 masks as it was explained to John Flowers, CEO of Bass-Mollett:
- All N95s in existing stock and those being manufactured now are sent to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
FEMA allocates supplies to each state’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) based on need
Each EOC manages requests from entities within its respective state — including death care professionals
To place a request for N95s, you’ll need to contact your state’s EOC.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has issued recommended Guidance for Extended Use and Limited Reuse of N95 Filtering Facepiece Respirators which suggests that equipment be alternated and discarded when damaged or dirtied. Some recommendations suggest to avoid wearing cosmetics, which could dirty the mask and reduce its effectiveness faster.
Keep Calm and Wash Your Hands
Situations like this, in times of increased caseloads and illness, require flexibility, patience and planning which is why you need to have these discussions and plans now. Like the radiation case study in 2019,
we want to help you plan, be safe, and prevent panic and misinformation. As information continues to change rapidly, the best resource for the most current information on your business operations is your local government and health authority.
Predictions say that "prolonged or intermittent social distancing may be necessary into 2022." Preparing now for the virus's resurgence in the Fall and Winter means
you can protect yourself and your business with proactive plans and preventative measures.
Situations like this also require extra care for yourself and your colleagues. "Stress prevention and management is critical for responders to stay well and to continue to help in the situation." Use the support resources from the CDC available by both call and text, and work together to stay healthy. Jason Troyer, PhD., specializes in helping death care professionals serve their families better. He wrote a post for us about
taking care of yourself in these ever-changing times. Additional resources unique to death care are available in his Finding Resilience program.
Thank you for the work you do.
For the next few months, CANA Members are invited to join us for monthly Open Forums to discuss how they're handling their response to COVID-19 and supporting their community. Check your inbox for instructions to join, or contact Membership
Manager Brie Bingham for more information.
US Center for Disease Control (CDC)
US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
Barbara Kemmis is Executive Director of the Cremation Association of North America.
processes and procedures
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, February 19, 2020
Updated: Friday, February 14, 2020
More than 200 years ago, Benjamin Franklin said, "It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it."
A version of that is still true in today's digital marketing world. It can take many online mentions and a buildup of goodwill to develop a strong reputation. And while a single slip — or even a single negative review — won't bring the metaphorical walls of your deathcare firm down around you, online reputations can be fragile things.
One way cremation providers and other deathcare businesses can safeguard their online reputations is via proactive review management. That means actively encouraging clientele to leave reviews online while also interacting with those reviews in positive ways.
Why Are Online Reviews So Important?
It's no longer an option for any business to ignore the presence of online reviews. Local service providers in any industry are especially beholden to reviews. That's because almost all people (97 percent) read reviews as part of their research when choosing a local company.
Here are some other stats that drive home the message that reviews are must-haves for successful online marketing:
- According to BrightLocal, consumers consider review ratings when choosing a link from local search results.
- Review signals help you rank in Google local pack results, increasing your exposure in search results (aka SERPs).
- More than 90 percent of consumers say online reviews impact their purchasing decisions.
The Role of Online Reviews in Reputation Management
Simply getting seen online isn't always enough. Plenty of celebrities have had their careers derailed by scandals that pushed them into the limelight more than any of their positive achievements did.
You obviously don't want to be the deathcare firm that goes viral because your online reviews are terrible to the point of hilarity. But you also don't want to get fewer calls because a few online reviews make you appear less caring than your competitors.
The first scenario is unlikely; the second is very likely if you're not proactively managing online reviews. Here's why:
- More than 85 percent of consumers say negative reviews impact their buying decisions.
- Reviews are critically important as your target audience moves from Boomer and Gen X to younger generations; people age 18 to 34 trust online reviews as if they were personal recommendations from friends.
- Close to 90 percent of consumers look for and read a business's responses to reviews.
- Consumers want to engage with firms that have a 3.3-star rating or higher.
