If you don’t keep up with Connecting Directors, I question whether you’re really connected to this industry.  When Ryan, the site’s prime mover, first contacted me for help getting a press release in order, I wasn’t sure about his chances.  Running a daily site for any industry requires a lot of stamina, but putting out interesting stuff for funeral directors every 24 hours is an even tougher task.

Why?  You know why: because funeral directors are so busy with all the other things in their life that getting them to read a blog or website every day or even once a week is a very difficult task.  And Ryan has done that, day in and day out for several years now.

I say this because I certainly haven’t been as active as in past years.  This blog sits silent most days.  Other times, I begin to write and find that I don’t have much left to say.  The tank’s not empty, not exactly.  It’s just that I’ve already talked about all the topics that I know much about.  I mean, how many more times can I tell you to educate your community about cremation?  If you’re a regular reader and you haven’t been pursuaded, then you are probably beyond my grasp.

It all started when I stopped working in a funeral home.  I don’t have the daily interaction with grieving people or the task of dressing and casketing remains.  I make cot covers now.  Yes, they’re really good ones, and the customers (funeral directors) who buy them are on the frontlines of the industry,  but I’m not “hands-on” anymore.  And that makes it difficult for me to spout my opinion.

So I find myself reading a lot of other peoples’ work.  I’m following the stories on Connecting Directors.  I watch how Brian Hanner at Geib Funeral Homes interacts with his clientele, I have paid special attention to Dale Clock’s insights and commented (probably too often) on his blog.

I will still post here, as I’m doing today, but please consider getting your regular “industry news” from sources like the ones I’ve suggested.

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I didn’t write a lot for 2010, so here are the three posts I think you should take a look at:

Our Cot Cover Business Ends 2009 Better Than 2008

Is OGR Having Trouble Filling Annual Expo?

Overheard at a Visitation – 2010 Edition

Will 2011 be better?  Who’s to say?

See this car and 19 other License Plates to Die For.

Simply Plates (via Neatorama)

Where did I leave off? 

Oh yes, we were wandering Bourbon Street, trying to find some decent souvenirs to take home.  My companion for this trip, my friend Kim, was looking for a voodoo doll for her husband.  Not a voodoo doll that she would use on her husband, but one for him as a gift.

The next day was show day, so we got a good night’s sleep (after climbing into the ridiculously tall beds.  Seriously, there was a stepstool so you could reach the top of the mattress) and were ready to head over to the convention center the next day.

You should know that I’m writing this two months after the show ended, so my exact memories might be a little hazy.  Okay, a lot hazy.  But hopefully I can give you the general idea of what happened and the big benefits we gained and the things we learned.

Our first day on the floor was made eventful by way of an unexpected surprise:  during one of the morning workshops, when asked what advances individuals had made in their business, a funeral director stood up and told the audience that the single best purchase he’d made in recent years was buying cot covers from Final Embrace and that the company was at the show this year.

During the first two hours of the show, we fielded questions and orders from at least twenty funeral directors who had attended the workshop and were open to our sales pitch. 

So we send a big “thank you!” to the funeral director who spoke so highly of us and our product.

The rest of our day went well, boosted by the immediate interest generated by the workshop.  As the day winded down, I noted that we were already a third of the way toward our goal.  I usually set a goal before each show, based upon dollars spent to exhibit and previous year totals.  The three NFDA Expos prior looked like this:

2007 Las Vegas:  40 cover goal, 42 covers sold
2008 Orlando :  100 covers goal, 153 covers sold
2009 Boston:  100 covers goal, 103 covers sold

So I set another 100 cover goal.  My trip to New Orleans was not as expensive as Boston, so setting a similar goal was less about cost and more about expectations.  On day one, we sold more than 33 covers, so we were well on the way.

One of my biggest concerns about going to our 4th NFDA show in a row was that we would eventually run out of funeral directors who had never seen us and would have to rely on reorders and sales of new products to keep up with our goals for the show.

We finally began a full-on push to sell our dressing table skirts at this show, so it was good to see that many people were interested in what new items we had and were willing to order.

