January 2009

While I had originally planned to show off our redesigned cot cover models at the South Carolina Expo in early February, I had to change our strategy after a busy December and January pushed our preparations back a few weeks.

So we’re not going to the South Carolina show (which starts Febuary 1st), but I still want to show off our new stuff when it’s ready in a few weeks.

So we’ll be hitching up the wagon and rolling into Atlanta for the Georgia Expo in early March.  The show, co-sponsored by the Georgia FDA and the Independent Funeral Directors of Georgia, should attract a few hundred directors and just under 100 exhibitors.

Since we’re registering kinda late, the booth space will cost us $550 instead of $500.  I’ll choose a cheap hotel for two nights and drive home Tuesday evening.

My tentative goal is to spend less than $1200 and return with at least 10 covers sold.

That’s similar to what I described in the post IFDF Convention: 2007 Roundup.  To paraphrase, we spent a little more than $400 for that show (it was held very near my home) and generated over $2000 in sales.

So if you’re planning to be in Atlanta for the show, make sure you stop by our booth and see our beautiful quilted cot covers up close and in person!


I just received my “thanks for booking your booth” letter for the 2009 NFDA Convention in Boston and I’m excited (it’s a good convention) and a bit concerned.

I took advantage of a new feature at the 2008 expo; I booked my 2009 space in advance.  The benefit of this selection was being able to look at the layout of the booths and the main stage and choose a high-traffic location for my booth.  Another advantage was locking in the 2008 price.

My 2008 convention was a wonderful success, owed mainly to having a good location and enough time to interact with as many attendees as wanted to visit with us.  And while I’ve downsized for the 2009 show (a 10’x10′ corner booth instead of a 10’x20′ island) and expect fewer “wow, this is new!” visitors, I still hope to spend as many hours as possible telling funeral directors about our product and encouraging them to buy.

Which is why the letter I just received (nfda-2009-convention-letter) is so troubling.

Once you get past the payment instructions, two important things are revealed:

After just a single year’s experiment, the main stage in the expo is toast.

The opening night expo “sneek preview” is canceled and the last day is shortened.

Both of these things concerned me, so I immediately emailed Wynn Burke, the NFDA’s point person for conventions.  Here’s his response:

Dear Tim:


Thank you for your valuable feedback. Decisions about the direction of our signature event are not made in a vacuum.  As you correctly noted, in your email, the decision to not hold the general sessions in the Expo Hall was made based on feedback NFDA received. This feedback came from a number of sources, including the attendee and exhibitor surveys, the Exhibit Advisory Committee and the NFDA Executive Board.


In our attendee survey, the one thing voted as the “least valuable” aspect of the NFDA International Convention & Expo was the NFDA Main Stage in the Expo Hall. Results indicated that 30.7% percent of returned attendee surveys rated the location of the stage in the Expo Hall as the “least valuable” aspect of our convention. The exhibitor survey yielded similar, less-than-glowing feedback on the NFDA Main Stage.  


Additionally, NFDA incurred a significant expense constructing the NFDA Main Stage, and renting the necessary high-end lighting and sound equipment needed to create a quality experience for attendees.  Even with our investment in high-end sound equipment, we could not produce the kind of “NFDA Main Stage” environment we’d originally envisioned. NFDA has a fiduciary responsibility to its members – a responsibility we take very seriously. In these challenging economic times, we cannot justify the additional expense of constructing a “NFDA Main Stage” in the Expo Hall.


Feedback from the groups mentioned above also factored into our decision to cut back on our Expo Hall Hours. Nearly 50% of the exhibitor survey responses stated the hours/days were too long. The overall sentiment of exhibitors, attendees and the Executive Board was that NFDA should return to that had been used for previous conventions.




Okay, so the main stage wasn’t as wonderful as expected.  I’ve already suggested how they can make it better (see the post, 2008 NFDA Convention: What NFDA Should Fix) and they seem to be taking some of that advice by offering “exhibitor product presentations” for a fee.

