June 2009


I’m not a huge fan of the celebrity obituary.  They usually tell us very little that Entertainment Tonight, the Enquirer and other publications of even “dubious-er” reputations, haven’t already revealed as they painstakingly rip every shred of humanity away from the carcass of a living American celebrity.

So imagine my surprise when the article by music industry writer Bob Lefsetz refuses to distill Jackson’s history through the typical “he was born on _____ in ______ to parents _______ and _______” filter, instead focusing on the nature of his celebrity, how he went from a talented little boy to an adult oddity – or so it seemed to many of us – and our own complicity in the transformation.

His article starts with the sentence, “He missed his childhood and now he’s gonna miss his old age.”

It’s a fascinating description of his journey, an essay on the musical miracles he performed and the heights of stardom from which he eventually, some might say inevitably, fell.  BE WARNED – Bob’s second sentence contains a very harsh expletive, but it reinforces the first statement and leads into the story.  And while I think he could have done without the f-bomb, it reminds us that this is a raw essay by someone trying to figure out what Michael’s life – and now, his death – means to music and to music listeners.

Read his great article here.

Since I didn’t attend the 2009 show – I sent two of my workers, instead – I had to wait until talking with them to find out how the show went and what their impressions were.

So how was the show?  In a word:  disappointing.

We attended last year’s show and sold 32 of our quilted cot covers.  This year, with the same number of hours to exhibit, we only sold 15.

Additionally, Linda reports that most of the other exhibitors she talked with were equally disappointed and felt that the show was, to quote one gentleman, “a disaster.”

So what went wrong?  Here are a few of the comments Linda made and my observations:

“We saw a lot of students.”  This is good for our business, as many of the students were excited about our products and will, one day, be in charge of buying decisions.  But that doesn’t help the bottom line for this show.

“People already had our covers.”  Yes, we’ve sold well in Kentucky, including last year’s show, but did we sell to everyone?  I probably miscalculated how many of the funeral homes in Kentucky would need another cover so soon.  In some states, the funeral homes are large and have several cots.  In hindsight, the smaller nature of Kentucky funeral homes (60-80 calls a year for most of their members) should have raised red flags for me.

“People weren’t buying from anyone else either.”  The economy, coupled with a slowing death rate (damn cyclical industry!), has encouraged people to hold on to their money.  And maybe quilts are a “winter” product?

“The guy across from us was badmouthing our covers.”  That one really angers me.  I would never go to a trade show and tell visitors how much I hate the guy across the aisle.  I’m tempted to make my anger known to the folks who organized the show.  At the least, we’ll ask not to be situated near him at any other expos.

“There weren’t as many working funeral directors there as last year.”  That seems to be true of both the Kentucky and IFDF shows we attended this month.  I just received the list of funeral homes from the 2009 IFDF show and was dismayed to see that only 46 different funeral homes had been represented.  Take away the ones who had already bought our covers at previous shows and I’m amazed that we sold even 11 covers at the show.  I have a feeling that the Kentucky show will turn out to be a similar situation, with few funeral homes attending that we hadn’t sold to previously.

In the end, we sold 11 covers at the 2009 IFDF show to just 25 funeral homes that had not previously purchased from us.  That’s a pretty good conversion rate, but shows the diminishing returns that attending this show again (at least without interesting, new products) will continue to offer.

Concharodriguez

Meet “Concha” Rodriguez, a Chicago funeral director who uses her teenage experience as a gang member and her current occupation to “scare straight” gangbangers in area schools.

Read the full interview and “600 words” story here.

I’m excited about today’s start of the 2009 Mid-Western Trade Show, sponsored by the Funeral Directors Assocation of Kentucky, but I’m also kinda nervous.

That’s because this is the first expo where our company is exhibiting, but I’m still sitting at home.  Why?  Because it’s finally time to send some of my “minions” to man the booth and sell, sell, sell while I work on projects closer to home.

Lynn and Linda, my two busiest sew-ers, are in Louisville right now, getting ready for the first day of the show, which starts this afternoon at 5:00 pm.  Here’s a look at what they were able to accomplish yesterday and this morning, when they finished setting up the booth:

KFDC_Booth_006

It’s interesting to me how many other booths haven’t even started to set up yet.  And check out the floor.  The show doesn’t require carpet (they don’t even put carpet in the aisles) but I think our “carpet,” made from our fabrics, is a nice “sea of tranquility” on the concrete floor.

We’ve got three days in Louisville, with show hours from 5-8 tonight, 12-3 tomorrow and 8-11:30 on Wednesday.  Their goal is to sell 40 covers.  When Linda and I attended last year, we sold 32 covers to a whole new audience.  I’m hoping this year we’ll get some reorders and some orders from people who didn’t want to “take a chance” last time.

Updates to follow at Linda reports them to me.

The 2009 IFDF Expo and Conference was easy for our company since we operate in Florida.  The show, held at the World Golf Village just outside of St. Augustine, started on Thursday, June 11th and ended, for me, on Friday, June 12th.

My compensation for presenting two seminars was a free booth space.  The 8′ x 10′ space would normally have cost me $375, so I was happy for the trade-off.

Here’s how our expenses stacked up:

FUEL:           $   40
LODGING:      102
MEALS:             65
MISC.:                35
———————–
TOTAL:   $ 242

Had I paid for the booth, we would have incurred $617 in costs, making our pre-show goal, calculated at $50 per cover sold, 12 covers.  Interestingly, we sold 11.

