A Global Perspective of the Funeral Profession Taken from The Asia Funeral Expo
Article by: Jeff Harbeson, The Funeral Commander
I’m blessed to travel and meet funeral industry professionals literally all over the globe; most recently I have just returned from the Asia Funeral Expo in Macau, China. I was provided an opportunity to speak to at the conference on the subject “DNA is Alive in the Death Industry” using the platform of services provided by our company, DNA Memorial. This is a small world and the funeral industry continues to become smaller as we collaborate with others globally. Please allow me to provide some “color” on my experience and observations while in China.
Just traveling to the Far East is exhausting…from the Command Post to Hong Kong includes a 14.5 hour plane ride and a loss of 12 hours. Often I am asked “where do you live” and I respond “Marriott.” I live in Marriott’s and change underwear in Roanoke VA…thus I seek out my beloved Marriott’s for consistency of brand and the Courtyard in Hong Kong did not disappoint. Getting around via cab is quite easy and once I conduct a walking “recon” of the area I’m staying I become comfortable venturing out.
I had the opportunity to visit a funeral home while in Hong Kong that conducted an average of 10 services per day…in one building. It was fascinating to learn the different cultural customs of both burial and cremation; all according mostly to the religious preferences of the family. The team at this particular location operated on a precise time-clock of service and served as if only one family was in the building. Some of the displays of flowers and “towers of buildings” were quite elaborate, others were very simple and plain; not much different than here in the US…the family has choices.
The Expo took place in Macau, China which was a 30 minutes high speed ferry ride away. My partner Mike Grehan from LifeArt Caskets is based in Hong Kong and I was provided a spot at their booth. The LifeArt team was quite interesting as they represented the engineering/manufacturing elements as well as the sales/relationship side. Having a personal knowledge of US casket manufacturing as well as sales, the same in Asia is a whole different ball game.
Unlike the the US (from State to State), the biggest difference in the Asia region is that each country operates completely different from the other. The approach is similar because what a surprise, relationships are key. Another difference for example going out (exporting) of China is not to difficult, going in (importing to) is another ball game. Sort of like selling in New Jersey and New York.
There were familiar faces from the United States present; of course Christine Pepper (CEO of NFDA) along with some of her crew including Bill Wappner and Anna Bernfeld. My friend (and best looking guy in his age category) Walker Posey of Posey Funeral Directors provided seminars which included one about service; spot on my friend! The skilled Matt Smith offered an outstanding set of presentations on restorative arts…this guy is really talented! In attendance also was Jim Malamas from ABC Casket Funeral Products, LTD of Las Vegas as well and a few folks from America including a hearse company. I even saw someone from a US vault company there…
Otherwise, the “show floor” was smaller but more concentrated than we have here in the US. There were some urn manufacturers, a make up booth and some other interesting representations. My new friends from Isreal Alon & Assaf Natif of Aley Shalechet, LTD and Cees Janssen of Jewel Concepts (along with his bride) from the Netherlands provided me new insights/opportunities with their existing brands. What was missing? Technology similar to what we are used to in the US…what, no Facebook in China? Online obits are just taking off …I met a great guy Matt McLean of Heaven Address from Australia. Of course there were some caskets on display and upon close inspection, quite nice ones! The days of claiming poor quality, at least from what I saw coming from China, is behind us. For all the nay-sayers at funeral homes that puff their chest about “American Made” products, simply put, every product for the most part has an offshore component today…even the highly regarded and precious fleet cars.
Today, I have a partner in Spain, another in Scotland, and another in Toronto area working with funeral homes…I’m back in the United States working with the many initiatives we are launching in the funeral industry. As an industry, we have moved beyond just our local communities with talent and access to education. There is much to take advantage of internationally or right here at home to improve our operations, services and products offered; it’s a matter of choice to “get in the game” or just “sit in the stands.” Where do you fit in? From the desk of The Funeral Commander, cheers y’all! #thefuneralcommander
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