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datadale's picture

Postage in the US - a Bargain !!

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The USPS has proposed raising the cost of a First-Class Mail single-piece letter from 46 cents to 49 cents.
This change would go into effect on January 26, 2014, raising about $2 billion in revenue for the Postal Service.
 
No one is happy about the increase, certainly starting with the direct mail industry which stands to lose more customers to digital communication….but if you think 49 cents is expensive, check out these countries first class rates:

Denmark $1.46
Norway $1.25
Liechtenstein $1.06
Finland $1.02
Greenland $1.00
Switzerland $0.98
Belgium $0.97
Faroe Islands $0.96
Portugal $0.93
Sweden $0.92
Japan $0.90
Kuwait $0.88
New Caledonia $0.87
France $0.82
French Polynesia $0.82
Greece $0.82
Italy $0.82
Luxembourg $0.82
Monaco $0.82
San Marino $0.82
Vatican $0.82
New Zealand $0.80
Austria $0.75
Germany $0.75
Ireland $0.75
Great Britain $0.72
Martinique $0.72
Wallis and Futuna Islands $0.64
Iceland $0.63
Netherlands $0.63
Netherlands Antilles $0.61
Czech Republic $0.58
Isle of Man $0.58
Canada $0.57
Guernsey $0.57
Australia $0.55
Jersey $0.54
 
Gee, maybe 49 cents isn’t so bad after all…..
 
**Marketers need to remember that their direct marketing mail will continue to go out at bulk rate, saving precious marketing dollars. Remember to target your prospects carefully for best results. Direct mail still delivers the top response of any medium in the Death Care Industry!
Bob Fells's picture

Uncle Sam as Santa Claus

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Why We Vote

[Note: This essay is one in a continuing series by ICCFA executive director Bob Fells focusing on various issues in our federal government. Although the subjects are political in nature, the approach is bipartisan in outlook, at least so far as that is humanly possible. The goal of each essay is not to persuade the reader to adopt a particular political viewpoint or party, but to illustrate why a knowledge of the system is important to protect our businesses, our homes, and our families.]

Uncle Sam as Santa Claus

‘Tis the season that songwriters say is “the most wonderful time of the year.” In many respects it is, but this essay is focused on government and there seems to be no wonderful time for it. We don’t even see very much anymore the patriarchal image of our government as personified by Uncle Sam, a vigorous elderly gent who resembles a slim and barbered Santa Claus. I should read up on the origins of Uncle Sam but I have a feeling that making him look like a relative of Santa was no coincidence. And as we take stock of our federal government in reaching the midpoint of the second decade of the 21st century, it becomes apparent that the metaphor of Santa Claus is far more relevant these days – if such a vast and soulless entity as the federal government can be personified at all.

Metaphors are useful because they can expose the most complicated issues, e.g., the emperor’s new clothes are really the emperor has no clothes.  If we can indulge ourselves with the impression of the federal government as Santa Claus, then where do we go from there? As noted in previous essays, our government changed gears with the advent of The Great Society programs beginning in the mid-1960s. The historic three-fold mission of the feds – secure the borders, maintain internal law and order, and get out of the way – morphed into an attitude of “what has the government done for me lately?” This new thinking made a mockery of JFK’s noble call of “Ask not what can my country do for me….” and turned the inquiry into “How much has my country done for me – and how recently?” Thus Uncle Sam jabbing his finger in our faces demanding to know if we have volunteered yet for service has been replaced by Santa asking for our wish lists.

Of course, Santa needs helpers and in Washington they aren’t called elves, they are called members of Congress. These helpers are pretty bipartisan too, promising that if we vote for them on Election Day they will make sure that Santa reads our wish list. Best of all, if we are stumped for things we want from the feds, our Congressional representatives will helpfully recommend items for us that they will lobby for. Naturally, it’s considered bad form to discuss how the government is supposed to pay for all these goodies, any more than we are likely to see a Visa or Mastercard commercial where the vacationers open the bill and faint at seeing how much they owe. We are told in so many words that we are guests at a party so enjoy. We are not told that we’re responsible for paying the tab. Santa never brings up such a crass subject.