The show was sparsely attended, as far as I could tell.  There were quite a few people missing from previous years, but whether they were kept away by the economy or the location, I can’t say.

Still, we only sold to 2 new funeral homes.  Everyone else was either ordering to replace covers they bought from us at previous shows or getting covers for cots that had not been draped with one of our georgeous cot covers yet.

So was it a good show for us?  Not surprisingly, the answer is both YES and NO.

First, the negative.  I learned that by the time we’re attending a show for the third time, we’ve already exhausted the audience of new funeral homes that attend.  If we sell items on our third attempt, it will be reorders or orders for a new product.  That means we’ve got to keep developing new products and having those ready for funeral directors to buy.

And why not?  We obviously sell a good product – I know that because funeral directors constantly tell us how much they like them – and people now trust us.  In fact, I was excited to see how many of my past customers hang around the booth and even ask “what’s new?”

The positive part is that seeing funeral directors for a third time reassures them that our company is for real and will be hanging around for many years to come.  In turn, that helps clients when they decide who to give their money to.  It’s a trust issue, and I’m glad that we’ve been building that trust so effectively.

So we’re working on getting our dressing table skirts shipped.  We’ve prototyped it, and it works.  But now we have to figure out how to make them in bulk.  We’ve got four orders already, so getting them out within the next few weeks is a big concern.

We’re also working on a casket cover that funeral homes can use for long distance travel or for in-town transport when they want to cover a casket with something prettier than a moving pad.  They won’t be anywhere near as cheap as one of those grimy moving pad covers, but we think there’s a market for them.

In the meantime, we’re planning our next convention, which is the 2009 KFDA show in Louisville next week.  I will not be attending that show.  Instead, I’m sending two of my employees.  Here’s hoping they sell a whole bunch of cot covers!

Thomas:

For my initial reaction, please see the post, Eternal Space: a Debacle?, on my blog.

 
I’m having trouble getting more details from folks at Eternal Space.  To be fair, my advisory role with them was limited to phone conversations by teleconference and a few in-person discussions at trade shows.
 
Still, I thought I was reasonably well-connected with them and I wish I could get one of them to call me back.  That’s not to say that I haven’t had some correspondence with my contacts.  It just means none of it has revealed more than “we closed the company.”
 
I am still a fan of the concept, as I think that the push toward online environments means that people are looking for a place to memorialize loved ones in a virtual environment. 
 
Unfortunately, concept without skillful execution is the real problem here.
 
Remember, Thomas, that I signed a non-disclosure agreement with EternalSpace, so I won’t share with you the detailed private conversations we had, but I do want to share, in a generic way, the public actions which EternalSpace took that contributed to their current situation.
 
1.  They spent big $$$ to launch a product that didn’t exist yet.  The worst way to introduce yourself to this industry is to tell everyone how great your product is and then not have an actual product to show them.  If our company attended the NFDA show and told everyone how great our covers were and then told them we hadn’t actually finished making any of them yet, I’d return with zero sales and a dimished reputation.  ES would have been better served by plastering huge “Coming Soon” signs on a half-constructed NFDA booth.  As it is, they showed a snazzy video of their concept in a 20×40 booth with expensive white carpeting.  When convinced funeral directors said “let me start selling Eternal Space!” the ES guys had to tell them that the launch wasn’t going to be for several months.
 
2.  They created ads that didn’t reflect their unique selling point.  Don’t get me started on how much full-page ads cost (yes, I know you publish for a living, so I’ll tread lightly), but how effective are dollars spent on generic ads?  The last ad I saw showed an old man in a beekeepers outfit with a quote saying something like “I want my kids to know how interesting their grandfather was.”  Take off the ES logo at the lower right and it could be the ad for any number of other funeral industry companies.  Batesville’s logo might sugggest the ad sells customizable caskets, Messenger’s might signal the release of a new register book theme.  Respectance.com’s logo would look at home also.
 
3.  They overestimated the interest of the industry.  They thought they were “revolutionary.”  Truth is, funeral directors appreciated the pretty booth presentation, but couldn’t figure out how to make good money from the product.  They expected the industry to embrace their offering and built a business plan to bolster this misconception.  Had they realized they were selling a niche product, at best, they would have been better prepared, mentally and financially, for the difficulties they faced.
 
4.  They didn’t respect their audience.  This one’s the reason that everyone who works a trade show for me always dresses conservatively, like a funeral director.  Selling to an audience means first understanding the audience and trying to fit in with them.  A funeral director spends every day in a suit and showing respect to them means sharing that experience.  In my workshop, I wear tennis shoes or sandals (if I wear shoes – if I’m sewing I wear socks so I have more foot pedal control).  But on a trade show floor I want my customers to imagine our product, a removal cot cover, being used by a professional, which means I need to be dressed as one.  The Euro look that my friends at EternalSpace tried to use at the 2008 NFDA show – long, scraggly hair, stubble, shirt unbuttoned halfway – may have looked ready for a swanky nightclub, but didn’t fit in at a decidedly conservative venue like a funeral trade show.
 
5.   They quit too soon.  If they were truly committed to this idea and felt they were onto something, they needed to give their product more than a year to gain acceptance.  Our best sales (at trade shows) always come the second year, as funeral directors who enjoyed seeing the “new product” the first year become purchasers of the new product the second year.  In effect, many directors want to see if the company has legs and can last.  No one wants to buy a car from a company that won’t be around next year and no one wants to sell their families a product that won’t be around for a while.  Even worse, they claimed to offer Eternal memorial space; then they shuttered their site.  Ironic much?
 
Sincerely,
TIM

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