Improving the Quality and Quantity of Your Online Reviews
The takeaway here is that the overall quality of your reviews matters. And because it's unethical (and also banned by Google) to put measures in place to stop people from leaving negative reviews, cremation service providers and other deathcare firms must take additional actions to protect their online reputations.
The first step is to provide stellar service to all families. I'm sure you're already doing that, so I'll cover the other two steps for proactively managing your online reputation via reviews:
1. Try to get more reviews.
It's a numbers game based on the law of averages. If you need a 3.3-star rating or higher to help ensure people feel comfortable contacting your crematory, a handful of reviews can be dangerous. But if you have a large number of 3-star to 5-star reviews, you can weather several 1-star reviews without your average rating suffering.
A regular stream of reviews also demonstrates that your firm is active and serving plenty of clientele. Around 40 percent of consumers only pay attention to reviews from the last few weeks for exactly this reason.
Other reasons to chase more reviews include:
Most consumers want to read at least 10 reviews before making a final decision about a business
- Having more reviews will help your SEO
- Someone is almost 300 percent more likely to purchase services from you if you have just five reviews, as opposed to no reviews
How do you get these reviews? Simple: You ask for them. BrightLocal notes that close to 70 percent of people will leave reviews if they are asked nicely to do so. And you don't have to ask everyone; hedge your bets by requesting reviews from families that seem satisfied with your services.
2. Interact with your reviews
Leaving the review machine to its own devices isn't an option even after you've achieved a significant number of reviews. People expect to see businesses responding to reviews. Engaging with negative reviews in an effort to correct an issue actually helps increase your brand reputation in many eyes.
Plus, not all reviews are fair or true, and you can take action to report fake reviews or address untrue statements so other consumers are aware of your side of the story.
The conclusion is this: Crematories and other deathcare firms can't be passive about online reviews. They've become a critical part of online reputation, and how consumers view you through the lens of their internet search often determines whether or not they reach out to you for preplanning or at times of need.
Welton Hong, is the founder of Ring Ring Marketing® and a leading expert in creating case generation from online to the phone line. He is the author of Making Your Phone Ring for Funeral Homes, 2019 Edition.
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, February 5, 2020
Updated: Monday, February 3, 2020
In 2020, maintaining and keeping good quality talent on your team isn’t just a want, it’s an absolute need. It’s what’s going to determine your success and the foundation of your business moving into this next decade.
This next generation needs a purpose, something that fires them up and gets them out of bed in the morning. Yes, millennials want to make a living, but they want to make a meaningful living. According to Forbes, millennials ranked meaningful work as one of the top needs they have from their workplace.
The Harsh Reality
“People don’t leave bad companies, they leave bad managers.”
If leaders and those in positions of power can take this quote by Marcus Buckingham to heart, I believe we would see so much more retention amongst our profession.
Here are some harsh realities:
These are some powerful statistics that mean if we aren’t encouraging a culture of growth, this next generation has no problem going to find it elsewhere.
How connected do you think your employees are to your company? If we are being honest with ourselves, there are plenty of areas we can improve in this category.
According to a study done by Gallup in 2017, 230,000 employees were surveyed in 142 countries on their current engagement. Employees fall into one of three categories:
- Not Engaged
- Actively Disengaged
Only 13% of employees they surveyed were truly passionate and motivated by the work they did every day. An astounding 63% were not engaged, and 24% were actively disengaged.
The impact of a disengaged employee can negatively impact your business in the following ways:
- They’ll be cutting corners, which results in poor decision making
- There will be no drive and no focus, which results in less creativity
- They simply don’t care, which results in negative customer reviews
- Less productivity requires more staff, which results in over-hiring with a lower ROI.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much we can do about the actively disengaged. They just need a path out. However, the statistics show that around 63% have the potential to be engaged if we put the effort in to putting meaning behind what they are doing.
