Who Are We?


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!

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.

In mid-July, I packed up the Prius and headed to Tampa for the 2010 Independent Funeral Directors of Florida conference and expo.

This was our fourth year attending the show, so I didn’t know what kind of response we would get.  Here were my major questions:

Would our customers need any more covers? 
Would there be any new customers left for us to sell?
How would our new dressing table skirt systems be received?
Would we sell any dressing table skirt systems?

I left my facility on the morning of the event.  Exhibitors would be allowed to begin loading at noon, with the doors of the hall opening for visitors at 5:00 pm that evening.  The trip to the convention center took about two hours, allowing me to arrive just as they opened the loading dock for exhibitors to begin setting up.

Because I registered late for the show – hadn’t decided by mid-June if we’d attend again – I did not have the best choice of booth space.  In fact, the organizers had sold so many spots that the only space left was in the lobby near the registration area.  I was concerned about this setup, but I convinced myself that we’d still see everyone, even if we had to work extra hard to get them to hang out with us outside of all the main action.  I was beginning to rethink this strategy at the end of the first session.

Basic tenant of trade show booth placement:  don’t be too far away from the main action.  In fact, I would rather have been in the hall on a far wall in the corner than in the lobby.  Why?  Because everyone rushed past the eight booths in the lobby so they could get into the exhibit hall, which, incidentally, was the location of all the food, the bar and their friends.

So the typical attendee spent an hour or two in the exhibit hall, shooting the breeze with his friends, until his wife says, “Let’s go,” and he moves to leave.  By this time, he’s disengaged himself from the trade show, and just as he has closed his mind to looking at any more products, he walks out the door and sees 8 more booths. 

Needless to say, most of these guys were not going to stop to talk to any of us.

Our first day was very slow, with very few people talking with us.  The exhibit hall was rocking, but the exhibitors in the lobby were starting to wonder why they had paid the same amount as the people in the larger room.

We ended the evening with no sales.  First convention I’ve ever done where we sold NOTHING during a session.  As you might imagine, I was concerned and, if I’m truthful, a bit depressed about it.

It’s hard enough to risk hundreds or thousands of dollars and days away from your business to generate sales, but spending money and producing nothing is terribly discouraging.

(NOTE:  This post has been hard to write, since I haven’t been posting here regularly.  Sorry for the crappy writing.  Hopefully it will improve as I “up” my writing frequency.)

Luckily, I didn’t spend lots of money on a hotel room, since my sister and sister-in-law live in Tampa.  After a short drive and a “healthy” double-quarter-pounder meal (supersized, of course), I arrived at my sister’s house and crashed for the night.

The event started again the next morning and our results were better.  First, the organizers, to their credit, moved the desserts for lunch to the lobby, giving the attendees a reason to visit us after they finished their lunch.  Second, the day was less rushed, with visitors having more time to chat with vendors. 

Fortunately, several of my old customers stopped by to see what’s new and we showed off our new dressing table skirt system.  Orders started coming slowly, with our first being to a funeral director who had seen our product but held off because he had questions about durability.

As the day went on, we slowly added orders.  By the close of business and the end of the show, we had written more orders than the previous year.  I breathed a pretty big sigh of relief and started packing up to head home.

Here’s how the show finances ended:

Booth:  $375
Fuel:  $25
Food:  $50
Misc.:  $50

TOTAL EXPENSES:  $500
TOTAL SALES:  $2000 (10 items)

Typically, I budget $50 for trade show marketing from each item I sell.  So, spending $500 to attend the show meant I needed to sell 10 items.  Which we did (barely).

For contrast, the last IFDF show we attended (IFDF 2009 Wrap-Up) cost $242, meaning we’d have to sell 5 covers to meet the budget.  Of course, I received a complimentary booth for that show, which, had I been required to pay the full cost, would have made our expenses more than $600 and meant we needed to sell 12 covers.

We sold 11 items at the 2009 IFDF show and 10 this year.  I think we’re staying on track with IFDF.  And I can’t stop going to this show, since it’s usually in my backyard (next year?  Orlando) and I know the funeral directors so well.

As for the answers to those questions?  Here we go:

Would our customers need any more covers?
More than half of our sales were to customers who had ordered before.

