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Of course what I am about to share is old-fashioned and today I suspect viewed as antiquated and possibly downright offensive, but here goes anyway.
I have worked with funeral home promotions for many years, and have seen some mighty impressive ideas and creativity show up with all sorts of concepts and efforts to make the funeral home more visible (in a tactful manner) in the community.
Here is the story. When I started college back in another world I worked for a small town funeral home in Western Nebraska. We did around 60 calls a year, but what we really did was operate a free ambulance service which responded to probably 300 calls a year. My boss was a wonderful man, generous to a fault, a horrible business person, and just loved running his free ambulance service. While many funeral directors complained about the ambulance my boss literally basked in delight when he got to turn on the red lights and blast the siren. He did not make a dime on the ambulance but he had a marvelous time driving that vehicle at light year speed throughout the town and country side. Looking back I have to admit that some of the most dangerous and life threatening experiences I have encountered was not with the sick or injured people we picked up, but it was riding along when my boss was driving. He took chances on the road that today would be unacceptable and would probably get him arrested.
However he did two things with his funeral coach and his ambulance that I just thought would be worth sharing and I am not suggesting that anyone adopt these ideas, it is just my recollections of times long gone by.
First was his use of the hearse. If we went for a couple of weeks without a funeral my boss would instruct us to drive the hearse downtown and travel up and down the streets of our community – and that was it. The name of the funeral home was prominently displayed in every window so you could not miss or get confused as to who owned the hearse. My buddy and I drove around for an hour or two. Just driving that was it. No waving, no stopping, no conversation – just driving around, and as we all know funeral coaches draw attention.
The first time he asked me to do this I thought he was crazy. Adding to the nuttiness was the fact that he never took the time to explain to us why we were driving the hearse around in circles, but he was the boss so off we went.
However, and this happened constantly, on our very next call during the visitation period people would come into the funeral home and while they were signing the register book would nonchalantly mention that “good heaven’s you guy’s must have been really busy the other day, I saw your hearse I bet twelve times.” The truth was we had not had a call for a month, but to the public’s mind we were mighty busy. Today I call this a mobile advertising effort.
The other innovation that my boss did was with the ambulance. Years before I went to work for him he had gone to every hospital in the area and offered to transport mothers who had had a baby and were being released from the hospital a free ambulance trip back home.
We even had a special cot with a canopy over the head end so the mother and newborn would not get too much sun.
We routinely took a mother and her new baby back home in grand style. The ambulance had the name of the funeral home on every conceivable place on the vehicle, including the roof.
My boss gave us explicit instructions. When we were about two blocks from the home of the mother and new baby we were to turn on all the red lights, and crank the siren up as loud as it would go to draw attention to the our arrival, and sure enough when we turned the siren on most every neighbor came out of their homes, and the family of the new baby was already present, and most everybody had cameras and were (they thought) snapping pictures of the mother and new baby, but what they were also doing was snapping pictures of our ambulance with our name prominently present in every photo. We took our time in getting mom and baby out of the ambulance, we poised for photographs, we shook hands, we visited, and we basically did great public relations building for the funeral home through our ambulance. There were some touching and memorable moments when we would take mother and baby back home.
In fact it was not unusual for someone to come to the funeral home to attend a funeral and proudly announce that they were an “XYZ funeral home baby.” They seemed proud of the fact that the funeral home had delivered them home when they were born.
Today these ideas sound terribly old-fashioned and I suspect there are many reading this who will take justified exception with such past practices, but that is what we did, and here was the interesting fact: the public responded favorably to our innovative visibility ideas.
Anyway friends this is just another ambulance memory and thoughts of an old undertaker. TVB