September 2009


There’s a funny blog, People of Walmart, that chronicles folks seen at the popular store.

Here’s a car seen at a Walmart:

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Reading back over my last post, Bringing More $$$ to NFDA Convention This Year, I realized that I started to talk about all the expenses that went up with this year’s show, but only talked about the hotels.

In fact, I started a paragraph with the sentence, “Consider first the hotel situation.”

And I never offered anything else to consider!

It’s been crazy around here lately, can’t you tell?

Truth is, most of the expenses are what people would normally pay.  It’s just that I was spoiled last year by having the show in my own backyard.  This year, I’ve got to figure out how to ship everything to Boston and fly myself there (got tickets now, thank goodness) and get around town with public transport and…

Just a lot to consider.  And spend money on.

I’m sure there’s a magic formula that NFDA uses to choose the site of their conventions, but while strategy is important – moving geographically so everyone eventually gets a convention in their backyard – I wish there could be a greater emphasis on the economics of it all.

Consider first the hotel situation.  NFDA arranged discounts for blocks of rooms at several nearby hotels.  They started at $140 a night for a hotel that is four miles from the convention center.  The Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) shows that the public transport option for this trip takes an hour and requires a bus ride and transfers to two separate subway lines.  Can you imagine doing that twice every day for the run of the show?

The other hotels are closer, but more expensive, with rates starting at $249 a night.

Compare that with hotels in Las Vegas and Orlando, the last two stops on the NFDA Expo schedule, where decent rooms, close to the convention center, could be had for less than $100 a night.

Yes, Vegas and Orlando are designed for visitors and can’t offer the rich history of a town like Philadelphia or Boston.  But in this economy, it hurts to spend over a thousand dollars for a hotel room that’s still at least a 20 minute walk/subway ride away from the convention center.

Of course, I’m still looking forward to this expo.  I’ve never been to Boston and I believe that many of the customers we didn’t see in Las Vegas and Orlando (whether because they were waiting for this show or because the others were too far away form their Northeast homebases) will turn up and give our quilted cot covers a chance.

I’ve made this early checklist to help me plan our booth at the 2009 NFDA Expo.

However, there are some other vendors out there who might find this useful, so I’m sharing it with my audience.

BOOTH DESIGN & SETUP

– Choose floor material and how to secure it
– Test booth elements, both setup, teardown and strength
– Unroll banners and look for any peeling, cracking, etc.
– Time setup and teardown

PRODUCT

– Calculate amount of product to take
– Weigh product for shipping requirements
– Prepare packing materials

PROMOTION

– Design or update convention fliers (I’ve got some from the last show that I like)
– Other handouts?  Want keychains or other crap to give away?
– Print bags for information and the odd “carryout” order.
– Print order forms

TRAVEL

– Hotel Reservations
– Flight Reservations
– Map Subway/Bus routes to hotel, convention center, airport
– Input info into www.TripIt.com so people can follow my movements
– Seek out some great restaurants in Boston

SHIPPING

– Get hands on a pallet
– Figure out how to strap stuff to a pallet
– Figure out how to wrap a pallet in cling film
– Get the pallet to a loading dock
– Arrange for pickup
– Cross fingers and hope the stuff makes it to Boston in one piece!

MISCELLANEOUS

– Find some stuff to write here so this list doesn’t look so short.

If you’ve been following me on Facebook, you will know that I’ve been having some MAJOR issues with our COTCOVERS.com site and how it’s listed on search engines.

When we re-made the site to add online purchases and clean up the layout, we inadvertently messed up some code that, in effect, caused search engines to miss our description.

And while we still had the #1 listing on engines like Google, there was only a link showing www.cotcovers.com and no description to help visitors know what we were selling.

In effect, our listing looked like this:

Cot Covers 
www.cotcovers.com

Instead of:

Cot Covers | Mortuary First Call Stretcher Covers | Quilted With…
To see 15+ styles of beautiful, quilted cot covers, designed to fit your cot or a dressing table during ID viewing, click the link above.
www.cotcovers.com

And what was happening was that people looked right past our prime real estate and clicked on our competitors’ sites, because ours didn’t look like a Google or Yahoo! listing.

I spent weeks agonizing over what was wrong.  I spent $30 on a Godaddy.com tool to help with search engine optimization.  I called everyone I know.  And I got nowhere.

Then I looked over the site, perused every page of the WordPress.com software – I use it to host the eCommerce blog theme that powers our Cotcovers.com website – and found the one section that was set to “hide site from search engines.”  Why that choice was checked off is a mystery, especially considering that we get so many of our first-time orders from funeral directors who search the Internet for “cot covers” or “quilted cot covers.”

I made the change before leaving on vacation (9/6 – 9/13) and promptly forgot about it.

Then, I got an email from an excited friend who noticed that Google, after five days, had re-indexed the site and found the description.

Is it any coincidence that we’ve had five new orders since the change?

