North Carolina Cremation and the Smaller Cremation Society

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There is a prevailing idea that "smaller" funeral homes face a greater challenge to succeed and grow than larger firms. How real is this issue? Is the path to success for a larger firm easier to navigate? If size really matters, what can a smaller firm do to secure its long-term success? For discussion purposes we must define what a smaller firm is. It is conceivable that a funeral home that does 500 cases annually may be comparatively small in a large metropolitan market; a 200-call firm in a highly competitive trade area may be considered the "big firm" in town, depending on its market share. We asked people who work in funeral service, or who are affiliated with funeral services firm to define the characteristics of a smaller firm:

* "In this business, small is defined by the number of calls, 100 calls would be termed a small but nice business."

* "A small firm is defined by the number of full-time licensed funeral directors on staff."

* "A small firm would be one that serves a limited geographic market which does not allow it to expand its call volume."

* "A small firm does less than 100 calls a year, with a market share of less than 5 percent in metro areas of less than 40 percent in rural areas."

* "A firm doing 90 cases may only have 100 deaths in its market. So they have 90 percent market share. That firm is huge in my eyes, regardless of the number of cases."

There seems to be logical ways to look at defining a small firm. Next question: What are the top challenges faced by a small firm defined in these terms? Let's go back to our panel:

* "Keeping good help - licensed funeral directors."

* "Not having adequate capital to reinvest in the business."

* "Decreasing profit margins."

* "Erosion of profits die to increase of cremation."

* "Staffing: too many hats (most small firm owners do everything."

* "Not enough staff to have the time to get and keep a full-head of steam on any projects."

* "More staff, better group plans, more leverage with suppliers, more market to capture and easier access to personnel."

* "I think large firms have the same issues but are sometimes more equipped to handle them."

* "Owners of larger firms have more time to work on their business than in their business."

The Common Denominator

There is a theme that runs through all of the aforementioned answers. Simply put, it is the availability and allocation of resources, including time. Owners and managers of small businesses often struggle with cash flow (operations), l (financing) mad making large expenditures for facilities provident, updated vehicles or information technology (investing with funds from cash or financing). Thus in a small funeral home. it is all about resource. Firms with fewer resources, or limited access to resource (one may have the money to hire help but nor have access to skilled labor), do not grow or they experience a slower rate of growth, either problem is like being in reverie gear, putting the business in peril. One funeral professional in Northern Ohio observed that in some small firms, funeral service is sometimes not the owner's only source of income. "in many small communities the funeral home owner is also, a farmer, or works for the fire department, or may be a city administrator" he said. The service resource in the o lead market shifts. Service programs such as active preened or aftercare. Thus, he or she is not able to capture future business and protect or grow. Comparatively speaking….Are the challenges really greater for operators of smaller firms than larger firms? It depends on the goals of business, really. Large or small, failure to overcome challenges in operations, financing, marketing and investing will inhibit a business ability to sustain itself. One of our panelist commentated, "Larger firms understand shifts; they have greater market share and probably lead market shifts. Smaller market share and probably firms continue to focus on what "was". The smaller firm should be able to be more responsive than a large firm, but the owner usually does not nave the midst to change. The assertion is than small business owners should think like big business owners. In other words, regardless of size, the operator of a smaller funeral hone must be forward- thinking and nimble enough to adapt to changes in the market. Better yet" Ely not be forward-thinking enough to effect change rather than to react to it? Another panelist has o answer to that question:" Many owners of small firms like their size because they control the rate of growth, the amount of free time they have and so on". Owners, according to this person can make a good living without many of the "headaches" that come with depending on employees, such as finding good help, absenteeism, payroll taxes and benefits. But if you're the "only game in town" ask yourself these questions.

* "Do I know what customers will think about cremation services in the future?"

* "What will the population in my trade area be in five, 10or 20 years?"

* "What will prevent a funeral homeowner in the next town from building a firm in my town, a block away?"

These unknown are compelling reasons why owners of a seller funeral home, or the only funeral home in town, should not be satisfied with the status quo. Things will change. Things are changing.

Allocation of Available Resources

Time, human resources and money tend to be the most prevalent issues for smaller firms, so a great deal of thought must be given to the wisest allocation of these resources. We have established that goals must be set, regardless of the market situation. Whether there is a competing firm in town or not, the funeral home owner still competes for the buying mindset of the consumer. Setting goals is the first step; breaking it all down to objectives and action plans will help you achieve success. One important reminder: If it has been some time since you created or reviews your business plan, this is a good time to review it. Knowing your true costs of doing business is key when making decisions about personnel, marketing and other investments in the future of your business. The following are steps to success that funeral homes of any size can follow:

