Be Our Guest


From the desk of our friend, Kim Stacey:

Join Us in an Empowering Conversation

The launch event for the Association of Women Funeral Directors will be held on Tuesday, August 18th, 2009. Kim Stacey, the Founder and CEO of the association will be joined by Karen Cappello, PCC, CLC.

Karen has been coaching coaches and entrepreneurs to build their businesses for the past 7 years.  She has earned the prestigious Professional Certified Coach designation from the International Coach Federation, and is a Master Certified Learning Facilitator, one of only 10 in the world. 
 
“Karen’s specialty is facilitating growth for individuals and businesses,” said Kim, when asked why she chose Karen to help her celebrate the launch of the Association. “She is the perfect woman in so many ways: professional, witty, wise, and a highly-experienced coach.  Karen always makes you feel special – and I want all who join us to know just how wonderful they are, and just how much I appreciate them!”

The hour-long event will take place between 11 and Noon, PDT, 2:00 to 3:00 pm ET. All who wish to attend can send an email to: awfdlaunch@aweber.com. “All you’ll need to join us is your telephone – and a comfortable chair!”
For further details on the benefits of membership, visit the AWFD Web site at www.wfdconnect.com.

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My friend, Kim Stacey, just sent me this press release:

The newly-formed association is looking for women who want to share their expertise, energy and insights to strengthen the presence of women in funeral service.

The AWFD Advisory Board consists of 5 AWFD members. It provides counsel, advice, contacts, professional skills and experience. The goal is to have 3 licensed professionals and 2 mortuary college students or apprentices working in the field.

The most recent appointee is Kristan McNames, of Grace Funeral and Cremation Services, in Rockford, Illinois. “We’re delighted to have Kristan join us in leading the AWFD. She has a unique vision for her firm, is an advocate for a more modern approach to funeral service.”

Board membership is designed to work with the often hectic schedules of funeral professionals. “We meet via conference call six times per year, or when an issue needs to be addressed. All appointments are for one year,” shared Kim Stacey, AWFD founder, “but we’re keenly aware of the stressful nature of their day-to-day service to families in their communities. It is not our intention to add to their stress level in any way – so we keep Board activities to a minimum.”

If you’d like to be a leader within AWFD, you may apply for Advisory Board membership by completing the online application found on the Web site, http://www.wfdconnect.com. You will find a link to the application on the Home page of the site. Once completed, the content of your application will be submitted directly to the CEO for review.

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As always, I love attending the conventions with Tim.  Supporting him, selling his products and being part of the excitement that is generated by the folks buying his cot covers really lights me up!  Meeting the attendees and other vendors is great, too, as then I can put a face to a name when I’m reading the blog or Tim is talking about them.

Tim had the floor installed and the booth assembled on Saturday, with several good friends and fellow salespeople.  I arrived on Monday, while Tim and the others were there on Sunday to start selling.

This year we had an incredible location, good lighting, a dance floor that really made us look different, and more people than ever to help with the booth.  We were always busy and hopping!

Tim made many changes to the display since last October and surprisingly enough, they were much more effective than before (who’d a thought it could get better?).  Along with having the open booth style that he advocates to everyone he coaches, consults with or generally gives tips to on the blog, the design encouraged even more folks to stop and look – and usually buy.

As last year, our goal seemed almost unobtainable.  I felt certain we could pull it off.  Tim’s posts have told you just how great we did.  He is still getting orders as a result of the convention!

My role in photo-taking this year didn’t get very far.  It was so busy that I only took a few and a majority of those didn’t come out well, and I found that frustrating.  Tim had a new way to video folks for the podcasts – a Flip Camera – and he interviewed several vendors when he could get away.

One of the “other” cot cover companies did not attend this years’ convention.  Last year, Tim provided good, sound business advice in his Final Embrace Contributors Forum.  I attended that event and listened as he gave thoughtful assistance to several first-time businesses.  There were several who seemed intent on NOT listening to his advice and, not surprisingly, they didn’t attend this year’s convention.

Tim has been working with consulting clients for quite a while now and those companies had made very positive changes to not only their booths, but to some of their sales strategies.

Always the innovator, Tim set up and hosted a Mort Dinner at a very nice restaurant on Monday evening for anyone that wished to attend.  We had about 12 attendees and the talk was non-stop.  It was a lot of fun, provided lots of insight to many, and declared very successful by all!

Tuesday was just as busy as Monday. We had a new “body” to replace one that early in would think everyone on our team had been selling cot covers for years!  Tim has a pretty specific and easy to do sales presentation, but everyone was so genuine and passionate about the product, they did a truly awesome job!  I went to another booth for three hours to help with some specific coaching.  When I came back to our booth to check on things and go to lunch, it was so busy, I couldn’t go back to the other booth for the rest of the afternoon!

