Never Let Opportunity Pass You By – Guest Post By Thomas Parmalee


I was recently at a funeral industry convention when I ran into a familiar problem: Between attending educational sessions, networking with funeral professionals and manning our booth, I had to cram in some time to recharge so I could continue working. (That meant eating.)

Fortunately, there was some food available on the convention floor, but there weren’t many tables to eat at. With a plate in my hand, I awkwardly wandered around for a little while until I found what appeared to be a few tables set up in the middle of the convention floor so people could eat. But when I sat down, a man sitting in a suit at the opposite end of the table gave me a sour look…

“You can’t sit here,” he said.

I realized with a bit of embarrassment that I had inadvertently sat at a table that was actually part of an expansive exhibitor booth.

“Sorry,” I said, and then walked away.

With no tables to be found, I finally made my way back to our own booth quickly to eat my food, even though that was something I wanted to avoid. While most convention attendees are always understanding about that kind of thing, I’d rather be somewhere else when my mouth is full.

As I quickly ate my food, someone sat down in another chair we had in our booth to eat some food of his own. He started chatting with one of our sales executives, and they seemed like old friends. When he left, I asked my colleague about the nice gentleman she was talking with, and she shared with me that she had met him a year or so ago at another convention when he was looking for a place to sit down to eat. He ended up at our booth (much the same way as he did five minutes ago).

Instead of shooing him away, my colleague struck up a conversation with him and learned who he was, what brought him to the convention, and what business challenges he was facing.

She learned that he owned a software company, and that’s when she shared that our company – Kates-Boylston Publications – could help connect him to funeral homes, crematories and cemeteries that were looking for business solutions. And as a result of that conversation, we ended up helping him reach out to thousands of new potential customers through the pages of American Cemetery & Cremation and American Funeral Director magazines – all while gaining a valuable new client of our own in the process.

The Power of Connection

There is a lesson here, of course – and it’s not to turn your convention booth into an eating space for anyone who walks by with a plate of food in his or her hands. But the next time someone mistakes a seating area at your booth for a public eating space, perhaps you might not want to simply say, “Sorry, you can’t eat here.” Instead, you might want to strike up a friendly conversation before politely moving the person along (or allowing him or her to stay).

After all, when you spend thousands of dollars to exhibit at an industry convention, isn’t the whole point to strike up conversations with new people and find out how you can help them meet their business needs?

Funeral professionals are always warned about making assumptions about families: cremation families that want something “simple” must want a direct cremation, families that spend $15,000 on a funeral can’t possibly want several jewelry keepsakes to boot, and so on and so forth.

We would also do well to question our assumptions about each other: You never know who might be sitting across from you – even if he or she is munching on a carrot stick on a crowded convention floor.


Thomas A. Parmalee sits down to chat with Michael Quinn, president and CEO of Aurora Casket Co., at an industry convention.

About The Author

Thomas Parmalee is the executive director for Kates-Boylston Publications, a division of UCG that helps death-care professionals improve business operations. They publish American Funeral Director and American Cemetery & Cremation magazines, Funeral Service Insider and a variety of ancillary products. They also hold virtual and on-site events, such as their annual Funeral Service Business Plan Conference, and engage in other initiatives to help readers and business partners.

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  1. Jeff Harbeson

    Great post Thomas! #thefuneralcommander

  2. Bob L Roberts

    You’re absolutely right, you never know who may be sitting down across from you at a convention. For me, it has been a bit different than this story, there have been a couple of occasions when I met someone at convention in this very way, only to be investigating that same person years later in a class action case. I may not have been aware of them at the time, and it was awkward when we crossed paths later, but I have no regrets for helping reward poor behavior and practices with settlements or prison time for those wrong doings. I also wrote a book, titled “Your Death Depends On It” based on some of those memories. I grew up in the profession before it became an industry-misguided by the large corporations that made this profession all about bottom line thinking while leading many away from the dedicated service I grew up to know.

  3. Stephanie Longmuir

    Hi Thomas

    I too had a similar food experience at Indy this year.

    Having flown 22 hours from Australia I walked into the Indiana State Museum and the NFDA Welcome Party not knowing a single person. With the prospect of being lonely amongst hundreds of strangers I grabbed a drink and a plate of food and found a table with one seat free. All I had to do was ask if the others would mind if I joined them and I was immediately welcomed and fussed over (an Australian accent works wonders in the mid-west).

    Food was the prop that allowed me to meet a fantastic group of people who I continued to catch up with over the course of the next 3 days. On the Expo floor I did the same, finding food and a seat at a busy table and again met great people.

    Thanks for your post Thomas and thanks to all of the people who made me feel so welcome during my time in Indy.


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