What category would you put most of your employees in? Do they fall into the popular category not engaged? Maybe it’s time to rethink how you’re motivating your employees. Do you share a common purpose that they can buy into with passion? How often do you give praise? Could it be time to put more incentive compensation plans in place? Purpose and incentive are the keys to motivating engagement.
Once we have worked to get our employees into the “engaged” category, the positive benefits have an astounding impact. Statistics show that 50% will post messages on social media and 24% are more likely to help boost sales than disengaged employees. Find ways to bring meaning back so that your employees live in the engaged category, and your firm is guaranteed to reap the benefits.
Create Your Plan
Hire the Right People
Obviously, all this talk about having engaged employees is only possible if we hire the right people from the get-go that are naturally motivated. Service attitude is a big thing we look for at JCG. Recognize if they have the natural ability to go above and beyond to exceed a customer’s expectations. Are they good listeners, do they care, are they genuinely interested in other people and have a desire to always be learning? You can teach service aptitude (the ability recognize service opportunities), but you can’t teach attitude (the desire to serve).
Onboarding and Training
Develop a welcome program that makes them remember their first day. Decorate their desk with a welcome sign, write an internal spotlight, or take them to lunch with your team. Remember, their first day of work is one way to set the tone for their engagement. Spend a lot of effort on helping them to understand WHY you do what you do and how they bring value to that purpose. The first few weeks are critical to employee engagement. The more they buy in early, the more likely they are to want to stick around.
Initial training an on-going training is essential to employee engagement. You must teach them skills to be successful. Have a minimum standard for customer service expectations in writing and don’t train just once. Reinforce the expectations as often as weekly. This includes modeling, observing, and measuring behavior.
Retention and Relationships
Employees are more engaged when they are recognized, so communicate! Provide for feedback, and even ask for feedback yourself. Peer recognition is another way to keep employees engaged. Set up a quarterly award that gets everyone involved to recognize their peers. Feedback is the key, as this next generation craves it.
So where should we start? A good place to assess where your engagement is at is to survey your staff about their happiness at work. Ask about if they feel valued, and if they appreciate the kind of feedback they get.
It might be a rude awakening, but we all have to start somewhere. Getting the data is the only way you can grow from today into reaping the benefits of having engaged employees long into the future.
Want to learn more about increase employee engagement and improve customer service? Join Lori Salberg and more cremation rockstars in Las Vegas for CANA’s 2020 Cremation Symposium, February 26-28. Lori will present on “Developing a Collaborative Growth Culture” to re-invigorate organizations by fully engaging employees, improving performance of the business overall.
See what else we have planned and register for CANA's 2020 Cremation Symposium: goCANA.org/CGT
Lori Salberg, Director of J3Tech Solutions a Division of Johnson Consulting Group, joined Johnson Consulting Group in 2017, bringing experience in cemetery, funeral home, and pre-need sales management. Along with sales and operations management, Lori directed the development of two propriety cemetery and funeral home enterprise software systems.
Lori began her career in 2001 as a Family Service Counselor for the Catholic Cemeteries in San Jose. She quickly moved into management and rose to Associate Director of three cemetery locations. In 2010, Lori furthered her career as General Manager of Holy Sepulchre Cemetery and Holy Angels Funeral and Cremation Center in Hayward, CA, where she also joined the Catholic Management Services leadership team. As Director of Administration and IT, Lori brought management expertise and software solutions to cemetery and funeral home clients. In 2015, Lori joined PlotBox as VP of Sales. Lori contributed to the development of a SaaS cemetery software program, and was principally responsible for introducing it to the US market.
She is a frequent speaker at many state and regional industry events and an article contributor to many industry magazines. She is also a member of the ICCFA Sales and Marketing Committee, which plans and oversees the Annual World Wide Sales Conference each January. Lori balances her passion for helping clients prepare for the future with raising her three children, Catalina, JJ, and Lyla. She spends a lot of weekends at dance competitions and little league baseball tournaments.
