Funeral Industry News

Funeral Industry: ?Come in Houston. Houston we have a problem.?

August 21, 2009

Ryan Thogmartin is the CEO of DISRUPT Media | Follower of Christ | Husband | Father | Entrepreneur | Host of #DISRUPTu! and #FUNERALnationtv | Lover of Skittles DISRUPT Media is a social media content agency that focuses on storytelling for funeral companies. We use real stories to build creative strategies that achieve actual business goals.

Funeral Industry: ?Come in Houston. Houston we have a problem.?

Houston, do you know where my community is located on the map? Can you tell me who lives and works in my community? Have you considered our ethnic and religious diversity or our economic status? Did you spend time speaking to the owners of local businesses? Have you taken the time to reflect on the history of our funeral home and its commitment to service?

I suggest that the answer to all these questions is NO.

Our community is a blend of urban and rural, offering the best of both worlds. We are located on the fringe of a larger city and are quite pleased with our ?town? status. Even though we were amalgamated a number of years ago, we have managed to continue to thrive as ?town? within a city. We have a main street which is dotted with small stores, boutiques and eateries. We are located on that main street, not far from where the original funeral home was built at the turn of the century. Our funeral home is a beautiful old home that has always been used as a funeral home. The manager or an employee always lives above and watches over the home. A number of years ago, a beautiful non denominational chapel was added to the funeral home. The many windows flood the chapel with light no matter what the season or the weather on the day of a funeral. Families love our chapel. Why? Because we are a very multicultural community and our chapel is truly a peaceful place where one can meditate regardless of personal creed. Despite having seating for nearly 200, it is open and airy and bright. We also have a reception cottage that families use following a funeral or memorial service as a place of gathering for a time of friendship and refreshment. It too is open and airy, decorated tastefully and opens up to a large yard which families enjoy from May to October. Community organizations can use it without charge. Our community is a blend of ethnicities and religious convictions. We are known for having a church on every corner and we are proud of that fact. Our funeral home has close ties to most of the local churches and we rely on those clergy to assist our unaffiliated families with their funeral ritual needs. We have florists who have served this community for many years with beautiful arrangements that celebrate life, at a reasonable cost. No, they are not always the cheapest or bargain basement prices, but they are local, they are proud of their work and the community shops there. We also have caterers and engravers and others who we have depended upon over the years to help us help our families. In fact, we are a team of service providers for families who have suffered the death of a loved one. We are all committed to providing the best service possible to our families. We meet at Lion?s Club, Rotary, Civitan, and other groups which work to benefit our community. We are visible because we work, live and raise our families in this community. We are proud of who we are, what we do and how we do it.

In recent months, you have eroded our base of friendships and working relationships by making decisions which are applied to every funeral home without exception. In private we question your decisions about centralizing everything from embalming to vehicles to flowers. We wonder what the impact will be on our families, even as we assure them that we are offering them the very best service and the very best prices. In private we know that our prices are more than 2000 dollars more than the independent funeral home which is located five minutes down the road. In private we know that we cannot justify the price difference with catchy slogans or jingles. In private we are waiting for another mistake to occur because there are ?too many cooks in the kitchen?. That brings me to the point of wondering why a bereaved family is passed from person to person often seeing as many as 6 or 7 different individuals from the time of arrangement to the time of committal. On occasion, the bereaved family has been known to ask who the funeral director running the funeral is. Families want consistency at a time when their world is chaotic and often we fail them. It goes beyond what families can see to what we know about funeral service. The operative word is service, not a hint of sales. Funeral directors are not sales persons; they are death educators and knowledgeable about the many options which the bereaved can choose from to meet their emotional, spiritual and financial needs. Why are our pre-need people on commission? Can we not afford to pay them a salary the same way a funeral director is paid a salary? You see them as salespersons, I see them as deathways educators in the same way that funeral directors are educators. No one needs to be rushed into purchasing a casket and a funeral. Prearranging requires time and thought before making a decision. It requires guidance and options and education about caskets, vaults, funeral rituals, methods of disposal, consideration about music, poetry, pallbearers and all this should be discussed with other important family members such as children before reaching a decision. When an aftercare is being done, it is not the time to pressure the newly bereaved to attend to their own funeral. More often than not, we offend our family members rather than winning them with our care and concern for their well being and our assistance in documentation. Would it be too much considering the cost of a funeral or memorial service to give each of our executors a planning book at $40 so they could organize themselves with our help? Instead we offer them phone cards and bookmarks. We charge them a gas surcharge despite the fact that we often do not use our vehicles or we use them minimally compared to the fee for service. Have you looked at the charges recently for graveside or direct cremations and not wondered why we are charging families for services which are not necessary and might even be considered as charging twice.

When we ask questions, we are given ?partyline? answers. We are often overseen by superiors who show a lack of insight concerning trends in the industry and are not open to new ideas. Green funerals are not only coming, they are here. The independent funeral homes are offering green caskets and green funerals as an alternative to cremation. While we may decrease the cost of purchasing caskets, urns, and flowers by centralizing our purchasing power, we are cheating our families of new products which are available to them elsewhere. When we make suggestions, why are we told that ?it wont fly with Houston? before anyone considers making an out of the box suggestion? What happened to teamwork? Why does a funeral home need to be managed by a funeral director? Certainly we could learn something from the hospitals which lost money when they were run by doctors and began to make money when they were lead by managers who had a sense of business, PR, community relations, communication and how to work with their staff with a strong but human approach. We may be a small funeral home but we work hard and we belong to you, even if you have placed us in the care of designated others to ensure we follow the directives and read the bulletins.

?Houston, come in…… WE HAVE A PROBLEM!?