Our Philosophy

Starting with covers sold at the 2009 NFDA Convention in Boston, all of our product will be made with a recycled quilt batting.  Until now, we’ve been using a batting made from polyester that had not been recyled.  To be fair, that was the only batting we had available.

But now, we can get our hands on Wellspring batting, which is spun out of the plastic that makes up 2-liter soda bottles.

Basically, they get a shipment of these from a recycler:

They melt it down, spin the plastic on a batting machine and produce this:

And it’s a recycled product!  Which means that instead of those soda bottles going into a landfill, they’re going into the cot covers we make.

The batting costs about 25% more than the old version, but we think it’s worth it to bring you a better product that respects our resources and reduces waste that would otherwise go to the dump.  But you won’t see your prices go up, since the batting is a small portion of the overall materials costs for our covers.

You know what’s even better?  This batting is actually softer than the old stuff and washes better too!


After reading the headline 1 Killed in Funeral Procession Crash, I wondered how many funeral directors are still gladly leading funeral processions and what it will take for us to encourage our clients to eschew this time-honored (and, nowadays, dangerous) practice.

In my days as a funeral home administrator, I seldom led funeral processions, since I was often charged with cleaning up after a funeral had left the chapel.  But before I headed back inside to scrub green oasis stains from beige carpeting, I usually had the harrowing task of stopping three lanes of 55-mpg+ traffic for the procession.

The cussing, honking and rude gestures got so bad that I finally printed this Florida statute on a piece of poster board:

316.1974  Funeral procession right-of-way and liability.  3(a):  Regardless of any traffic control device or right-of-way provisions prescribed by state or local ordinance, pedestrians and operators of all vehicles, except as stated in paragraph (c), shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle which is part of a funeral procession being led by a funeral escort vehicle or a funeral lead vehicle.

Holding up the sign for oncoming traffic at least gave them something to read as they waited.  Still, there were numerous times that I was either verbally accosted or narrowly missed by a vehicle that didn’t care about the law.  One driver, a visitor from Georgia, actually hit my arm with his black BMW X3 as he drove around me and skirted the procession.

Other times I’d get the procession safely on the road, only to get a phone call from someone complaining that they had to wait in traffic for our procession.  One man complained that he had the right-of-way (a green light) and we should have told our procession members to stop at red lights.  Even after I read him the law and told him that our procession, in fact, had the right of way, he tried to complain that we shouldn’t do processions because he, and others like him, didn’t know the law.

We could argue that ignorance is no excuse, but truth is, ignorance gets people hurt.  On better days, ignorance only ends up in a fender bender or hurt feelings.  On the worst days, a little ignorance can end in death, like the news story I cited earlier.

What responsibility do we, as funeral professionals, have to the people in our care during a procession?  Lawyers can tell me all day long that any injury or death that occurs in a procession is not the liability of the funeral professional, but I wonder how I’d feel if someone died in one I was leading.  Would I find comfort in the law?  Would the negative effects of such bad publicity be mitigated because the law says I’m not responsible?

If I were still running a funeral home, I think I’d counsel families against processions.  I’d encourage use of printed directions.  Maybe we’d station staff cars at landmarks along the way, with a note on the map:  “If you get lost, meet up with a funeral home staffmember at the following locations.” 

What would you do?

Mace Stuffing His Face by Brandon (danger_boy_13).

Photo by Flickr user Brandon Larkin

After my November 2008 post, 2008 NFDA Convention: The Tired, The Hungry and The Bored, in which I told vendors not to eat food on the convention floor, I got a few emailed responses that disagreed with me.  Here’s the most common rebuttal and my re-rebuttal (if that’s even a word):

“I paid for it, so I should get to eat it.”
You’re right, your money did help pay for the food that some convention put out “free” for attendees.  And no convention organizer is going to tell you not to eat it.  But I’m telling you to keep out of that food. 

Why?  Because you have a limited amount of time to interact with your visitors.  Why spend even 30 seconds of that time stuffing food into your mouth when you can do that before the show?  At the IFDF Convention in June 2008, we had exactly 5.5 hours to sell cot covers.  I had a goal of 15 covers sold for the show, so I needed to sell almost three an hour.  Not a lot of time to eat all the wonderful food offered (they had cookies, fruit and hand-carved roast beef, among other things). 