Do you remember when Congress was abuzz with talk of tax reform in 2011? They had earlier collectively asked for a pass on this controversy for the 2010 elections but as 2011 moved along we were informed that they needed to get past the distractions of the 2012 national elections before they could really start the reform work. Now we’re past even the 2013 elections and we still haven’t heard much on tax reform from anybody. I’d like to blame one party or the other but this inertia is truly bipartisan. The problem is that too many vested interests prosper from just the way the tax system exists. Hundreds of thousands of people, perhaps millions, earn a comfortable living due to the complexity of the federal tax code. We know that it is possible to reduce personal income tax regulations so that we could file our tax return on a postcard but then the unemployment rate would explode with all the unemployed accountants, CPAs, and tax lawyers. We need the cooperation of the very people who would be threatened and perhaps harmed by tax reform.

I use tax reform as a handy and relatively non-partisan example of the myriad of programs and operations that benefit so many people – recipients, civil servants, private sector contractors, consultants - that the only folks who want reform are those not getting a slice of the pie and their numbers have dwindled. As a sign of the times, can you recall the last time you heard JFK’s “Ask not” statement quoted? I used to hear it all the time until about twenty years ago. Soon I expect it to be reduced to a question in Trivial Pursuit: Who said…… uh, Harry Truman?

The point to these observations is this: we can join the Christmas Club that is known as Congress or we, as ICCFA members, can continue to behave as independent entrepreneurs seeking no largesse from Santa aka Uncle Sam. Everybody knows that a reckoning is coming and the most optimistic among us hope that they are retired by then.  Our party-goers will be handed the tab at the end of the festivities but hopefully those who never attended the party won’t owe anything. In practical terms, this means that an effective Government Relations program in 21st century America is one that seeks to protect ICCFA members from the onslaught of mounting laws and regulations that maintain an unsustainable status quo while squeezing out new taxes, fees, fines and penalties to fund the unsustainable. Most people with addictions are incapable of treating themselves, and they require outside intervention to recover. Where is the outside intervention to stem growing deficits? Perhaps it’s Santa Claus.

datadale's picture

Networking - Your Next Best Client

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 As I went to a Networking Event yesterday, one of the topics I spoke to a few people about was, “Why did you come to this event” or “Why do you go to any Networking Event for that matter.” One person said it was on my way home, so I stopped by. Another said, a co-worker asked me to come. One lady said, to make friends because I have a lot better shot of working with a friend than someone I don’t know. I thought that was great way to look at Networking and what you’re trying to get out of it by going to those events. 

Whatever Industry you’re in, there are weekly or monthly Networking Events. Do you go to any? What do you get out of it? If you speak with someone who you can’t work with, don’t brush them off, because they could know someone who needs your service.

I have found that I am most social and get the most out of going to these Networking events alone, without a group of friends or coworkers. Even if you’re not the most outgoing person, I would still recommend this. You’ll be surprised how friendly people can be. 

Just like in sales, it only takes one call or one networking event to meet your next best client. Want to know the cheapest and most effective way of marketing yourself or your company; it’s by being a good Networker! 

jodiclock's picture

Misinformation from one of America’s most trusted publications – “Reader’s Digest”

 

 In the June/July 2011 publication of Reader’s Digest an article written by Michelle Crouch called “13+ Things a Funeral Director Won’t Tell You” was one of their lead articles both in print and online.  While conducting some research I ran into this article and found it incredibly upsetting. I’m all for the 1st amendment and supporting freedom of speech, however it’s my belief that people, especially the media should report the “facts” rather than slant the title or articles to increase readership or sales. I get that headlines are what sells, especially when they include celebrities, scandals and topics that most people elect not to discuss publically – like funerals.  After re-reading this article, it was evident that its author Michelle Crouch is a “self pro-claimed expert” and very misinformed.  In fact, I “googled Ms. Crouch and found her website that listed several of her free-lanced articles that have been published in numerous well known magazines.


