Strategic Planning for 2022: Growing Your Funeral Home From the Inside Out

Posted December 15, 2021

6 min read

This is a guest post from Cody Jones, fifth-generation owner of Callaway-Jones Funeral & Cremation Centers in Bryan, Texas, since 2004. His family established their first funeral home in Texas over 110 years ago and he has been able to fast-track his team-building skills based on his own observations and experiences. Regarded by other funeral professionals as a progressive thought leader, Cody embraces technology and incorporates it to streamline his team’s daily operations.

In benefiting from collaborations with others among the Selected Independent Funeral Homes®, Cody’s vision and creativity have helped grow Callaway-Jones 300% in the last 10 years. What was established locally in 1953 as his grandparents’ funeral parlor and remote cemetery in Bryan, has been reinvented as an exquisite new Funeral Center and Updated Cemetery in Bryan, an Advanced Planning Center in College Station, and a second Funeral Home in another county. Cody has been an invited speaker for multiple NFDA events and featured presenter at the Texas Funeral Director’s Emerging Leaders Conference. His philosophy on growing your funeral home – part one - follows:

As business executives who lead and own funeral homes, our daily duties are perhaps different than many other business owners. Most independent business owners start their companies with a few good friends, or their families, and they all start the day with a united goal of doing their very best because “that’s our name on the marquis there.” That’s where the buck stops.

In this day of instant social media call and response, our reputations for service are constantly being monitored. Potential clients look at 5-star and 1-star Google ratings. If your funeral home posts kudos on your own Facebook page, that’s another way to make a good impression. If something goes right, most all the credit goes to the funeral home by name (rather than the director) and if something goes wrong, rarely is the name of the person who erred recalled as much as a client will say the “Funeral Home Name” messed things up.

External mail or email surveys sent to actual clients also tell you how you are doing. But you only have the information in hand that you can see. There is still much about your funeral home’s reputation that you don’t know. Eventually you realize something is amiss if numbers change, for good or bad, and each of these factors is key before deciding to grow your funeral home, either locally or into neighboring towns.

Selected Independent Funeral Home members have colleagues you can call on to assess their impression of what you offer. Pre-COVID, we all visited one another’s facilities in person to see firsthand what we perceived others’ strengths to be, and to learn from them.

A recent CRäKN blog asked the important question: “Are You in Control of Your Funeral Home?” This is a question that must be thoroughly considered before expanding your current property or staff. They recommended to “Check the distractions, owner clarity with staff, reviewing your appeal to potential consumers, attention to details (a key sign of success/failure), and moving from chaos to focus to restore efficiency.

When the Business Name is Your Family Name

Family funeral homes take additional risk by expanding operations by even one additional funeral home. You are bringing to the new (other) one the reputation of your family’s (now) flagship funeral home.

Even if you retain the other home’s name to preserve local goodwill, everyone will judge it by your name and reputation. Having two locations and perhaps only one primary owner/manager at the first location means that the “old” one will be left to operate on autopilot while you tend to the “new” one. Can your flagship operation survive that way?

Fortunately, thanks to valuable tools such as CRäKN, your operations are streamlined for efficiency on a technical level, so you only have the personal and personnel issues to assess.

One guiding principle I’ve found in owning and operating a multigenerational-owned funeral home is to be proud of our heritage and the strengths that we offer, but I’m not afraid to part company with the “old” ways of doing things. Many funeral homes could grow their business simply by acquiring some new technology that frees up more of their workday.

Are your employees a team or are they just staff? This is a serious question if you’re thinking of expanding. If you have a team, there are times you can be gone for days to focus on the new place and things will run according to plan at the old place. Other times when you are physically not present is where you can lose progress and risk the good reputation you’ve worked to build. Often, it is appropriate to bring in a new staff member to manage the current team so you can focus on CEO/owner-level items.

Let’s face it; people can become complacent in their jobs; if they’ve been with you for longer than three years, there “can” develop an attitude of thinking “their way” of doing things is better than yours, as they have pride in how they do their jobs. This is fine, until the day it is not. Team dynamics can often dissipate into classroom dynamics like when you were back in high school, and the rockiness of everyone’s proprietary turf wars can wreck your path.

You can either strengthen the inner workings yourself, or you can bring in a new third-party leader to do it in concert with your wishes. Those who do not follow best practices (i.e., yours) can work elsewhere. Then you focus on recreating your winning formula in your new location.

The key element to successful growth and expansion is something I learned from watching my father and grandfather do with their one funeral home. It is all about building and maintaining relationships. If you’re a small business owner, shopping locally yourself and advertising that fact to others by paying tribute to people you bring in for your contract work is a way to strengthen and build your funeral home. People notice when you make small and grand gestures alike.

Team Loyalty, of all personnel contributions, is something I view the most important of all. “Walk your talk” as the saying goes. There’s a quote by American writer Elbert Hubbard, which illustrates how I feel each of my team members to behave:

“If you work for a man, in heaven’s name work for him, speak well of him, and stand by the institution he represents. Remember, an ounce of loyalty is worth a pound of cleverness. If you must growl, condemn, and eternally find fault - resign your position, and when you are outside, damn to your heart’s content - but as long as you are part of the institution, do not condemn it. If you do, the first high wind that comes along will blow you away, and probably you will never know why.”

Come back for part two in our blog series with Cody D. Jones.

Move from Chaos to Focus in the New Year

CRäKN curbs chaos—so you can focus your energy on serving your client families. Much more than a case management tool, CRäKN also allows you to save time, prevent duplicate work, reduce errors, and improve your daily operations.

When you save 3+ hours per case with CRäKN’s efficiency tools, that means you spend far less time on paperwork and processing, and you can spend more time doing what you enjoy each day.

Interested in learning more?, request a personalized demo from a Funeral Director today.

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