Ask The Expert: What Are The Pros and Cons of Adding Pet Loss Services to My Funeral Home Operation?

December 9, 2012
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Ask The Expert: What Are The Pros and Cons of Adding Pet Loss Services to My Funeral Home Operation?

Answer From Pet Loss Expert – Coleen Ellis

Question:

Coleen, I’ve been thinking about adding pet loss services to my existing funeral home operation. Of course I still hear some of the naysayers out there that say this kind of business expansion might have others feeling like I’m “going to the dogs.”  What are those specific areas that I should consider, from the direction of this business addition to the pros and cons of this type of new service?

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Answer:

Dave, I’m glad you are reaching out to ask some of these preliminary questions before launching into this amazing new pet death care service program.  There are a variety of areas that need to be considered before actually executing this kind of business.  Let’s walk through those together.

First of all, why should you add this kind of service to your existing business operation?  In an article published in October in the Wall Street Journal, apartment managers and builders have recognized that it’s becoming imperative to build their properties to be more pet-friendly.  Landlords are saying that they not only need to allow pets but they need to encourage pets in their units as it is a huge attraction to the younger renters who are marrying later and having the pets as their children as well as a draw to the more discretionary income demographic of baby boomers who have probably empty-nested and the pets are the new children.  An even more compelling statement,… allowing pets “becomes a real marketing thing and a point of differentiation.  If a property doesn’t have it, it’s sort of old school.”  Gosh, Dave, I know your business and you are the last person whose business would be considered “old school!”

Interestingly enough, the most unlikely businesses are eagerly looking at pets and adding them into their business model.  Businesses like Ralph Lauren Clothing stores who have dog walkers on staff, encouraging their shoppers to bring Fido in shopping and giving them the peace of mind in knowing that their little fluffy-kid will be spoiled as Mommy spoils herself with a bit of retail therapy.  Fairmont Hotels are not only pet-friendly in their properties, complete with a pet’s own menu of services and treats, but they also have pets on staff.  Dogs that can be scheduled for a quick walk around town, for a run in the local park, or possibly to get a fix of petting a dog in the privacy of one’s own room, curled up by the TV, just like home!

So, while you are trying to decide if servicing pet parents looks like you are going to the dogs, well, you can join others who are openly welcoming this segment of the population and looking for services and creative ways to appease these pet lovers.

What Does the Market Look Like?

Sixty-two percent of people own a pet.  Eighty-three percent of the sixty-two percent refer to themselves as “mommy and daddy” or pet parents.  Therefore, if your business model is open to servicing everyone with a pet, then you can take your markets population count multiplied by the 62%.  If you’d like to service just the pet parents, the multiplication would then include the 83%.  This is an incredibly large percentage of people who all have a commonality in the areas of pet ownership.  Is it worth it?  You bet!

This is certainly an intriguing “pro” when considering offering these kinds of services to your market.  I’m also glad you asked the question as if this type of service is handled wrong, you will most certainly damage your pet business as well as this having an effect on your human operation.  Yes, you DO need to consider all of the service angles when looking at this expansion as the pet families will want to know that they are receiving the same types of caring services fo their pet and not sub-standard offerings because it’s “just a dog.”  This would surely reflect negatively on your entire enterprise.  Definitely a major “con” in considering this kind of business but if that’s a concern, then my counsel to you is not even consider getting into this kind of offering if you are not going to have it look just like the services and options that you have available for your human families.  Half effort will certainly yield half results.

Don’t Create the Same Mousetrap

Pet parents are at a different place now with their pets.  Anthropomorphism is rampant with this segment of the population; anthropomorphism being the assigning of human characteristics to non-human things.  Attend any pet expo or fair and you will see animals dressed up, being pushed around in baby buggies, and talked to, or more-than-likely reprimanded, like small children at a social outing.

As I mentioned earlier, baby boomers are empty-nesting right now and the pets are becoming their new children; one of the reasons that you are seeing the onslaught of the doggie spas, doggie bakeries with treats fit for queens and kings, doggie facials, and doggie daycares with suites complete with TV’s and nanny-cams for the over-protective and over-indulgent pet parents.