The majority of Crouch’s articles, especially in Reader’s Digest are examples of attempting to  be a consumer’s advocate through fear based articles such as:

  • 50 secrets your waiter won’t tell you

  • 13 things your florist won’t tell you

  • 50 secrets your pilot won’t tell you

My point here is there is large segment of the population who read articles and assumes there is truth behind it, as it’s printed by a respected publisher. I often wonder if the publishing entity ever verifies the information for its validity. I have been a funeral professional for over 25 years and my husband’s funeral home has been in existence for over 115 years.  In fact, I can say with confidence that many of my colleagues both on the supplier side and the funeral home owner/director side would support my sentiments.  To prove my point, I’d like to take the next few minutes to debunking “Reader’s Digest’s published article titled “13+ Things a Funeral Director Won’t Tell You”. I hope you find this as eye opening as I did.

Misleading recommendation number 1:

Go ahead and plan your funeral, but think twice before paying in advance. You risk losing everything if the funeral home goes out of business. Instead, keep your money in a pay-on-death account at your bank.

Fact: Pre-paid funerals, especially since the late 1980’s have become regulated. In today’s pre-planning and payment environment it’s very difficult for a consumer to be taken to the cleaners. When a consumer pre-funds a funeral it’s typically placed in a funeral home based insurance policy, final expense or funeral trust. All of the funding vehicles are transportable to other funeral home.

  1. Funeral homes are audited to avoid such financial mishaps.

  2. A pre-funded contract is between the consumer, the funeral home and the funding company. Therefore the consumer will have a receipt of where the monies are being held and can check on it at anytime.

  3. Finally, if the funeral home goes out of business or is sold, the contract is transferrable! Conversely, if the pre-funded company is acquired by another insurance company the contracts are honored. If the insurance company itself goes out of business there are regulations and funds set in place for the state to kick in to protect the state's policyholders. Typically funeral home policies are much smaller than traditional insurance plans so there isn’t a problem.

There are many reputable funeral planning insurance companies, Forethought, Homesteaders and NGL are the leading pioneers and are nationally available. Outside of the big 3, numerous regional providers have conducted business and been working with funeral homes for decades.

Misleading recommendation number 2:

If you or your spouse is a honorably discharged veteran, burial is free at a Veterans Affairs National Cemetery. This includes the  grave, vault, opening and closing, marker, and setting fee. Many State Veterans Cemeteries offer free burial for veterans and,  often, spouses.

Fact: Yes, the above is correct. Funeral homes always ask if the deceased was a veteran or a veteran’s spouse. A Veteran is  also entitled a military ceremony and a United States flag, along with a grave marker.  The difficulty with the blanket statement  above, is that there are NOT Veterans National Cemeteries in every town. The challenge is that in the communities where there  are NOT Veterans National Cemeteries close by, the deceased must be transported to the cemetery. The other thing to keep in  mind is that the following items are not included as part of a veteran’s benefit:

  1. Funeral professional services

  2. Transportation

  3. Merchandise (casket, printed materials, etc...)

  4. Cash advance items (obituaries and death certificates)

  5. If a veteran would rather be cremated this is not free of charge.

Once a person understand exactly what veterans benefits are, depending on where the cemetery is located it may not make financial sense.          http://www.cem.va.gov/

 

Misleading recommendation number 3:

You can buy caskets that are just as nice as the ones in my showroom for thousands of dollars less online from Wal-Mart,  Costco, or straight from a manufacturer.

Fact: Not necessarily. Yes, caskets are sold and have been sold for years at Wal-Mart, Costco, Amish woodworking craftsman and online. They are equally as attractive as the ones that can be selected at a funeral home. Many of the chain store or online caskets come direct from China or Mexico so they are purchased in bulk to keep the consumer’s cost down.

