Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, July 24, 2019
Updated: Friday, July 19, 2019
The 21st century is changing North American life. There are more of us, and more different kinds of us, than ever before. Our traditions are numerous and varied, and, in many ways, the marketplace shifts to address this new reality. No facet of our culture is immune to this transformation—and certainly not the way we memorialize loved ones who have passed on. In 2015, CANA Second Vice President and Funeral Director Archer Harmon told the cremation symposium audience how Fairfax Memorial Funeral Home responded to changing demographics.
Know Your Data
Fairfax Memorial Funeral Home and Crematory is located in Fairfax County, a suburb just eleven miles from the border of the District of Columbia. Washington, D.C. is a very, very diverse community. Government jobs bring people there, embassies bring people there, a booming economy brings people there. In a very short time, in the ten years between 2000 to 2010, the non-Hispanic white population decreased in Northern Virginia by 10% percent to be replaced by an Asian population of 12.5% and a Hispanic population of 4.8%. In just ten years, that population change is incredibly rapid.
I got these data off of websites from Fairfax County, the federal government, and the media. This information is free, it’s readily available to you, and it’s a road map for you to understand what’s going on and why your business is changing. You can look at these data and see where your business is going to go. At our funeral home the software we use tracks everything. Our directors and apprentices are trained that there are specific things that are entered into our computer program. I can tell you where our deaths come from, the ZIP code, the average age, I can tell you the race—I can tell you all of this with just a few requests through the software program.
If you don’t know your past or your present, your future can be uncertain. Fairfax Memorial Funeral Home opened in 2003, within a couple of miles of well-established funeral homes in Northern Virginia that have been there 60, 70, 80 years. So it was a pretty big risk for the Doherty family to open a funeral home in 2003 when cremation rates were skyrocketing. But their risk paid off, and we served almost 900 families last year.
A lot of you have cremation rates of 60-80%, but there are many populations out there who want ceremonies. If you try to discuss direct cremation with them, they just don’t get it. How do you locate, serve, and track these groups for whom direct cremation is not an option?
The Importance of Outreach
When we first opened, I met with the funeral preparer for a local Buddhist temple. She came to us to inquire about using our funeral home because it’s close to where the population served by her temple lives. She helped me get set up with all of our Buddhist equipment and helped me to tailor a package to accommodate the needs of her families. What all this means for our industry, with our shrinking profits, growing cremation rates, and how diverse we’re becoming as a population in North America, we learned to reach out to specific groups. Now, Fairfax Memorial has created packages tailored to a specific temple that uses our services.
You have to have an outreach program for various groups so you can have a dialogue with them. You need to have a way to tell people what you can do for them. Our website is a great way we reach out to a particular population. The populations we are talking about are very savvy with technology, so we include specific religious and cultural keywords to help people find us. That way, when someone in Northern Virginia Googles “Buddhist funeral,” “Hindu funeral,” whatever the case may be, our information pops up. We are in the number one position with this.
If you look at a map that shows an overview of what your area looks like by the fastest growing religions, you can see where to put your efforts. Looking at the information on the national map, if I owned a funeral home or crematory in Washington State, Nevada, Arizona, and California, I would be knocking on the doors of these temples saying, “I have a funeral home and we’re here to help.”
The Laotian Buddhist Funeral
I think most of the directors at my funeral home agree with me that the Laotian funeral is one of the most interesting funerals we do. When we first opened in August of 2003, I was at the funeral home and we had a Laotian family walk in. They wanted to have a funeral. They liked our chapel because it was big and could accommodate 200 people. It was our first Laotian funeral and we didn’t know anything about a Laotian funeral. They helped us and they were very kind. To this day, we still have Laotian funerals and I still see some of the same people who were there for the original funeral service. We did something right the first time, and it has paid off.
