January 2010


Heads up to our friends attending the South Carolina Funeral Directors Association Conference and Expo:  we’ll be there!

We’re heading North to show off our quilted cot covers to the great funeral directors in South Carolina.  I’m excited, since the organizers tell me that funeral directors from at least three other states regularly attend the show.  In fact, I’ve heard from a number of other exhibitors that South Carolina is one of the best Southern shows to attend.

Truth is, we were disappointed by last year’s Kentucky expo and did not expect to attend many other small shows.  Our NFDA presence has been such a great benefit to us that we considered sticking to larger expos and forgetting about the smaller venues.

But then we took a long hard look at our last couple of shows, including the Ohio, Georgia and Florida shows, and came to a surprising conclusion:  small shows are usually just as profitable as the big ones!

Oh, but one caveat:  only for the first two years.  After that, we have to either find a new product to push or take a year or two off.

Our Independent Funeral Directors of Florida expos were great the first two years, but the third year saw a dropoff, mostly because we’d already sold covers to every funeral director at the show.  Our pool of potential new customers shrank every time we sold to another person from the group. 

So we’re planning to roll out our dressing table skirt design at the IFDF show in June.  In fact, we’d like to show it off at the Georgia Expo in early March, but I’m giving my team time to get everything squared away without crazy pressure.

This South Carolina expo, February 2-3, is going to cost us less than $1000 to attend.  First, we’re staying with my uncle, who lives in Columbia, so no hotel room.  The rent of the booth itself is just shy of $600 and my Prius sips gas sparingly, so we should be able to make it there and back on just over two tanks of gas.  Add to the total some food and other incidentals and I’m thinking $800 or so for the entire event.

After we get back, we’ve got just a few weeks to process all the orders and head out to the Georgia Expo, which is March 1st and 2nd in Atlanta. 

Come see us at a show!  Remember, we always give a healthy discount for Expo orders.

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I read a lot of blogs.  My feed reader has almost 50 blogs in it and I try to read something from each of them on a regular basis.  True, there are some blogs that update more often and, because they’re more interesting, get my attention every day.  Other bloggers update every few weeks, but I keep them in my feed reader because they’re just so darned interesting.

One of my favorite bloggers, a down-to-earth guy named Trent, writes “The Simple Dollar,” a blog about personal finances.  Three years ago, he blogged about tackling 101 Goals in 1,001 Days.

Now, he didn’t quite make it, but he managed 52 of them and is donating money to charity to make up for the others (that was goal #26).

In a similar vein, and because it clearly worked well for him, I am planning 50 goals in 500 days.  Now, I hear your question:  Why fewer goals and fewer days? 

First, fewer goals is more obtainable.  And while Trent might not have a big issue with not actually finishing, I’d like to cross everything off that list.

Second, I already have long-term goals, many of which, conveniently, are set to end in the next few years.  500 days works out to early June 2011, which allows me to set a lot of incremental goals that will track along with my overall big goals and get me there in the timeframe I’ve set up.

Only problem?  I haven’t even started writing the goals yet!  Anyone want to make some suggestions?

I know one of my first goals is going to be writing a book.  I started one, which never quite panned out.  I’ve got part of a fiction book written and I want to finish it.  But what I’m really excited about is a book that develops from interviews with funeral directors.

In short, I want to write about the habits, plans and goals of effective and successful funeral directors.  What makes them great businesspeople, how they handle their unique jobs and how the industry has changed, including the challenges now facing their firms.

So look for my goals in the next few days.  And comment with some suggestions.  I gotta find 50, remember?

The quilted cot cover business that started in my one-car garage in 2003 has seen some pretty impressive growth in the past.  During the first few years of our business, sales tripled annually.  Then, as the business began to mature and we gained a foothold in the industry, our growth “mellowed” to a still-impressive 50% more each year.

2008 looked like a plateau, with the year ending with 10% more sales than the previous year.  And while it was a good omen, I was still sad to see the days of 50% increases end.