If the consumer truly compares steel metal gauge, to steel metal gauge, paint along with interior color and fabric, you will see that the pricing is the same or similar. What the article and recommendation didn’t tell the consumer is that often times there is a large upcharge or fee for delivering the casket to the desired funeral home.  In fact, depending on the state, city and store where the casket was purchased it’s not uncommon to have union fees and delivery fees added to the retail price. In some cases, the caskets must be ordered as the retailers do not warehouse caskets, so if the expectation is that a consumer can go to a store, select a casket and bring it home the same day that may not be realistic.

Misleading recommendation number 4:

On a budget or concerned about the environment? Consider a rental casket. The body stays inside the casket in a thick card board container, which is then removed for burial or cremation.

Fact: The above statement infers two very different topics which can be the same or mutually exclusive. Money an Environment, which are two very different value propositions.  Yes, rental caskets are typically and often used for cremations that have a visitation with the body present.  After the visitation and or the memorial service, the deceased is cremated and the outer shell of the casket can be reused at another time after replacing the interior with a new liner or corrugated box.  Another popular option is to purchase specially designed casket made for cremation (which costs less as it’s not made of bronze, copper or steel- it’s made of wood, particle board or cardboard) and then bury that. Most funeral homes have access to these caskets. 

In reality, there are many caskets that are less expensive then using a rental casket, all you need to do is share that price is an issue. In regards to the environment – the “green movement” or “eco-friendly” has been around for many years. In fact, there are “green” cemeteries, just not in every state at this point in time.  Just like anything else at this present moment in time, “green”  doesn’t always equate to less expensive.  There are many green casket and urn options, some of which are very affordable.

As a consumer, one must decide if they want to be environmentally conscious, cost effective and or both. But please don’t assume “green” or rental always more affordable.


Misleading recommendation number 5:

Running a funeral home without a refrigerated holding room is like running a restaurant without a walk-in cooler. But many funeral      homes don’t offer one because they want you to pay for the more costly option: embalming. Most bodies can be presented very nicely without it if you have the viewing within a few days of death.
 
Fact: Most, not all funeral homes do have refrigeration. In the rare case the funeral home does not have access too, or refrigeration AND there is a large gap of time between the funeral service and the time the body was received into their care, they will ask the family for permission to embalm out of convenience and body preservation – NOT to drive up the cost. In fact, when this is the case some funeral homes don’t charge as it’s for their convenience as well as wanting the family to have a good “last memory picture” of their loved one. Regardless, the funeral home must ask for the family’s permission to embalm by law.

Misleading recommendation number 6:

Some hard-sell phrases to be wary of: “Given your position in the community …,” “I’m sure you want what’s best for your mother,” and “Your mother had excellent taste. When she made arrangements for Aunt Nellie, this is what she chose.”

Fact: This only happens in movies and on television…and in a really bad reality show. (…and if it does happen in your funeral home…run screaming from the building!)

Misleading recommendation number 7:

Protective” caskets with a rubber gasket? They don’t stop decomposition. In fact, the moisture and gases they trap inside have caused caskets to explode.

Fact: (note a personal favorite!)  No one ever said a rubber gasket stops the decomposition. The body will always decompose. The rubber gasket is meant SOLEY to keep water and other earth elements out and to seal the casket airtight. Casket’s DO NOT explode.

Misleading recommendation number 8:

If there’s no low-cost casket in the display room, ask to see one anyway. Some funeral homes hide them in the basement or the boiler room.

Fact: Funeral homes have all price ranges of caskets available for families to choose from, in all price ranges.  More than half of the funeral homes today don’t even have a casket selection room as they so it digitally on a flat screen TV and some just by using a lithos (photos). This is done for the 2 primary reasons:

     1.  To keep overhead down by having no physical inventory; therefore passing the savings along to the consumer.

     2.  By virtually showing caskets and urns funeral homes are able to show more of a selection, therefore literally having price points for every budget.