Laos is a Southeast Asian country bordering Thailand and Vietnam. In a traditional service, relatives of the deceased serve in Laotian funerals as novice monks, or “monks for the day,” and this is a great honor – but one they have to shave their heads and their eyebrows for. In addition to the novice monks, full Laotian monks from the local temples are the ones who do the chanting for the deceased during the ceremony. Services are very beautiful. The Laotians bring in their own Buddha. It’s a Thai Buddha and it’s very thin. It doesn’t have the Chinese characteristics to it.
After the funeral has ended, the monks from the temple hold a rope. The rope is tied to the casket, and they lead the casket out our chapel door, through our front door, and throughout our entire funeral home. They make their route to the crematory where they witness the cremation.
As part of the procession, there’s a family member behind the casket with a bowl of money that’s wrapped in foil. The packets are thrown up in the air, and if you are the funeral director or funeral assistant or apprentice on that casket, you will get pelted with money. The family throws the money to distract the attention of the evil spirits away from the deceased so the loved one can be cremated and move on to the next world. The rope signifies the monks pulling, and the indirect route taken to the crematory is meant to confuse the spirits.
There are wreaths carried by family members with money attached to them. The family folds paper money into triangles and affixes it to the wreaths. This is for the temple monks. At the end of the ceremony, there’s a wreath for each monk as alms, or an offering to the monks, thanking them for their participation in the journey of the loved one from this life into the next life. The last Laotian funeral I had, there were ten wreaths. I counted one wreath and it had over a thousand dollars in twenties folded in triangles. Each of the ten wreaths was presented to the monks, so that is their form of payment, thanking the monks for what they have done for the family.
If you ever have the honor to serve a Buddhist family and they give you a tip, take it. If you don’t take the tip, you’ve insulted the deceased and you’ve insulted the family. It’s the same as the alms for the monks. The family is thankful for everything that you do for them.
Learning to Listen
It’s interesting to talk to people about their different cultures and religious traditions. It’s similar to the way people share food recipes. They want to share these things with you, and the more interest you have, the more they will tell you. And that’s how we’ve all become experts in this. Listening to the families we serve and putting it back together for them and giving them everything that they want. When we hire a new director, especially if they’ve come from another area, it can take a while for them to acclimate. I see them sometimes, just standing there wondering, “What’s going on here?” But in six months to a year, they’re fully immersed.
In Northern Virginia, we have a huge Asian population. In many of these cultures, cremation is a practice that’s been done for thousands of years. Sometimes they choose burial, sometimes they choose cremation. We can accommodate them, and anyone else in our community, with whatever their needs are, by being willing to listen to their needs and learn.
The data referenced in this post is based on the most recent US Census in 2010. The 2020 Census will provide even more perspective on how our communities are changing. CANA will continue creating innovative content about how change can work for traditional funeral homes facing new and different clientele.
This post excerpted from Archer Harmon’s presentation at CANA’s 2015 Cremation Symposium titled Meeting the Cremation Needs of a Growing and Diverse Population in North America, as transcribed in The Cremationist magazine Vol. 51, Iss. 2 titled “Know Your Community: Build Your Business” which includes more photos and traditions from services of many different cultures. The Cremationist is an exclusive benefit to CANA members — explore our website to learn about the other resources CANA provides to members.
Archer Harmon is a licensed funeral director and embalmer and the General Manager of Fairfax Memorial Funeral Home. With over 30 years of experience, Archer is well versed in many funeral traditions, including military funerals and state funerals for dignitaries. He has attained a vast amount of invaluable knowledge regarding the funeral customs of highly diverse populations. Archer serves on CANA’s Board of Directors as Second Vice President.
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, January 16, 2019
Updated: Monday, January 14, 2019
Superstar sellers, unreliable incomes, infighting amongst staff, confusing metrics… the list of problems in the world of preneed sales can be exhausting. The world of preneed is full of myths, misnomers, and fake news. These things can foster unrealistic expectations, or worse, can create significant barriers for managers responsible for their preneed programs and for regular folks seeking a meaningful career in funeral sales.
