May 2008


You can say a lot in 114 pages, which might explain why some members of the Pennsylvania Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association filed that many pages of lawsuit against the State Board of Directors for what they claim is an “incestuous” relationship between the board and the PA Funeral Directors Association.

You can read the full story here.

Without reading the full complaint, I can’t really comment on the case, except to say that the practices discussed in the news story are similar to laws in other states.

Basically, some states restrict the ownership of funeral homes to, supposedly, protect the public.  And these practices might, but it’s always good to reconsider your state’s laws every few years.

Other rules, like not allowing any food in the funeral home, seem conterproductive to the mission of funeral service:  providing aid and comfort to families at the time of need.

At least one of the laws, which prohibits a director from transferring ownership to non-family members upon his/her death, seems designed to punish rather than protect.

Anyone want to share their own experiences with these types of laws?

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Sister Katherine, who writes the blog Past-Imperfect, shares some thoughts about making funeral arrangements for her dad:

I dreaded having to deal with the funeral home over my dad’s arrangements, but I have to say, they were really fantastic. What I mean is that they made everything so easy. I freaked out about the prices, of course, and I insisted that mom walk out with me without signing anything after our first visit. The walk-out is a high-stakes negotiating tactic, but I didn’t insist on walking out to jack them up. I was just petrified that we were going to sign off on anything just to get out of there.

It was tempting to do that, too. I imagine the business makes a good bit of money betting on folks to do this. Sorry if I’m overly cynical, but hey, I’m my father’s daughter in that regard. It was tough because we were already way behind finalizing things (due to the autop$y which made release of my father’s body a big unknown time-wise for a while there). So we walked out without signing a thing after the first visit.

Then I scrambled to contact other places and check prices. Turns out we came out as well as could be expected. Nobody else’s prices were much more or less in any of the details, the bottom lines all within a few hundred dollars of each other. I like to think my father would be happy with the deal we struck. While his memorial slideshow may have been a little less rough around the edges done by the funeral home, by doing it ourselves, we were able to have a “family car” to transport us for the day of the funeral. They would have used 20 or so photos; ours had about 75. In the trade-off, we were transported around together the whole day in a very large, very comfortable car.

Katherine (I’d call her Sister, but the language she uses in the rest of her post makes me pretty sure that she isn’t a nun) goes on to talk about the possible medical malpractice that led to her father’s death.

But in the quoted section, there are some interesting tidbits about the public perception of funeral homes.

She discusses her fear that she and her mother might sign off on any price just to get it over with.  She talks about the importance of pricing to her.

She admits that, when faced with a limited budget, she chose to make her own slide show so that her family could afford the limousine (family car) to carry them that day.

I’m glad that she found similar prices when she checked out other options.

In these uncertain economic times (the price of oil is affecting just about every other industry in this country) people are invariably going to become more conscious of the costs of all aspects of a funeral service.

A smart funeral director will help a family make difficult decisions (getting a limo rather than a memorial video) that will benefit both parties involved.

EDITOR’S NOTE: 

I often link to blogs or websites that do not belong to a corporation or organization.  Sometimes, these blogs have non-traditional content.  Unfortunately, I don’t have time to check out every nook and cranny of the site to make sure there are no objectionable pictures, words or topics.  Fortunately, I know ya’ll are adults and are smart enough to click away from stuff you can’t handle. 

If, however, you do find something on one of these sites that makes your hair curl (or uncurl, as the case may be), remember, the Internet is a mean world and is not for the timid.  Happy net-surfing!

Jodi Clock of the Clock Life Story Funeral Home, responds to my thoughts in the post, Discount Selling and Full-Service Don’t Mix, by saying:

In my opinion I do agree that AA doesn’t know what it wants to be, however I do agree that there is room in the airlines and even with AA for a discount brand or version.Major hotel chains have proven that model Marriott, Courtyard and Fairfield for example. It seems AA’s debacle isn’t brand confusion it’s a cash issue combined with consumer panic. AA are desperately re-acting to gas prices, lack of customers and their bottom line. Sound familiar? How many funeral homes do we see panic and re-act to the competitor,rather than stay on course?


Photo courtesy of Flickr User
smenzel

Jodi has a point:  many companies have discount portions of their brand.  However, most have found it necessary to separate their discounted brand.

TED is the discount version of United.  Instead of separate compartments, they have separate fleets.

Courtyard by Marriott is a lower priced version of the famed hotel chain.  But Courtyard’s rooms aren’t housed in Marriott hotels; they’re in separate facilities.

Anderson-McQueen operates their lower-priced Cremation Tribute Center separate from their funeral homes. 

Except at super-mega-dealer properties, General Motors separates their Cadillac and Chevrolet dealerships to reduce confusion between their luxury and discount brands.