Would there be any new customers left for us to sell?
We did, indeed, meet two new customers who were excited to try our products.

How would our new dressing table skirt systems be received?
Our previous customers loved the skirts and ordered right away.  They even ordered additional covers to match.

Would we sell any dressing table skirt systems?
We sold two systems, with two more orders coming in the next weeks following the event.

In all, it was a good event, despite the near heart-attack the first day’s response gave me.

We’ve shown this cover off at conventions, but haven’t gotten much response.  Still, I like to look of it and plan to have it available at the next conventions we attend.  What do you think of it?  Too specific?

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!

Heads up to our friends attending the South Carolina Funeral Directors Association Conference and Expo:  we’ll be there!

We’re heading North to show off our quilted cot covers to the great funeral directors in South Carolina.  I’m excited, since the organizers tell me that funeral directors from at least three other states regularly attend the show.  In fact, I’ve heard from a number of other exhibitors that South Carolina is one of the best Southern shows to attend.

Truth is, we were disappointed by last year’s Kentucky expo and did not expect to attend many other small shows.  Our NFDA presence has been such a great benefit to us that we considered sticking to larger expos and forgetting about the smaller venues.

But then we took a long hard look at our last couple of shows, including the Ohio, Georgia and Florida shows, and came to a surprising conclusion:  small shows are usually just as profitable as the big ones!

Oh, but one caveat:  only for the first two years.  After that, we have to either find a new product to push or take a year or two off.

Our Independent Funeral Directors of Florida expos were great the first two years, but the third year saw a dropoff, mostly because we’d already sold covers to every funeral director at the show.  Our pool of potential new customers shrank every time we sold to another person from the group. 

So we’re planning to roll out our dressing table skirt design at the IFDF show in June.  In fact, we’d like to show it off at the Georgia Expo in early March, but I’m giving my team time to get everything squared away without crazy pressure.

This South Carolina expo, February 2-3, is going to cost us less than $1000 to attend.  First, we’re staying with my uncle, who lives in Columbia, so no hotel room.  The rent of the booth itself is just shy of $600 and my Prius sips gas sparingly, so we should be able to make it there and back on just over two tanks of gas.  Add to the total some food and other incidentals and I’m thinking $800 or so for the entire event.

After we get back, we’ve got just a few weeks to process all the orders and head out to the Georgia Expo, which is March 1st and 2nd in Atlanta. 

Come see us at a show!  Remember, we always give a healthy discount for Expo orders.

I read a lot of blogs.  My feed reader has almost 50 blogs in it and I try to read something from each of them on a regular basis.  True, there are some blogs that update more often and, because they’re more interesting, get my attention every day.  Other bloggers update every few weeks, but I keep them in my feed reader because they’re just so darned interesting.

One of my favorite bloggers, a down-to-earth guy named Trent, writes “The Simple Dollar,” a blog about personal finances.  Three years ago, he blogged about tackling 101 Goals in 1,001 Days.

Now, he didn’t quite make it, but he managed 52 of them and is donating money to charity to make up for the others (that was goal #26).

In a similar vein, and because it clearly worked well for him, I am planning 50 goals in 500 days.  Now, I hear your question:  Why fewer goals and fewer days? 

First, fewer goals is more obtainable.  And while Trent might not have a big issue with not actually finishing, I’d like to cross everything off that list.

Second, I already have long-term goals, many of which, conveniently, are set to end in the next few years.  500 days works out to early June 2011, which allows me to set a lot of incremental goals that will track along with my overall big goals and get me there in the timeframe I’ve set up.

Only problem?  I haven’t even started writing the goals yet!  Anyone want to make some suggestions?

I know one of my first goals is going to be writing a book.  I started one, which never quite panned out.  I’ve got part of a fiction book written and I want to finish it.  But what I’m really excited about is a book that develops from interviews with funeral directors.

In short, I want to write about the habits, plans and goals of effective and successful funeral directors.  What makes them great businesspeople, how they handle their unique jobs and how the industry has changed, including the challenges now facing their firms.

So look for my goals in the next few days.  And comment with some suggestions.  I gotta find 50, remember?

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