May 2009


Here’s what our expenses for the Ohio trip look like:

FUEL $200
LODGING $600
MEALS $160
MISC $90
BOOTH $625
TOTAL $1,675

 I had expected our costs to be closer to $1600, but a few miscellaneous expenses, including two new shelves and some new paper bags (for carryouts), pushed our total higher.

With that estimate and using my $50 a cover rule, I figured we’d have to sell 32 covers or so to pay for the show.  With a final total of $1675 for expenses, I think my goal of 35 covers was reasonable, from a monetary standpoint.  From a practicality standpoint, I was a bit more apprehensive.  See, we’ve been selling well this month, but the first coupla months of 2009 were off year-to-date.  In fact, I was so apprehensive about our outlook at the end of April that I made the decision to attend the Ohio show at the last minute.

It’s amazing how many good business decisions are precipitated by moments of horror and how much clarity comes with fear.  In 2007, I shared our two most difficult moments as a company in the posts Crippling Challenge + Determination = Business Reward/Failure (Part 1) and Crippling Challenge + Determination = Business Reward/Failure (Part 2).  While April 2009 doesn’t compare to either of those experiences, my feeling of dread was creeping up and I knew we had to do something to kickstart sales.

I saved money by driving the convention wagon I bought earlier this year.  The vehicle, which I showed off in the post, Final Embrace, LLC’s New Convention Wagon, was packed to the gills (OFDA 2009, Here We Come!) and fueled up with $2.25/gallon gas in Florida.  If I had planned our fuel better, we could have taken advantage of lower prices in Georgia and fueled twice at a lower rate.  As it is, during the trip up we fueled once in Florida, once in Georgia and once in Ohio.  Ohio was the highest price, with regular unleaded gas going for $2.459 a gallon!

On the way back, we stopped just as we entered Georgia and just before leaving, saving us almost ten cents a gallon.  On two fillups, that meant a savings of $4.  Might not seem like a lot, but we didn’t have to go out of our way to save that money, either.

We stayed in a very nice hotel in Columbus.  My strategy was to choose simple hotels for the two drive-all-days and pick a pampering hotel for the stay in Columbus.  The strategy paid off, as the Drury Inn on Nationwide Boulevard in Columbus was both comfortable and convenient.  Parking was reasonable ($12 a day) and the hotel is connected to the convention center.  Access is made through several air-conditioned walkways and convention spaces.

We ate at three good restaurants in Columbus:  Carrabba’s, The Cheesecake Factory and O’Charleys.  I also had dinner with an old friend at the FlatIron Grill, just down the block from the hotel.  As usual, we skipped the food service on the convention floor, although it looked very good and everyone praised the selection and freshness.

Want to know why I don’t eat on the floor of an expo?  Read the posts, Hey, Vendors. Stop Telling Me How Hungry You Are. and 2008 NFDA Convention: The Tired, The Hungry and The Bored, to better understand my philosophy.

So far, I haven’t decided to attend any conventions that aren’t already planned, meaning we’ll attend IFDF in early June, Kentucky in late June and the NFDA show in Boston in October.  Still, I continue to see the benefit of attending conventions and seeing our customers face-to-face, so next year’s convention schedule will be VERY ambitious.

Here’s what I’m planning so far:

February 1-3, 2010
South Carolina FDA Mid-Winter Conference/Expo
Columbia, South Carolina
Booth Fee:  $520

March 1 & 2, 2010
Georgia Expo
Atlanta, Georgia
Booth Fee:  $500

April 26-28, 2010
Ohio FDA Convention/Expo
Columbus, Ohio
Booth Fee:  $625

June 2010
IFDF Conference/Expo
Location TBA
Booth Fee:  $400

June 2010
Kentucky FDA Expo
Louisville, Kentucky
Booth Fee:  $600

August 3 & 4, 2010
National Funeral Director & Mortician Association
Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
Booth Fee:  $1200

October 2010
National Funeral Directors Association
New Orleans, Louisiana
Booth Fee:  $2400

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The Kentucky FDA Expo in June 21 – 24 and we’re excited about selling some more cot covers!  Last year, our booth was in a good location, but I was jealous of Spencer from Hilltop.net because he got a great corner booth.

No need to be jealous this year, as we got our own corner booth!  Take a look at the floor layout, available on their website at www.fdaofky.com:

2009kfdalayout

Day three in Columbus started early, packing our bags and checking out of the hotel before heading over to the convention center for the lst day of the show.

The expo kicked off for the last time at 9:30 am.  I was nervous about the day, since last days of long expos (3 or more days) are usually kinda quiet.  Often, the folks who are visiting for the entire convention have already walked the floor the previous two days and don’t plan to come back, even if they’ve missed an entire aisle.

On the vendor side, a lot of exhibitors are tired of being on the road and want to get home, which makes the last day an exercise in “watch the clock” or “jump the gun,” in an effort to get out of the hall as quickly as possible.

Luckily, our last day was awesome.  On Wednesday, we sold 15 covers, on Thursday, 17 and on Friday, the last day, we sold an additional 14.

As we winded down to the 12:30 pm finish time, I noticed fewer and fewer funeral directors on the floor.  At most shows, we wait 15 or 20 minutes after the “closing time” to break down, because there’s always one funeral director who is still on the floor and coming back to order a cover from us.

But at this convention, the closing general session started at 12:30, meaning that most funeral directors were in the main room by 12:15 or so and no one was walking the floor.  In fact, the workers from George Fern Co. (the official exhibitor services company at the convention center) were poised to start ripping up the aisle carpet at the stroke of 12:30.

