In this week’s video, I discuss what to innovate if you want to grow your funeral home business. Every situation will be different, but I give you a general guideline based on Michael Caine’s philosophy of “Use the difficulty”.

Below the video, you will find a one-paragraph summary and a longer transcript created by ChatGPT.

Short Summary of What to Innovate

John Callaghan continues his series on innovation, discussing what areas funeral homes should focus on for the biggest impact on their business. He shares a story about using the difficulty to find innovative solutions, and emphasizes the importance of identifying and innovating around problems. He gives examples of funeral homes that found success by repurposing spaces or using alternative venues for ceremonies. He also suggests looking to other markets, such as Australia, for inspiration and ideas. Overall, the key is to find ways to work around limitations and ultimately serve more families.

Full Transcript of What to Innovate

Hi, this is John Callaghan. This week, I’m continuing my series on innovation. More specifically, what should you innovate?

Now, there are a lot of things you could change in your funeral home. What could you change that will have the biggest impact on your business, the biggest growth of your bottom line?

One of my clients relayed a story to me this week that I found pretty fascinating. It was a story from Michael Caine, the British actor, talking about how, as a young actor, he was in rehearsals. One time, something went wrong in the rehearsal, and somebody left a chair in the doorway where he was supposed to come in. He immediately stopped, and the director yelled at him, saying, “Use the difficulty.” He said, “Well, what’s that mean?” The director explained, “If this is a drama, pick up the chair and crash it against the ground. If it’s a comedy, fall over it. But use the difficulty.” I’ll put a link to the video down below this post because it’s pretty funny.

“Use the difficulty” is an interesting philosophy, but I believe it ties directly into the question of what you should innovate.

You identify a problem and innovate around it.

Sometimes, you might directly solve that problem, but many times, the best innovations don’t directly solve the problem—they circumvent it. Let me give you some examples.

One of my clients had a problem: families were not buying receptions. The direct solution is to create a better marketing program to sell the receptions. Instead, what we did was repurpose the reception room and create a different sort of gathering space that had a very different feel than anything else available in that local community. It was a huge hit with families. We went around the problem. So, rather than worrying about receptions, we asked, “What else can we do with this space?” Innovating a different kind of room turned into a complete home run with the local families.

Here’s another example. One of my clients in Florida had a problem: they only won large funerals. If somebody was only expecting 10 or 20 people to come to a funeral, they didn’t choose that funeral home, even if it was just a small cremation ceremony.

They didn’t choose that funeral home because they thought these guys were just too big. They had a huge palace of a funeral home. The client had a crematory at the back of his parking lot in a separate building. The idea was that maybe we could eventually build a smaller building out there where we could have small ceremonies. It’s a good idea, and he could probably win the market like that.

So, how does he test it? Remember, last week, I talked about having a minimum viable product. What’s the least he could do to test this concept out? He went out and rented a double-wide trailer, decorated it nicely, put some landscaping around it, and placed it beside the crematory. And guess what? It was a home run with families.

He has a big building, and he can do nothing about that. He went around the difficulty by building a separate building out back; that’s all on property he controlled. Again, total home run. He tested it just by putting in a trailer for a year. He got enough business and built a nice building.

But what if your problem is that you have no funeral home, or at least you have a funeral home that isn’t a palace, isn’t the nicest place, or maybe it’s just an office space?

One of the things that I think is always a good idea to do is to look to other markets and say, “What can I learn from other geographic markets that I could maybe bring to North America?” One of the markets that I’ve spent a lot of time looking at is Australia. Australia tends to be five to ten years ahead of the United States and Canada. Not everything from there comes here, but a lot of things do.

One of the big things happening in that market right now is the emergence of small funeral businesses that don’t really have what we consider to be funeral homes, like a chapel and visitation rooms. They just have meeting spaces where they can come in and meet with a family. Let me give you a couple of examples.

This is a firm that I’ve just discovered down there: They have the entire meeting with the family, but they don’t have a funeral home. They conduct funerals, they have celebrant services, but they don’t have a funeral home. Instead, what they do is they have arrangements with various venues around the area to hold the event there. They have no funeral home, and it’s not holding them back.

Here’s another firm down there that I have actually worked with. They were one of my clients for quite a few years: Beautiful Farewells. They used to be called Elite Funeral Directors. We went through a whole name change because we wanted a name that wasn’t about us. It was about what type of experience we can offer families.

Beautiful Farewells is in the same sort of situation. They don’t have what we consider a traditional funeral home. Instead, they hold their events on a yacht or at another venue that they rent periodically, overlooking Sydney Harbor. Then, they have another set of events out in the countryside. But their office is pretty modest. There’s not much to it, and yet they can have great funerals.

Their problem was that they didn’t have enough space. How do you get around it? Use somebody else’s space.

What should you innovate? Often, the answer is “use the difficulty.” What’s the limiting factor in your business? How can we work around it? When you work around it, quite often, you end up winning more calls and serving more families.

I’ll be back next week. Bye for now.


Michael Caine – Use the Difficulty

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