Thursday, October 10, 2013

I'm Amazed

It seems as though a week doesn’t go by without someone offering you a seminar, a webinar, or consulting; all at hefty fees no doubt, that is going to increase your business, put you competitors out of business or help you shed a couple of those extra pounds you got sitting around waiting for the phone to ring because business is down.

 The truth be told, that guy, you know the one that always seems to want to remind you, “I don’t care what you do with me when I die” didn’t really mean it when he first said it nor would he do anything less than the very best he could afford if his wife were to die. Now, he has reservations because it keeps getting more and more expensive to live.

I am not looking to burden you with cost of living index statics, but you know how much money you put in your pocket on the way out of the bank on Friday afternoon and you know how much you have on Monday morning. That being said, if you are feeling the economy pinch you can bet the families you serve are also.

Everyone wants to save you money. Check out the grocery store coupons that are only good for stuff that no one in your house eats or the middle of the night deals where you buy one and get the second one free, (just pay the additional processing and postage). Just think, you can go bird watching with your buddy and you can both be wearing binoculars that sit on your nose so you don’t get a stiff neck or back pain from lugging around those binoculars that you bought last year from the same TV pitchman that convinced you that bird watching was good exercise.

The point of this silly story is we are rapidly losing our middle class (we’re the ones that support the poor and help the rich get richer) and everywhere we turn there is someone promising us the moon. (And it’s only going to cost you three easy payments of $19.95 to buy something that only 10 minutes earlier you didn’t even know you needed). Worse yet. There are dummies that keep getting suckered in.

But, hey! I’m not supposed to be writing about widget sales. I’m supposed to be writing about funeral service and more importantly; how you can  improve your business, help the families you serve, meet your bottom line, and still sleep well at night because you managed to do just that.

Yeah! I know it’s easier said than done, but rather than looking for new ideas and products that will be some miracle cure because calls may be down and sales are down. Try looking inside yourself because the truth be known that’s where the answers are. Don’t look to the TV pitchman, in funeral clothes, to save the day. The only day he’s looking to save is his own.

Sometimes it seems like Deja-vu, I’m saying it again. You don’t need to build a better mouse trap for the world to beat a path to your door, just dust the old one off.

There was a time when the philosophy among funeral directors was; “good embalming means repeat business" and calling hours were pretty much set by the family and there was never a concern for cost. Families got what they wanted, your job was to care and to serve, and the best part was, the more you cared the more you served.

Don’t tell me and kid yourself into believing the families you serve would not be interested in longer visitation. Offer it without a price tag!

People have pride! Not many people are walking in your door and saying, “I’m poor! They are also not saying “what’s the cheapest you got” because that can denote lack of feeling or love on their part. And the truth is they did love Grandma.

You can look out the door to check out the car they arrived in and decide what they could afford. Naturally this would require a working knowledge of car makes and models on your part. But, that’s tacky! Why not just give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they are struggling to pay their bills, just like you.

Be the care giver everyone says funeral directors are, and let the business (money) worry about itself. In the end you might just be surprised.

And you just saved yourself a huge consulting fee!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Heres' My Story

I am past my 65th birthday and while I have Medicare, I still need some sort of supplemental insurance. So, the search is on for the most (and best) coverage I can get.
“No names please”. Company #1 quoted me $80.00 more per month than Company #2. I have a list of other companies whose names I never heard of; so I ignored them and compared the differences between Company #1 and Company #2.
While Company #1 wants more upfront money, the premium cost, than Company #2, their co-pays are overall a lot lower than Company #2 (ex. The out of pocket for me if I need an ambulance with Company #1, is $125.00 less than what they would be with Company #2. Likewise, Company #1 has no deductible for prescription drugs and Company #2 does.)
Ok! Sad to say I am getting old, and while for so many years I paid for medical insurance, I could have done without, I have to look at the coming years as payback time for all those premiums I paid and never took advantage of.
My decision was made, I went with Company #1. Pay more upfront and avoid getting hit with all of the (extras) I would have to pay Company #2.
What’s all this got to do with Funeral Service? People are living longer and while a common fear with “old” people had always been “out living their money” this is now a reality for many. And, the cost of what someone wants and what they can afford regarding funeral services comes well behind what it’s going to cost to live.
Now here’s the rub! Funeral Directors are people too, they want everything everyone else wants. Hence, rising funeral costs.