“I didn’t get a chance to eat before the show.”
Here’s my heartless answer:  get organized and plan your time better.  Ouch, huh?  Truth is, you should have been ready hours in advance so you could have a bite to eat before the show.  You took time getting showered and dressed, didn’t you?  Why didn’t you budget time to eat?

Stuffing his face by emtboy9.

Photo by Flickr user emtboy9

“The show hours are during my dinnertime.”
You mean they’re serving food to attendees when they might be hungry?  Seems kinda obvious, doesn’t it?  But guess what, if you’re going to get the most out of the convention, you can’t take a chance that you’ll have poppy seeds stuck in your teeth or mustard in the corner of your mouth when talking with a prospective client.

Why take the chance of having a mouthful of food when you need to talk to a customer, especially if you can always eat a snack before and plan a meal to celebrate your success (fingers crossed) after the show closes?

“But the food just looks so good!”
If the food is attractive and smells even better, you should be happy; the spread is meant to please your visitors and make them more eager to enjoy the rest of their stay on the expo floor.

But practice some self control!  If you expect to keep your booth and your clothes as attractive as the food, you need to minimize the chance that you might spill something on your carpet, your product or yourself.  That’s why I try to keep our in-booth food/beverage items restricted to water. 

“I only eat the food if the convention is slow.”
Unless the traffic has ground to a complete halt, you have even more reason to be the one person not stuffing his face.  Those visitors who are wandering the floor are still convention attendees and all the regular rules apply.  You need to get their attention (with your booth design, your product or your winning smile) and convince them to come look at your product.  You need to invite them into your home.

If you’re already in the middle of a meal (I once saw a salesman for a big industry company carry a full plate of food, stacked three inches high, to his booth) they won’t feel welcome and while they won’t say it, they won’t want to interrupt your dinner.

Chubby Cheeks by Cynnerz Photos.

Photo by Flickr user Cynnerz

“I eat when I’m nervous.”
When the nerves hit you (convention expos can be stressful) try tidying your booth or folding pamplets.  And if your “meal” of choice is fingernails, stop biting those, too.  You need to be appropriately groomed to impress your guests and bleeding fingernails are bad form.

“Everyone else eats at expos.”
Yeah, and everyone else ends the show complaining about the attendance, their low sales figures and their inability to attract visitors to their booth. 

Not to blow my own horn to loudly (picture Dizzy Gillespie’s distended cheeks), but we don’t have those problems.  But then again, we’re not everyone else and we don’t eat in our booth.  Maybe we’re on to something.

In Conclusion…
Unless you’re working an eight-hour show, there’s no reason why you can’t wait until after the show to eat a meal.  And if you are doing that super-long show, the best arrangement is to get away from the booth to eat.  If you don’t have someone to take over for you (I always bring a helper, but I can finally afford it), work out an arrangement with a neighboring vendor and trade off coverage so each of you can eat something light away from the show floor.

Each January, I like to look back over our writing for the last year and see what really stands out.  In truth, a lot of what I write is fine for the day it’s published, but a few exceptional posts stand out after some time has passed.

Here’s a list of what I consider our best posts of 2008, starting with last year’s round-up:

Best Posts of 2007
Funeral Industry Website Roundup
Ignore the Rules: The Cliff Young Story
Don’t Sell Kitty Wigs
Funeral Homes as Retailers
Teach Them: Cremation is a Disposition Option, not a Service Option

If You’re Struggling to Make It Work, Maybe it’s Not a Good Idea!
How Heath Ledger’s Funeral Affects Our Industry
Michelle Carter Shares “Is the Future Really So Grim?”

