There are many factors that influence funeral home business growth, and they can vary based on market conditions including competition, population, location and access to media. For this post, we’ll focus on four universal themes to which many funeral home owners might relate:
- Lack of resources
- A weak brand
- Aversion to change
- Not understanding what business you’re actually in
1. Lack of resources
From human resources to facilities, merchandise and transportation, operating a firm can be very expensive. A funeral home is not unlike any other business that requires careful management of scarce resources so there is a net gain year-over-year. Funeral professionals should not feel “bad” about being profitable — it is the primary driver that sustains your ability to grow in service to your community.
Some funeral home owners struggle with operations and financial management, because the bulk of their education, training and experience is related to funeral planning, embalming and disposition. Understanding how to price your services and products and efficiently manage expenses is crucial for you to continue this mission in the long term. In fact, upon getting the right help, many funeral directors are able to make proactive adjustments that result in improving their ability to provide superior experiences to families who demand and deserve them.
2. A weak brand
Let’s first define “brand:” It is everything a consumer sees, reads, hears, experiences and thinks about an organization. Businesses do not control or own their brands — consumers do. What you can do is influence what people see, read, hear, experience and think about your funeral home.
Organizations with the strongest brands are those whose client families are willing to proactively advocate on their behalf and whose potential client families can, among other things, name them among the top two funeral homes they can think of. A strong brand is achieved through effective public relations and superior customer service. If consumers are unaware of you or what differentiates your firm from your competitors, you may risk losing families you have served for many years or fail to connect with families who are unsure where to turn when they need to plan a funeral.
Where does advertising play in the mix? Consider this: If you have a newer firm or are introducing new services, public relations (PR)/publicity is the most effective manner in which to gain attention because it tells your story indirectly through third parties such as the media. People trust advertising less because they know it is generated and paid for by you. PR is vital to a funeral home’s brand strength throughout its existence.
You must count on client-advocates to recommend you, and you must continually reach out to the media and offer yourself up as an expert promoting the importance of your firm and what you provide. These are the voices consumers tend to trust more than advertising. Some advertising is important to sustain a brand, but a solid, engaging PR strategy can effectively reduce the amount you need to spend on direct mail, TV, radio, newspaper and so on. Could you think of ways to reallocate unnecessary advertising expenses toward other important business needs? (See #1.)
3. Aversion to change
In this section, you’ll begin to notice a theme not unlike one you’ve heard from all of the motivational business consultants. They’ve all got a point in some way or another: If you’re not growing, you’re dying; “good” is the enemy of “excellence;” complacency kills. Becoming operationally aware and building a strong brand requires an evolutionary — and sometimes revolutionary — mindset. If the data indicates you need to change something about your business and you do not make that change, you’re sending a clear signal to your stakeholders that you’re out of step with their needs and do not care about what they think or want.
Be open to new ideas from your employees, consumers and colleagues. Study what is working in similar markets or similar-sized firms. Encourage ideation and seek advice from owners and professionals from other businesses. Find ways to adapt the best strategies in ways that help you grow. One caveat, though: Make sure you understand what works and what doesn’t. Give things time to gain proof of performance. Do not change for the sake of change.
4. Not understanding what business you’re really in
Have you really thought about how you answer the question, “What do you do for a living?” What influences the answer you give? Consumers often have pictures in their minds of what a funeral director does, and if you could see these images, you’d likely wish they were something entirely different! Here’s something to ponder: Consider answering the question by saying, “I am a funeral planner.”
This is an entirely different answer and might promote images of an entirely different sort, as the person who asked thinks about the service or celebration part of what you do. Because it is different from “funeral director,” you might become engaged in a different sort of conversation than usual. Telling people you are in the funeral planning business also requires some thought about the “best of” list of celebrations you’ve organized.
Finally, the largest consumer group that will be confronting end-of-life issues in the next 20 years is the Baby Boomer generation. Baby Boomers are independent and somewhat defiant of being told what they “have to” have or do. It is unlikely they wish for their funerals to be “directed.” Rather, they want straight answers to their questions about how you can help them have the celebration and disposition they want — which is likely not their grandfather’s kind of funeral.
Dean Lambert is the Senior VP - Marketing & Communications for Homesteaders Life Company. He is a frequent presenter at funeral association events and has published numerous articles on funeral home marketing and PR. Click here to learn more about the leadership team at Homesteaders.