Gone are the days of opening as merely a pet crematory.  Much like any other business that is thriving in today’s business world, pet parents, too, are looking for an experience in honoring their pet in death. They are looking for a business with professionals that can help them in an area where they don’t know what they don’t know.  A business with professionals to help them with grief support and memorialization options.  A business of just offering pet cremations without the other services is “very yesterday.”

This segues into the next decision that needs to be made:  what kind of business model WILL you be?  A business where there are already players in the market is more-than-likely operating as a business to business model, B2B, where your main customer is the veterinarian and you will merely provide cremation services to this client.  In other words, you will become a supplier to the veterinarian.   If you’ve ever read the book “Blue Ocean” – this type of process will be just like going into the “red ocean.”  A type of business where there are already players in this space and many times this kind of business offering is plagued by commoditizing by those players that are already servicing this market.  Join that red ocean philosophy and you jump right into the “red;” the blood bath of a market with players where the rules are already written for the supplier side of pet cremation.

I encourage you, especially given the fact that you also own a human death care operation, to really consider a pet loss business where the main customer is the family.  An end consumer who will truly appreciate the experience that you, the death care professional, can offer to them during their time of need.  This would be considered a B2C business model, a business to consumer model.  This type of model also allows you to showcase your amazing service levels to families that you might not otherwise have had an opportunity to be introduced to.  Now with servicing the four-legged family members, your potential market greatly opens up with a message that now appeals to 62% of your community!

Let’s Talk Marketing Opportunities  

This is where I get really excited!  When considering the opportunities for marketing pet memorial services to pet parents, the sky is the limit!  Pet parents are hungry for this type of service and are so relieved when they finally find someone who is going to treat their precious pet with the dignity and respect that they have been given all of their life.  While they certainly don’t like to think about their pet’s dying, knowing that there is a resource available to them when that time comes does provide amazing peace of mind for the pet parent who has provided everything they could for their pet in life.

In fact, in a focus group study that I did a few years ago, pet parents said they wanted three things when their pet died.  They wanted:

  •             Memorialization and service options.
  •             Their pet to be treated like a family member.
  •             A safe place to grieve.

Dave, I know you and your team,…  you do this for the human family members you service.  By opening up your caring services to include another concentric type of care with those experiencing a loss, you bring that same type of experience and care to a pet parent in the death of their beloved furry family member.

I get so many questions about how to effectively and tastefully market pet loss services as a co-brand with a human funeral home.  I’m going to focus an entire piece on this later but I want to “whet your whistle” with some exciting thoughts in this area.  Did you know that for the first time ever in the history of the Super Bowl, the 2012 Super Bowl and their infamous ads featured more dogs than babies?  Per a USA Today article, “The canine story line has worked for years for Super Bowl advertisers. But this year, dogs may even outnumber cute babies.  You can’t go wrong with a dog,” say Robbie Blinkoff, a cultural anthropologist. “The dogs are idealized versions of ourselves. The dogs aren’t dogs — they’re us.”

Another powerful reason for you, too, Dave, to bring to the people of your community a service that has many facets of excitement.  An experiential service for pet parents WANTING this service, a fabulous message that will have an amazing draw and appeal to your market, and an opportunity to be “first-to-market” with this new memori­alization service expansion!

About Coleen

Coleen is a well recognized thought-leader on the subject of pet death-care by organizations such as the National Funeral Directors Association and the International Cemetery, Crematory and Funeral Association, her work within the pet death care industry has begun to span the country as others who share in her passion for pets and their respectful treatment in death desire to open their own care centers. In response to consulting demand, Coleen founded Two Hearts Pet Loss Center, to guide those people who also wish to provide death care services in their communities, as well to be an educational resource in the pet grief discipline.  Most recently, Coleen was awarded the first Death and Grief Studies Certification specializing in Pet Loss Companioning by Dr. Alan Wolfelt, at his Center For Loss in Ft. Collins, Colorado 

Coleen is a native of Kansas where she graduated from Fort Hays State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing .  She shares her home in Indianapolis, IN, with her husband and business partner, Chris Burke, their human children, Brian and Amy, and their three furry kids, Ellie Mae, Crisco, and Rudy.


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