To find the solution, let’s take a look at the following formulas:
AC / #AA = C%
#CG / C% = RA
AC / AAB = CC%
RA / CC% = RLG
No, these are not a new batch of curse words or hashtags, they are tools you can use to maximize your preneed potential. They may look intimidating, but they are easy-to-use formulas that allow you to use real data to drive real sales.
But let’s digress for a moment.
Most readers will have seen or heard of the movie Moneyball. The film dramatizes the real-world example of how, in 2002, the Oakland Athletics baseball team radically changed the traditional game of baseball by using statistics and mathematics (called sabermetrics) to scout and analyze players.
What they realized was that traditional methods of scouting relied heavily on biased or incomplete information. This led other teams to overpay players in the hopes of buying success. In contrast, the Athletics adopted sabermetrics to build formulas using quantitative analysis of different player abilities. By building the right formulas, they were able to put the right pieces together to build success. This new method translated to on-field success; the newly-built Athletics tied the longest winning streak in American League history, and clinched the 2002 American League West title.
How does this concept translate to preneed sales? To quote a line from the movie: “Your goal shouldn’t be to buy players (i.e., counselors), your goal should be to buy runs (i.e., appointments).”
Using statistics and mathematics, a successful preneed program can be developed to reliably predict success and take the mystery and magic out of the game of preneed.
Metrics Vs. Intuition
So where do we start? The most basic metrics of a successful preneed program can be distilled into a simple mathematical equation:
Actual Contracts divided by Actual Appointments = Close %
AC / AA = C%
This should be the launching point for the development of a simple formula to accurately predict the number of contracts a program can produce annually. All managers responsible for preneed programs should have a reliable way to accurately measure the closing percentage of each of their counsellors. Further, they should know their closing percentage for every type of lead. For example, the closing percentage for call-in and walk-in business should be over 80% whereas the closing percentage for a more challenging lead, like direct mail, will be significantly lower. When developing your program, this metric can be used to strategically apply human resources to the appropriate lead source.
Teamwork vs. Superstar
When developing a preneed team, many people are overlooked for a variety of perceived reasons: they’re too quiet, they aren’t motivated, funeral directors aren’t good at sales, etc. However, it is unrealistic to expect that one person can bring all of the necessary traits or skills to develop a successful preneed program. In the same way that the use of sabermetrics in Moneyball proved that a baseball team doesn’t need to have a superstar to win, the game of preneed doesn’t need to have a superstar seller to be successful.
Once you have figured out your closing percentage, you can safely estimate the number of appointments you need to book to reach your goals. This formula looks something like this:
Contract Goal divided by your Closing Percentage = Number of Required Appointments
#CG / C% = RA
This means that if you have an 80% closing percentage and your goal is to sell 200 contracts, you need to book 250 appointments to meet your goal.
Working backwards, you then need to know how many calls you need to make in order to book those 250 appointments. This can be tied to your call conversion percentage, which can be calculated by using the following formula:
Actual Calls divided by Actual Appointments Booked = Call Conversion Percentage
AC / AAB = CC%
If you make 100 calls that result in 15 appointments booked, your Call Conversion Percentage is 15%. If we tie this percentage to the previous example, where your number of required appointments was 250, this means that you’ll need to have 1,667 leads to call to meet your goal:
Required Appointments divided by Call Conversion Percentage = Required Lead Generation
RA / CCP = RLG
Each organization will generate leads differently, but the best way to build leads is to diversify your lead sources. Consider incorporating direct mail campaigns, social media, referral programs, group seminars and presentations into your marketing mix. You can even apply Moneyball-style formulas to calculate how many leads you’re generating and where they’re coming from.
Putting It All Together
Using these formulas, or designing your own, can reap huge benefits for your organization. Using a reliable and consistent approach will put an end to the “feast or famine” results that are often seen when working campaign to campaign. Year after year, your contracts and volume will stabilize and your success will become much more predictable.
For more information on how “hacking your process” can improve your preneed business and help the families you serve, check out my session “The Art (and Science!) of Creating a Successful Preneed Program” at this year’s CANA Preneed Summit!