I did not get to stay for the final day, Wednesday, but from everything I’ve heard, it was just as busy and exciting as it was on Monday and Tuesday.

Am I going to Boston next year?  I sure hope so and I’m putting in my convention team request right now!  Being part of the Final Embrace Team is a delight and I’m glad to be there to help, in any way, every step of the way! 

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Robin Richter is a Human Resources Expert,
an avid motorcycle enthusiast and,
as the owner of several Boston Terriers, 
is a “rabid” fan of the breed.

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In response to our posts, Is The Funeral Consumer’s Alliance More “Predatory” Than the Funeral Industry Itself? and FCA’s Slocum and I (Hopefully) Have a Civilized Debate, New York State funeral director Michelle Carter writes:

Mr. Slocum wrote: “You may not like FCA’s message of consumer education and empowerment, but that does not give you the right to make untrue statements about how we operate.”

As a funeral director, I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing that our client families in general were better-educated about the funeral process and what their options are. A significant portion of every dealing with every family involves explaining all the options available to them so they can make the most informed decision possible.

Unfortunately, the number of families we deal with who have been misinformed and are confused about their options and costs seems to be growing, not shrinking. I blame part of this on the numerous websites and organizations like the FCA that make broad statements like, “Well, in most places you can do X, Y and Z…” but make no effort to provide information about specific statues. Every state has different laws and options vary significantly depending on where you are.

Like Tim, I also take exception with the FCA’s apparent belief that “low-cost” and “good” go hand in hand when it comes to funeral service. While that is sometimes true, it’s also true (as in every other industry) that you often get what you pay for.

If cost were the only thing people were concerned with, we’d probably all be driving around in Geo Metros. However, every individual and every family has different tastes, desires, and needs, and all of those things will influence how much they spend, and what they spend it on.

And I wonder why there is no mention in the FCA literature I’ve seen that the increases in funeral prices over the last 25 years have not kept pace with inflation. 25 years ago, funeral homes made around 11.5% profit on each funeral, according to American Funeral Director Magazine, compared to the roughly 6.12% in 2007. Expenses have grown 23% more than income has. By comparison, the average new home price has increased over 264% during that same period.

Mr. Slocum wrote, “If the worst elements of funeral service don’t reflect your business practices, why are you personally offended? Don’t you agree those elements should be exposed so honest businesspeople can separate themselves from scoundrels? You could do a lot more to help that cause by working with us than by snarking at a consumer charity.”

I agree with Tim on this point: in our capitalist society, the funeral homes or directors that take advantage of families, charge exorbitantly high prices or are otherwise bad will not stay in business that way for long. Word of mouth travels fast. However, when you’re part of an industry that gets slammed, of course you’re going to take offense. It’s the same as when good police officers, good mechanics, and good doctors are offended by those who paint them with the same brush as they paint the bad apples. It puts you in the position of being guilty until proven innocent.

But I’m also skeptical of the assertion that there are funeral directors who are giving extra discounts to members of the FCA. The funeral home’s expenses will remain the same, regardless of how much of a discount they offer. So are they making that up in overall higher prices? Are they charging non-member families more to make up for it? Is that fair?

I knew of a funeral director (no longer in business) whose GPL showed outlandishly high prices. However, he offered families a discount of 15-20% if they paid their bills before the day of the funeral. Personally, I’d rather work with someone whose pricing is straightforward and not so gimmicky.

As someone who sits on the board of a local charity, I also have issues with any organization that calls itself a charity, but spends so much of its income on overhead. The Red Cross has gotten flack for spending just $0.10 of every dollar on administrative costs, but it appears that for the FCA, that amount is significantly higher.

I think we can all agree that we want our consumer families to make the best, most well-informed decisions possible. The question is whether or not they are hearing all sides of the story.

michellecarter.jpgMichelle Carter is the former owner of the Center For Transition, a grief counseling and funeral consulting company.  A licensed funeral director, Michelle is now the Assistant Manager of the E.O. Curry Funeral Home in Peekskill, NY.

Spencer commented on the post, Tim and Robin Discuss “Funeral Home Blogging”, and was gracious enough to answer my last question:  Do funeral homes REALLY need the Internet? 

First off, allow me to thank Tim for such a great blog, and for the opportunity to write this post.  I’m not a writer so please bear with me as I try to bring out some points that I believe are important.  I believe that Funeral Homes are just now starting to see the plus in getting a website.  My goal is to make it something that they find useful, something that helps their business.

Since this post is about Blogs and Web Site, let’s look at the meaning of both words:

Blog:   A frequently updated journal or diary—the first thing that pops into mind is: happenings in everyday life: such as….a funny thing happened today as I was driving down Elm St…….