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, January 22, 2020
Updated: Thursday, January 2, 2020
“How long will my burial business last?”
As I was writing this article, our eight-year-old grandson shed some light on the responses from – well an eight-year-old point of view. My wife, a former teacher, was helping him with his homework – a fair amount of math work and then onto the dreaded reading. Our grandson, who was about at his concentration limit for the moment, started playing a video game.
When his grandmother mentioned reading a bit, his reply was surprising and unexpected. His delivery was neither harsh nor snippy. He merely said, “Maybe after this game or when I am dead.” In other words, my wife asked the question he did not want to hear and we got the answer that grandparents don’t want in return. Still, we found it quite funny, exactly framing his “not now” attitude. Discussions on changing consumer attitudes and funeral home finances today often elicit a similar response – not now.
If not now, when?
Earlier this year, a funeral home owner asked me, “How long will my burial business last?” On the surface some might scoff at such a question – too simplistic, too old school. I beg to differ. Looking at this question offers us an insight into the core revenue of a funeral home. The issue also allows me to re-address a topic I first covered several years ago.
Ten years ago, a funeral home owner asking a question on “how long a burial business will last” would have delighted me! To hear it today is a bit disheartening yet shows that owners are finally thinking about the impact of cremation. After all the forewarnings from myself and others, funeral home owners finally now feel the revenue effects. Neither I nor others take delight in the ‘sudden realization’, but we fully understand the dilemma that you face.
What to do?
If you are a funeral home owner close to retirement, maybe the answer is to find a willing buyer. In our valuation work, we find that top-performing firms obtain the highest values. Top performers attract skilled staff and maintain their facilities meticulously. If your firm is not a top performer, you may want to change your management style.
Many funeral home owners are not ready to retire. Funeral service may still be calling - kudos to you. What is the best course of action for those closely held to funeral service? There are a number of points to consider.
To be clear, I am not referring to remodeling the facilities (although that could be an issue too). In this case remodeling refers to remodeling the core business - a new business model, a business model based on the financial realities of a different revenue stream, probably with less revenue per call than in the past.
Much has been written about the current high employment rate and the difficulty in finding employees. Funeral service has its own challenges, which I hear about weekly – “There are no quality, qualified licensed funeral directors to be found.” Outside analysts agree that we are experiencing a shortage of trained personnel in funeral service and will for a number of years.
Outside of raiding other funeral homes, attracting top-notch people to funeral service is one solution. Regulations need to change by accommodating quality personnel who may not want an embalmer’s license.
A recent rush in acquisitions foretells the shift in funeral home ownership. Sixty-year-old-plus owners now face their own exit. Some are well prepared, but some are not. The consolidation of competitors began a few years ago and will continue for several years. This consolidation of owners, and perhaps rooftops, bodes well for the younger generation of owners. My 2015 estimate of 25% too many funeral homes in the U.S. needs to be updated, but I suspect that number has grown. Taking calls from declining firms or making prudent acquisitions ensures their success. However, successful owners must capture consumer needs today.
Easier said than done, understanding consumers takes on critical importance. Without relying on casket and vault sales as the main revenue-driver, new-age owners will allow consumers to express their grief in new ways – ways driven more by consumers right now, than orchestrated solely by what was done in the past.
Owners refusing to embrace the new consumer-driven business model can count their days by how many caskets they sell. If you did not watch the August 14, 2019 HBO special, Alternate Endings, find a way to view the show. The story of six endings contained several emotional departures from funeral service, but the biggest takeaway? While there may have been licensed funeral directors in the back stories, no funeral director took a vital role in these non-”traditional” funerals.
The 2019 NFDA Consumer Survey found that 53% of those surveyed indicated that they could do their own funeral or memorial service, without a funeral director. Thankfully many client-families still want or need a funeral director but the HBO special and the NFDA survey point to what could be a rising number of people who don’t see a need to use you. How can we attract more interest in ceremonies recognizing a life lived?
