The Buzz in Baltimore

If you follow Funeral Director Daily with any regularity you will know that I returned from the 2022 National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) International Convention last week.  This article, titled Back from Baltimore, published last week gave my general impressions on attending my first national convention in over a decade.

In today’s article I’m going to try to list some of the “Buzz” that I heard while wondering and visiting the workshops, the convention floor, and just good heart-to-heart visits with some of my friends.  Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be trying to give more insight on each of these topics and what I think is really happening in the death care space with the trends we are seeing and the trails we are blazing.

I’ve been around funeral service for a long time and it has almost always proved out that what you hear in the talks tends to come to the forefront of the business over time. . . . It’s happened with the cremation market, it’s happened with the acquisition market, and it’s happened with the casket market.  It seems like once the purveyors of death care start to really talk about something it’s already on its way to becoming an eventual staple of the profession.

Here’s what I heard about in Baltimore:

Staffing — Yep.  We are all short staffed.  And, it could lead to a vicious cycle as the more overworked people are the faster they will find dissatisfaction with the profession.  It behooves us to solve this dilemma as fast as possible. . . .and programs like “Journey to Serve are a way to move forward.  I was also reminded by many who have had long careers that we shouldn’t always talk about long hours and low-pay. . . . while “helping humanity” doesn’t pay the rent, it turns out that many life-long funeral directors believe it was a satisfying benefit.

Mental Health — Part of our shortage comes from the covid-induced work schedules that many had to deal with.  Working in almost anonymity during the pandemic was difficult for many. . . and they sacrificed time with their own families to help others.  As deaths have started to slow down some of the indications of PTSD are showing in our work force.  We need to understand and know where we can go for help.

Tom Anderson
Funeral Director Daily

The Death Positive Movement — The pandemic opened up many people to the feeling of vulnerability.  Younger and younger people wondered, “How long will I live”?  They not only wondered that, but they are starting to take a positive move in dealing with their own eventual demise.  Getting death and death care out of the closet and talked about openly and honestly can only be a good thing.

The Greening of Death Care — There was lots of talk about the environment and how different types of disposition may affect it.   Green funerals, alkaline hydrolysis, and natural organic reduction are all topics being discussed every day. . . .and it is my opinion that those niche disposition methods will only be growing.

Marketing — “Branding” your business and “Telling your Story” seem to be becoming essentials of getting customers through the door.  You may be just down the street but if a consumer doesn’t know what you stand for or how you will treat them they are not concerned about driving by the closest funeral home to go to a funeral home they know. . . even if “they know” them only through Facebook posts or public relations.  Customer loyalty will probably not be what you think it should be. . . .it may be more of a “What have you done for me lately?” than what you did ten years ago at grandma’s funeral.

Acquisitions — Acquisitions of existing businesses will continue to be a big item in the death care space.  It won’t only be the consolidators who want to grow simply for the sake of growing and keeping stockholders happy. . . there will be acquisition growth by local operators to try to drive scale so as service revenue per case may go lower they have the economies of scale to be profitable.  And, there may be acquisitions just for survival — such as in a two funeral home town that has lost population  — maybe the two need to combine.

Our Responsibility as Funeral Director/Citizens — What responsibility do we have in our communities to open up about things we see happening?  For instance the opioid deaths and fentanyl deaths of young people.  The United States lost a totality of 58,220 people to death due to the Vietnam War.  However, according to this article, in 2021 alone, we lost over 80,000 to overdose of opioids, primarily fentanyl.  As funeral directors we meet with many of those grieving families. . . . some people wonder what is our responsibility to be more vocal?

Those topics created lots of “Buzz” in Baltimore when I was there.  They weren’t the only topics though. . . here’s some more that I discussed with fellow NFDA members — the continuing upward price trends of traditional funerals exacerbated by inflation, the growth of online direct cremation providers who capitalize on those prices, the decreased attendance at services with the advent of the live-streaming options, and all of the options for cremation families that now abound, such as Memory Glass, Eterneva, cremation jewelry, or solidified remains,  giving them so many more choices for memorialization than just cremation “ash”.

So, anybody that would tell you that you work in a profession that is just a staid old laid-back world of tradition wasn’t with me on the convention floor.  There is excitement, there is opportunity, there are challenges, and there is real change happening everyday in the death care profession.  The best in our business will notice that, stay on top of that, and profit from that.

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1 Comment

  1. Rolf Gutknecht on October 18, 2022 at 7:49 am

    I think you summed up the “buzz” of the Convention really well. Lots of attendees who are trying to get a better handle on “what’s next” as it relates to all of the different topics you noted. Well said and thanks for this recap as it provides a glimpse into future and the topics that need to be considered and looked into by funeral homes, cemeteries and B2B companies in order to see brighter days ahead.

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