Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Are you struggling with complacency?

Ethan Darby,
Director of Business Development
 My father, Rich Darby, refers to something called the "whirlwind" quite often. He says the whirlwind is a combination of day-to-day activities, putting out fires and meeting deadlines. These are all things that get us caught up working IN our business rather than ON our business.

Some would argue that these activities are vital in keeping business afloat. I won't disagree, but these activities also lead to complacency; or rather a company full of people who are content, yet unconcerned and uneager to improve or adapt their business.

You get the bills paid and everyone is happy, but are you moving forward? In our industry today, if you aren't moving forward, you're moving backward. Everything we know about the funeral industry is changing, and if you aren't keeping up, someone else is. We can no longer afford to sit stagnant and expect our businesses to grow. We have to fight for every dollar we earn.

I challenge you to stay on your toes. Practice some reasonable paranoia. Just by reading this article, you are keeping yourself informed, which is a step in the right direction. When is the last time you tried to gain some new business? How many conventions or seminars have you been to in the past year? When was the last time you asked your supplier about new products or opportunities? Paying attention to ways to educate yourself and grow your business will keep you out of the whirlwind and avoid the "silent business killer" I call complacency.

This article originally appeared in Trigard Tuesdays, our weekly electronic newsletter featuring information for the funeral industry. Sign up for your free subscription at http://www.trigard.com/tuesdays.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

What's the difference? How to help families make better decisions through education

This article originally appeared in the May/June issue of Funeral Business Advisor.

By Rich Darby, Chief Operating Officer

What’s the difference between a 20-gauge and an 18-gauge casket? What’s the difference between a standard and a deluxe print package? What’s the difference between a concrete box and a burial vault?

How many times have you heard these kinds of questions during an arrangement? As families make decisions about products that they don’t know much about, so often they want to know “what’s the difference?”

I know it can be tempting to minimize the question and say something like “they’re basically the same, except for the price”. But when we don’t take the time to explain the differences, the family doesn’t have the opportunity to fully understand how they can get the most value.

But before you can explain the difference, are you sure that you know the difference? Have you ever casually referred to a concrete box as a vault? They are absolutely not the same.

A concrete box has no seal or liner. In fact, it has drainage holes in the bottom. The only function of a concrete box is to help prevent the earth from collapsing, although it still may break down over time. Concrete has a compressive strength, but it doesn’t allow for any bend from the forces of the earth. While it may meet a cemetery’s minimum Outer Burial Container (OBC) requirement, a concrete box cannot provide a clean, dry casket space.

A lined, sealed, warranted burial vault provides the security and peace of mind that families want for their loved one. It provides multiple layers of protection by including a polymer liner that works with the concrete to help prevent breakage. The more layers of protection, the stronger the vault.

It also has a strong seal to help protect against outside elements. Only a lined, sealed burial vault can provide a clean, dry casket space.

Does this seem like a lot of information to share with a family during an arrangement? Or even worse, does it feel like selling?

There are two things to remember. First, in a pre-arrangement, time is on your side. It’s easier to direct the conversation and provide more information because the family isn’t dealing with the stress and emotion of making at-need arrangements. They are more open to information and education.

Second, remember that providing information about the benefits of a lined, sealed burial vault isn’t selling. It’s teaching. When you educate families about the products, they feel more confident in their selections and place more trust in you, their funeral director.

But what about during an at-need arrangement? The emotional stresses may be weighing heavily on the family by the time you come to the discussion about the burial vault. Don’t shy away from the information. I understand that you want to get the family back home and out of your selection room, but they have one chance to make the best decisions they can for their loved one’s final disposition.

This also brings me to the importance of clear, family-friendly, educational graphics. I am always looking for ways to better explain the importance of a burial vault and their layers of protection. Ask your supplier for tools to help illustrate the information you’re sharing with families. Visual aids that reinforce what you’re saying help families comprehend, especially during at-need arrangements.

