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.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

New York City Inquisition

Ask any 5th Grader when the Inquisition was and the answer you receive will likely be the 1400’s. And, that would be a correct answer.

Ask any funeral director in New York City and the answer will be 2012. Also a correct answer.

More than 25 years ago the Federal Trade Commission created the “Funeral Rule”. This “Rule” was established to protect consumers against fraudulent and misleading practices within the funeral industry. Unlike many other industries the funeral industry is not allowed to be self-governing.

We also need to consider a little thing like “States Rights”. Without attempting to write a history lesson, basically Federal Laws are the supreme law of the land, State Laws are those laws not covered by Federal Law or if they are covered by a Federal Law any State reserves the right to expand on that Federal Law. The City of New York also (as a local municipality) has “States Rights” privileges. New York City can expand any State Law and therefore Federal Laws as well.

Normally this is not a problem. Where issues arise between Federal laws and State and Local guidelines generally have to do with air/water pollution. Please don’t chastise me for over simplifying this, the issue here is the FTC “Funeral Rule” and the one were the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) is flexing it muscle.

What appears to be going on is this: Employees of the Department of Consumer Affairs in a misguided attempt to protect consumers have started a new inquisition. Taking parts of the FTC “Rule” out of context and attacking Funeral Directors.

I can only guess, but I would say, the DCA received complaints regarding funeral service, and rather than contact the New York State Department of Health or going to the Federal Trade Commission seeking help and guidance, took it upon investigate. All too often when that happens confusion and suspicion and distrust rears its ugly head. The DCA, without the background and experience of experts, did their own interpretation of the “Rule”, made what they considered improvements to the “Rule” and sent out inspectors with little or no training to shop funeral homes for violations of the law.

Someone at DCA must, at best, suspect that what they are doing is not right, fair or just and deals are being cut on outrageous fines. Pay us this now or the fine will be doubled if we need to go to court; and since there is no possible way of complete victory Mr. Funeral Director is a loser. It’s cheaper to pay.

The dumbest of the new New York City Regulations is; Funeral Directors are required to tell prospective clients the cost of their average funeral for the preceding year.

First the question is: How much is a funeral? If you ask a funeral director his answer is going to be, the total of his charges PLUS cash advances. You ask Aunt Millie and her answer is the total of the funeral directors charges AND the cash advance items combined, because that’s the amount of money it took to put Uncle Harry in the ground. The fact is, neither answer is wrong.

Now let’s look at this from the view point of the FTC. The funeral director is right. But Mr. Funeral Director is dealing with the DCA and while they acknowledge Cash Advance items DCA  is not telling what you need to base your average funeral on; and since Cash Advance items can vary greatly and because we are viewing this as the FTC would Cash Advance items are not being considered.

Now let’s examine the concept of average pricing.

Let’s say you did 100 funeral services last year. Of the 100 funerals, 50 were at $2,000.00. that’s $100,000.00. You did 25 funeral services at $3,500.00 that’s $87,500.00 and you did 25 funeral services at $4,500.00 that’s 112,500.00. To reach the average you need to add $100,000. plus $87,500. plus 112,500. That’s $300,000. Now you need to divide that by total number of funeral services 100. And your average funeral is $3,000.  That’s $1,000.00 greater than 50% of the funeral services you conduct. You are now sublimely suggesting a family spend $3,000. for a funeral service. Now if you were to do that and the DCA reviewed you books you might just find yourself guilty of price gouging because the average you quoted is $1,000. higher than 50 percent of the funerals you conducted.

What can you do to protect yourself and be in compliance with the DCA of the City of New York? Pray! Because the New York State Department of Health can’t help you, it’s not within their jurisdiction. The Federal Trade Commission can’t help you because it is not within their jurisdiction. And, your own lawyer is going to tell you to pay the fines because it is cheaper than trying to fight, “City Hall”:.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Obituaries & Death Notices

Who Reads them?  Funeral directors and Real Estate Agents
Why do Funeral Directors read them? It’s a “No Brainer” they can check up on their closest competitor without driving past his door.