Dale Clock Responds to “Is the Future Really So Grim?”
The Hagglers are Coming

Do Funeral Homes REALLY Need the Internet?
Advertising Before You’re Good Enough
What Message Are You Sending?
Learning from Others’ Mistakes

Electing a “Dead Guy”
Discount Selling and Full-Service Don’t Mix
American Airlines Needs a Discount Brand

Reconnecting: My Argument for Attending Conventions
Serious Money is Coming to Online Obits. And Why it Won’t Work.
Tools Every Funeral Director Should Own
2008 KFDA Convention: Day 3 and Wrap-Up
2008 KFDA Convention: Solving a Problem

Being THE Best VS. Being YOUR Best
Is The Funeral Consumer’s Alliance More “Predatory” Than the Funeral Industry Itself?
What Tim Thinks Every Funeral Home Website Needs
Why Write a Blog for Your Business?
Mourning: Internet-Style

Are Your Employees a Team?

Pet Funeral Home… In New York
Twitter and a Funeral

2008 NFDA Convention: Day 1
What the 2008 NFDA Convention Means for Final Embrace
2008 NFDA Convention: What NFDA Did Right

2008 NFDA Convention: What NFDA Should Fix
2008 NFDA Convention: The Tired, The Hungry and The Bored

Can Part-Time Employees Replace Advertising?
Random Flowers of Kindness
Hosting a Holiday Remembrance Service: 2008 Edition
2008 Business Rewind and Review

I started to write this as a “2008 Wrap-up” but it wasn’t working.  I focused on the ways the blog and business had worked together, but it started reading like a chronology and laundry list, rather than a real discussion of how the blog has helped me and my business grow.

So I’m starting over here, with a bullet-point list of how the blog has helped shape my business and how I think about my business.

The blog lets me “launch” new products on the cheap.  I get to introduce new products, get feedback and then rework my offering before I spend lotsa money advertising or changing the website.

The blog helped shape our convention booth design.  Starting in May 2008, I posted several items about new thoughts on booth design.  I showed photos of our booth from previous conventions and offered a few new ideas.  The remarks I got from our readers helped me reshape my design.  In June, we tested out the design (with cheap parts) at the IFDF Convention in Daytona Beach.  Based upon the success of the layout, we upgraded to better shelving that was easier to pack and better-looking.

The blog gives me a place to talk business strategy and get feedback.  In the post Be Agressive. B. E. Aggressive!, I used the blog to discuss, in free form mode, our business’ use of money.  And while I didn’t throw our purse wide open, the post and subsequent discussion helped me realize that we need to buy new equipment when we need it, rather than using the old stuff until it falls apart.  It’s also helped me plan my purchases at the end of the year (right now) so I get the full tax advantage.

The blog helps me think about the industry in abstract ways.  In the April post, Do Funeral Homes REALLY Need the Internet?, I rambled about how I think funeral homes will use the Internet in the future.  Besides starting some important discussion with several readers, the post also kickstarted some thinking about my own website and how I interact with our cot cover customers in cyberspace.

I use the blog to make important business decisions.  Our June trip to the KFDA convention was done by car, precisely because I wrote a post for the blog that looked at the expenses for flying or driving and weighed the benefits of each.  The research I did for the post helped me ultimately decide to rent a car.

The blog lets me think big and sometimes fail.  In one big sweeping post, I told everyone that I’d be using my knowledge of Orlando to write a special brochure and website for 2008 NFDA Convention attendees.  In that post, I laid out an ambitious plan to make our company integral to the experience of attending the convention.  And then we didn’t do it.  Any of it.  While I didn’t follow through with this one (because of time, cost, etc.), the blog lets me dream big and get immediate reaction to huge ideas.

The blog is a great place to dissect an experience.  The needs of a blog post (or magazine article) are pretty specific.  In my experience, the framework provided helps focus my thoughts and provides a matrix for explaining an event, deconstructing the ingredients and understanding the outcome.  In 2008 KFDA Convention: Day 3 and Wrap-Up, I looked back on our June 2008 experience and figured out what went right and what needed adjusting.

 The blog archives my thoughts on industry issues as they evolve.  In the article Serious Money is Coming to Online Obits. And Why it Won’t Work., I predicted that the funeral home-funded version of Tributes.com would have to transition to an ad-supported service in 18 months or less.  Just six months later, they’re running banner ads on almost every page.  With the blog, I can search more than two years of my thoughts on issues like cremation or pet funeral services and see how my own opinions and observations have evolved over time.

