Vendors


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!

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Order of the Golden Rule (OGR) is a trade organization of independent funeral homes.  Here’s how they describe themselves:

Founded in 1928, OGR’s mission is to make independent funeral homes exceptional. We do this by building and supporting member interaction, information exchange and encourating professional business development through a wide range of programs, services and resources.

OGR also negotiates discounts for their members with various industry suppliers.  I recently received an email from a company that is a Golden Services Group supplier (OGR’s designation for companies that participate in their discount program).  This email was sent to many GSG suppliers, including our company, because we currently offer a discount through the program.  Here’s the text:

Has anyone else read the last sentence of the paragraph that I’ve copied from the OGR’s email?  I’ve written Connie and Diane an email as I think this goes against the commitment that we’ve made over the years to OGR as being a representative in our respective product offerings.  If all competitors are allowed to attend, the distinction as a GSG Supplier is gone.
 
EXCERPT FROM OGR’S EMAIL:  “As a GSG Member, you have the first option to select a tabletop in this year’s showcase. Please make your reservation using the Supplier Showcase Registration Form. Also included is a floor plan to make your choices, preliminary conference schedule and other details about the showcase. After February 26, OGR will open this year’s showcase to all prospective industry suppliers.”

In effect, the writer is concerned that opening the show to competitors hurts the GSG supplier that has faithfully supplied a great discount to members for several years.  I tend to agree with the writer and voiced as much in a reply.

Then, OGR wrote eveyone to clarify the issue.  Here’s a snippet from their email:

The practice of opening up the Supplier Showcase to non-GSG suppliers was started last year at OGR’s Annual Conference in Nashville. Last year GSG suppliers had first option to purchase a tabletop. We had 5 new companies exhibit who were not in the GSG group because they paid to exhibit in the space that GSG suppliers did not purchase. Again this year, GSG suppliers will be given preferred placement, along with special signage recognizing their company as a member of GSG.
 
There are 60 GSG supplier members to fill the 35 tabletop exhibits at this year’s conference.  Your commitment to participate in the showcase and provide options for the products and services our members ask for and need is essential. Providing the space and related events for a Supplier Showcase is a costly and involved endeavor on the part of any association, but it is one that allows OGR members the opportunity to explore new products that will help them be better at what they do as funeral professionals. Our role is to help make them and their businesses exceptional. Your support of the Supplier Showcase is also toward that end.

So here’s my response:
Ms. Haymes:

It is unfortunate that you are unable to get even 35 of the 60 suppliers to exhibit at the show and, therefore, need to open the expo to outside companies.

 Perhaps you’d find it beneficial to have the perspective of one of GSG suppliers about this situation?  If so, here’s my take.
 
Our company gives a great discount (15%) to your members.  I’m also required to pay a percentage to GSG for the pleasure of selling to your members. 
 
In return, you occasionally mention my products to your members through the magazine, your annual resource book and in faxes and emails.
 
I’m glad that this has been a percentage arrangement, because if I were required to pay you a flat fee every year, I’d have ended our relationship after the first year.
 
How much business do I get from OGR members?  Less than 1% of my annual sales come from your group. 
 
As a marketing plan, being active in OGR has done little for my business.  Your magazine ad rates are comparable to other trade publications, but your distribution is MUCH, MUCH less.  I can’t offer a “hurry, sale ends soon!” call to action in your magazine because your members already get a substantial discount.
 
We plan our trade show attendance by factoring things like cost, location and attendance.  Frankly, even a simple review of your show tells me that I can’t make my money back.  Consider, first, the cost of travel.  Two of us attending will cost $850 for travel (air, hotel, car) if we stay in the cheapest place and drive the economy car.  Then, we’ll have to pay $749 for the first person and $450 for the second to attend the show.  Factor in meals ($100 if we stick with fast food and IHOP) and we’re over $2000 without putting gas in the rental or other incidental costs.
 
All that to reach a few hundred OGR members from behind a 6′ table for less than 1 hour of uninterrupted time on Friday and during a 90 minute lunch on Saturday.
 
To contrast, I recently spent half that amount to get five hours of uninterrupted time with over 400 funeral directors in South Carolina.  And I had a real 10’x10′ booth.  The booth itself costs me less than $600.  And the show planners quickly filled every space.
 
I don’t mind paying for high-quality leads.  I spend thousands to exhibit at the NFDA show each year.  But I expect value for my dollar, which means space, uninterrupted time and adequate foot traffic.
 
Right now, your show’s numbers don’t cut it, so I won’t be exhibiting.
 
But I like OGR.  I have good friends who are members.  I think you are trying to do good work.  It’s just not beneficial to your suppliers (at least this one) right now.
 
