- When asked what it was that made him so exceptional a hockey player, Wayne Gretzky is said to have responded, “I see my job a little different from most other hockey players.” Pressed for details, he said, “my job is to skate to where the puck is going to be.”
The question that all of us are thinking is where the funeral service puck will be in five and ten years from now, so we can be there. And if that ability to correctly anticipate the future will be the most important factor in determining whether, when we retire, our careers will be classified as exceptional as was Gretzky’s, or merely non-descript, how do we acquire the skill to foresee the future?
From my view, the pucks of the funeral service future will be numerous and each one will have to be considered separately. Accordingly, in order for any of us to be classed as exceptional, there will be more than one puck to anticipate. There are a number of examples; this list contains just a few of them.
The ‘personal services puck’ will remain, in my opinion, just about where it is now. Five and ten years from now, consumers are still going to want to be treated respectfully, kindly, professionally, fairly, politely, and with empathy. That puck will not move very much over time. What will move are the places where and the manner in which those consequential personal services are delivered.
The ‘retail pricing puck’ is likely to move dramatically from where it rests today. Product unbundling is likely to continue, and that will directly affect pricing. Historically, funeral home patrons purchased a ‘casket’ whose price included everything needed for a funeral. Later, a base price was charged for a funeral home’s services and then, in addition, customers selected the casket of their choice. But today, as funerals have become simpler, fewer and fewer services are wanted, fewer and fewer caskets are purchased, and less and less professional assistance is required from funeral directors. This puck is definitely moving fast! And the average funeral sale is moving down each year as this puck moves.
The ‘competition puck’ will most certainly take a different path in the future. For generations, brand loyalty delivered steady streams of repeat customers to local funeral homes. Back then, funeral home selection was seldom a matter of prices or services, which basically consumers knew nothing about. But that day has passed. Information is now readily available to almost everyone about retail prices, types of services offered, recent customer satisfaction, and company philosophy. The result is that consumers are quickly dropping old loyalties and selecting a funeral provider that matches their price and value goals, sells what it is they want to buy, and delivers with a compatible service philosophy. This particular puck is moving fast and will change local competitive dynamics at a rapid pace. Increasingly fewer consumers care if your firm has been in business for 100 years.
The ‘funeral home facilities puck’ is likely to move slowly but surely. Today’s environment still features many large, beautiful, and expensive funeral homes. Increasingly, though, smaller, simpler, and less expensive funeral homes are taking the retail stage. The future location of the funeral home facilities puck, while moving more slowly, must be seriously anticipated because lower retail prices are impossible to deliver from higher cost structures.
The ‘funeral director puck’ could take a dramatic turn in another direction. For more than 80 years in Florida (where I live), when funeral service licensure began, consumers could comfortably assume that a Funeral Director’s’ license would equal competence. Today, professional competence is often measured in ways that has nothing to do with embalming, casket construction, burial vault materials, or religious ritual. Calculating where this puck will be moved to in the years just ahead is very challenging! What is known is that funeral providers must sell and deliver their services in ways that are acceptable to consumers, regardless of licensure laws.
There are of course other pucks whose future locations we must predict precisely to keep positioning and repositioning for future success.
What we do know for sure is that our company, like so many others, must continue to anticipate, keep reinvesting and taking risks, and listening attentively to those we are honored to serve. Like Wayne Gretzky, we must keep skating “to where the puck is going to be.”
Rick Baldwin is currently CEO of Celebris Memorial Services of Montreal (29 funeral homes / five cemeteries / five crematories / brands are Urgel Bourgie and Lepine Cloutier) and owner of Baldwin Brothers Cremation Society in Florida / Director and shareholder of BankFIRST of Orlando / Board of Directors of ICCFA / Director of UCF Foundation. Earlier in his career he founded Baldwin-Fairchild Cemeteries and Funeral Homes in Orlando, Fl which he later sold to Stewart Enterprises where he enjoyed a successful career until his retirement in December 1999. He served as President of Stewart’s Eastern Division and, later, as President of Corporate Development. He is past President of CANA and the Florida Funeral Director’s Association.