Basically, no one wants to die. Alright, there are a few and they usually want company when they go, so we have Suicide Bombers and Looney’s that fly airplanes into buildings. Fortunately, there aren’t many.
Anyway, let’s look at funeral costs. The National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), tells us that in 1960 the average cost of a funeral was $780.00 and in 2012 (52 years later) it was $7,075. What I can’t tell you is, are these figures correct. What I can tell you is, in 1965 I was making $6500.00. a year. I paid my own medical insurance (family plan) about $100.00 a month. Was this coverage enough? I guess it was, it paid for the hospital and doctor to bring my two daughters into this world. After taxes and insurance, I was supporting a family of 4 with $5000.00 a year. Is the story any different today? Yes and No! Why! yes and no? Because, first of all, those people who work (sometimes) inside the beltway (our elected officials, who care more about themselves but will swear they put their constituents needs above their own) are not listening to us. Some people, “I’m one of them” call this greed. And second, that funeral director who is fighting for his own survival in a very unstable economy.
What can we do? Regarding our elected officials, short of a revolution, not much. We elected them and I guess we’re stuck with them.
Regarding funeral directors, pray that more of them begin to lower prices
(Yes, Virginia!) There are a few around that are actually doing just that. And, start expanding on services that require little or no out of pocket expense. Like what? Try expanding viewing hours! And don’t use the excuse that the families you serve don’t want it. Fifty years ago your fathers and grand-fathers started nibbling away at calling hours. Mostly, I think they wanted to be home in time to watch “I love Lucy” In 1960 most funeral homes were offering calling hours from 11 AM to 11 PM and viewing was anywhere from 2 to 3 days. And, consider this: The large firms, the ones with multiple locations and may even be traded on the stock exchange, can’t do this as easily because they have to pay an employee to be at the funeral home during those hours. You’re just missing out on a TV show that you can catch later. What else can you do that will help your families and hopefully your bottom line? Stop pushing death notices that cost money and don’t put any in your pocket. Who reads these death notices in the newspaper anyway? Funeral directors, they want to know what the competition is doing and real estate brokers are checking to see what properties may be coming up on the market.
What else can you do? Think about the cost of embalming and allied services. If a family is opting for a 2 day viewing and a better casket than they would buy for a direct cremation this seems to be a small price to pay.
With all that said, think about all of those services you provide and would price adjustments be in order?
The idea is to make yourself more appealing to the families you serve, so they want to use you rather than because they have to.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Questions Are:

How do you treat an interracial funeral?
How do you treat a gay funeral?
How do you treat an Atheist funeral? 
How do you treat a family requesting cremation?

The simple truth is we are talking people, they are not aliens from a different solar system, and they are people, no different than you or me. They laugh when they are happy and cry when they are sad. And, they experience all of those joys and sorrows as they go through life like anyone else.

The fact is they don’t want to be treated differently than anyone else. They want to be accepted for what they are, people. They want to be treated with respect and understanding as they deal with a traumatic event in their life.

In the course of my life as a funeral director I have dealt with many different people and I treated them all with the same respect I would want. I catered to their requests if they asked for anything different form the normal level of service I provided, I would have gladly done my best to oblige them, because that is what I was there for. A funeral director’s lot in life is to serve. A funeral director is a care giver and care givers serve.

A funeral director is neither a judge nor a God. He or She needs to be a people person possessing the gift of a good bed side manner. In my mind a basic requirement for a funeral director is a sincere caring, to help a fellow human being. Not to question the color of their skin, who they love, what church they attend or their funeral preferences. And, make no mistake a funeral is a funeral and cremation is a preference for final disposition no different than burial. That I am sorry to say is where a lot of funeral directors go wrong, they themselves see cremation as different. They are confusing funeral with final disposition.

True! Very often when someone is requesting cremation they are looking to eliminate the funeral. Why? Perhaps they want to avoid the additional trauma of viewing a loved one that has been ravished by disease. I’m sorry to say a lot of this points back to the funeral director/embalmer. When I started in funeral service the philosophy was “Good embalming, means repeat business and the funeral director would go the extra mile to make the deceased appear comfortable and at peace”. Today it seems that philosophy has changed and the attitude is “we sell memorialization”. I believe we need to go back to the basics. “Good embalming means repeat business” pay less attention to the casket selected and go the extra mile assisting the family of the deceased.  And, yes, money may be an issue and that could be the reason your family is asking for cremation, they may not see it as such but they are seeking a less expensive means of caring for their loved one by eliminating the funeral; by eliminating a costly casket. It does not mean they are uncaring or less loving and their reasons should never be questioned or judged; least of all by someone who has chosen to be a caregiver.

The only exception to the “how do you treat list” above is How do you treat an Atheist funeral? Different from anyone else? Certainly not because they are atheists. Religion is personal. You never have a problem dealing with families with religious beliefs different than your own; why should you feel differently toward someone who chooses not to believe in God.