Imagination Gone Wild
For nearly a century, funeral service hid behind the casket and vault sale. The loss of casket and outer burial container sales clearly reduces revenue. We must focus more on the personal side, making solid connections with consumers – no more just glad-handing family members as they come in the door – because, they may not come in the door. We must give them a reason that “remembering a loved one” is important.
The move from merchandise-oriented to a service-oriented funeral business began many years ago in higher cremation areas. Now, the cremation upturn is hitting even the rural and largely unaffected areas.
In a recent AARP magazine interview, musician Carlos Santana commented, “You stay relevant by trusting you have something people need.” Funeral business needs to specialize in service now or risk irrelevance.
As the HBO special revealed, some consumers want a personal hand in a memorial (or living funeral). We have to help them truly capture the essence of their loved one. Making each funeral/memorial service special is the future of funeral service in my opinion.
Success in the 2020s
Themed good-byes represent one logical solution. Yes, they may take a lot more work than the old burial model, but they usually contain the “wow” factor for many consumers. Celebrants or celebrant-like ceremonies seem to make more connections as well. Look for off-menu choices that resonate with client-families. Let your imagination run wild and something magical may just happen. Success in the 2020s will be measured by story-telling, creating a compelling story about a loved one, a story even an eight-year-old can appreciate. Master-storytellers will excel.
Our eight-year-old grandson was finally persuaded to read that book he discarded. He actually found it thought-provoking. It was a small history book from nearly 100 years ago. Things have changed dramatically since then — many advancements but many old beliefs dispelled.
Losing 1.65 burial calls per 100 cases annually to cremation or $66,000+ over the next 10 years is not welcome news. Our 500-call funeral home owner exhibited the courage to ask the tough question. I hope he is ready for the answers. Are you?
This post is excerpted from the full article “How Long Will My Burial Business Last?” originally published In Volume 16, Issue 3 of Directions by Nixon Consulting, Inc. This newsletter content and information is sent to clients and associates of Nixon Consulting, Inc. Published quarterly. Subscription is by Invitation only from NCi. Reproduced with permission of the author.
David Nixon began working with funeral home owners in 1979. David is a Certified Management Consultant™ (CMC®), accredited by the Institute of Management Consultants, USA. David is noted for his ‘Listening to Cremation’ annual cremation study, which was first published in 1995. In addition to his work on funeral home financial analysis, he also concentrates on strategic planning, FTC Funeral Rule Compliance, funeral home budgeting and pricing, as well as funeral business valuations. David also focuses on exit planning and the transition of funeral home owners with all the complexities involved in selling or buying a funeral home.
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, January 8, 2020
Updated: Thursday, January 2, 2020
After the celebrations are over, the beginning of each new year reminds us to refresh and improve our habits. It is not too late to resolve to accomplish the following items this year and establish a new routine for years to come.
- Update and review current governing laws and regulations.
Regardless of your role in the industry, it is important to understand the current laws and regulations that govern your work. Put aside the necessary time to review the federal, state, and local laws and regulations which affect your day to day operations. Right to control final disposition and cremation authorization issues dominate legal complaints against people and businesses in this industry. If you have difficulty finding the statutes and regulations, try searching the web sites for your state association or licensing board – they often have links available.
CANA Members: If you need further assistance, use your legal consultation benefit and give me a call.
- Educate and train staff on any new laws or regulations affecting your business.
Keeping yourself updated on new laws or regulations is just a first step. The next is to educate and train your staff and co-workers on what you have learned. Hold a “lunch and learn” with your team and give everyone the tools to succeed.
- Update your forms to bring them into compliance with any law changes.
Out of date, non-compliant forms are an easy target for regulators and plaintiffs’ attorneys alike. Confirm that your form documents include all the required notices, consents, and disclosures. Consult with an attorney if you have any questions regarding current legal requirements.