The general session location wasn’t a big concern of mine, so I was more disturbed by the reduction in expo hours.  Here’s an excerpt from the letter:


Here’s where I disagree with other vendors (Wynn cites almost 50% of vendors and attendees claiming the hours were too long) about the length of a trade show expo.

While our first night at the 2008 show was kind of slow sales-wise, we still talked with a bunch of funeral directors.  In fact, we saw quite a number of “expo-only” visitors, locals who would not have visited the show during the week, but opted to take a stroll of the expo floor during the only evening session.

And many of the full convention attendees we met the first night browsed the floor and returned on another day to make their purchase.  By canceling that first night, NFDA cuts my chances to get folks to think it over and come back.  Worse, I think it forces people to make quicker decisions, which can lead to fewer purchases.

For exhibitors who complain that the hours are too long, I have three important words: get over it.

Meeting with past customers and future prospects is a HUGE opportunity!  People fly from all over the country to visit you and see what you have to offer.  Many list the expo as the main reason they come to the NFDA Convention.  And still, you complain about having to spend a few more hours with these folks who want to see you?

Are you kidding me?

Maybe you’re burned out on trade shows, but I wonder if this constant complaining isn’t just a symptom of a larger problem.

Consider the common complaints I hear from other exhibitors:

“No one stops to look at my products.”
“I can’t get anyone into my booth.”
“People just want to take the free stuff.”
“My feet hurt.”
“I’m bored.”
“I stayed up too late last night.”
“This show is sooooo slow.”
“My booth location is awful.”
“The hours are too long.”
“No one wants to buy anything.”

If 18 hours per year at the largest funeral convention in our hemisphere is too much for you (and the tens of thousands of dollars you’ve spent to get there) maybe the real problem is this:


I’ve talked a lot on this blog about how to be better exhibitors.  I’m sure I’ll keep speaking about it and trying to educate my fellow vendors.

But it still doesn’t change the fact that the NFDA cut 5 hours out of my time to talk with my customers and is still charging me $2500 (booth fee alone) for the privilege.  I expect Boston to cost me over $8000.  Before the cut, I needed almost $450 an hour in profit to break even.  Now, with the time crunch, it’s $615.

I guess I’ll just have to talk faster.  All because my fellow exhibitors want to get off their feet a few hours earlier.

A few recent commenters and emailers have asked me questions about pre-need, with two questions specifically about generating cold leads.

Unfortunately, my experience with pre-need is limited to working with the sales force at a large chain (there are three letters in their name) and selling insurance to walk-ins at a small funeral home.

My time spent with that big company brought quite a few interactions with pre-need sellers.  Unfortunately, characterizing those encounters or experiences as pleasant or even tolerable would be over-generous.

In truth, most of those sales people were ruthless and seemed more preoccupied with their own welfare and wallet than with taking care of their clients.

But here’s my caveat:  while I met many “sharks”, I also had the fortune to become friends with some very nice, wholesome and caring individuals who were more concerned with their customers and worked to provide the best possible care.  It’s unfortunate, then, that the machinery in the large corporation seemed designed to eat the nice ones up and reward those with less scruples.

When I left and went to work for a small family firm, I saw the flipside: an ineffective pre-need drive.

Within two years, I took the necessary classes, passed the appropriate test and background check, and received my license to sell funeral insurance for the funeral home.

My pre-need duties, however, were secondary to my daily chores, which included running all the day-to-day tasks required by a small family funeral home.

All of which limited me to selling pre-need to walk-ins, families we had previously served and referrals.

And that, my readers, makes me less than qualified to teach anyone how to generate cold leads.

Of course, I can tell a new salesperson how to leaf back through old files and cold-call widows, checking up on their well-being and trying to encourage them to buy pre-need.  And I can talk about how to present seminars and display at health fairs, but what about the business of generating completely new leads?

