5 Reasons Funeral Homes Fail


Bloomberg recently published a study that said 8 out of 10 businesses fail within the first 18 months.

But funeral service is a little different. Many funeral homes are around for hundreds of years before they crash and burn.

You’d think after you spend centuries building your funeral home’s brand, it’d be there to stay. But, with mom-and-pop funeral homes facing a 27% decline in revenues, unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

So why are we seeing this decline in revenues?

If you go to any conference, trade show, workshop, or even pick up a newspaper, you’ll hear a number of reasons. Instead of just guessing why our profession is facing a decline, I decided to take it upon myself and do some research. I surveyed more than 500 real families online and asked them to tell me about their experiences and viewpoints on funeral service.

From the results from my data, I’ve come up with 5 reasons why funeral businesses fail:

Reason #1: Not focusing on customer the experience

When a group of real people were asked how they would rate their overall experience at the last funeral service they attended, a mere 64% said their experience was less than favorable. Out of that 64%, a whopping 30% said their experience was “horrible” or “bad.”

In my mind, the experience your families and funeral service attendees have at your funeral home should be your number ONE focus – no questions asked. From the first call your funeral home employees answer to years after the service, your families should know to expect an amazing experience. In fact, you should go beyond what they expect. Too many funeral homes don’t take this seriously enough. Your families are your key to success. Make sure they’re amazed by you, or get out of the way for the funeral home who will.


Reason #2: No USP (Unique Selling Proposition)

When a family is in need of your services, they’ll usually start their search on Google. But when someone lands on your website, what do you offer them that other funeral homes don’t? If you can’t answer that question without thinking about it, it’s time to meet with your funeral home employees and figure out what that something is.

The moment you give families a reason to choose you (and not your competitor) is the moment they will start choosing you. Finding your USP isn’t just marketing mumbo jumbo. It’s what creates value. So get out there and find out what makes you valuable and different, then find a way to show your families that when they click on your website or call you.


Reason #3: No interest in feedback

Ever hear the quote “you never really know someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes”? Well, the same is true for your families. If you don’t find out how your families feel about what you offer them, it’s pretty hard to offer them an experience they’ll appreciate. It’s almost like cooking dinner for your family without tasting it to make sure it tastes good first. Kinda silly, huh?

It’s not very hard to ask your families and community for feedback. And without it, you’re pretty much shooting in the dark. So ask them to complete a survey on your services, leave you a review, or just simply ask them if they were happy with their experience. Every response will be one step towards offering your families exactly what they’re looking for.


Reason #4: Poor communication

When 500 consumers were asked to describe their last experience at a funeral home in 1-3 words, here’s a summary of what they had to say:


Just by referencing the word cloud above, we see a lot of “sad” and “depressing”, which is completely natural. But what isn’t natural (and what we don’t want to see) are words like gloomy, money grubbing, criminal dishonesty, or generic. But you know what’s even worse than seeing words like those used to describe funeral service? Not doing anything about it. It’s time to start using effective tools to communicate our value to families. For the last 10+ years I’ve been helping funeral homes use tools such as their website and social media to do just that. But for some reason, many funeral homes have come up with the idea that posting obituaries on their Facebook page or plastering pictures of their staff and locations all over their homepage will do the trick. Sorry, but it doesn’t.

It’s time to give families a reason to pick up the phone and call you. This doesn’t involve shouting at them through one-way advertising or doing nothing at all. It involves answering their questions, inspiring them to think about their end-of-life wishes, and making sure they are happy with the way you help them celebrate their life (or their loved one’s life). Figure out a way to be what your families are interested in through effective communication, and you’ve come a long way. If you don’t, I fear you’ll be left behind.


Reason #5: A less-than-profitable  business model

Families have changed. A lot. Especially over the last 20 years. Those who used to spend thousands upon thousands on a casket are now spending $50 at Walmart for urns. Our days of depending on expensive merchandise are coming to an end.

How will you adapt? If you haven’t yet begun to think about this, it’s time to get thinking. There is no magic recipe to become profitable. It’s simply about adapting. Every other industry in the world has adapted their business model to better fit the consumers of today. Why aren’t we? I truly believe that until we adapt our business model, success will seem harder and harder to grasp, until eventually, we won’t be able to grasp it at all. Test different models, and if you’re going to fail, make sure you fail fast so you can evolve even faster.


Final words

Remember when I told you 80% of businesses fail within the first 18 months? Well, hopefully now you’re five steps closer to avoiding that terrible fate. Otherwise, you could find yourself in that 80% bracket.

In the end, think of it like this: a business is a lot like a conversation. If you don’t listen, you’ll never learn. If you don’t ask, you’ll never receive. If you don’t communicate effectively, you’ll be misunderstood. And if you don’t adapt, the person you’re chatting with will simply lose interest.


So how are you going to keep the conversation going? Tell us in the comments below!


Joe Joachim


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  1. bryan flake

    I just started a Countryside IL Funeral Home. I appreciate the comments that you made here. Now I have less fear about going under. Thanks for the advice for success.

  2. Krystal

    Hi Bryan, thanks for sharing your story, and I wish you the best of luck on your journey! May you have success in the future 🙂 Glad you enjoyed the article!

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  5. James Leslie

    Excellent points.

  6. Philip K. Selden

    In my opinion, Item 2 is key. In 25 years of running a very successful small business, what was critical is selecting a target market and then focusing with laser precision on the message(s) that will get them to act. The idea of appealing to “families” is too broad. A separate message is required for each market segment – an elderly prospect, the children of that person, other care givers or advisors of that person, etc. Done properly, this will result in a pipeline filled with prospects that will select you when the time to act arises.