Funeral Home Spotlight


Jim Paul of Williamsburg, Kentucky was just like any other funeral director working in his family firm until Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast of the United States.

That’s when Jim’s life changed.

The Paul Family

While not directly affected by the horrible winds that destroyed so much of Louisiana and Mississippi, Jim volunteered with DMORT and the NFDA to provide counseling services to families in Baton Rouge, LA affected by the tragedy.

“During my three weeks there, I counseled 800 families, 200 of which had experienced a death (related to the storm),” says Jim.

Unhappy with the bureaucracy and ineffective assistance being offered to those in need, Jim returned home to mobilize his community.

Through his newly-formed charity, KEN-TENN Relief Team, Jim’s team has distributed more than $8 million worth of relief aid, building supplies and comfort items to folks in the ravaged areas.  And their work continues as families work to rebuild their lives and homes.

Jim Paul contacted me after reading my article, “Ten Ways to be Seen as a Community Contributor” in the January/February issue of Funeral Business Advisor.  He reports that his firm currently practices 9 of the 10 suggested community outreach activities.

Including #6:  Start a Foundation.

And Jim wants me to share that his firm does 60+ calls a year.  It just goes to show that you don’t need the resources of SCI or the clout of a 100-year-old family chain to influence your community and make a difference.

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I just finished watching the PBS’ Frontline documentary on Thomas Lynch, titled The Undertaking.

Here’s a clip, via YouTube:

What did I think of it?

I felt it was a nice piece of human interest and it portrayed the industry in a favorable light. 

Thomas Lynch is a thoughful funeral director, who has written eloquently on the nature of funeral rites.  His poems and essays speak to the important work of funeral professionals and the way that we memorialize our deceased.

But watching the program I was struck by a few simple, yet glaring facts:  his firm enjoys a veritable monopoly in his community.  Virtually all of the cases featured in the short program involved a Catholic Mass or other religious service.  He mentions burying several hundred of his fellow townspeople every year and cremating a few dozen others. 

I have to wonder how many funeral homes enjoy a similar status?

How many firms are the only funeral home in their community?  How many firms see only a few dozen cremations a year?  How many funeral homes serve a predominantly Catholic community?

Now, before you think I’m being overly critical, please realize that I used to work for a firm much like this one.  The small funeral home I ran served the local Catholic Church.  Of the 100+ cremations we handled each year, more than half included a veiwing and some type of religious service.

But we still fought the (Floridian) perception that cremation replaces a service, rather than being an alternate disposition.  And while it was nice to have the Catholic Church’s help to keep families spending the same amount of money on similar services, we also found a wide range of spending habits and funeral plans from those with other religious belief.

And while I applaud the work done by the Lynch’s in their community (they now have six locations) I know that their experience is not the same experience of every director in North America. 

So what did I take away from the program? 

— I was struck by the reverence that the Lynch family used when dealing with their families. 

— I was put off by the way that Mr. Lynch made funeral plans from behind a big desk, when I think many families feel more at ease if you sit next to them at a table, so they are included in the decisions as equals.

— I was touched by the way that all the Lynch’s talked about their sacred duties.  Thomas speaks as a person who has clearly thought a lot about his chosen profession.  In an extended online interview, his son, Sean Lynch, tells us what he’s learned from working in the family firm and presents the views of a 27-year-old on the modern funeral.  He tells us that “The way I heard it put is that ‘Your dad works with dead people.’ And I always knew it to be quite the opposite to that — that my dad worked with living people.”

— The stories of the dead shared in the program are moving and reminded me why I love this industry.  There are precious few opportunities in this world to provide the steady support a family needs during a difficult time and the funeral industry allows that.  (I used to hear “you must go home crying every night!” from people.  Quite the contrary:  it’s always easier to sleep peacefully when you know you’ve truly helped another human being.)

Overall, I loved the program and hope a lot of non-funeral people see it.  The film provides a quick glimpse into the important work done by funeral professionals.  And it shines the spotlight on positive images that can only help to reinforce the goodwill we all work so hard to engender.

Thanks, Mr. Lynch, for letting us visit with you in your funeral home.

Yesterday I promised Glorianna Langely-Finch of Personal Wishes that I’d get around to answering her questions and giving some advice.  If you read my last post, about Deidre Blair of Final Reflections, you’ll get an idea how I feel about people who try to assist during funeral services, but I’ll elaborate here.

Glorianna, please read what I write with caution.  I have little experience with English funerals and the funeral industry in the United Kingdom.  The closest I’ve been to a English funeral home was during a recent trip to London when we passed a small town on the train to Hampton Court and saw a sign.  I snapped a photo of it on the return trip.  You can see it in the post, My Trip to London – Funeral Edition.

But I can speak from years of experience in the U.S. funeral industry when I say that few people are seeking another layer in the funeral process.