Is it about charm?  Should you stand in line at McDonalds wearing a nametag (see the post, DAILY NAG: Wear Your Nametag!)?

Or is it “who you know?”

You got any insight?  Feel free to comment.  We need guidance on this subject.

At “Big Family Christmas” with my dad’s extended family.  37 of us got together this year to exchange gifts, eat an awesome meal (featuring everything from “Alpo on a cracker” to authentic Spanish paella and fried turkey) and play some truly odd games that my family has devised.  Here’s video where I try to explain Holey Board, only to have my cousin ridicule me in the background.

If you want to know more about the game, check out the official website of some people who make Holey Boards for a lot of money.

I also went to an exciting Eustis High School JV basketball game.  Trailing by a point with 8 seconds left, the Panthers drove the length of the court and fed the ball to their big man, Josh.  As he shot the basket, time ran out.

He missed, but the ref signaled that Josh had been fouled while attempting the shot.  After clearing the court, the official gave Josh the ball to shoot two free throws.

The pressure was clear:  sink one and go to overtime.  Sink both and win the game.  Watch the video to see not only Josh’s performance but the opposing coach’s reaction (he’s the one getting ejected from the game after the free throws):

After reading the headline 1 Killed in Funeral Procession Crash, I wondered how many funeral directors are still gladly leading funeral processions and what it will take for us to encourage our clients to eschew this time-honored (and, nowadays, dangerous) practice.

In my days as a funeral home administrator, I seldom led funeral processions, since I was often charged with cleaning up after a funeral had left the chapel.  But before I headed back inside to scrub green oasis stains from beige carpeting, I usually had the harrowing task of stopping three lanes of 55-mpg+ traffic for the procession.

The cussing, honking and rude gestures got so bad that I finally printed this Florida statute on a piece of poster board:

316.1974  Funeral procession right-of-way and liability.  3(a):  Regardless of any traffic control device or right-of-way provisions prescribed by state or local ordinance, pedestrians and operators of all vehicles, except as stated in paragraph (c), shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle which is part of a funeral procession being led by a funeral escort vehicle or a funeral lead vehicle.

Holding up the sign for oncoming traffic at least gave them something to read as they waited.  Still, there were numerous times that I was either verbally accosted or narrowly missed by a vehicle that didn’t care about the law.  One driver, a visitor from Georgia, actually hit my arm with his black BMW X3 as he drove around me and skirted the procession.

Other times I’d get the procession safely on the road, only to get a phone call from someone complaining that they had to wait in traffic for our procession.  One man complained that he had the right-of-way (a green light) and we should have told our procession members to stop at red lights.  Even after I read him the law and told him that our procession, in fact, had the right of way, he tried to complain that we shouldn’t do processions because he, and others like him, didn’t know the law.

We could argue that ignorance is no excuse, but truth is, ignorance gets people hurt.  On better days, ignorance only ends up in a fender bender or hurt feelings.  On the worst days, a little ignorance can end in death, like the news story I cited earlier.

What responsibility do we, as funeral professionals, have to the people in our care during a procession?  Lawyers can tell me all day long that any injury or death that occurs in a procession is not the liability of the funeral professional, but I wonder how I’d feel if someone died in one I was leading.  Would I find comfort in the law?  Would the negative effects of such bad publicity be mitigated because the law says I’m not responsible?

If I were still running a funeral home, I think I’d counsel families against processions.  I’d encourage use of printed directions.  Maybe we’d station staff cars at landmarks along the way, with a note on the map:  “If you get lost, meet up with a funeral home staffmember at the following locations.” 

What would you do?

When word spread that John Travolta and Kelly Preston’s son, Jett Travolta, had died in the Bahamas, I immediately wondered how they’d handle his funeral arrangements.  Would they bring his body back to Ocala, Florida (their current home) for a burial or would they opt for cremation with viewing?

I was mildly surprised to learn that they had him cremated in the Bahamas and brought his cremains home for a private memorial service.