Web Site:  A website collection of pages of text, images, and other files (such as audio) that make up a company online presence.

I would like to take a look first at what a website should be, or is, to a business.

Bill Gates once said: “There are two types of businesses in today’s world.  Those that are failing, and those that have an online presence”.

Your online site is much like a fingerprint—it marks you, and there are parts about each site that are different.  With blogs it is harder to customize it to fit YOU.  With ONE look when you first go to a site you can tell if they are using Blogging software, Front Page (or something close) or if they have a custom, professional website.   A website must FIT you.  If it doesn’t, you won’t have good success with it.

With the World-Wide-Web there has been unlimited possible ways for people to get their message out for others to see.  There is the younger age, “personal” way of blogging it, and there is the professional way of doing it through a traditional website.

Funeral Homes have always been a place of dignity, and a place where respect is given to the family that has lost a loved one.  That dignity must not be thrown out the window for the sake of keeping up with the 21st century or just to save some money.   A professional website speaks of care, and something that takes work, and maybe some money, to put together and keep up.  While a blog is, and can be a lot of work, in most cases it is free (or very low cost), and can’t be customized to where it can be like a fingerprint.

When visiting a business website most people are looking for something pertinent to that field. If you go to a Hotel Website, you are most likely looking for rates, and maybe photos of the rooms. If you go to a Funeral Home website most likely you are looking for an obit, or directions, or to learn more about the place you are interested in making your arrangements.  This is all much more possible, and easier with a website, than a blog.  You can control the inner workings with a website with ease, and you can make it work FOR you and not you for it.

With a website you have much, much more freedom to add, and work on your website to make it reflect YOU. Adding forms, photo galleries, download galleries, video files, email lists, guestbook, calendar, Shopping Cart, and audio files are much easier, and some of those might not even be possible with a blog.  Some blogging software doesn’t allow the owner to have Java script, or Flash.  This isn’t to be something you have to work around…this should be a tool that works for you.
 Since the first blog (I believe the first blog was started in 1997) there has been a place and a time for a person/company to have, and use a Blog.  

Blogs have been and always will be an important item in today’s online world, there is no denying that.  As of Dec. 2007 there was an estimated 112 million blogs.  But the traditional website still has the major role in the online world.  

I feel that in most cases a blog’s usefulness ends at the place of Professional Business.  As I think about it, a blog might be best suited for a Funeral Director.  The Funeral Director can update it with either pertinent information or everyday like facts.  If a link is placed on the Funeral Home website to that blog, that is up to the Funeral Home.   Maybe the best way to mix a blog and a website for a funeral home is the way Dale’s friends at geibfuneral.com do.  I must say I was impressed with the way the blog was integrated into the site.

In the last post by Tim, titled Do Funeral Homes REALLY Need the Internet?, he says:

Does this mean that funeral homes should run out and get the latest, greatest technology, just because the kids have it?  You can answer that for yourself (hint:  NO).

But it does mean that the day is quickly approaching when those 20 and 30 year olds will be deciding which funeral home to use for dad’s service or grandma’s memorial.  And they don’t pick up phone books anymore.

I agree!  The people you are serving today are the ones who use the internet to do their searching.  If you aren’t there….how do they find you? 

I guess my ending line would be: Your site should be YOU.  If YOU and your Funeral Home are more of a tech savvy, updated FH, then blog it baby!

As I type this my company is in the process of developing some new software that will help funeral homes with the issue of websites.  When it is completed I hope to send a sample to Tim and let him check it out and give us his thoughts.  I think he will be impressed with the ease of making, producing, and updating a website.

A recent article, “Is the Future Really So Grim?” by Michelle Carter elicited a reasoned response from Dale Clock of the Life Story Network of funeral homes.  Here’s how Michelle responded to his remarks:

I agree with what you’ve said- it is going to be a challenge. I am a bit familiar with the Life Story network, and it seems as though our philosophies and the services we offer are quite similar.

As for the impact all of this work and innovation is having on funeral directors, I think we’re going to have to find a balance between what we’re willing and able to do on our own, what we can farm out, and what we’re simply not able to do.

Here in NY, it’s both a blessing and a curse that we’re not legally allowed to serve food or drinks in the funeral home. Organizing a reception for me usually just involves a few phone calls.

I served my residency at an independent firm that handled nearly 600 calls the year I was there. I was on call 6 days/week. I lost count of the number of 12+ hour days I put in, got called out in the middle of the night, only to get little sleep and do it all over again.

We were fortuante enough to have a phenomenal office staff who did a lot of the more time-consuming clerical work, like scanning photos for tributes, ordering supplies, etc.