After a rocky start to 2009, where year-to-date sales in the first six months were off by as much as 30% from the previous year, we began rebounding in August.  Steady gains in September and October – helped along by the 2009 NFDA Convention & Expo – prepared us for an absolutely crazy November and December.

How good was the upswing in business?  We ended 2009 with more than 10% greater sales than 2008! 

That’s right, in a down year, when most businesses are struggling to keep the doors open, we added 10% more sales.

So how did we do it?

First, we are fastidious (I love that word) about tracking our sales numbers and comparing our current figures with previous results.  On any given day, I check how we are doing compared with the same month in past years as well as how we are doing compared to the past month. 

While January and February were off the 2008 numbers, March saw an increase, which might have bolstered my spirits, if a healthy portion of that hadn’t been due to the Georgia Expo we attended.  I am careful to track how much of our business comes from conventions, wholesale customers and the website, so I knew that while our convention business was bringing in new sales, our other avenues were falling off.

April and May were not any better, but by that time we’d already begun a recovery plan.

First, I reached out to our wholesale customers, the ones who resell our product on their websites, through their sales reps and in their catalogs.  We offered an even-better wholesale discount during the summer, hoping to jumpstart our wholesale customers’ sales machinery.  I also began seeking out new resellers to add to our list.

In June, we signed up three new regional supply companies to resell our product.  Their exuberance about the product helped spark sales and the rebound began in earnest in August.

We also worked harder on the website, fixing some bugs in the search engine optimization and adding new designs to our offerings.  The new covers, while not huge sellers so far, have bolstered our line, filling in a few gaps left by discontinued fabrics that we can no longer get from our suppliers.

In September, we added “morgue cart covers” to our website, in hopes of capturing more of the hospital market.  Many hospitals use a cart with a metal-tubed framework to cover the body.  This has a fitted fabric cover over the top, giving the cart the appearance of an empty draped table.  Interestingly, the companies that sell the carts do a lot of advertising on the Internet about their great tables, but they never tell you how to buy a replacement when the one you have starts to look like crap.

We’re using our FluidBlocker nylon fabric to create lightweight covers that meet both OSHA and infection control requirements.  So far, we’ve sold several dozen of them are we’re looking for ways to get the word out to hospitals around the country.

The 2009 NFDA Expo exposed us to a number of new customers, with 113 covers sold during the convention.  Since then, we’ve been riding a wave that the convention created, with many new customers calling months later to buy “that great cover we saw at the convention.”

Like most companies, we spent a lot of 2009 cutting costs, re-evaluating our core expenses and rethinking strategy.  Because of intelligent decisions, a reluctance to shout “the sky is falling!” and an industry that believes in our product, we came out of 2009 better than we started.

How about you?  Did you take time during 2009 to differentiate yourself from your competitor?  Did you rethink your basic plan and search for new markets for your compassionate brand of funeral care?  Did you buckle down and cut some unnecessary spending?

If you’re still looking for something to improve your firm’s appearance and set you apart from your competition, why not consider one of our beautiful quilted cot covers?  They’re affordable, amazingly versatile (and protective, thanks to our great lining) and guaranteed to add comfort to any removal.

Visit our product site at www.cotcovers.com.

Anyone else host or attend a holiday remembrance service this year?

I went to one hosted by a good friend of mine at his corporate funeral home.  It was on a cold, rainy night.  I was amazed at how many of his clients braved the wet streets and construction (his company is building him a beautiful new facility) to attend the short service.

They read all of the names of those they had served the previous year and had a wonderful caroling group in period costume sing some beautiful songs while they lit candles in commemoration.  They ended with a prayer and a word from the funeral director.

In past years, he’s asked families to decorate a tree with an ornament they had made, he’s given away dove ornaments to everyone who attended and held candlelight services in the cemetery attached to his funeral home.

No matter what he’s done, the people who attend – sometimes hundreds, sometimes less – are touched by the gesture of remembrance and reaffirm their bond with his firm and his staff.

Is it any wonder that his funeral home continues to grow each year?