Step One: If you don't already have a value proposition, it is time to create one. A value proposition is a clear statement of the tangible things a customer receives from doing business with you that separates you from your competition. It had to be specific and sustainable. Think of the reasons why a person should choose your firm besides off-street parking, access for the disabled or that you" care". Think "benefits" not "feature:. Step Two: Intuitionalism the value proposition throughout your organizations. Each and every person should be able to articulate it and understand its meaning and importance. Step Three: Evaluate your human resources. Create written job descriptions for everyone, build on peoples strengths. This is important in allocating responsibilities such as family follow-ups and preened - activities that help build your brand and secure future business. Step Four: Take control of communications in your marketplace regarding funeral service and funeral professionals. Today, most consumers get information about funeral service from the news and entertainment media or word of mouth. The media is often either negative or a caricature. Re-focus your existing advertising and public relations so that it communications the value of funeral service and funeral professionals in positive. relevant manner. If consumers wish to know about cremation options, they should hear it from you! If you do not currently spend money on advertising, it's time to budget for paid marketing communications. However, much can be achieved using press releases, community calendars and speaking at civic meeting luncheons. Step Five: Become the authority on advance funeral planning your marketplace. Why become a raving fan of preened? Go back to the "unknown" discussed earlier. We know several things about consumers today Some prefer cremation, and among those that do, there is little awareness that visitation and other traditional services are available to them. Furthermore, people today want highly personalized service. Across all business lines, people want it "their way". Expectations of funeral service will change into he future, so why not capture the mindset of today's consumer? Step Six: look of r new to one marketing communications purities. A strong community outreach program that includes aftercare, eldercare and advance funeral planning accomplishes this. If it is not feasible to hire someone who wakes up every morning thinking about marketing, promotions and public relations, consider engaging the services of a marketing organization that specializes in funeral service. Step Seven: Support your preened and outreach programs! Train your funeral directors and staff (administrators, apprentices, embalmers. gardeners), on how to answer questions about prearrangement and aftercare, and how to hand the individual off to your preened or aftercare designee. Developing incentive program furor funeral home personnel who cultivate leads that convert to funded prearrangements. Step Eight: Use "free" media to communicate frequently to the community. Generate regular press releases on new ideas in funeral service such as personalized and cremation options. Offer and promote seminars on prearrangements, healthcare advance planning and grief support. These can be hosted for little to no cost. Step Nine: Aftercare is a vital link, keeping families loyalty o your firm. Communicate frequently to the families you serve. Host a holiday memorial program in December. Promote Veterans Day and Memorial Day events in your area. Create a monthly luncheon event fro widows and widowers. These are worth the investment to secure your future, and play a role in communication the sustained value of your funeral home. Step Ten: Be active in your state funeral directors association and /or new of the n atonal associations. One must grow, market share. The idea generation, camaraderie and support received through active participation in these organizations, will enrich you and your business. Isolating yourself from your peers creates apathy - a condition that is sure to prevent success. Bonus Tip: Keep it going. Continually evaluate your marketing communication, public relations and promotions to determine effectiveness. Don't let anything get in your way of a regular staff meeting happening, even if you cannot be present. Keep your value proposition to-of-mind. Many of the attics discussed do not require a large financial commitment, but they do take time. Even if you want to stay "smaller", the aim id long-tern success thought well-planned strategic resource allocation that helps you promote the value of funeral service. While the criteria for funeral home size varies depending on the person you ask, small funeral homes seen to share similar changes.

Market conditions such as rising cremation rate, declining death rate and changes in the population have a greater effect:

Recruiting and retaking skilled business and lLess time for an owner to wooer "on" the business because he or she is so involved working in the business.

All of these points can be summed up into one word: resources. The problem of scarce resources requires creative strategies, and it is critical for the owner of a smaller funeral home to redirect his or her efforts to long-term success. One must not fall into the trap of complacency, thinking no completion exists. While a spirit of cooperation may indeed exist between competing firms, is it realistic to think that your colleague will turn away a family you have served for many years? Review your business plan often. Understand the cost of doing business so you can make informed decisions about resource allocation. Even if you are the only game in town" and have a wonderful relationship with your colleague across town, you do have competition. The news and entertainment media currently shapes the consumers view of funeral service - this is perhaps a greater challenge than competing against an aggressive firm, because consumer demand dictates the future of all business. Be the authority on funeral service. Befriend the media and take advantage of positive, free press. Allocate resources to marketing communication, public relations, and promotions. Funeral directors and staff who work in funeral homes should retake an active role in communicating the value of funeral service. Create a value proposition and communicate it throughout your organization. Even if ours is a husband and wife operation, articulating the benefits families will receive by doing business with your firm creates universal understanding of the value you provide. Develop an active one - to - one marketing communications program that supports active e preened, aftercare and other com mutiny outreach efforts. Get some training on how to handle preened inquiries and find a person to be decimated to grieving families before and after the funeral service. This gives you an opportunity to connect to families in a relevant, service oriented manner. If you cannot or do not wish to hire staff, there are marketing organizations that specialize in developing active preened programs that will enhance your business and secure the future success of your firm. Finally, size does not matter! There is nothing wrong with being a smaller business. But if you want to stay in business long-term, you must adopt growth strategy. Thinking competitively and finding ways to create greater value for the community you serve wile ensure that yours will be the firm of choice for years into the future.

If you or a family member have any further questions or concerns with respect to cremation, cremation services, cremation costs or a direct cremation please feel free to contact Cremation Options toll free 24 hours daily at 1-877-989-9090.

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