But what about the family who can only afford the minimum? While a concrete box is often the least expensive option, it does not give the families you serve any value or protection. As a director, it’s your job to figure out how to serve this family the best that you can. Maybe it means choosing a lower-end casket so they can afford a lined, sealed burial vault. Or sometimes there is no OBC choice other than a concrete box.

There will always be some exceptions, but I challenge you to educate as many families as possible about the difference between a concrete box and a lined, sealed burial vault.  When you do, the families you serve will rest easy, secure in the knowledge that they have made a good choice focused on value. And you can also rest easy, knowing you have given the family all of the information to make a wise decision. 

________________________________________________________________________Rich Darby is Chief Operating Officer for Trigard and Trigard Memorials. He earned his funeral directors license from Southern Illinois University in 1987, and is licensed in Illinois, Indiana and Arizona. His family owns and operates Trigard, Trigard Memorials, seven funeral homes and a memorial park across Illinois, Indiana and Arizona. Email him at richd@trigard.com.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Do you have enough reading material?

Julia Sullivan,
Creative Director
I don't know about you, but I know that sometimes a stack of industry publications piles up on the corner of my desk just waiting to be read. There is so much great information in them, but it's not always easy to make time to read everything.

Do you still have a copy of the April issue of The Director, NFDA's monthly magazine? How about the May/June issue of the Funeral Business Advisor? Find them, and put them on the top of your stack. Because inside you'll find great editorial articles by Rich and Linda Darby.

But what if you don't subscribe to all of the industry publications? Or can't find your copy? We are going to start adding our editorials to our blog. And, to make sure you don't miss a single article published, we'll add an alert to this newsletter when we have a new one to share.

Why do we share what we've learned? It is our goal to not only educate you, but we also want to help you grow.    

This article originally appeared in Trigard Tuesdays, our weekly electronic newsletter featuring information for the funeral industry. Sign up for your free subscription at http://www.trigard.com/tuesdays.

The evolution of bronze memorials

By Ethan Darby, Director of Business Development 

Families have been memorializing their loved ones for as long as there have been records of civilization. Memorials serve as more than a symbol to honor where a person has been laid to rest. Memorials serve as a link to our ancestors to help us learn more about our family history. For centuries, memorialization has helped satisfy the human desire to remember those who have died and to be remembered by those who remain.

The past…
When bronze memorials were first introduced to consumers, they were very basic, displaying only names and dates with a very simple border design. Most manufacturers didn’t have the technology to incorporate color, images or detailed border art to the designs. And the options for memorial protection were slim to none.

Although these early memorials captured vital information, families insisted on a better way to tell the story of their loved ones’ lives. And so, companies made the first attempts to incorporate images and intricate designs on bronze. Unfortunately, these early attempts resulted in porous and grainy images with very little detail.

Technology advanced, and the options for personalizing bronze memorials grew. Emblems, images and border art became the norm, but precise details of faces were sometimes lost because of the limitations of the manufacturing process.

…the present…
Today, families want even more control and input in the design of bronze memorials. They want their loved ones’ memorials to have character, passion and personality. Thanks to computers and smartphones, consumers are used to creating full-color images on their own electronic devices. They expect memorials to do the same.

What bronze memorials are available to meet these expectations? Many companies are still utilizing traditional bronze casting to create beautiful memorials, but there is another more detailed option available called direct-to-metal. With this technology, memorial craftsmen can create exact replicas of images in solid bronze, capturing every important detail. You can run your hand across the 3-D relief and feel the curls in a loved one’s hair and the wrinkles in their clothing. The families you serve can capture one favorite picture or a gallery full of different images to tell a life story.

And to add another dimension, families can add color to their bronze memorials. Companies are using state-of-the-art color imaging equipment capable of capturing the exact color of their loved one’s hair or their perfect shade of lipstick. With the addition of color, family photographs seem to come to life, helping families honor their memories.

There have also been advancements in protection for classic and color memorial designs. Most companies cover their bronze memorials with a clear coating to protect it from fading and the elements. The clear coat is baked onto the memorials to seal it in a protective shell, protecting the beauty and detail of a family’s unique memorial for years to come.