Truth is, we’ve done a PILE OF WORK the last few years to teach people that our cot covers are a better alternative to the cordura or fake fur stuff that they usually buy.  We’ve added great features to our covers and watched as the competition copied our innovations.  We’ve run ads, published articles, spoken at conferences, exhibited a trade shows far and wide.

We’ve done all the important legwork, and to have orders drop off because of a stupid website issue was REALLY, REALLY scary!

So I’m glad we’re fixed.  And I’m really glad that so many funeral directors have experienced the awesomeness of our cot covers that they are talking about them to their friends and the industry is starting to buzz about our quilted covers.  It’s a great feeling to know that creating a good product, getting important feedback to make it better, building relationships and providing the industry’s best customer service have combined to make us so successful.

Still, we couldn’t do it without our awesome client firms.  You know, the ones who take a chance on our small company and buy one of our covers.  We know our stuff isn’t cheap – although we’re usually cheaper than the plain-color ones from Ferno – so we appreciate when funeral directors call back to order more.  That’s just about the highest compliment we ever get, and we’re getting it on a weekly basis these days.

I’ve never been afraid to talk about how much we sell, how often we sell it and how successful or unsuccessful we are at trade shows and with advertising.  And I’m not worried about telling you that our August 2009 was 1/4 our sales of August 2008.  Fortunately, because of the computer fix, our September 2009 is on track to be about 125% of our September 2008 sales.

Even considering the current economy, our numbers through July were up 10% over last year for the same period.  And even considering August’s numbers, we’re still up 7% on the year and I expect to finish December neck-and-neck with the amazing 2008 numbers.

Now, if I can just get our new uniform store (www.eliteuniformstore.com) to start cranking out the sales, we’ll be in great shape!

My friend Bill says he can’t believe that funerals are so expensive.  In fact, he thinks funerals have gotten so expensive that he doesn’t know how even upper middle class people afford them.  “Who can afford a ten thousand dollar funeral?” he asks me.

Then he grins, like he’s got the secret.  He says, “that’s why I’m being cremated.”

Bill is, by no means, in bad financial shape.  He can afford a high-class burial.  Heck, he might even own cemetery property already.

Bill’s comments don’t convince me that cremation is taking over just because he can afford an expensive burial but doesn’t want one.  And Bill’s insistence that funerals cost too much doesn’t trigger my belief that cremation is taking over.

The biggest reason I see Bill’s comments as a gigantic, blinking “Welcome to Your Cremation Future!” sign is because of his age and his family.

Bill is 80 years old. 

Okay, you say, but Bill probably doesn’t have children who live nearby, making cremation easier.

Not true:  Bill lives with his wife in a house he bought in the 1950’s.  It’s just down the street from the high school he graduated from.  And a block away from the elementary school where his kids learned basic math.  His daughter and her son live two doors down from him.  His son, while in another state for employment reasons, visits often with his family.

Yes, some seniors who have moved to the Sunbelt from Chicago might opt for cremation because of the money or the miles.  But Bill is not one of the older folks who choose cremation for financial or geographic reasons.  Bill has chosen cremation because it’s what he wants and as a reaction to specific choices made by the funeral industry.

Now, I’m not faulting funeral directors here; the increase in funeral prices during the last 20 years can be traced to many factors outside of a director’s control.  The truth is that those of us who provide frontline services to families have done little to stem the rising costs of traditional funeral services.

But do we even know what can be done?  Are storefront funeral homes the answer?  Maybe not.  True, some funeral directors have started to return to the “chapel-less funeral home” model, which asks customers to find another location for the services in exchange for a funeral provider that can offer lower prices because of less overhead. 

Others have eschewed the cost-conscious consumer and built even more elaborate funeral homes targeted at the clients who want and can afford a more expensive and elaborate service.  I think this type of specialization is important for a diversifying marketplace – while the market once chose a single option, burial, from a singular type of provider, the current trend is toward a wider range of options – and I believe there is room for several funeral providers in each area who don’t compete on price, but on abundance or scarcity of choices.

Unfortunately for the large bulk of funeral homes built on the idea that the traditional burials make up for the cremations, the time when consumers might have been convinced that cremation was a bad idea has passed.  When Bill’s kids, now in their fifties, decided that cremation was okay for them, the writing was on the wall.  But that was years ago.  Now that Bill has told them he’s cool with cremation and that he actively chooses it over burial, the fat lady’s singing.

What, then, should be the reaction of funeral professionals?  First, stop reading some fool like me telling you that cremation is taking over.  You should be figuring out how to benefit from this change.  And stop fighting it, for your own sake.  There’s no changing it.  Not now.

Bill has spoken. 

Wanna know more of my thoughts on cremation?  Read these previous posts:

Minnesota Funeral Director Opens Up About Effects of Cremation
Just Another Celebrity Cremation
Teach Them: Cremation is a Disposition Option, not a Service Option
Eulogies are for the Living
Surprised, She Asked “You can have a viewing with a cremation?”
Creating a “Must-Have” Funeral Experience
A Future Without Funeral Homes?
Could You Survive Without Disposition?