I am convinced that, had we not offered dressing table skirts this year, we would have been far off our goal and probably not sold more than 50 covers.

The second day was even more successful, so that we only need five orders on the last day to reach the goal.

15 items sold on the last day helped us break our goal and allowed us to finish with 110 items for the three day event.  Of those, more than 30 were dressing table skirts.  A number of those skirt systems went to funeral directors who had ordered from us before and who would not have visited our booth if we hadn’t let them know that we had something new to offer.

Here’s a final breakdown of our costs:

ITEM COST
Booth  $   2,500
Lodging  $     900
Food  $     300
Fuel  $     200
Misc.  $     100
 TOTAL:  $   4,000

Normally, I would budget $50 per cover/skirt system for this kind of marketing, meaning we needed to sell 80 covers/skirt systems to pay for the show.  Fortunately, selling 30 more items meant that our per item cost to exhibit was less than $37.

When I look back over this show, I think I will remember it as the show that re-emphasized our need to develop other products.  It will also be the show when people started to see that we are “here to stay,” and it’s the show where I finally started to feel like we know what we’re doing at conventions.

Course, next year I’ll probably change it all up.  Who knows.  Chicago 2011 is a long way off!

October 2010 saw the arrival of the NFDA Convention and Expo to the city of New Orleans.  This was our fourth year attending as a vendor.  Below, you will find my overall impressions of the event and some insights into how the convention benefited us.

I hadn’t been back to New Orleans since Katrina hit the city in 2005.  My only pre-hurricane visit, during a Carnival cruise that also stopped in Grand Cayman and Cozumel, had only lasted a few hours, with our entire experience restricted to the French Quarter and the cruise terminal.

So like many Americans, my impression of New Orleans was tourism and, thanks to news reports, flooding.

On the Saturday before the show, we drove from our base in Florida to Slidell, Louisiana.  The drive took just over nine hours and brought us within 30 miles of downtown New Orleans.  We crashed at a recently-built Best Western, which was beautifully-appointed and very clean.  (Good rule of thumb when picking a cheap hotel:  the name doesn’t matter so much as when the building was erected.  An old Radisson is probably going to be less pleasant than a really new Red Roof Inn.)

We got up Sunday morning, had a nice hot breakfast and drove into New Orleans.  As we crossed the low bridge into the outskirts, we started to see signs of hurricane damage.  Second floor apartments burned out, abandoned houses with broken windows, signs for water damage experts.  It wasn’t so much a wasteland – from what we could see from the highway – as much as it was clearly an area that was still trying to recover.

Of course, the downtown areas where the money is made was in better shape.  Our hotel, which was one block from the convention center, was located in a converted warehouse.  Here’s a picture of our room, with it’s 16-foot ceilings:

We spent Sunday morning setting up our booth in the convention center.  We had a great location, just steps off the main aisle with only a large, see-through booth in our way.  We’ve gotten good enough at setting up the booth that it took us less than two hours to go from bare, concrete floors to this:

The show itself didn’t start until Monday afternoon, so we had an opportunity to explore the city and had a great time in the French Quarter.  We had an awesome lunch (try a muffaletta sandwich, unless you absolutely hate olives) and explored the area.  We listened as a street band played an unbelievable set of blues and jazz music while the lead singer’s kid slept on a reclining lawn chair nearby.  We dropped some much-deserved cash in their donation jar (and we weren’t the only ones – these people sounded amazing!).

Part Two later.

A recent article in “The Vancouver Sun” newspaper discusses the 2010 NFDA convention and even mentions our quilted cot covers.  (Here’s a link to the article)

Even better, the photo they use has our booth SMACK DAB IN THE MIDDLE!

I’ve circled our booth in the photo above.  Check out the eight people around our booth, learning about our covers.  This must have been during one of our super-busy times when there was barely any room for visitors in our little space.

I chatted with this reporter for a few minutes between customers and she was very kind and interested in the products.  I finally had to cut our conversation short because of so much interest in what we had to offer.  I’m glad to see she took our conversation to heart and added us to her piece.

The article is a nice “outsider’s” look at our industry.  I’m glad she stopped to talk to us.