…and, the future.
Is this enough? Today, families carefully select words of endearment and a handful of pictures to tell the story of someone’s entire life.

What is progressive and contemporary today will more than likely be the norm – or even outdated – in a few decades. Who knows? Maybe there will be digital, solar powered memorials that display recordings of the person’s life in the future. As long as our need to be remembered evolves, I believe the memorial will continue to evolve as well.

Ethan Darby is the Director of Business Development for Trigard Memorials and is a member of the Darby family’s fourth generation. His family owns Trigard, Trigard Memorials, a memorial park and seven funeral homes across Illinois, Indiana and Arizona.

This article originally appeared in the June issue of The Director

Death and funerals: Helping children understand

This article originally appeared in the May issue of American Funeral Director.

By Linda Darby and Erin Brodbeck, LCSW 

In the funeral business, we are always concerned about the details. We make sure the facilities are immaculate, the staff is educated, the vehicles are washed and waxed and even the edge of the toilet paper is folded into a point. With so many details to keep track of, are we taking care of everything and everyone? What about the children?

Linda Darby, Trigards CEO, and her niece, Erin Brodbeck, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and grief counselor for Sunset Funeral Homes, sat down to discuss educating our children about death and funerals.

Why should we educate our children about death?
Erin: We need to be educating our children to ensure that they fully understand all of the events that surround death and funerals. Their understanding is essential to them being able to process that someone they love is no longer physically living and that things are different now. This understanding also helps children actively mourn and start to make the transition from a physical relationship to a relationship of memory with their loved one. A child’s need to grieve and mourn is different from adults because they are still growing and developing as people. But it is in these formative years that they can learn how to process grief effectively. Educating and involving our children in the grief process is essential in helping them develop good grief skills that can last a lifetime.

What is important when talking to children about death?
Erin: When it comes to talking with children about death, it is crucial to be honest and supportive. I don’t believe in “sugar coating” things to protect them. I think it does more harm than good. Research suggests that if adults aren’t completely honest with children about death, it can make it harder for a child to trust that adult in the future.

Linda: Be open to children’s feelings.  Acknowledge how they may be feeling, and talk about it. Let them know that they have people that love them and are there to support them.

How are you teaching children?
Linda: Sunset Funeral Homes offer a program specifically for educating children called “Memories of the Heart.” It’s designed to get children involved and allows them to open up, ask questions and share memories about their loved ones in a supportive environment.

Erin: A lot of times, we just sit and talk. As a grief counselor, I try to explain the events surrounding a death. Instead of being afraid, they usually have great questions and end up learning a lot. Sometimes we play games that help explain what happens at a funeral and complete activities to allow them share memories.

Are there other ways children can learn about death and funerals?
Many times a child’s first experience with death is when they lose a pet. Allowing them to take charge of the planning of the funeral is a good way for them to learn. This first-hand experience is an excellent teacher.

A few years ago, I lost my dog, General.  He was huge part of my life. My grandchildren were starting to become aware of life and death, and I found the loss of General to be a great opportunity to teach them what happens during a funeral.

It was a beautiful ceremony. We picked out a bronze memorial and an urn for his remains. He had “paw bearers” and even a graveside dove release. The kids drew pictures and read a poem that was written just for him. It was a great learning opportunity, and General will be sadly missed.

Erin: Having services like General’s is another way for children to learn. It also allows them to mourn their pet. Whether it is losing a pet or losing a person in your life, the same approach applies. Be honest and up front. Let them know that it is okay to be sad, mad, frustrated or angry. Make sure they know they have support when they need it.

Is there anything we should know before talking to children?
Be a good listener and encourage them to ask questions. The more information you can give them the better. Teach them to acknowledge the death, mourn the loss and deal with their feelings as they come. If they do this, they will be better able to handle loss in the future.

Linda Darby is Chief Executive Officer for Trigard. Erin Brodbeck is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and grief counselor for Sunset Funeral Homes. They are both members of the Darby family, who owns and operates Trigard, Trigard Memorials and seven funeral homes and a memorial park across the Illinois, Indiana and Arizona.

