Friday, July 17, 2009

3 Things Mortuary Science Can Teach Us About Business Ownership

Apparently going to the funeral home this week has made quite an impression. One of the things that struck me the most was how my happy-go-lucky, jovial and basically entertaining business associates became instantly transformed into fainthearted and serious tourists when we were actually inside the austere and unforgiving "prep" room. Eric and Michelle's, but especially Eric's countenance completely fell, and it seemed, as he stared both motionless and speechless at the simple yet efficient white sheet draped prep table for the bodies; that there was such a transformation on his face- I wouldn't even know him if I passed him on the street. I mean he shut completely down.
Business ownership is a lot like that transformation. You didn't know it was going to be this way; now you don't look so good.
As I have described, the new funeral home was more likened to a four star resort. But all of that ended toot suite when one entered the preparation room, or "prep" room. This is where the very unglamorous business of making death look as much like life as possible, begins.
Conceptually, starting and owning a business can appear, on the surface and to the novice, as the ultimate. However, as any thinking person will see; there's many different things that present themselves eventually to that well meaning owner. Here they are in short order.
(1) It Smells Bad. I know these things because of my friends who also own a funeral home. They brought me into their prep room and, because I knew them well, felt more embolden to ask indelicate questions.
"What are all those fans for?"
"Because," explained Rick matter of fact, "A dead body smells. Especially when you're working with cases where they have been dead awhile. The fans are placed at varying levels in here because smells actually have different weights. They sit or hang on the air differently. Less dense or more dense. We have the fans to help remove some of that smell, which can be overwhelming."
When we, as the viewing audience, watch an autopsy on C.S.I. and the like, what the audience does not take into account is how bad it smells. It's pretty gross.
The smell, therefore, can be surprising when one actually experiences, first hand, the prep room.
Owning a business is the same way. There's going to be a number of things you do not know about yet, which will not be so pleasantly appealing. Should you like to succeed, you will have to strive to the very best of your ability to find a workable way around these things and to place your "fans" to your best advantage.
(2) There's A Lot Of Blood. Well, there wouldn't be if they simply left the blood in the body of the deceased, but if you are to be embalmed, out it must go. We can liken this loss of blood to loss of cash flow- those unexpected items and events in which you're going to have to lay out much more cash than you ever, ever anticipated.
While working with an investor a few years ago, we presented our total start up cost for the business, meticulously itemizing everything; I'm telling you everything
painstakingly accounted for. We had page after page of these items; everything from legal costs and paper towels in the bathroom to phone systems, insurance, and web design. The works. (Okay, when I say "we" I mean, "Tony". )
Steve laughed, unimpressed and unfazed and said simply:
"Now triple that number."
Steve is a successful businessman for over 20 years. He's a national leader in his particular industry; with offices in Florida, Austin and Dallas. Because of his stellar track record, he's not someone I would question. When he tells you to triple it, you triple it.
You can have blood loss, and a lot of it. Are you ready for that? Did your plan take that into account? Can you really handle it, or do you just think you can? Once you're actually in business with your shingle on the door, we will most assuredly find out.
(3) "I Think I Am Going To Faint": Though the students in the mortuary science school rarely announce it. Ken, my friend who I have mentioned is an instructor there, told me when he was showing me their prep room, that he has learned to develop a very good eye over the years as to who's going to be "the fainter". Or, "We're going to have a fainter, catch 'em."
Ken explained, "Though some of these kids come to us from literally generations of families who have owned funeral homes, when they actually get in this room and see that blood being drained out by the embalming machine- sometimes they just can't handle it. I've had a lot of kids just drop out of the whole program altogether because they just can't get over it. They just can't cope with it."
When cash flow is tight, when customers aren't flocking, when it's not so easy- are you going to faint? Give up your resolve? I've had to chose a few times between paying my staff and paying my bills. Which do you think I chose? I paid my staff. Without my staff, where would my business be? My business is built on people. Great people. Without my people I am nothing at all!
I have become, at times, very, very frustrated but never so much as to give up the ghost and actually quit. I am unemployable. I've called my own shots for far too long. I can't imagine someone saying to me, "Be here at 9:00 a.m." That's a problem for me right there. I can't do it. So I just better suck it in and not faint.
This is an interesting story about my friends who now finally own their own funeral home.
Rick and Melanie actually met, of all places, at a funeral home. She was a licensed funeral director (who had gone through Ken's school) and Rick was a chemical salesmen; as it takes a great deal of chemicals in that business, by the way.
Over the years, Rick rose to a prominent position in his company. Six figure income, expense account, health insurance, the works. Meanwhile, Melanie discovered, much to her chagrin, that people tend to expire at the most inopportune times- birthdays, holidays, three o'clock a.m. She had had enough and opted to stay home. After all, Rick was doing well.
Before the economy tanked as bad as it has this past year, we counseled Rick and Melanie about once a month and helped them walk through the launch phase of their business. At this point in time, Rick had lost his job.
Though we, Tony and I, knew very little about the funeral business, there's static rules of business that apply to everything, irrespective of what you do.
The interesting thing about their case was, they had a very wealthy investor with gobs and gobs and money- but he just wouldn't commit. I told Rick, "Look. You have to get this guy to poop or get off the pot. If he sees you are going to carry out your plans with our without him, he'll probably get on board."
"Yeah, yeah, I know you're right. But he's just so nice to me and he takes me out to breakfast and you know, we play golf and..."
"Rick. Make him poop or move on."
"Well, I was thinking about just trying to get my old job back or just getting a job with someone else because this is getting pretty tough."
"And then what will happen if you do that? Do you not think you are going to be back in the same boat as you are now?"
I'll never forget that look on his face. Utterly startled. I didn't intend to be mean; but I had to tell him the truth.
It was only a few months later when we went to their ribbon cutting in their absolutely phenomenal state of the art facility! I was so proud of them. It gave me great, great pleasure to see their success.
Rick knew about the smell, he knew about the blood, and he knew he might faint- but he went for his dream anyway. How happy do you think he is today?
A real entrepreneur will suck it in and just do it.
So it's gross and you might get sick- you won't die.

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