Now I don’t have that luxury, and I think most of us are in the same boat. We really are going to have to weigh what services we’re willing to offer, can handle offering, and whether the return is worth it. While I may choose to promote certain offerings over others, my families are aware that we can accomodate most requests, or offer a reasonable or even better substiution.

Having to do more with less is a trend that isn’t unique to our industry. After all, we no longer get meals on airline flights, we check out our own items at the grocery store, and fewer social workers are handling a more extensive caseload, etc., etc.

There’s no reason funeral directors have to do more than we’re able or willing to do. If you can’t stand video tributes or hate making memorial candles, then don’t.

But if you don’t offer it, someone else will.

I attended visitation at another funeral home not long ago for a family friend. The deceased’s daughter-in-law had recently lost one of her parents, and she had a DVD tribute made at the funeral home local to her family.

When my family friend died, his family used that other funeral home to create a DVD for this man. Sure, it was less work for the funeral home handling the funeral, but it also meant less revenue. Even worse, when impressed mourners told the family they enjoyed watching the tribute (on a TV the family brought from home), the family members often replied, “Yes, we got it from XYZ Funeral Home, isn’t it great?”

I agree that we’re moving from a merchandise-based industry to an experience-based one but it’s not going to happen overnight. The only way to do it, however, is to do it, and let people see it and appreciate it.

After all, we didn’t move from home-based funerals to funeral home-based funerals overnight either. There were a few families who gave the funeral home a shot, and it was only from others seeing it done, that they concept began to spread.

So yes Dale, I’d say we’re in for quite a ride.

Dale Clock, of Clock Life Story Funeral Home in Michigan responds to Michelle Carter’s latest article “Is the Future Really So Grim?” 

Michelle:

You make some valid points.  The future isn’t that grim. But the future is going to be tough.  You are an independent funeral planner.  I’m guessing you don’t have much overhead but your car and a phone.  You take as much work as you can get but could always use more.  It’s easy to say “just do it’. Plan the fancy event, do the golf course, bring the favorite chair.  But the reality is it takes a lot of time and effort to do all of that.  It takes manpower, creativity and a whole different bunch of skill sets that most funeral directors don’t have.  It’s also a major challenge to do it day in and day out for firms of our size because “doing it” has to depend on a system and not just one person with a creative mind.  I agree that those kind of things need to be done but the hard part is transitioning to where we need to be from where we have been for so long a time.

I have 3 funeral homes in a Midwestern blue collar town, do 400 + calls a year, 7 vehicles, over 50,000 square feet of buildings ranging in age from 100 years old to 10, a staff of 20 plus people.  I have done receptions for 20 years (it’s good to do those but it’s not going to make you a ton of money).  Tried every casket show room setup there is.  I am now part of the Life Story Network which I really believe can transform funeral service.  And everyday is a struggle.  I have gone from 25% cremation to 50% cremation in 10 years.  I have trimmed my staff down to the bear minimum just to make ends meet while still trying to offer the latest and greatest that funeral service has to dish out.

My funeral directors are the best in the world.  They all have 20+ years experience and try their hardest to adapt to all the new stuff that I’m throwing at them.  The families absolutely gush over our Life Story experience and we all can see how meaningful it is to them.  But after days of typing in Life Story notes, scanning photo’s, burning DVD’s, printing color Life Story folders, downloading new music, setting up for receptions, cleaning up after the family spends a comfortable 2 hours in the reception center, putting cremains in jewelry, taking fingerprints for Thumbies, ordering customized urns from the 1000 choices in the catalogue…… in addititon to still doing all the other stuff we have always done like embalm bodies, dress and casket, meet with families, set up flowers, run visitations, conduct services , processions to the cemetery…. all most of us can do is collapse at home with an adult beverage and fall asleep in front of the TV.

It’s no wonder so many FD’s long for the old days when things were more routine and there weren’t so many options.  It’s not that we don’t want to do the new stuff.  It’s that we still have to do the old stuff in addition to the new stuff because we all serve such a broad range of people.  To do things right we almost need to split into two businesses; one that does things the old way and one that embraces the new stuff.  But at this time it seems impossible to separate things because there just isn’t enough volume or income.  It’s Catch 22…We need to do the new stuff to make money but we need more money to do the new stuff.

So the best we can do is hang in there while the funeral industry changes from a materialistic based income (casket, vaults and markers) to an emotional based income.  One where we get paid for helping preserve memories and creating experiences. And the sooner we can get the public to learn that there is value in those emotions. The sooner this will all happen.

Dale Clock
Clock Life Story Funeral Home

EDITOR’S NOTE:  When he submitted this letter, Dale was unaware that Michelle had recently taken a position as Assistant Manager of the E.O. Curry Funeral Home in Peekskill, NY.  She’s also sold her grief counseling center to focus on her work at the funeral home.

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