- Educate and train staff on the changes in your forms.
Compliant forms are important, but the persons who use them every day must understand how to utilize them to the fullest. Avoid the problems caused by improperly filled out forms. If done and utilized correctly, forms often provide the best documentation in defense of legal complaints.
- Review and update your operational policies and procedures.
OSHA compliance is critical to a successful operation. So, too, are human resource policies, and so much more. If you need assistance in your review, CANA has partnered with Cremation Strategies & Consulting to offer a program which will help you compile operational policies and procedures customized for your business. Learn more here.
- Review and update your employee handbook (including social media policy).
Employment issues are a prevalent headache across all industries and business models. Address common concerns in your employee handbook, so that everyone is on notice of the standards to which they will be held accountable. Implement clear, unambiguous policies on work hours, time off, sick leave, vacation time, and dress codes. Have appropriate sexual harassment policies in place. Communicate your expectations regarding social media use and restrictions on employee posts on business matters. Make sure employees are aware that social media is not for airing of workplace grievances or complaints.
CANA Members: Read up on what my office suggests for these policies as part of the Crematory Management Program.
- Educate and train staff on your policies and procedures.
Periodic training and review of operational and employment policies and procedures are critical. There cannot be compliance without your employees first understanding your expectations and standards to which they will be held accountable.
CANA Members: You can keep your standard operating procedures current and your staff informed with the Crematory Management Program and support from Cremation Strategies & Consulting.
- Meet with your insurance agent or broker.
Make sure your insurance agent or broker understands your business. Too often there are gaps in coverage discovered when you need insurance assistance or defense to a legal claim, when is too late to put the protections you need in place. Many gaps in coverage result from your agent or broker not understanding your daily work and operations sufficiently to make sure that what you actually do is covered. Just because you have “professional liability” insurance, you have no guarantee that all of your professional services are covered. Proactive insurance strategies will serve you best.
CANA Members: Have you looked over CANA’s newest benefit, a professional liability insurance program for crematories? Read what makes this policy different and how it covers businesses like yours.
- Meet with your tax planning professional.
Do not leave money on the table. A tax professional’s advice can add value to your business and improve its bottom line. Mitigate your tax risks and exposures prudently.
- Budget for and plan to attend meaningful continuing education opportunities.
Take some time to think about the education and assistance which will benefit you and your business most in the upcoming year. Then, search for continuing education opportunities that will assist in meeting your goals. There are in person and online resources available to address almost any concern as an industry professional or business owner. Some jurisdictions even allow you to get your crematory operator certification online. If you attend CANA’s convention in Seattle this year, please say hello. I look forward to seeing you!
CANA Members: Not sure how to get started developing a defined professional development plan for your employees? CANA Education Director Jennifer Werthman is here to help you achieve your goals – reach out any time.
Getting your new year off to a good start can jumpstart accomplishing your business’s New Year’s Resolutions. Best wishes for your success in 2020!
CANA Members: Your association is here to help! If you ever need these resources or anything else offered by CANA, reach out.
Excerpted from The Cremationist, Vol 53, Issue 1: “First Quarter 2019 Top Ten Legal Checklist” by Lara M. Price. Members can read this article and any other advice in The Cremationist archive. Not a member? Consider joining your business to access this and all archives of The Cremationist plus the many resources referenced here to help you find solutions for all aspects of your business – only $495
Lara M. Price is a shareholder at Sheehy, Ware & Pappas, PC, in Houston, in the products liability and professional liability sections of the firm. She has extensive experience in a number of substantive areas of trial practice, including products liability, professional liability, administrative law, commercial litigation, health care law, premises liability, and personal injury and wrongful death. She regularly represents corporations, other business entities, and individuals in complex litigation against claims for personal injuries, wrongful death, and economic loss in state courts throughout Texas and in federal courts in Texas and elsewhere. Ms. Price is General Counsel for CANA and Texas Funeral Directors Association.
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