The sad, but profitable 2020 funeral business year

There is no doubt that 2020 has been a different year in so many ways.  Even a hundred years from now it will be remembered as the COVID-19 pandemic year.

And, in many ways, it has been a very rough year for funeral service.  This radio and print report that you can read and/or listen to here  from Houston Public Media tells the story of Houston based funeral director Manuel Guerra.  Guerra tells of working for his employer and at times death call cases were up over 200%.  Guerra tells of the long days – where he sometimes spent 13 hours at the funeral home – and he talks about helping families through their crisis even during a time when Guerra lost four family members of his own to the pandemic.

Guerra’s story, in many cases, could be told by funeral directors all over the country who have worked as hard as they can to help client families while at the same time not only enduring their own family losses, but also missing time at home with their own families.  It is a tough trade-off. . . . carrying out that vow we all took to help hurting families even as our own family’s hurt, sometimes maybe even more.

But, it is what funeral directors do.  Service above self is and should be one of our mottos.  I know the feeling as I’ve been both a funeral director’s child and a funeral director father.  Both of those roles can be tough when the funeral home is busy.

In the land of agriculture there is a saying that goes, “Make hay when the sun shines”.  What that means is that farmers need to harvest their crops as the weather allows and if they miss that chance there may be no harvest.

That is where the irony comes of being a funeral home owner.  In a certain way we have always “Made hay when the sun shines”.  We go to work when we are called or when client families need us.  We leave our own families in the dust sometimes when the “call” comes.  And, this year the calls have been coming pretty often.

Farmers get paid for the crop they bring in. . . cutting the crop when the sun shines eventually pays off for them.   Funeral homes are no different. . . . the busier we are, the higher the profits tend to be.

That again is where the irony comes in. . . . many funeral homes may show very high profits this year because they are handling more cases.  We’ve pointed this out before, but it is mentioned in the linked article also. . . .”this” being that Service Corporation International CEO Tom Ryan seems to understand this juxtaposition that comes about for funeral homes in the wake of so much human pain and loss. . . . Ryan is quoted as he talked about SCI’s record 3rd Quarter profit.  Here is what he said, “It’s a bit awkward and very humbling for us to speak to you today about our financial results for the quarter at a moment in time that has been so sad, so challenging and filled with so much uncertainty for so many people,” Ryan said during a conference call with investors in October.”

I once read a book entitled, “Who takes care of the Caretaker”.  It wasn’t a very memorable book because I don’t remember much of it.  However, I’ve always remembered that title and thought about it quite often when thinking about my boys at home or my employee’s (the caretakers of our clients) families, especially when we were very busy at the funeral home.

The more maturity that I got as I worked over the years in the funeral business, the more I realized that “balance” was a term that is needed.  Like most funeral homes, 2020 was probably a year where the “balance” was a little off between home and work for those who work for your firm.  And, caretakers need balance in their life for their own mental health sake.

Because of that fact, and the idea that being very busy brought in profits, I would suggest that if you are a funeral home owner who realized these profits, you should visit with your accountants about some type of bonus (financial or paid time off) for those employees who maybe didn’t get to see much of their homes this past year.  As a funeral home owner I always had a contract with each funeral director for a bonus based on the number of death calls we did in that year.  I eventually looked at it with this perspective, “If they do well, I will do well”.

In any regards, 2020 has been different.  Here’s hoping that as we move farther into 2021 our world gets a little more normal..

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