Dale Clock, of Clock Life Story Funeral Home in Michigan responds to Michelle Carter’s latest article “Is the Future Really So Grim?” 

Michelle:

You make some valid points.  The future isn’t that grim. But the future is going to be tough.  You are an independent funeral planner.  I’m guessing you don’t have much overhead but your car and a phone.  You take as much work as you can get but could always use more.  It’s easy to say “just do it’. Plan the fancy event, do the golf course, bring the favorite chair.  But the reality is it takes a lot of time and effort to do all of that.  It takes manpower, creativity and a whole different bunch of skill sets that most funeral directors don’t have.  It’s also a major challenge to do it day in and day out for firms of our size because “doing it” has to depend on a system and not just one person with a creative mind.  I agree that those kind of things need to be done but the hard part is transitioning to where we need to be from where we have been for so long a time.

I have 3 funeral homes in a Midwestern blue collar town, do 400 + calls a year, 7 vehicles, over 50,000 square feet of buildings ranging in age from 100 years old to 10, a staff of 20 plus people.  I have done receptions for 20 years (it’s good to do those but it’s not going to make you a ton of money).  Tried every casket show room setup there is.  I am now part of the Life Story Network which I really believe can transform funeral service.  And everyday is a struggle.  I have gone from 25% cremation to 50% cremation in 10 years.  I have trimmed my staff down to the bear minimum just to make ends meet while still trying to offer the latest and greatest that funeral service has to dish out.

My funeral directors are the best in the world.  They all have 20+ years experience and try their hardest to adapt to all the new stuff that I’m throwing at them.  The families absolutely gush over our Life Story experience and we all can see how meaningful it is to them.  But after days of typing in Life Story notes, scanning photo’s, burning DVD’s, printing color Life Story folders, downloading new music, setting up for receptions, cleaning up after the family spends a comfortable 2 hours in the reception center, putting cremains in jewelry, taking fingerprints for Thumbies, ordering customized urns from the 1000 choices in the catalogue…… in addititon to still doing all the other stuff we have always done like embalm bodies, dress and casket, meet with families, set up flowers, run visitations, conduct services , processions to the cemetery…. all most of us can do is collapse at home with an adult beverage and fall asleep in front of the TV.

It’s no wonder so many FD’s long for the old days when things were more routine and there weren’t so many options.  It’s not that we don’t want to do the new stuff.  It’s that we still have to do the old stuff in addition to the new stuff because we all serve such a broad range of people.  To do things right we almost need to split into two businesses; one that does things the old way and one that embraces the new stuff.  But at this time it seems impossible to separate things because there just isn’t enough volume or income.  It’s Catch 22…We need to do the new stuff to make money but we need more money to do the new stuff.

So the best we can do is hang in there while the funeral industry changes from a materialistic based income (casket, vaults and markers) to an emotional based income.  One where we get paid for helping preserve memories and creating experiences. And the sooner we can get the public to learn that there is value in those emotions. The sooner this will all happen.

Dale Clock
Clock Life Story Funeral Home

EDITOR’S NOTE:  When he submitted this letter, Dale was unaware that Michelle had recently taken a position as Assistant Manager of the E.O. Curry Funeral Home in Peekskill, NY.  She’s also sold her grief counseling center to focus on her work at the funeral home.

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