And almost every company that offers full-price services and discount versions also keeps their marketing efforts separate.

Ads touting the luxury of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel will neglect to mention the great prices at Hampton Inn, even though both are part of the Hilton family of brands.

When typing your needs into the carfinder at the Lexus website, you will not find a single Toyota or Scion in the search results, even though all three belong to the same megacorporation.

If American Airlines wants to continue appealing to full-price and discount buyers, they’ll need to separate their disparate business models.

It seems to me that the only reason to charge discount fliers more to check a bag is to further alienate them so they will stop buying your product.

Why not simply stop selling to them?

Stove Ownership

The online webcomic, xkcd, is written by techie, Randall Munroe.  Here’s how he describes himself:

I’m just this guy, you know? I’m a CNU graduate with a degree in physics. Before starting xkcd, I worked on robots at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia. As of June 2007 I live in Massachusetts. In my spare time I climb things, open strange doors, and go to goth clubs dressed as a frat guy so I can stand around and look terribly uncomfortable. At frat parties I do the same thing, but the other way around.

Needless to say, I don’t understand half of his comic strips.  The other half make me howl uncontrollably.

Check it out.  You might learn a little UNIX (programming language) along the way.

American Airlines is working double-time to tell their discount passengers that they’re not welcome.  How?  They’re using the not-so-subtle additional charge for basic services.

Starting soon, AA is charging discount passengers a $15 fee to check their first bag.  This is on top of the $20 fee that most airlines are charging for a second checked bag.


Photo Courtesy of Flickr User
deadeyebart 

And while the news reports about this new fee detail the billions in losses the airline industry faces because of rising oil costs and several leading publications have looked at the effect this will have on the already pathetic customer service record of the industry, few have made any reasonable suggestions for how to fix the real problem.

What is the real problem?

You can’t be both a full-service airline AND a discount airline.

American wants to keep their full-service clients (business class, full-fare coach, AA Rewards members, etc.) AND nickel and dime their discount fliers.

So why offer a discount rate at all?  Because they want to compete with the discount airlines (Jet Blue, TED, Spirit, etc.) on price.

But buying a ticket from a discount airline means you’ve accepted the discount philosophy and you’re shopping on price.  You know that you’ll pay extra for a meal and to rent headsets.  You understand that there will be certain limitations on things like baggage and onboard amenities.

So why does American even offer discount tickets?  Why don’t they just forget the discount rates and focus on the customers who are willing to pay more for a better experience?

Because they’re afraid.  If they charge a reasonable fee for their services (meaning raising fares to cover their fuel bills) they might lose a lot of customers, even if continuing on their current path means losing a lot of cash – they lost $330 million in the first quarter of 2008 alone! – and alienating customers.

Seems to me that they’re already on a path toward jettisoning true discount shoppers by seeing how much the quasi-discount fliers will put up with.

A quasi-discount flier is someone who logs onto Travelocity or Orbitz and finds the cheapest flight listed that meets their time/date requirements without considering other costs.

Except a simple review of the types of people who buy airline tickets will show that, while true-discount fliers will never convert to full-pay or luxury customers, some quasi-discount fliers DO transition to a higher-paying customer.

Why, then, charge a fee that will alienate true-discount fliers AND annoy the quasi-discounters?

Because American Airlines is thinking short-term.  Because they need a quick fix to staunch the stock price bleed.

Everyone agrees that solving such a bold problem ($330 MILLION is a BOLD problem) requires a bold solution.

Here’s mine: 

Bow out of the discount ticket wars.  Make your planes the best in the business, with complimentary everything on every flight.  Find real perks to give first class, business class and frequent fliers (a pillow is not a perk).

Launch an ad campaign touting that flying is part of the “American Dream” and that they can fly the same way folks did in the golden age of air travel.

Run 30-minute infomercials that show off the new “American” way to travel. 

Push “green” initiatives by offering tips on how to pack light and how fewer pounds per passenger helps save thousands of gallons of fuel everyday. 

Banners and billboards would ask people to “Rediscover what it means to be an AMERICAN.”

(I’d love to make part of each plane the no-children zone, but I can imagine the backlash that would create.)

Funeral homes know that it’s just too hard to offer a full-service experience and a discount price at the same time.  True discounters don’t knock on your door if you advertise full-service, and most full-service buyers don’t want to go to a discount firm. 

It’s about time that the airline industry figured it out.  Before we taxpayers have to spend hundreds of billions of dollars saving their skins.

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The Yellow Monster Will Devour Your Ad Budget!

Final Embrace is located just 40 miles from Orlando, so the upcoming NFDA Convention is practically in our back yard!  In fact, I lived in Orlando for almost a decade before moving to the small, sleepy town of Eustis just a few years ago.

All of which means I’ve got a lot of knowledge about the city, the attractions, various clubs/restaurants and other fun stuff to do in the area.