Best of luck in the future.
I’ve got issues with a few suggestions they make in their email.  In the second paragraph, there’s an attempt to shift blame with the line “your commitment…is essential.”  Then, an explanation of their inflated prices by claiming that “Providing the space and related events for a Supplier Showcase is a costly and involved endeavor,” while ignoring the basic math involved here.
They’re charging a minimum of $749 for one person to exhibit at a 6-foot table.  Multiply that by 35 spaces and you have over $26,000 in fees.  Imagine, then, if half the exhibitors bring a second person.  At $450 for an additional attendee, there’s an additional $8000.
I’m sure they’ve reserved a nice room for the showcase, but did it cost between $26,000 and $34,000 for three days?
The number one reason we’re not attending?  It’s extremely overpriced.  Like, ridiculously overpriced.
But surely there’s a great opportunity to interact with OGR members and sell lots of product, right?  Here’s what the online schedule shows:
Friday, April 23rd
1:55 – 2:55 pm   Diversity Panel
2:55 – 3:45 pm   Break/Supplier Showcase
3:45 – 4:45 pm   Concurrent Sessions
5:00 – 6:00 pm  Happy Hour/Scholarship Drive
Saturday, April 24th
11:15 – 12:30 pm  OGR Annual Meeting and Officer Installation
12:30 – 2:00 pm   Lunch/Supplier Showcase
2:00 – 3:00 pm  Concurrent Sessions
2:30 pm  Supplier Showcase Closes
That’s 50 minutes of scheduled time on Friday and 90 minutes on Saturday.
A good expo adds content and value to the attendees.  A minimal entry fee, in the form of conference fees for funeral directors and exhibit fees for vendors, pays for the space and services required.  In a perfect world, the showcase charges just enough to suppliers to break even.   
I feel that the amount OGR is charging to vendors is far too much.  As a supplier, I don’t mind paying my fair share.  But I will not attend shows that require me to pay everyone elses share, as well.

It’s been a whirlwind around here lately, with planning for two conventions and a monster opening month for 2010.  Doing all of it leaves little time for talking about all that we’re doing!

We had our best January ever, with the combo of January-February shaping up to the be the best two month period in our history, outside of a national convention.

Helping out our February numbers has been our trip to the South Carolina Funeral Directors Association Expo, held in Columbia on Tuesday, February 2nd and Wednesday, February 3rd.

The EXPO, which featured a wide range of vendors, attracted a great crowd of funeral directors from South Carolina and a few from neighboring states.  I even saw Bill Wappner, current NFDA President and one of our customers from Ohio.

We entered the show with a goal to sell 20 cot covers.  Our goals, which help us measure success during and after the show, are based upon our expenses for the event and the expected turnout.  I normally budget $50 per cover sold toward the cost of attending.

While I initially planned on spending about $1000 to attend the EXPO, our final numbers look like this:

BOOTH:  $600
FUEL:  $75
MEALS:  $130
OTHER:  $50
——————-
TOTAL:  $855

By my $50 standard, we needed to sell 17 covers to pay for the show.

Any wonder, then, that we sold 17?

Now, I don’t count sales by our wholesale customers, even if they are generated at the show, but one of the companies that retails our product did sell two covers to a customer. 

So we fell short of our goal, but we were still able to pay for the show with sales.

Here’s a list of the conventions we’ve attended, which includes the costs for each and the goals we set because of those costs.  You’ll see that the two conventions where we missed out goals by a wide margin were two years of the Kentucky show.  Also, the last three convention are in the future, so the expenses are only educated guesses at this point.

CONVENTION DATE BOOTH HOTEL TRAVEL MEALS PROMO MISC. TOTAL GOAL ACTUAL
Kentucky FDA 6/25/2008 $570 $490 $420 $240 $90 $187 $1,997 40 32
NFDA 10/12/2008 $4,800 $280 $100 $300 $100 $100 $5,680 114 153
Georgia Expo 3/1/2009 $550 $248 $110 $165 $50 $50 $1,173 23 22
Ohio FDA 5/25/2009 $650 $360 $325 $200 $50 $100 $1,685 34 46
IFDF 6/12/2009 $0 $102 $40 $65 $25 $35 $267 5 11
Kentucky FDA 6/24/2009 $570 $500 $300 $360 $50 $150 $1,930 39 15
NFDA 10/22/2009 $2,500 $550 $800 $300 $150 $600 $4,900 98 113
SCFDA 2/2/2010 $600 $0 $75 $130 $0 $50 $855 17 17
Georgia Expo 3/1/2010 $500 $250 $70 $70 $0 $60 $950 19  
Ohio FDA 4/27/2010 $625 $360 $175 $125 $50 $60 $1,395 28  
IFDF 6/10/2010 $300 $0 $25 $50 $0 $50 $425 9  

Since our biggest non-booth expense for most of our conventions is lodging, finding a place to stay in our host cities is a nice benefit that saves serious money.