Of all the religions in our world very often the final disposition religious customs are very slight but that doesn’t mean they are all the same. Using the services of a non-denominational clergyman may be convenient for you, but that is not necessarily best for the family. In the case of anyone with no religious convictions, if you are not prepared yourself you should have at your disposal the name of a funeral celebrant that will offer a ceremony and eulogy that can help create a meaningful memorial fitting an end of life tribute.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

What’s the Value of Continuing Education for Funeral Service Professionals?

The value of Continuing Education for funeral professional oftentimes is not appreciated or understood. The simple truth is funeral service is not an industry that sees vast amounts of change in technology. True change is there but it is very gradual. Hence, the human factor takes over and funeral professionals become complacent. They are basically doing the same thing in the same way every day. The one exception is the internet. They have been bitten by that same bug that has literally bitten every other industry and business around the globe.

And, with the exception of internet death notices which many feel obliged to place on the website, (more times as not because the other funeral home in town does) the website never changes.

So! What then is the value of continuing education? To refresh the funeral director’s thinking to those things learned in school and long set aside. To get him to “think outside the box” (I hate clich├ęs).  Maybe there is another way. The responsibility of the Continuing Education Provider is to motivate him to question just what it is he does. And, maybe even consider making some changes.

Where the funeral industry was once thought to be among the most stable, the volatile economy and the shift in people’s views about funeral services is now affecting this industry. Funerals are a deep-rooted tradition where the primary focus in conventional funeral homes had always been the body.  Maybe it’s time to redirect or rather, expand the focus.

There are a number of trends indicating opportunities for growth:  Cremation services will continue to rise; Funeral facilities are becoming a gathering place for venues such as weddings, birthdays, and other celebratory occasions; Funeral homes will continue to use social media as a means of communication; Home and green funerals and green burials will continue to rise; and Alkaline Hydrolysis as a form of disposition will continue to be accepted.  Maybe it’s time to utilize those mandatory annual CE credits as a way to benefit your standings in the industry and take advantage of growth opportunities.  

Besides the traditional classroom setting, there are a number of CE resources available as a way to obtain these credits as a means of convenience.  Online courses and home study are always an opportune way to achieve this especially when time management and travel may be the issue.  In addition, these courses offer a consistent curriculum, which is vital when trying to educate a group of people from the same organization.  CE credits may also be achieved through participation in events and seminars as well as offering a great networking opportunity with industry professionals.

Continuing Education is a great business and professional tool.  Take the time to evaluate yourself and your opportunities to determine where you might want to grow and make your CE credits count.

Richard A. Santore, Pres. Practicum Strategies

Practicum Strategies is an approved provider of Continuing Education in every State that accepts Online and Home-Study Continuing Education Courses for Funeral Professionals. Richard can be reached by email at or 800-731-4714 Visit Practicum Strategies website at

Reinvent The Way You Do Business

Have you ever felt like it's time for something different?

Maybe you have felt like what you're doing just isn't working.
The economy is different, you're different, and the people you’re doing business are different. Everything is different in today,

 Or is it you?
Have you wondered what to do when what had been working didn’t seem to work anymore? Are you becoming obsolete?

Is it that you’re not succeeding with the strategies you’ve been using?

Or, maybe the better questions is to ask yourself  are,

Am I listening to business consultants?

Am I tagging along behind the competition?

Am I listening to others who claim to know more about my business than I do?

Change Your Strategy, Change Your Results

 That's what they all are telling you, but are they right?

Maybe it’s time to take a hard look at the world around you and make some uncomfortable decisions?
Reinvention can be Easy, but is it always wise?

When you offer people sand to drink rather than water and they seem satisfied, don’t assume you made the right choice. More often than not their drinking the sand because they don’t know any better.

People want to adjust into a world of higher expectations and constant change. They want to trust you; are you taking away their expectations, and offering them sand?

Maybe it’s about time you started rediscovering your roots.

Funeral Service is not about global marketing. It’s about one neighbor helping another

Reinvention strategies for your culture, your sales, your brand, don’t always make a better Funeral Home.

The Good Funeral Director

With so much emphasis being placed on preneed both here and elsewhere and all the bandying about how it builds market share and who should be allowed to sell it. It would seem that everyone has forgotten or at least seems to be paying little attention to At-Need. Although I will admit that from time to time someone will pop-up and say, “Remember every Preneed becomes an At-Need”. Personally, I glad I get the reminder because I wouldn’t have known otherwise. Now, since I like to add my own mark on things let me also say weather we like it or not every life ends with a tragedy, it’s going to end badly, everyone dies eventually and that’s where the Funeral Director, the deathcare specialist comes in.