Are you looking for more about creating a preneed strategy that makes a difference? The Art of Selling Cremation: A Preneed Summit is back for the second year to with a one-day intensive on today's pressing preneed topics. Join colleagues in Las Vegas on February 5th, 2019 – see the full schedule at www.cremationassociation.org/CANAheroes.
is the President of Guaranteed Funeral Deposits of Canada (GFD)
, bringing over 25 years of experience in the field to the largest organization for managing preneed funeral trust funds in Canada. Heather blends her unique background and experience together with a skilled team of professionals at GFD to provide members with a trusted resource to help ensure their preneed programs succeed.
tips and tools
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, October 24, 2018
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One of the best parts of an industry event is the opportunity to hear from your peers. We are a network of industry leaders who have seen it all, tried it, and know what works best. Fortunately, we’re almost as verbose in print as we are in person with hundreds of blogs from funeral director fashion to meticulous legal interpretation. So we decided to collect some of our favorite blog posts – the ones we recommend to others – into one list. No two voices are the same, and all offer a valuable perspective on our industry and some food for thought long after you’re done reading.
This post is tagged "business" and "cremation" and that's an apt description. Tom Anderson admits that updated pricing is not a cure-all for falling revenue, but he explains how a deliberate and thoughtful evaluation of your policies can lead to careful reasoning that will support your cremation families and encourage memorialization. There are ways to add value to even direct cremation packages without significant cost, which in the end often pays off as additional revenue.
The Bottom Line: Do you make it easy for families to plan with you? Do you educate while you assist in the arrangement room?
Short answer: sort of. Nathan Nardi post's stuck out to us because his look at social trends in US CDC data aligns with some of CANA's own research into the demographics of cremation families. Cremation families are typically highly educated and higher income while casketed burial families are typically homeowners who have lived in their communities for multiple generations.
The Bottom Line: What community are you serving and how does understanding them help you meet their needs?
Larry Stuart, Jr. knows exactly what the details of his service will be and, no surprise, he’s not shopping for the low-cost cremation provider. Like one of CANA’s most popular posts, Just Cremate Me, Larry reminds us that we can’t lessen the pain of those we leave behind, especially not through cremation-and-landfill method.
The Bottom Line: How can you show your cremation families that they are valuable and worth remembering?
You've heard it a million times, you have to educate cremation families. Whether it's because death is too sanitized, we're not trusted, general fear of mortality, or something else, as a society, we don't like to think about death. To many, cremation seems like the simplest way to avoid it but it can't be avoided. So Mark Allen of the Order of the Golden Rule provides a script to help.
The imagined conversation with John Q. Public (fully-bearded and chest out, no less) is as informative as it is funny.
The Bottom Line: What has worked best for you to tell cremation families why they matter?
Family protectiveness meets "professional empathy" in this post where Matthew Morian of the Millennial Directors, reminds us that it's the little things that make a difference to our families – even the direct cremation ones. The little details surrounding the arrangements become second nature to funeral directors and we often forget to discuss them with the family. But it's all those little details that the family craves, and often misunderstand or misconstrue when we gloss over them. Taking time to explain them is one way to set yourself apart from the competition when it comes to exceptional service.
The Bottom Line: You know that a typical work day for you is far from the typical day for the families you serve. How can you keep the boring part of your work fresh for the experience of your families?
Many people have theorized that our society experiences many "little deaths": moving away, our own or a loved one's divorce, changing jobs, and, in this case, the donation of a favorite stuffed animal. The CANA Historian, Jason Engler, is particularly suited to reflecting on how quickly things can change and encourages us to make each goodbye count for the families we serve.
The Bottom Line: No one wants to say goodbye, so what can we do to make that goodbye just a tiny bit easier?
Like most funeral directors, Glenda Standsbury hadn't preplanned. And that's surprising -- funeral directors advocate for preplanning, see too often the questions that pile up without a plan, and are reminded of mortality daily. After walking away from a major accident, Glenda felt that she'd escaped death once and reminds us all that "none of us should assume that we'll be here tomorrow to take care of the details."