Normally, I’d pack up our booth and then have lunch at a nearby restaurant while all the other vendors fight their way to the loading dock to pack up their cars.  It’s usually very jammed, but this time it looked to be clearing as we finished tearing down the booth, so we chanced it. 

On the road by 2:00 pm, we drove to Cartersville, GA and crashed at a hotel at 10:00 pm.  Seven more hours today and we should be home!

Oh, and I’ll post a “review” in the next few days with something more than just the facts.  I’ve got some impressions of Ohio to share, as well as some insight into what really sells our product at conventions.  And I did a couple of video interviews at the show, so I want to bring those to you.

ofdabooth

I promised a picture of our booth space.  Since I can’t upload from my regular camera – forgot the right cord – here’s one from my phone.

Day three started earlier than the last, with breakfast with Ryan Thogmartin from www.ConnectingDirectors.com.

Over bacon and eggs, we discussed the future of the industry and the role of computer technology in funerals.  Ryan’s site helps funeral directors connect with each other and discuss the prevailing issues of the day.

On the convention floor by 11:30 am, we got ready for the 12:00 noon opening.  Straightening our product, replenishing order forms and prepping for a bigger day than the first.

And boy did we get a bigger day!  We sold 15 covers the first day; day two saw another 17 covers ordered.  Our goal of 35 covers for the show is well within reach. 

Add to that the fact that we’re still getting faxed, emailed and phoned orders from our website – as we usually do – and you can imagine how much we’re going to be scrambling around when we get back to the workshop.

After (another) celebratory dinner, we’re turning in early so we can be ready to check out of the hotel and get to the convention center for a 9:30 am start.

I’ll post a longer update, including details of how much we spent to get to this show and how much we sold, over the weekend.  Until then, keep your fingers crossed that we’ll sell at least 3 more covers so we hit our goal.

While we traveled two days to get to the OFDA Convention, Wednesday was the actual 1st day of the show.  We spent the morning making a few modifications to our setup and chatting with other vendors.  Once we had everything exactly as we wanted, we headed off for a late lunch.

Back on the floor by 3:00 pm for a 4:30 start, I was excited to see how nicely the show was coming together.  The expo floor is quite large, with vendors from every part of the industry.  As a side note, there are quite a few small casket companies here.  That’s a good sign for the cot cover business, as it means that there are a lot of independent funeral homes and funeral directors who are willing to take a chance on new things.

As the start time approached, I was sad to learn that our friends from Eternal Space were not going to exhibit, even though they had booth space reserved and tables and chairs rented.  While I don’t have the full story yet, I know that Dave had planned to attend but that something delayed him.  Maybe he’ll share more detail later.

I’m always nervous as a show opens.  My brain starts saying “maybe this is the show where everyone turns up their nose,” or “maybe no one in Ohio likes your product.”  And I have to do what I do every time:  take a deep breath, plaster on a smile and start talking to people.

Luckily, this show started on a better note, as I ran into Brian and Ann Hanner from Geib Funeral Homes before the show and “bribed” a show official to let them come back to our booth, even though the expo hadn’t opened yet.  After a few minutes chatting with his lovely wife, I finally got Brian to take a closer look at our cot covers and buy one!  His wife picked it out; they chose the Bristol Blue because it matched their signature “Geib Blue.”

With one sale under our belt, we were ready to face the onslaught of hungry Ohio funeral directors – our booth is right next to the food – and it started quickly.

Brian told me he was interested to hear what I think of this show and the funeral directors.  We met a lot of interesting people on day 1, but what I enjoyed the most was that while people from Ohio have their own sensibility, they’re not much different than the funeral directors we’ve met in Kentucky, Florida, Georgia or on the national level.

Sure, there are some real whackjobs out there, and I’ve met them, believe me – but most funeral directors are kind, conscientious people who just want to create a meaningful experience for their customers and a positive place for their employees to work.  And that’s true of people in every state, including Ohio.

We ended the first day with 15 covers sold and promises of several more who have to “check with the boss” to see what he/she wants.  I set an ambitious goal of 35 covers for this show, and there’s still two days left.  I think we can make it.

If you’re in Ohio, why not head down to the Greater Columbus Convention Center and help us reach our goal?  We could use the business.

We left for Ohio on Monday, May 18th.  Our trip went smoothly, and we stopped in Richmond, Kentucky for the night.

I spent the morning with blog reader, Spencer Guiley from www.Hilltop.net, who bought me breakfast and clued me into what he’s been doing lately.  He’s getting ready for the Missouri convention, where he’ll share his easy-to-update funeral home website service with Show-Me state funeral directors.

On the road by nine, we passed through Cincinnati traffic around 10:30 am, stopping every few feet  because of all the congestion.  We cleared traffic around 11:00 and got into Columbus by 1:0o pm.

We found the convention center easily.  The dock workers were very friendly and pointed us to booth #132.  We’re right next to the booth for www.ConnectingDirectors.com and two down from our friends from Eternal Space.

I’ve designed a new floor, made from fabric pieces left over from our quilted cot covers, and it laid out in a jiffy.  Our shelves were already pieced together, since we shipped everything in our car that way, so it was easy to carry them in on a dolly.

The expo doesn’t start until 4:00 pm tomorrow, so I’ll take some pictures as we finish our basic setup in the morning and try to post them before the show starts.

Going to bed now.  Been a long two-days’ drive.

Just finished packing the “Final Embrace Convention Wagon.”

convention packing

We leave at 6:00 am Monday morning.  Too early, I know.  But we want to get a jump start on traffic and be in Kentucky before dark.

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