The blog secures new business.  I added four consulting clients this year, all because they saw the value of my knowledge and, more importantly, recognized that I am a “thinker” in the industry.  Does that mean I’m the best?  Far from it.  But it means that I have spend considerable time thinking about these issues and researching the information.  Even better, my clients tell me how much they enjoy my work (pat on the back, please) and that my services are a good value for the money spent.

The blog jump-started my book.  No, the book isn’t ready yet; I’ve decided to work on it some more and make it truly spectacular.  But the blog gave me the start I needed and helped me build the framework for the book.  Plus, the feedback from readers led me to see what path the book should take.  It’ll be done sometime in 2009, I promise.

The blog got me a speaking gig!  My first big speaking engagement was partly because of all the writing on this blog.  I presented “Tried and True Marketing and Merchandising Techniques” at the 2008 OGR Conference in Key West in November.  From that gig, I booked two presentations at the IFDF Convention to be held in St. Augustine in 2009!

The blog attracts people who help my business grow.  Many of the industry folks who have helped me spread word about my cot covers and expand into new markets (we just sold to an Australian distributor!) came from this blog.  In fact, every time I turned around at the 2008 NFDA Convention, I was greeted by someone else who reads the blog!

The blog helped me plan our most successful event ever.  The 2008 NFDA Convention was so successful for us because I planned a good location, upped our booth size and laid out an effective plan.  Without the written planning I did on the blog, I might not have seen the opportunities or acted upon them.  A recent study found that those who consider themselves “lucky” are simply more observant of new opportunities and willing to act on them.  My luck continues to improve because the demands of blogging help me focus my attention and expand my thinking.

The blog directs people to my retail website.  In fact, www.cotcovers.com is the most clicked link from this site.  In the last year, 379 people visited the retail site and looked at our covers. 

In all, the blog takes a lot my time, but it also focuses my thinking and helps me make important business decisions.  And while I don’t think every business needs a blog, I know that mine benefits greatly.

*its beginning to look a lot like christmas* tree by Chris_J.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Chris Jones

Lots of funeral homes offer holiday remembrance services and most of them know one important point:  it’s already too late to plan your service this year!

But the great thing about being so close to the holidays this year is that you can start planning the 2009 service now and then put the preparations aside until next October.

Here’s the things you should do now, before Christmas 2008:

CHOOSE A DATE.  Set it now.  One successful service I attend every year is held on the first Friday of December, regardless of what other events might be happening in town.  Why does this help?  Because those who attend the first years always know when it will be held again and those you tell during the year can remember “1st Friday in December” better than “December 5th.”

BOOK A MUSICAL ACT.  A friend of mine just had costumed carolers at his event.  They sang songs before, during and after the service.  Dressed in Victorian costumes, they charged less that $300 for the quartet.  But book now, while they’re doing gigs this year, because their schedule will fill up quickly and you want your special date.

BOOK A MINISTER.  Same as that musical act, your minister’s schedule is often planned months in advance.  Don’t get stuck because your minister is doing a wedding on your special day; book him/her now!

DESIGN YOUR INVITATION.  Got some extra time this year?  Draw up your invitation now.  You’ll be sending this to families who have experienced a death the previous year, so keep that in mind for your wording.

START AN ADDRESS SPREADSHEET.  If you don’t have other software, create a spreadsheet where you can enter a family’s name and address for your invitee list.  When you serve families throughout the year, take a second to enter their name and address here, along with the date of death of the deceased.  That way, when it’s time to print your invitations and envelopes, you’ll have a list already compiled.  Just make sure you start adding to the list on December 25th of this year.

BUY DECORATIONS AFTER CHRISTMAS 2008.  Get yourself a nice tree and some good decorations.  If you plan to give away ornaments to each family (one year, I gave away origami doves that our staff had folded), buy those now while they’re on sale 75% off.

Later, we’ll discuss what you’ll need to do throughout 2009 and next October, to prepare for your holiday remembrance service.

As part of my end-of-year accounting – yes, I started early – I’ve begun reviewing how much my part-time workers have cost so far.