In South Carolina, I was fortunate enough to have family living in Columbia.  For the IFDF’s 2010 show, I’ll stay with my sister in Tampa.  I may be able to save money on the Ohio convention, if I can convince my good friend Albert to let me crash on his couch.

No matter how the next few conventions shake out, we expect to be able to continue getting close to our goals (or exceeding them) because of the great response we’re getting to our quilted cot covers

Of course, I’ll continue to closely monitor our progress and adjust accordingly.  Stay tuned!

Since I didn’t attend the 2009 show – I sent two of my workers, instead – I had to wait until talking with them to find out how the show went and what their impressions were.

So how was the show?  In a word:  disappointing.

We attended last year’s show and sold 32 of our quilted cot covers.  This year, with the same number of hours to exhibit, we only sold 15.

Additionally, Linda reports that most of the other exhibitors she talked with were equally disappointed and felt that the show was, to quote one gentleman, “a disaster.”

So what went wrong?  Here are a few of the comments Linda made and my observations:

“We saw a lot of students.”  This is good for our business, as many of the students were excited about our products and will, one day, be in charge of buying decisions.  But that doesn’t help the bottom line for this show.

“People already had our covers.”  Yes, we’ve sold well in Kentucky, including last year’s show, but did we sell to everyone?  I probably miscalculated how many of the funeral homes in Kentucky would need another cover so soon.  In some states, the funeral homes are large and have several cots.  In hindsight, the smaller nature of Kentucky funeral homes (60-80 calls a year for most of their members) should have raised red flags for me.

“People weren’t buying from anyone else either.”  The economy, coupled with a slowing death rate (damn cyclical industry!), has encouraged people to hold on to their money.  And maybe quilts are a “winter” product?

“The guy across from us was badmouthing our covers.”  That one really angers me.  I would never go to a trade show and tell visitors how much I hate the guy across the aisle.  I’m tempted to make my anger known to the folks who organized the show.  At the least, we’ll ask not to be situated near him at any other expos.

“There weren’t as many working funeral directors there as last year.”  That seems to be true of both the Kentucky and IFDF shows we attended this month.  I just received the list of funeral homes from the 2009 IFDF show and was dismayed to see that only 46 different funeral homes had been represented.  Take away the ones who had already bought our covers at previous shows and I’m amazed that we sold even 11 covers at the show.  I have a feeling that the Kentucky show will turn out to be a similar situation, with few funeral homes attending that we hadn’t sold to previously.

In the end, we sold 11 covers at the 2009 IFDF show to just 25 funeral homes that had not previously purchased from us.  That’s a pretty good conversion rate, but shows the diminishing returns that attending this show again (at least without interesting, new products) will continue to offer.

Here’s a screenshot of the EternalSpace home page:

eternalspaceclosed

I’m still trying to find out more on this development.  Stay tuned.

Last week, I got an email from Spencer from Hilltop.net, asking me if we’d be exhibiting at the 2009 Kentucky Convention.

To answer:  Yes, Spencer, we will be there.

We’ll also be at the Independent Funeral Directors of Florida convention in June and the NFDA show in Boston in October.  Spencer shared in his email that he is planning to attend the Missouri show this year and expand from there.

This brings up the exciting but often worrisome questions, “how many conventions should I attend?”  and “How do I choose the right convention opportunities?”

While I’m a big fan of “going with your gut,” I like to start any convention decision process by looking at the numbers.  That’s why I’ve created a spreadsheet to analyze exactly how much each convention will cost us and how much product we’ll have to sell to “break even,” so to speak.

Here’s the spreadsheet that I’ve been using:

CONVENTION DATE BOOTH HOTEL TRAVEL MEALS PROMO MISC. TOTAL GOAL
KFDA 6/25/2008 $570 $490 $420 $240 $90 $187 $1,997 40
NFDA 10/12/2008 $4,800 $280 $100 $300 $100 $100 $5,680 114
GA Expo 3/1/2009 $550 $248 $110 $165 $50 $50 $1,173 23
Ohio FDA 5/25/2009 $650 $360 $325 $200 $50 $100 $1,685 34
IFDF 6/12/2009 $0 $260 $65 $85 $50 $50 $510 10
KFDA 6/24/2009 $570 $500 $300 $360 $50 $150 $1,930 39
NFDA 10/22/2009 $2,500 $550 $800 $300 $150 $600 $4,900 98

You will notice that I’ve included a few past conventions, to show you how we’ve done in the past.