The Bottom Line: It's not just your funeral to pre-plan, but your business and estate. Do you have a succession plan?
One of biggest values of choosing cremation is the time it gives the grieving to make decisions. ASD's Public Relations Specialist, Jessica Farren, shares her deeply personal story of grief and remembering her father for who he was. Her honest reflection and her descriptive style makes this story vivid and relatable.
The Bottom Line: Cremation is not just a cost consideration -- it's an immediate answer to a question of "what now?" that allows for services months, years, or a decade, after a death. How can you support cremation families throughout their grief journey?
This blog post from the Corporation des thanatologues du Québec (CTQ) addresses a problem we’re all too aware of: cremated remains going home. The post highlights a creative ad campaign run by Athos asking “Is this your last wish?” and encouraging people to contact a cemetery (in this case an Athos one, of course) to find a “placement of dignity and respect.”
The Bottom Line: We know from several recent headlines that risks of keeping the urn at home can lead to dramatic and depressing indignities — and that too many consumers don’t know their options for placement. How can you help your cremation families connect with the urn and educate about memorialization?
This new podcast from Wake Forest Law Professor Tanya Marsh is a new favorite among CANA staff. We couldn’t single out just one — simply take a look at the guests and you’ll see why. Tanya does a great job of surveying the wide range of death care movements and activities and providing balanced attention. Best of all, she doesn’t accept the press release story – she pushes for more, for statistics, and asks questions we all have. There have been just 13 episodes when we wrote this so choose whichever sounds most interesting or listen to them all – you can’t go wrong! (PS – Stay tuned and you may get to hear CANA’s Executive Director Barbara Kemmis soon! 😉 )
CANA Staff had a great time developing this list and there are plenty we left off that stand out in our minds: Is Smoking Cremains Abuse of Corpse?, Viceland’s Most Expensivest Celebration of Life, and Funeral Cribs among them. What are you reading and listening to that belongs on this list? Leave us a comment!
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Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, August 22, 2018
Updated: Wednesday, August 22, 2018
Everybody knows some of the challenges we have in the industry right now, and that 2016 marked the first time there were more cremations than casket burials. Now, as we approach 2020, the cremation rate in the US is expected to be about 56%. This is one of the biggest challenges we face every day. Additionally, studies show that the percentage of people who feel a religious component is necessary to their service is declining rapidly. Five years ago it was about 50%, this year it’s about 40% -- a loss of about 10% of people who feel a need for a traditional religious component to their service.
Some more challenges: 70% of baby boomers do not want the same type of service that their parents or grandparents did and 62% want a much more personalized approach. Many of us, even some reading this, still only offer the very traditional services that we offered several years ago: 90% of cemeteries and funeral homes only offer very traditional things. So though consumers say they want something different, we offer them the same. We have a traditionalist mentality and the statistics mentioned above support that.
This one is probably our fault: 68% of families want an organized gathering of some sort, but only 16% know that they are able to have one. We’re the ones that said “Hey, let’s call this direct cremation and we can sell this for $495, $595, $695, $795 – cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap!” Finally, about 70% of families know they have an ability to be in a cemetery. I grew up in cemeteries, I’ve been in the cemetery business for 30 years – that statistic drives me absolutely nuts. We need to evaluate all of these challenges and find strategies to overcome them.
Strategy: Relevant Offerings
When we talk about relevant offerings, we need to give people a reason to see us other than visiting a loved one. In order to do this, you need to produce some relevant offerings at your location.
In cemeteries, I suggest having multiple products in one area: in-ground, above-ground; multiple price points – 6 or 7 is a good number (less and you look like a tightwad, more and you’ll confuse not only your families, but your staff as well); personal and private. Picture a planned community with some private homes, clusters of quad homes, and then a high-rise condominium that houses 800 people. You have a couple options as you flow through the space. But again, you have to make sure that you are giving people a reason to come visit you without visiting their loved ones. And it can be done.