Orange County Convention Center by Flickr User dasroofless

Which is why I’m planning to create a website for those funeral professionals who will be attending the NFDA Convention in October.  On the site (and in special sneek previews on this site) we’ll share tips for getting the most out of local theme parks, bring you updates on plays and concerts taking place at the same time as the convention and offer suggestions for local restaurants and clubs for those who seek exciting nightlife.


Swan Boat in Lake Eola Park by Flickr User Jordi Gomara

Even better, we’re working with a few area funeral homes, cemeteries and crematories to bring some behind-the-scenes tours to convention attendees.  And since we know how important some of the training seminars are, we’ll schedule these tours so they don’t conflict with important convention events.

The site will be sponsored by a few of the vendors coming to the show.  We’ll also mail out a “catalog” of sorts which will highlight our events while showing off the sponsoring companies.


Downtown Orlando by Flickr User Jordi Gomara

Our goal, for vendors, is to provide an inexpensive way to send a pre-show mailer to those who plan to attend. 

For funeral directors, we want to offer some exciting, imformative events and some helpful hints to see more than just the show-biz side of Orlando, a thriving and diverse community that features a ton of world-class golf courses, a plethora of fine, unique restaurants and an impressive array of afterhour and live-theatre venues.

Here’s the convention floor schematic again:

Most people choose their booth location based up on the idea that people will maximize their convention floor time by going to the very edge and walking the perimiter, like this:


I revised the pictures, as the NFDA is blocking the middle entrances – TBT

But humans are usually more savvy than that, and getting their bearings in a new space trumps the most “efficient” use of time.  So most attendees will move toward a wide open space in the convention hall.

This is a more accurate depiction of the typical convention-goer’s route:


I revised the pictures, as the NFDA is blocking the middle entrances – TBT

Why do people walk a floor this way?  First, let’s remember that many attendees have only scheduled one visit to the expo floor.  They’re here to see what’s new and maybe chat with a few company reps they’ve met before.

Or, they’ve got a specific goal, like “finding a new mortuary cot” or “seeing the embalming machines” that will drive their plans.  Others simply want to walk the floor to say they’ve done it and see what jumps out at them.

Either way, for an attendee, keeping equal numbers of booths on either side during a walk maximizes the opportunities for surprises and interesting sites.

The convention givers know this, so when they lay out the floor, they provide for wider aisles 1/4 of the way in from at least two sides, as they’ve done here.

But what about the two sides that don’t have aisles, you ask?

Here, the convention makers know that once an attendee has her bearings, she’ll cut up through the large center booths to find the big aisles at the other end.  The designer of the convention can do this because he knows that the larger booths are more visually exciting and will “pull” the attendees through the hall.

Because of this “pull,” a floor walker won’t just go to the end of the hall and turn 90 degrees.  Usually, the attendee or the group of visitors will ask the question “Is there anything interesting down there?”

If they don’t see anything good, they’ll execute this turn:

And while it’s hard to see in this picture, there are two or three more rows of booths, all costing the vendor upwards of $2000, that will never get visited, unless they create a visual excitement that will entice the visitor to walk out of his way.

One special area of interest and concern for vendors is the “entry zone.”  often, vendors want to be near the doors, since they’ll be one of the first things the attendees see when the doors are thrown open to the public.

While entry zone booths get a lot of first day traffic, most of the visitors are moving quickly away from the entry doors, since the steady stream of visitors will put pressure on those in front to “make room” for the rest. 

Few attendees feel comfortable stopping so close to the doors on the first day because they’ve yet to get their bearings.  And because of the aversion to perimeter skirting as previously discussed, this is the most likely way attendees will react at the entrance:

Being in the “line of fire” as attendees move quickly toward that big aisle and the open spaces will at least get you a brief glance and maybe a return visit at the end of the trip, but being just a few rows away can mean you’ll be skipped.

Is there a bad spot on the convention floor?  Yes and it’s at the very edges or the corners of the space.  I walked the floor of the 2007 convention twice and the saddest-looking vendors were the ones who were stuck in the corners.

Slightly happier were the folks on the east wall who were near the Eternal Image booth.  Eternal Image, an urn and casket maker who specializes in licensed products (AKC Urns, Star Trek Caskets, etc.), had built a large, white-columned booth that drew visitors over to it.  But had Eternal Image not set up such an elaborate and interesting space, many of the side-wall vendors would have seen less traffic.

Interestingly, Eternal Image has already secured their booth for 2008 and it’s not on the perimeter; it’s a 1600 square foot space in the middle section, between the largest block (Batesville Casket) and the center stage of the general session.

These are just some of the issues to consider when planning your location.  But, if you need further proof of the best spots on the floor, check out the updated expo map to see the booths that have already been taken.

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