Consider the people already necessary for a simple burial.

1.  The hospital staff, nursing facility staff or hospice nursing staff.
2.  The removal personnel.
3.  The funeral director and his/her assistant.
4.  The minister or celebrant.
5.  Organist, pianist or soloist for the service.
5.  Family and friends.
6.  The cemetery salesperson or sales counselor.
7.  The Social Security (in the U.S.) office worker who will process a claim.
8.  Life insurance personnel.
9.  Bank associate (for fixing accounts after a death).
10.  Creditors (to notify of a death).

And that’s just for a typical service.  Imagine the funeral for a military veteran or someone involved in local charities or fraternal organizations?

Sadly, while a funeral consultant might be able to provide some important guidance during a difficult time, I keep wondering what funeral directors are doing after the death.

Are people in England getting such bad service from funeral directors that they need your assistance?

On the other hand, I can imagine your service might be very helpful to those who want to plan their final farewell in advance without involving a funeral director.  These folks might be unwilling to pay for services on a pre-need basis (can you do that in the U.K.?) or don’t want to be pressured by a funeral director into spending more than they can afford.

In the U.S., I can see a market for a simple pre-planning service:  a funeral consultant will help you get your papers in order, your wishes written down and various personalized services planned for a set fee per hour or consultation.

In this way, a consultant could sell “no hassle” consulting, without giving an open-ended invitation to drone on for hours.

To be fair, Glorianna, your website is pretty clear about the kind of services you want to help people arrange.  But I wonder why you haven’t become a funeral director, rather than attacking this need for better personalization from the outside.  Seems like you’ve taken the harder road.

Maybe I don’t understand everything you want to do, but I think you’ll get a lot of resistance from funeral directors.  And you’re going to have a hard time convincing consumers to add another layer to their already busy funeral schedule.

How close am I to your reality?  Let me know if I’m way off base.

This probably hurts a bit, because I’ve only detailed the reasons you’ll fail.  Sorry about that.  I’ll try to think of a few positive features over the weekend.

In this PODCAST, Herb and I discuss the beginnings of The Life Story Network of funeral homes and the aims of their business.

 We also discuss their consumer-driven website and the issues that plague most funeral home websites.

PODCAST:  Herb Ayres of Life Story Network – Part 2

It’s been awhile since I recorded this interview with Herb Ayres, but my regular readers will remember that in the last few weeks we’ve been busy making and selling quilted mortuary cot covers.

So here’s Part 1 of my interview with Herb Ayres for our MEET YOUR MAKER series.  I’d call this one “The Life Story Network Introduction” since Herb describes the network and tells us why it’s gaining such popularity.

PODCAST:  Herb Ayres of Life Story Network – Part 1

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 While browing YouTube for videos about funeral homes and cremation societies, I found this video, simply titled “Why Cremation?”:

The video was produced for Heartland Cremation and Burial Society.

With three locations in Missouri and Kansas, Heartland offers cremation and alternative services.

Heartland has figured out what their “ideal client” wants.  This is the first thing written on their website:

The mission of Heartland Cremation & Burial Society is to reduce cremation & funeral costs for our Society members and their families.

They sell price.  They sell it in everything they do.  Their YouTube video mentions price several times.  The video that runs on their website mentions price.  They use words like “alternative,” “savings” and “affordable.”

But they also know that those who choose cremation might want affordable services that AREN’T traditional funerals.  So they use words like “dignified” and “simple.”

And by framing themselves as a “society” (they appear to be set up in the traditional cremation society model) they deflect some of the animosity that many “price shoppers” feel toward traditional funeral homes.  They also define their market; in effect, saying “if you’re looking for traditional funerals, you should go somewhere else because we do something different.”

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TV ADS: Pray Funeral Home

Funeral Director for Life

Unethical Ways to Scatter Remains

You Could Always Sell Your Building to a Bartender

Golden Gate Funeral Home has four locations in Texas.

Browsing their website and watching their commercial, I had an immediate notion of who they are and the type of services they sell.

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They don’t sell their long history in the community (even though they have one).  They don’t sell the amazing variety of services they offer (although they probably could do a specialized service, if asked).  They don’t even push their convenience to local churches, cemeteries or highways. 

They sell their prices and their vehicle fleet.  (Their fleet is awesome – Hummer, Mercedes, Chrysler 300, etc.)

And they put their prices right on their website.  Separated into 13 different funeral packages, their offerings range in price from $795 for a graveside service in a cloth-covered casket to $30,000 for the Diamond package.

Do they provide immediate burial or direct cremation?  Possibly, but those are not options listed on their website.  They use the web as a marketing tool.  It helps them weed out the visitors that just “aren’t their clients.”

These people have figured it out.  Which may be why they just opened their fourth facility.

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