Many businesses in our industry are opening their doors to other events. The right space can be used for a field trip, a wedding, and other community events. Relevancy is something we need and lack in this industry and we have to get out of our own way sometimes.
Offering food and beverage is one of the hottest trends in this industry. We’re trying to find ways, especially with our cremation consumer, to create value in what we do. Remember only 16% of families know they are able to have a gathering but 68% want one. How can we bridge that gap? It’s simple, folks: when a death occurs, between the death and when the service or cremation occurs, people eat an average of 7-9 times. That means we have 7-9 times to serve a family other than “Hey, how about a direct cremation today? Great, hand me your $695 and let’s go home.” Valuation consultants estimate that if you were to add just 12 hospitality services a year, it could bump the value of your business up $400k. With 12 a year at $600, that increases your sales and the value of your funeral home or cemetery.
Keep in mind that hospitality is a strategy. You’re not selling food, you’re not selling beverages, you’re not selling your room rental. We have to stop thinking like that. You’re selling experience and convenience. A widow who just lost her husband of 60 years has family coming in but the last thing she wants to worry about is how she’ll feed them. It’s an added stressor, so offer food trays and include it with the service or with the opening/closing fee. It becomes an automatic add-on – provide a nice platter to the family every time they come in. Stacie Schubert corporate catering for SCI, and she says “catering is for the busy, not the affluent.” Change your mindset. We think, “Catering? That’s going to be really expensive,” but it’s for people who are too busy to worry about eating the 7-9 times after a death occurs and before a service happens.
How can we plug in hospitality as part of what we’re doing? We don’t have to, but I can promise you somebody is. It may be your local hotel, country club, banquet halls, and restaurants. Every one of them is in the funeral home and cemetery space getting $1,500 for the ballroom plus food and we have the same facilities and can do the Same. Darn. Thing.
We need to create a space to hold a non-traditional funeral service. Today’s consumers are telling us repeatedly that the days of having a visitation from 6-8pm, a service at 8pm, and a graveside the next morning are done. We’ve got to find a way to meet the needs of the consumer instead of always saying “Here’s how I’ve always done it, I’m going to continue to do it this way.” I heard a joke recently,
How many cemeterians does it take change a lightbulb?
My granddaddy put that lightbulb in 40 years ago, why would I need to change it?
Provide a full catering package, and think past the funeral luncheon. A lot of people are following the family home with food after the arrangement conference because food is the last thing they’re thinking about after they just signed the authorization to cremate Dad. But they need to eat – they physically need to eat. So, people are following them home.
Give people what they want. I’m not saying you need to go out and build a huge facility, most people are retrofitting what they have.
None of this really matters unless you’re able to get the word out effectively. If only 16% of families know they can memorialize somewhere, we’re not doing a good job educating people about what their options are and about what we have to offer. We do a great job saying “direct cremation: $495,” but we don’t do a good job everywhere else. We have to be able to show we’re the experts, but more than that we have to be able to humanize ourselves to them. We’re not just creepy funeral directors, crematory operators, or gravediggers.
Did you know that YouTube is the second biggest search engine after Google? People are going to YouTube for information, 3 billion searches a month, but how many of us have an active YouTube channel? And how many people have an active email campaign? What about tying to a social cause? Giving a percentage to a charity or foundation – how hard would that be to do? You say “it’s not really relevant, John. These Boomers don’t care about that.” But guess what happens when a death occurs? They sit down with their kids or their grandkids and say “what are we going to do with Dad now?” And one of the kids, one of the 25- or 30-year-olds, googles “cremation” and sees a direct cremation for $495. So it’s not just the 80 year old person that we are serving anymore, it’s a whole lot of layers underneath that 80 year old person. And the younger generations do care about those kinds of things.