Why do Real Estate Agents read them? So, they can second guess what houses or properties that may be coming up on the market.

All things being fair and equal an Obituary about a prominent person in the community can serve as a human interest story; After that they are simply a waste of money.
A little history is in order.

You need to understand, only as far back as the 1950’s not every family had a telephone. Early Television Stations as well as Radio Stations’” signed off” at Midnight and began the broadcast day at 6 or 7 AM the following morning.
Newspapers provided many services beyond just “All the News That’s Fit to Print” which incidentally was the motto of the New York Times since 1851. Newspapers were the world’s source for social media not just news. And, death notices and obituaries fell under the heading of Classified Advertising simply because it was not always easy to notify relatives and friends, and associates that were beyond your immediate area. Interesting to note, there was a great popularity of foreign newspapers in our country for the social and hometown local news that wasn’t covered by the World News Section of U.S. Newspapers.  Obituaries and death as well as weddings and birth announcements were important news from home that could only be gotten from the hometown newspaper.

In 1932, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster had Clark Kent popping in and out of phone booths to become The Man of Steel, Superman. While I am sure some still exist the average kid today cannot fathom why anyone would need a booth to talk on their cell phone.
Today, immigrants and foreign visitors don’t need newspapers from home. Thanks to the internet, hometown news is just a click or two a way and with Skype they can even talk to family and friends left behind, including seeing them on their computer screen all in real time.

Bottom line, death notices are completely out of date and Obituaries are human interest stories about the life and times of prominent people.
It is the fair honest funeral director that explains the obsolesce of death notices to the families they serve.

It is the intelligent funeral director who doesn’t let himself get suckered into believing online death notices will increase his business

Five Years into the Future

Five years into the future? I’m lucky if I can predict what I am doing next week!! That being said, enjoy these prognostications! My first one is that many of you will wonder if I had to look up that 5 syllable word!

In no particular order, here is what I’m predicting the funeral profession will look like in 5 years:

Cremation Rate: The national cremation rate will hit 57%. No surprise there but I don’t see this trend changing until the industry starts addressing some of the underlying issues brought on by the shift in demographics and pricing strategies. And this requires change, something we have not been very good at. But we’ll dig into this in more detail in a later blog post.

Online Funeral Arrangements: 25% of all funeral arrangements will occur online and many funeral professionals will discover that this scary proposition delivers more education and value more easily than when dealing with an actual human at the funeral home. There is a belief out there that quality funeral service requires human contact. This will be challenged and new learning will occur.

New Business Model: A new business model will emerge that turns the conventional wisdom of funeral service on its head. It will attack the four major costs of the industry—people, facilities, advertising and cost of goods—and dispel the common thinking that these things “are what they are”, and there is nothing we can do about them.

Publicly Owned Companies: There will be two less publicly owned companies. Time will push people into a corner and grow we must!

New Major Player: There will be a brand new major player in the industry, possibly not related to the funeral profession, that will approach the challenges of funeral service from a different perspective. I know, I know this has been predicted or feared for some time but I believe their less conventional way of doing things will appeal to the critical mass of Baby Boomer decision makers, creating larger and more attractive opportunities.

Cost Sensitivity: 70% of the industry will head down the cost sensitive path. I am not sure if we will hit rock bottom but there will still be a large opportunity for firms who believe in supporting the emotional needs of those touched by death.

Pre-Need: Pre-Need will go through a major shift. The current business model is struggling and as a result appears to be working at odds with the funeral industry. This friction will come to a head, smart business minds within the funeral profession will focus on it and new powerful solutions will emerge.

Victors of the Future: To the victors go the spoils. The victors of the future will be champions of change and not afraid of risks. In fact, their battle cry will be something along the lines of “Fail faster!!”

For the most part we don’t know what we don’t know, particularly about the future! And I am sure I have demonstrated that point effectively. But take a look around. The challenges we see all around us are the seeds of future opportunities. Risk, Learn, Grow! And in five years we’ll see how we did!