 So, now lets take a good hard look at this very complicated individual we call a funeral director. I have been in funeral service at this point, and I hate to say it, over 40 years and have yet to meet a funeral director that has not been friendly, cheerful and out-going. Generally he is civic and community minded; always ready with a helping hand. He is some one who can be just as comfortable eating a Hot Dog from the corner vender as he would be at a Five Star Restaurant. He is someone who is dedicated. (How many doctors do you know that will answer their own phone in the middle of the night?) And, caring to a fault, just ask his wife. Ask her how many dinners went into the trash or parties and gathering she attended with the assurance he would catch-up later all because some one whom he doesn’t know has died. I can remember my own ex-wife, yes, funeral service can and does play havoc on many marriages, saying, “Why do you have to go? What do you have employees for?” An yet to detractors of funeral service he is perceived as a merchant of death, some one who looking to take advantage of anyone when they are most vulnerable.

A funeral director needs to be an individual who is mentally very stable, how else could he go for singing Happy Birthday with his five year old to caring and sympathy almost within the same breath. And yet those same detractor will say, “It’s just and act, he’s a phony.” Perhaps some of it is “act” it has to be. Certainly he has built up defense mechanisms otherwise the psychiatrists office would be standing room only. But, there is never a doubt he is caring and sympathetic. Just ask the families he serves. What I find interesting is, if you were to confront many of those detractors of funeral service and ask if all funeral directors were evil or bad, you would usually get an answer something like, “Well, there are some exceptions. The funeral director that took care of my ______ was simply wonderful. I could not believe how thoughtful and kind he was.”   I ask you, “If all those detractors felt that way, where are the bad funeral directors?” I don’t know, maybe they’re on Mars. Okay, I better not die on Mars.

The fact is Preneed or not. When someone dies it’s always the same routine, well not quite. With a preneed you open the file scan it and begin the process of caring for the diseased and perhaps meeting with the family to review those plans they have already decided upon. Preneed is about as close as you’re ever going to get to, “Dying by appointment”

At-need is a whole other story. Everything seems to jump into high gear. Meet with the family. Arrange to pickup the body. Did we ever handle services for this family before? Get out a checklist, can’t afford to let something slip by. Will they want viewing? Which chapel should we use? Is it a big family? Its race, race, race. I’ve got to get ready before they come , I’ve got to make certain _____.

If you’ve ever seen the rehearsal and setting up of the orchestra for a concert you can get a fair understanding of what goes on behind the scenes to be ready when a family comes in for visitation. Perhaps, that why we’re called Funeral Directors.

Short comings and misgiving aside. I’m personally proud to be part of the noble profession.

Stay tuned


What is a Funeral Home?

A funeral home also known as a funeral parlor, a mortuary or funeral chapel provides burial, cremation, and funeral services. The services that are offered may include a funeral and wake, also known as viewing or visitation. Funeral homes will also help with arranging flowers, catering, and headstones. If this is what is requested. It is totally up to you as to how much or how little the funeral home will help with. Every funeral home can arrange for cremation in lieu of burial.

Above all, the funeral home is also there to provide you with the emotional support you may need at a difficult time. Most if not all funeral homes can provide assistance with filing Social Security forms, insurance forms and aftercare consulting. This can be great relief for most who need this extra support at this time.

The executor (person named in the will who is to carry out the funeral arrangements) or the deceased next of kin should contact the chosen funeral home as soon as possible after the death. A convenient time can then be made for this person to visit the funeral home and discuss the funeral arrangements and any special requests.

The funeral home will take into account the wishes of the deceased and their family and arrange the service in line with those wishes. The funeral home will coordinate with the church, cemetery or crematorium depending on your requests, and obtaining permits are always a service provided by the funeral home. The funeral home will also contact and provide newspapers with obituary information on your behalf. The deceased is taken to the funeral home before the funeral and prepared for either burial or cremation; this may or may not include embalming. While embalming is not required, based upon the type of service requested embalming may be necessary. This means the funeral home will replace the deceased blood with chemicals that it will delay the decomposition if the body.

Funeral homes provide a visitation or viewing room that will accommodate many more people than the average home where family and friends of the deceased can gather. All funeral homes provide for funeral services and/or memorials services.

This means that you really do not need to do anything. A funeral home is there to take control and take the pressures off you. This is welcomed by most after the death of someone close to them. However understand that funeral homes will not do anything you do not want them to. How much they do in relation to the arrangements you make is totally up to you. The funeral home will only do what is asked of them.
Many funeral homes will offer people prearrangement services. This means the funeral home allows you to prepare your own funeral with specific requests before your death. The funeral home will provide you with a detailed estimate of the costs for their services. Often the funeral can be paid from the proceeds of the deceased estate. However if you need to stick to a budget let the funeral home know so they can respect this and offer advice as how best to stay within your budget.