Bridging the gap: How to connect with pet lovers in your community

This article originally appeared in the March issue of American Cemetery magazine.

By Linda Darby, Chief Executive Officer of Trigard

As members of the funeral industry, we understand the importance of memorializing our loved ones. This includes our family members, our friends and even our furry and feathered friends. For many of us, our pet is a dinner date, a snuggle buddy, a “wing man,” a friend to exercise and play with and so much more. They love us and depend on us. I believe they deserve the same respect as anyone who has touched our lives.

Do you feel like you’re connected to the pet lovers in your community? You might be thinking to yourself, we have a pet section and brochures talking about our services. What else can we do to reach pet lovers? Just like you’re involved with churches, civic groups and other organizations in your community, you can get involved with the pet community in your area. Doing this gives you the opportunity to build partnerships, host seminars or community events and demonstrate your value and expertise.

Build partnerships
When you think about the pet community, who comes to mind? Pet owners? Veterinarians? Trainers? Animal shelters? Building a relationship with key people in the pet world is your first step in becoming an active member of that community.

Veterinarians are very passionate people, and they care about the animals they serve. But they may not be comfortable talking about the end of an animal’s life. Much like doctors focus on healing, veterinarians focus on ways to help animal’s live healthy lives. So, how do you connect with a vet? The same way you connect with a family. You help veterinarians focus on creating a healthy healing process for the family that is left behind when a beloved pet dies. 

But veterinarians aren’t the only professionals who might be uncomfortable talking about the end of an animal’s life. Reach out to trainers, animal shelter staff and even pet supply store owners. You can start the conversation just as you would if you were talking about memorializing a person’s life. You can connect through stories of happy memories together, and then explain the importance of having a special place to visit and to share those memories.

As you build partnerships in your community, you will begin to position yourself as an expert. Just like a veterinarian might seek the expert opinion of a trainer for tips for a dog’s behavioral issues, you can position yourself as the expert in grief and healthy healing.

Host professional seminars
One way to establish your expertise is to host professional seminars for other pet experts, and offer continuing education credits for veterinarians. As a funeral professional, you know the value of CEUs, especially when seminars are close to home. As long as the presentation is approved by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AASVB) (http://www.aavsb.org/race/), you can offer valuable CEU credits along with your valuable information.

Hold community events
A great way to meet families with pets is to hold special events. When you host events, you can meet and greet community members in a relaxed setting, rather than only when a beloved pet has died.

Dog owners will flock to your cemetery if you host an event like a “mutt strut.” Consider partnering with your local animal shelter. You could have contests, photos, food and pet vendors. You can have animals available for adoption right on site. It would be a great opportunity for you to get to know the pet owners and shelter staff in your community while showcasing your beautiful cemetery grounds.

But, what about the cherished cat lovers? You can host a pretty kitty photo contest on your Facebook page. You can give away cat toys with your logo on them at an adoption shelter. You can make a charitable gift to a no-kill cat shelter. Remember, not all cats like to travel away from their home, so you’ll need to be a little more creative.

Walk the dog
If you are a dog owner, you probably have a set walking route. Wouldn’t it be nice to change your path? Consider encouraging your community to utilize your cemetery grounds for their daily walks. Your cemetery is a beautiful, safe place to maintain a healthy lifestyle, as well as a place of remembrance.

With already established paths and roadways, your cemetery is the perfect place for people to get exercise and walk their dogs. When talking with your local pet community, let them know about your pet-friendly policies. Be sure to establish rules to help your visitors be respectful of your grounds – and clearly post them for all visitors to see. 

Reserve a pet section
With small back yards and apartment living becoming more of a reality, burying pets in the back yard under the oak tree is becoming less and less common. Consider establishing a pet section in your cemetery for the burial of our furry and feathered friends if you don’t already have one. By creating a distinctly marked section, you will give pet families a special place to visit and share memories for years to come.

By building relationships, hosting seminars and community events, establishing exercise routes and creating well-marked sections in your cemetery, your connection with pet lovers in your community will continue to grow.