Many years ago funeral home’s often kept cardboard box caskets for welfare funerals in their garage or basement as the majority of these services at one time were paid for by the state. Fast forward to this decade, this simply is not the case as the Department of Human Services is underfunded and there are limited, if any funds, depending on what state you live that will fully pay for a funeral.

Misleading recommendation number 9:

Ask the crematory to return the ashes in a plain metal or plastic container — not one stamped temporary container. That’s just a sleazy tactic to get you to purchase a more expensive urn.

Fact: Typically the consumer never meets with the crematory or its operators. The consumer will meet with a funeral director or arranger who legally must oversee the cremation. Depending on the state you live in and or the funeral home the comusmer is working with, the funeral home/director then outsources the deceased to a 3rd party crematory or a sister company for the cremation to take place.  It’s up to the crematory to determine what the cremated remains (pulverized bones NOT ashes) of the deceased in to return back to the funeral home in, if no urn or container was selected by the family.  In fact, families can bring their own container for the cremated remains to be directly placed into.

Some funeral home’s and even crematories are leaning to be more “green” and will return the cremated remains in plastic  bag that is placed in a cardboard box. Other crematories may elect to place the cremated remains in a plastic container that is meant to be temporary as no “urn” or container was provided.  The reason the word “temporary” is even used is often times the cremated remains are scattered or even co-mingles with other cremated remains to be buried at a later date.


Misleading recommendation number 10:

Shop around. Prices at funeral homes vary wildly, with direct cremation costing $500 at one funeral home and $3,000 down the street. (Federal law requires that prices be provided over the phone.)

Fact: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires that all prices are legally disclosed in a general price agreement. The cost of a cremation from start to finish does vary significantly from state to state and sometimes even from town to town.  Typically in the costal regions the cost to cremate is much lower than in the Midwest or even Bible belt.

What’s concerning is that people are basing the decision on a price and not comparing apples to apples. There are legalities involved with the cremation process. Natural gas is expensive, and the up keep of the retort (cremation machine) is very expensive.  Crematories have insurance liabilities, vehicle up keep and trained personnel. There is some truth to the statement that cremation prices are less metropolitan city where volume can play a factor, however just like any thing else – when prices are too god to be true one must ask the question why.  Many crematories and funeral homes have ended up on NBC’s Dateline for breaking the law and unethical practices – don’t let this be you.

Misleading recommendation number 11:

We remove pacemakers because the batteries damage our crematories.

Fact: Yes, pacemakers are removed. The informant is asked to disclose if the deceased has any article limbs, parts and yes a pacemaker. Why - pacemaker explosions.  When a pacemaker explodes it can and cause structural damage to the inside of bricking within the retort or more importantly injuries to the operator if it exploded while they were checking on the cremation.

This is no joking matter, especially when a person’s safety is hand.

Misleading recommendation number 12:

If they try to sell you a package that say will save you money, ask for the individual price list any way. Packages often include services you don’t want or need.

Fact: Regardless of package pricing, the funeral home must show a standard general price list.  Packages are made up so families can easily select the funeral of their choice. General Price Lists are confusing at best. In reality, it’s just the opposite. The package prices will offer families one or two more items at a discounted price if bundled together.  On the rare occasion that items are not discounted, if you added each component up, it would match the itemized General Price List.  

(General Price List requirements http://www.business.ftc.gov/documents/bus05-complying-funeral-rule#gplin...)

Misleading recommendation number 13:

Yes, technically I am an undertaker or a mortician. But doesn’t funeral director have a nicer ring to it?

Fact: Legally, a funeral director has a mortuary science license; therefore they are a licensed and practicing mortician. The names have evolved over the years based on what their primary function is.  Who cares? It’s no different than a person who is a “meteorologist” who the general public calls a weather man.