Surprisingly, I haven’t paid a single part-time worker more than $3000 this year, with the whole lot of sewers and assistants costing less than $10,000 for 11 months work.

The fact that I’ve only paid Kim, my part-time office assistant, a tad over $2000 for 11 months of constant work suprised me because it seems like she’s always around.  Truth is, she only works a few hours a week and I pay her a small hourly wage.

It also struck me that so many funeral homes spend thousands of dollars on un-measured advertising (church bulletins, printed school programs, yellow-page directories, etc.) without a second thought but are often reticent to add even a single part-time employee.

And yet, so many funeral directors run around doing minor, unimportant tasks because there’s not enough help.

So my solution is:  hire a part-time employee!  Drop some of the un-measured advertising, have a part-time employee work a few hours a week (maybe Thursday afternoons) and get yourself out into the community to advertise in person!

Have trouble making it to the Kiwanis luncheon each week?  Missed the last three Episcopal church functions because of paperwork?  Spending too much time on mundane tasks that someone other than the brains of your operation could accomplish?

There’s already plenty of evidence that part-time employees aren’t that expensive and they can help you free up important time to socialize (read: advertise for your firm) and build important relationships in your community.  But I’d also suggest that employees can help advertise on their own.

I’ve already discussed turning your part-time employees into ambassadors in the posts, Ten Ways to be Seen as a Community Contributor #9: Hire Spouses of Movers and Shakers, Ambassadors Aren’t Just for the U.N. and DAILY NAG: Hire Some More Part-Time Help.

To reiterate:  part-time employees who are treated well can become mini-billboards for your company.  By hiring well-connected, well-known “ambassadors” for your company, you dispatch advocates into the field who will tell their friends, neighbors and other acquaintances about your firm.

As I was considering the topic of this post, my mind kept going back to the time I spent working for Hospice of the Comforter.  Because of the non-profit business model, HOTC has very few extraneous employees, so they work super-hard getting volunteers to come work for them.  These folks work for no monetary compensation.  What they do get is love, recognition and appreciation.  And it works!

Now, I don’t mention HOTC because I think you should look for volunteers, but one of the jobs that volunteers do there is quite appealing:  they bake Otis Spunkmeyer cookies!

Several times a week, a volunteer will go to the kitchen at HOTC and bake five or ten dozen cookies.  The wonderful smell fills the second floor of the administration building!  Once they cool enough, the volunteer will put ten or more into a small display bag (white with a clear window) and attach a HOTC sticker that explains the mission of hospice and the work done by the employees and volunteers of Hospice of the Comforter.

These cookies are taken by the development staff to area organizations and doctors offices to encourage groups to discuss hospice and doctors to consider hospice when treating patients with end-of-life concerns.

Translated to the funeral industry, wouldn’t a “cookie ministry” like this one go a long way toward building a strong opinion of your funeral home in the community?

Imagine “Ethel” coming in on Tuesday afternoons and baking cookies for three or four hours.  Maybe a second part-timer (or even Ethel herself!) goes out on Wednesday and delivers cookies to area nursing home residents and staff or the secretaries at local churches.

The really ambitious might plan to distribute fresh-baked cookies the day they’re made.

This kind of advertising does two things.  First, it reminds people that your firm can do more than just handle death.  You provide for the living by creating a welcoming, home-style environment.  And what says “welcome” more than the smell of fresh cookies baking?

Second, it extends your care past the day of a funeral.  It tells people in your community that you care about them while dispatching a non-vested person (the cookie deliverer) into the field to talk up your firm.  Imagine the looks on peoples’ faces when they get free chocolate chip cookies from a funeral home employee!?!

While you can get an oven and the cookie dough from Otis Spunkmeyer or other companies, why not search out a local person who loves to bake and has a few good recipes.  Ask around; someone’s bound to know a little old lady or retired man who bakes the most awesome cookies around.  You provide the ingredients and a place to prepare the cookies and he/she provides the skills.

I don’t expect many to take up this idea, but just hiring a part-time employee to accomplish any mundane tasks will at least free you up to do some of the important community relations work needed.  And if you treat the employee well, you might even see some off-hours advertising done by an employee who tells their friends and neighbors how great your company is.

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