Linda Darby is Chief Executive Officer for Trigard, Trigard Memorials, a memorial park and seven funeral homes across Illinois, Indiana and Arizona.  Her family has been in the funeral industry for four generations, helping families remember, celebrate and heal. Learn more at www.trigard.com.

Monday, June 16, 2014

A women's place is in the (funeral) home

This article was originally published in the April issue of The Director.

By Erin Brodbeck, LCSW and Lindsey Murphy, fourth generation members of the Darby family
Due 2/12/14

As fourth generation members of the Darby family, we have witnessed the evolution of women in the funeral industry. Our gender’s role throughout this industry has truly evolved throughout the years, which has empowered us as the next generation.

For thousands of years, women prepared the bodies of the deceased. It was a job considered to be similar to midwives and nurses. But when the Civil War began, President Lincoln requested the first casualty be embalmed by male soldiers on the battlefield and sent north for burial. This event began a trend. By the mid-19th century, the embalming and preparing of bodies was viewed as inappropriate for women.

In more recent decades, women have had to work to be viewed as equal professionals in the funeral industry. Some saw women as a burden instead of an asset, and many qualified women found it difficult to find jobs, especially as funeral directors. “What if she got pregnant?” “Can she pick up the heavier bodies?” “Can she handle the gory details of embalming?” But now thanks to the efforts of many, firms are embracing women as a vital part of their success.

While some funeral directors are focused on the things that make up a funeral, like an oak casket, a bagpiper or a limousine, women focus on listening to the story. Women are natural nurturers and healers. We can handle emotion.

As women, we can easily empathize with the families we serve. It feels like there is something in our DNA that allows us to connect with individuals quickly. It just comes naturally. This compassion is being embraced, and we are helping to serve families even better. Women own funeral homes, embalm bodies and direct funerals. The opportunities are growing rapidly, and more and more women are jumping aboard.

Did you realize, about sixty percent of mortuary science students in the United States are women? Many women are discovering they have the skills and traits needed as a funeral director, including communication, compassion, organization and event planning, just to name a few.
We are seeing women make their marks in other parts of the funeral profession as well, including family services and creative positions. Like us, more women in the next generation have a desire to be a part of our industry. It is inspiring to see so many educated, fully capable women making huge strides in the funeral profession.

We both feel it is important for women of our generation to become involved. We have a big responsibility to continue the legacy of the women before us. We have to continue to let our communities know that things are changing in our industry. We have to remind ourselves to keep making the emotions and feelings of our families important; because that is what they will remember.

Funeral service is no longer a “men’s club.” We have signed our membership cards and paid our dues. Both men and women care about the families we serve. We all care about the future of this industry; and we all care about bringing the heart back into funeral service. And, as an industry, we all can work together to focus on what matters, the families we serve.
Erin Brodbeck is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and grief counselor for Sunset Funeral Homes. Email her at ErinB@sunsetfuneralhome.com. Lindsey Murphy is a marketing professional at Sunset Funeral Homes. Email her at lindseym@sunsetfuneralhome.com. They are sisters and fourth generation members of the Darby family. The family owns and operates Trigard, Trigard Memorials and seven funeral homes and a memorial park in Illinois, Indiana and Arizona.

Have you mastered the burial vault conversation?

This article originally appeared in the February issue of Catholic Cemetery magazine. 

By Rich Darby, Trigard Chief Operating Officer

Imagine you are sitting in an arrangement room, speaking with a family that has just lost a loved one. Before you dig into the checklist, remember to be patient during this process because in the next thirty-six hours the family will have to make about seventy-five different decisions regarding the death of their loved one, including the ceremony, casket, flowers, and music just to name a few. It’s been an hour and a half and you are just now getting to the burial vault selection. The family is starting to get a bit overwhelmed, and you are losing their attention. Sound familiar?