At the end of the day, society as a whole is death adverse. We don’t want to talk about it. In fact, frankly death creeps people out. What I don’t understand is why people don’t place more emphasis on questions to ask caretakers, physicians, or even construction workers. People will believe them blindly, and are often scammed. Somehow, when it comes to death, they feel that they will be taken advantage of based on a self appointed expert with no real pool of knowledge to base it on. The majority of the funeral profession is kind caring individuals who have taken over their family businesses. Is it unrealistic for a small business owner to expect to make a fair profit for their services rendered? Most funeral homes are small businesses whose owners live in the community and also give back to their community. People don’t barter with their doctor or dentist; however they may take advantage of coupons or sales at the grocery store or restaurant.  What they don’t realize is that by pre-arranging their funeral in advance they can guarantee their future funeral home choice at today’s prices – therefore saving their family literally hundreds of dollars, let alone removing the anxiety of having their loved ones wondering if they selected the funeral they would have wanted. Another value added benefit of pre-arranging and funding your funeral in advance is that it’s considered exempt as an asset from Medicaid if you are attempting to go on assistance for long term care. Funny how the positive attributes of funeral service are not proactively discussed openly for the public to realize the many benefits. Like anything else, media exploitation or sensationalism of miss-facts or half-truths increase ratings which translate to profits.

 

If you want to check out more of Michelle Crouch’s articles the link shown below.

 

http://www.rd.com/slideshows/13-things-a-funeral-director-wont-tell-you/#slideshow=slide22

 

Here is costco’s link for the costo question:

http://www.costco.com/funeral.html?catalogId=10701&srchKeyword=casket&langId=-1&storeId=10301&ddkey=http:CatalogSearch

 

http://www.cem.va.gov/ for veteran cemetery information

 

 


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datadale's picture

What Cemeteries & Funeral Homes need to know about the new TCPA rules

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The new 2013 TCPA rules have just gone into effect and will affect those Cemeteries and Funeral Homes who rely on telemarketing for outreach.
Two of the biggest changes have to do with Autodialed and/or pre-recorded calls & texts.
Beginning October 16, 2013, prior express written consent will be required for all autodialed and/or pre-recorded calls/texts sent/made to cell phone and pre-recorded calls made to residential land lines for marketing purposes.
Consumer consent must be unambiguous, meaning that the consumer must receive a “clear and conspicuous disclosure” that he/she will receive future calls that deliver auto-dialed and/or pre-recorded telemarketing messages on behalf of a specific advertiser; that his/her consent is not a condition of purchase; and he/she must designate a phone number at which to be reached (which should not be pre-populated by the advertiser in an online form).  Limited exceptions apply to this requirement, such as calls/texts from the consumer’s cellular carrier, debt collectors, schools, informational notices and healthcare-related calls.
Beginning October 16, 2013, the “established business relationship” exemption for pre-recorded telemarketing calls to residential landlines was eliminated.
In the past, advertisers could rely on an established business relationship (such as a previous purchase) to circumvent the need to obtain a consumer’s written consent to receive telemarketing calls.  That exception to the consent requirement will no longer exist after this year.  Advertisers will have to obtain written consumer consent, even if they previously had a business relationship with the consumer. This means advertisers will need to be very careful when contacting consumers who had expressed interest in their product/service in the past.
Companies who rely on Autodialers should consider having their customer lists scrubbed against the most up-to-date Do Not Call lists and Cell Phone lists. No one wants to be hit with a fine.
For more comprehensive information about the TCPA, please go to the TCPA page of the Dataman Group website.
rob treadway's picture

Fall Mgmt Golf Tournament Winners

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Congratulations to the following people for their achievements in the Fall Management Golf Tournament, October 9 in Dana Point, CA.

The Winning Team each received a $100 American Express Gift Card = $400
Jeff Kidwiler, Nancy Green, Gary Fretag and Dan Garrison

Closest to the Pin - $75 to two winners
1. Mike Doherty - $75
2. Jeff Kidwiler - $75

Hole In One Winner - Jay Dodds - $100 and two tickets to anywhere Spirit Airlines flies.

Mike Austin - Longest Drive - $75

THANK YOU TO COLDSPRING for the generous donations of these prizes.

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