One idea is to get a cremation “genius” on your funeral home or cemetery staff – someone who specializes in cremation. Roll with me here – it’s not just how the crematory works, it’s “Oh, you want to wait and do this 6 months later? Okay. We’ll cremate Mom now, hold her here. Here’s a list of hotels, caterers, cemeteries and we’ll put this together and in 6 months we’ll have a service.” It’s similar to how you walk into an Apple Store and you talk to a “genius” and they know everything there is to know about their product. But in our funeral homes or cemeteries, we have one person who does a lot and they have to know everything. Yet with cremation we're generalists – we’re not focused on knowing everything there is to know about the process, what drives the cremation consumer, what they look like, or what pushes their buttons. But it’s what people expect.
Everyone knows the old adage that value has to equal price, but I’ll take it a little further: the perceived value has to equal the price. Sales 101 in two paragraphs:
People buy for two reasons: to get rid of a problem they don’t want or to create a result that they want but don’t have. It’s that simple. Think of your position in your marketplace with your pricing just based on that. Now let’s break that down a little bit more. You’re selling utility, the value of your product. You don’t buy a can opener to sit and be pretty, you buy it to open cans. Consumers don’t pay for products, they pay for what the product does. We have got to define our added value. We have to create something significant for people we serve. A lot of cremation is low-cost, cheap and easy. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be that way, but you can still create value for “cheap and easy.”
People buy from you for two reasons: they like you and they trust you. If they like you and trust you, they’re going to buy from you. If they don’t, they won’t (or they might, but not much). Once they see the utility behind what you’re doing, they want to see the credibility. Once they think you can deliver what they want you to deliver, they want to make sure it’s relevant to them. This is often the most crucial stage in closing the deal. To successfully get through this phase of the sale, two key skills are required: the ability to question skillfully, the ability to listen carefully. Part of our biggest problem in dealing with the consumer is not listening. We already know. We’re programmed with what we’re supposed to say. When they skew, we try to bring them back.
So, dig a little deeper. Ask questions and listen to their answers: “Tell me about yourself and your family.” Push the papers, the contract away and ask them to tell you about them. Even with a direct cremation, do this and build value.
“If you could design the perfect way to remember your loved one after they are cremated, what would it look like?” Don’t just show them the 14 urns in the catalog or on the shelf, ask them to describe what the urn, the service, the keepsake would look like. Then make relevant suggestions and create value.
What do you do?
Make a plan.
Understand where you are, create a baseline. Take the key points from this post and create a strategic plan to get where you want to be. Decide what changes you would like to make and how you are going to make them. Focus on something you could implement immediately, then focus on the short term. “When I’m at the CANA convention next year, where do I want to be?” Set a target or improvement goal. Make the beginning something easy to create value. But then set the long-term goals and figure out what you need to do in a year to make it happen. Then, make it happen.
This post was transcribed and edited for length and clarity from John Bolton's presentation at CANA's 100th Annual Cremation Innovation Convention on July 27, 2018 at the Fort Lauderdale Marriott Harbor Beach Resort & Spa in Session 7 • Beyond the Niche: Creating an Effective Cremation Development Strategy, to lead us past the “If we build it, they will come” philosophy and break down the ins and outs of developing a true cremation strategy to effectively meet the needs of today’s non-traditional cremation consumer.
With a wide range of valuable networking and educational opportunities, the CANA Convention featured sessions that examined the last 100 years of CANA conventions and growth in cremation, evaluated where businesses are today, and focused on the next 100 years by providing strategic and practical information for long-term success. Missed it? You can access John's full presentation recording and all other speakers' wisdom on our Learning Management System. View session descriptions and pricing here: gocana.org/CANA18.
Save the Date for CANA's 101st Annual Cremation Innovation Convention in Louisville, Kentucky July 31-August 2, 2019.
John Bolton is President of Blackstone Cemetery Development, which specializes in the planning, development, construction and marketing of cremation garden areas and digital mapping. With over 15 years of cemetery development experience and 30 years in the death care business, John has designed and/or implemented over 500 cremation development projects across the United States. During his 30-year career, he has served in almost every facet of the industry. He has actively managed and owned medium to large cemeteries, and funeral home/cemetery combo’s in East Tennessee, and Southwest Virginia.
tips and tools
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, April 25, 2018
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.
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