As a funeral director and co-owner of a burial vault company, I am always looking for better ways to explain the importance of a burial vault. How can I help a family understand why it is important to have a clean, dry casket space? A burial vault protects their casket investment, prevents the grave from collapsing and gives them peace of mind. But what’s the best way to help an overwhelmed family choose the right lined, sealed burial vault?
It begins with our own beliefs as funeral professionals. When you walk a family through your selection of burial vaults, do you honestly believe that you are helping them find value in the product? Or do you think of an outer burial container as just something the cemetery requires? The families that you serve count on you to educate them and show them the best “bang for their buck.” They want to know that they are being given something of value. 

When I am with a family, I begin by explaining the difference between a concrete box and a lined, sealed burial vault. A concrete box has holes in the bottom to allow for drainage. It prevents the earth from collapsing, and it may break down over time. Concrete has a compressive strength, but it doesn’t allow for any bend. While it meets the minimum requirement for many cemeteries, and is often the least expensive option, it does not give the families you serve much value.

A lined, sealed burial vault offers real value and peace of mind. It provides layers of protection by including a polymer lining that works with the concrete to help prevent breakage and ensure a clean, dry casket space. The more layers of protection, the stronger the vault. It also has a strong seal to help protect against outside elements. 

There are many posters, videos and booklets to help explain how a burial vault’s layers work, but something as simple as “the pencil test” can be very effective. Place one pencil in a family member’s hand and ask them to break it in half. They should be able to do this with little effort. Explain that a single pencil is much like a single layer of protection from a concrete box; it’s not strong enough to withstand much pressure. Keep adding pencils for them to try to break. The more pencils (or layers of protection) you add, the harder they are to break. 

Once the family understands the importance of layers of protection, show them your selection of vaults. This could be on a wall display, video monitor, or even an iPad®. I recommend presenting only three vaults: good, better and best. Too many options can overwhelm a family.

Once they have decided, they can rest easy, secure in the knowledge that they have made a good decision based on value. And you should also rest easy, knowing you have given the family all of the information they needed to make a wise decision.

Rich Darby is Chief Operating Officer for Trigard and Trigard Memorials. Email him at richd@trigard.com.

Are you setting deadlines?

Beth VadeBonCoeur,
As an accountant, my world is full of deadlines. I have deadlines for submitting payroll taxes, completing sales tax returns and filing income tax returns. In order to meet these deadlines, I have to prioritize my work and plan ahead. But, what happens to the projects that don't have a deadline?

If you are like me, everything else takes priority over those projects. The small daily tasks fill our time and the larger projects get pushed to the back burner. We go home at the end of the day and feel like nothing was accomplished.

To overcome this problem, we need to set personal deadlines. I find I work best when I have a "to do" list to keep me focused on what I want to get done instead of letting the little daily problems steal my time.

How many projects in your business do you wish you could accomplish? I encourage you to take the time to make a list, set your priorities and establish deadlines. By creating a list and placing it somewhere visible, you might be surprised at how much more you accomplish.

This article originally appeared in Trigard Tuesdays, our weekly electronic newsletter featuring information for the funeral industry. Sign up for your free subscription at http://www.trigard.com/tuesdays.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Don't be afraid of change

Drew Edwards,
General Manager,
Sunset Funeral Home
Change is a scary word for a lot of people. It removes them from their comfort zone and asks them to walk down an unfamiliar path. It even requires a significant amount of time investment and teamwork to implement.

How often do you hear, "but we've always done it that way?" The truth about our industry is that change is here, and it is here to stay. Our customers are demanding more for a lower price. If they don't find significant value what we offer, they won't buy our products and services.

Whether you are a burial vault dealer, funeral director or cemetarian, I challenge you to take a hard look at your overall business. This includes your vehicles, your equipment and even the appearance of your staff. When compared to your competition, are you making a better impression? Have you visited your clients' funeral homes recently?

If you have yet to visit Trigard University, I strongly suggest that you do so very soon. TU is more than a tour of our manufacturing plants. You will walk away with every tool you need to implement change in your own business, no matter your role in our industry.

Call us today at 800.637.1992. Together, we will take the necessary steps to secure our future.

This article originally appeared in Trigard Tuesdays, our weekly electronic newsletter featuring information for the funeral industry. Sign up for your free subscription at http://www.trigard.com/tuesdays.