For the 2008 Kentucky convention, I planned on spending less than $2000 and we did.  But I based my cost estimate on a plan to spend just $50 per cover sold toward marketing.  Since we only sold 32 covers, we actually spent $62.50 per item, exceeding my budget.

Of course, it sometimes works out for the better.  While the 2008 NFDA show was almost 3 times the cost, we sold 153 covers, making our per-cover cost just over $37.

The Georgia Expo was a success, as we sold 22 covers – one shy of our goal.  Likewise, the IFDF goal should be in easy reach, since a free booth (I’m presenting two seminars for CE’s during the conference) gives us just 10 covers to sell to meet our costs.

Of course, we also have to take into account the dates of each convention, the availability of staff and capital to invest in these events and the travel distance.

Interestingly, our sales to Internet shoppers and wholesale companies are dropping right now, no doubt because of the general economic slowdown and the uneasiness that most business people feel right now.  And I don’t see the trend changing within the next six months, so anyone selling products to funeral directors needs to find other ways to reach out and encourage a sale.

That’s why we’ll be attending even more conventions this year.  While I won’t be going to Missouri (just to far away for us to drive in a single day), we are hoping to add the Ohio Convention to our list and possibly pick up a smaller state show somewhere in between.

Stay tuned!

If  you want a copy of our spreadsheet, you can view it as a Google Document and copy the formulas.  Or email me at finalembraceonline@gmail.com and we’ll send the original Excel version to you.

 As a funeral industry consultant, I hear regularly from people who have a great idea for a product but are unwilling to share the information with other people to find out if it’s viable.

These folks suffer from idea over-valuation.

Truth is, ideas are pretty cheap.  And while it seems like everyone is looking for the “next big idea”, the people who get ahead are the ones with the nerve and patience to create the product AND do the hard work to actually sell it.

A few years ago, I met a man who had an interesting idea for a funeral-related product.  He decided to make it because his family liked it.  When pressed to get a funeral industry perspective, he visited his friend, a licensed director.

Do you think his friend was completely honest with him? 

Based upon his family’s encouragement and the (misplaced) kindness of his funeral director friend, he booked a booth at the NFDA show that year.

Yes, based upon the advice of twelve family members and one funeral directing friend, he dropped a few thousand dollars to attend a trade show.  And he made the biggest show of them all his very first true foray into the industry.

Last I heard, he packed up after show and went home in disgust.  I don’t know if he’s still selling, but he hasn’t exhibited at any other trade shows and I don’t expect to see him on the circuit again.

Why did this happen?  Because he was so intent on sharing his amazing idea (what was it?  Doesn’t matter; this stories been told numerous times with many different products) before anyone could “steal” it, he skipped the most important steps.

Having an “amazing new idea” is not new.  In fact, in happens to us humans on a regular basis.  Often, the idea is nothing special and we forget about it.  Other times, we come up with something truly revolutionary that makes a job easier or people happier.

Still, no matter how amazing, you still have to do the work of creating and selling it. 

When I started making quilted cot covers, there were already two people flogging a similar idea.  In fact, I think their early cot covers were better than mine. 

But I worked it and worked it and, yes, worked it until our covers became the amazing product they are today.  No matter how good the idea (a cover that looks like a quilt, not a body bag!), you still have to improve it and find out how it helps your consumer.  We did that, and now we are, arguably, the biggest maker of quilted cot covers anywhere!

Oh, and just to be clear:  we’re still working it.  All the time.  Because I don’t want someone else to work harder than me and take over the #1 spot.  And because I love what we do.

But don’t think, for even a second, that my competitors can’t or won’t study my product and borrow some of my ideas.  After we started offering our amazing FluidBlocker lining (COTCOVERS.com Introduces New Lining!), I predicted that we had six months to a year before we’d see our competitors offering a similar feature.  The post, Our Competitor, Quilted First-Call Covers, is Catching Up!, showed that we only realistically had 4 months head start.

Now, I’m not accusing any of my competitors of buying one of covers and figuring out what fabric we’re using (even Ferno isn’t copying it exactly), but what would have stopped them?  Not me!

Making a decent quilted cot cover is not difficult.  Consistently making them the right way and providing excellent customer service?  That’s a lot harder.

So I say you should share your ideas with lots of people.  Show them your great product (how else will you sell it?) and talk about what could make it better.  Encourage past customers and future customers to tell you how to make your product meet their needs.

Ideas have to be in the marketplace to thrive. 

(This post was partially inspired by the photo below.  And while there’s not a correlation between a freely-shared idea and this bicycle, I still think trying to lock up your ideas provides the same false sense of security that this bike’s owner had after slapping a chain on his Huffy and walking into Best Buy.)

fail owned pwned pictures

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