I was saddened to learn that my friends and family didn’t see any problem with this.

My immediate reaction was “how will his friends and family members get closure without his body present?”

Truth is, most Americans are becoming quite comfortable with “no-body” funerals and even more comfortable with the idea that funeral homes just handle the disposition.

And once again, they see a high-profile case where the family (regardless of their wealth) choose to handle services at home or away from a traditional funeral establishment.

This seems to be an important topic, as I’ve covered it on the blog many, many times in the last 2.5 years, so why don’t we spend whole conferences dealing with this issue?

If you own or run a funeral home, how are you planning to deal with the increasing number of people who don’t choose you, but instead opt for direct cremation and private services?

Are you stubbornly sticking with “what you’ve always done” and resenting the choices today’s consumers make?


If we are ready to confront this shift in society, how do we tell consumers that there’s another way (traditional cremation, perhaps?) or that funeral homes are about more than just body disposal?

And if we can’t change the direction, where do we fit into this new reality?

Teach Them: Cremation is a Disposition Option, not a Service Option
Turn News Stories About Cremation into Positive PR
Surprised, She Asked “You can have a viewing with a cremation?”
A Future Without Funeral Homes?
Could You Survive Without Disposition?


As a vendor selling to funeral homes, I’ve been very interested in seeing how current economic conditions will affect the liquidity of my clients and their willingness to buy our quilted cot covers.

Seems my friend Thomas Parmalee and the other editors at Kates-Boylston Publishing are having similar thoughts, and they’ve just published The Funeral Director’s Economic Survival Guide to give important advice during times of tighter cash flow and changed spending habits.

Here’s their press release:

WALL TOWNSHIP, N.J. — If you are a death-care professional worried about your bottom line in this worsening economy, then it’s time to pick up a copy of “The Funeral Director’s Economic Survival Guide: A Comprehensive Handbook on How to Cut Costs and Boost Revenue.”


Homesteaders Life Company, a leading provider of funeral insurance funding and support, is proud to be the exclusive sponsor of the book, published by Kates-Boylston Publications. “‘The Funeral Director’s Economic Survival Guide’ is an important and timeless resource for every funeral home owner, manager and associate,” said Dean Lambert, vice president of marketing for Homesteaders. “We are proud to share a leadership role with Kates-Boylston Publications in providing solutions and resources to help you grow in service to the families of your community.”


Inside, you’ll learn:


  • How to cut costs during an economic crisis;
  • Tips on buying and selling in a tough market;
  • How taxation might change in the months ahead;
  • How to make the most out of preneed;
  • Marketing tips from an array of experts;
  • And much more!

Thomas A. Parmalee, executive editor of Kates-Boylston Publications, noted that the Survival Guide includes 16 chapters and is almost 80 pages long. “In these tough economic times, it’s imperative that funeral service professionals run their businesses as efficiently as possible because that’s what their competitors are doing,” Parmalee said. “‘The Funeral Director’s Economic Survival Guide’ shows how firms can boost revenue in tough times while continuing to provide great service to families.”


The book is available for $75 by visiting www.katesboylston.com or by calling 800-500-4585. “Also, we are offering the guide for free to anyone who takes out at least a one-year subscription to Funeral Service Insider, which doles out business tips and the latest news to funeral service professionals every week,” according to Parmalee, who asked anyone interested in the special offer to e-mail him at tparmalee@katesboylston.com.


A century old insurer founded 1906 in Des Moines, Iowa, Homesteaders Life Company is focused solely on funeral insurance funding and support. It is associated with more than 3,000 funeral homes and 8,000 licensed agents across the United States.


Kates-Boylston Publications, based in Wall, N.J., is the publisher of American Funeral Director and American Cemetery magazines. The company also publishes American Blue Book of Funeral Service, a shipping directory; Funerals of the Famous, Funeral Service Insider and other publications that serve the funeral service industry. Visit www.katesboylston.com to learn more.

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