NFDA Recap: Are Funeral Directors Poor Business People?


Funeral conventions are one of my favorite events in this profession… and it doesn’t get bigger or more exciting than the National Funeral Directors Association’s (NFDA) annual conference.

It’s exciting and invigorating to walk around the trade show floor, seeing the latest and greatest funeral releases of the year. But my favorite part of the convention takes place high above the excitement… in the educational sessions.

There’s nothing more motivating than learning about how we as a profession can change the way people think and feel about funerals, whether it’s through personalization, celebration or just smart business decisions. So when I came across a session called “Funeral Directors Are Poor Business People” at NFDA 2015 a couple weeks ago, it stopped me dead in my tracks.

They couldn’t be talking about the hard working, passionate people I just saw walking through the trade show, could they?! They sure were…

Whether or not that statement may be true, there is a perception (or is it a reality?) that funeral directors are not good business people… and funeral service is not good business. Still can’t believe what you’re reading? Here are some of the highlights from this super eye-opening session by Erin Whitaker at NFDA… and some tips on how you can put this assumption to rest once and for all.

Disrupting The Paradigm

There are several internal dilemmas that funeral professionals face every day… we say we want to focus on growing our business, but we don’t take any steps to change. We want to build our business and grow, but we can’t find a way out of the hole we’re in. We strive to have just a semblance of a personal life, but often that dream seems more like a fairytale.

With all of these problems facing funeral directors on a daily basis, it’s easy to see why people would think that funeral service is not good business…but the reality is, we’re in the middle of a drastic shake-up in our profession. The rules of business have changed, and we need to stop blaming “slow business” or the lack of baby boomers that are supposed to be walking through our door.

When we look at the cold, hard truth, the problems that we face as funeral professionals are not caused by the families we serve, but by the people sitting on our side of the desk. Just look at this stat which shows that, on average, people are spending more on funerals than they ever have before… but our profits are still decreasing every day.

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Survey results provided by Erin Whitaker – “Funeral Directors Are Poor Business People: Perception, Reality or Opportunity to Disrupt the Paradigm” Educational Session, NFDA 2015.

How To Become A Funeral Business Rockstar

Now that we’ve faced the truth about funeral business head on, it’s time to change our own luck and change the way that people think about funeral directors. How do we do that? By changing the way that we approach our own business. Here are a few tips that will help you start writing the next chapter of funeral service…

1. Change Your Viewpoint

What’s the first thing that you need to do in order to change people’s perception of the funeral business? Change your own perception. Your role as a funeral professional is not just to help families plan services. A funeral director should take on the role of many different professionals ﹘ an educator, an entrepreneur, a salesperson, a team player, and more. They also need to be a jack of all qualities ﹘ curious, a good listener, creative, courageous and have the ability to inspire people. If you have a narrow view of what it is you’re supposed to provide your families with, it’s time to open your eyes and change your viewpoint.


2. Listen To Your Families

Funeral directors always focus on pricing as their biggest pain point. We worry about price shoppers, the price of cremation, and whether or not our families think we’re overpricing them. But we’ve got a truth bomb for you… families don’t care about your price nearly as much as you think they do. In fact, when consumers were asked for the main reasons why they choose the funeral home they did, price came in 9th on the list, behind previous experience at that funeral home, knowing the funeral director, the location of the funeral home, the reputation and convenience of the location, great customer service, and previous pre-planning arrangements at that funeral home.

In fact, many families typically only visit one funeral home when it comes to planning out their arrangements (see graph below), so they’re really not price shopping as much as you think they are. So stop focusing on how you can upsell products, or waiting for your competitors price list to come out so you can dock your prices $100 less than them. Instead, charge for the value of the services you offer and focus on organic growth instead, like education, aftercare or using social media to reach new families. It’s time we started believing our families when they say, “it’s not about the price.” They’re telling the truth.


3. Build The Dream Team Around You

You can’t be everything in your business… and the faster you realize that you can’t do it all, the better off you will be. Instead, you should focus your time on the 40% of things that you do best, rather than the 60% of things that others could do better. To really succeed, you should build a dream team around you that can support you in those areas.

So where do you get a rockstar team of high performers? The first place to start looking is your internal staff at your funeral home. What resources do your staff members bring? What gaps can they fill? For example, your young apprentice may be a social media wiz who would happily grow your Facebook page.

You can also look to external resources for help, such as funeral associations, colleagues, consultants, or even software programs that may help you simplify your daily business tasks. For example, funeralOne’s Life Tribute software helps you create beautiful, moving Memorial Videos for your families… and all you have to do is scan in the photos. The rest of the process is done for you ﹘ letting you spend more time in the areas where you excel.

To sign up for a 30 day free trial of our Life Tributes software, click here!

What do you think about the assumption that funeral professionals are poor business people? Were you surprised by any of the statistics mentioned above? Be sure to let us know in the comments below.

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  1. Jim Burns

    Hi Rilee,
    I too found this workshop to be rather enlightening. I also found the booth at Funeralone to be quite impressive as well. I was wondering how you have acquired so much knowledge about the funeral industry? I have been submerged in the industry my entire life, being a 4th generation funeral director; and, I wondered how someone like you would obtain such extensive insight and valuable advice. You are able to enlighten funeral directors who have lived this occupation for their entire lives. I am very impresad and intrigued by your posts. I was also wondering what you have your degree in, as you are obviously a very talented writer.

  2. Rilee Chastain

    Hey Jim! Thanks so much for the comment. I try to immerse myself in as much funeral-related education as possible, whether that’s through educational sessions at conferences, reading industry publications, blogs, etc., and sitting down with some of the top influencers in the profession to pick their brains on everything funeral-related 🙂 I also have a degree in journalism and marketing, and writing is my passion. I’m so glad that you have found some of my posts helpful and enlightening!

  3. Jim Burns

    You have done a great job in developing a very thorough understanding of our profession. I think you could use one more degree though- mortuary science. It’s only an associates! 🙂