Thompson Funeral Chapel is a full-service concierge funeral home in Goodyear, AZ a suburb of Phoenix, owned by Sean and Cynthia Thompson. Sean’s interest in funeral service began when he was only four years old. Originally from Ada, Oklahoma, he attended his Great-Uncle’s funeral and was amazed even at the tender age of four how his loved one looked at the service and from that point forward he knew he wanted to be in funeral service.
“My mother was a florist and provided flowers to the local funeral home and I asked her to let me ride along with the delivery drivers to the funeral home when they made deliveries. As I got older, I would ride with the flower delivery people more and more” said Sean. Upon graduating from high school, Sean volunteered at the local funeral home to see how it really was and his passion was ignited for funeral service. He then enrolled in Mortuary College and also went to work for SCI. “I started mortuary school and began working in the funeral business the same day,” Sean recalls. Sean continued on his career path with SCI, working in Oklahoma and Texas, then was transferred to Phoenix in 2003.
“After working for SCI in Phoenix for two years, I luckily had made a contact with a businessman who had the contacts for funeral homes that were up for sale. I was finally in the position after working for SCI for 16 years to go out on my own with my own funeral home. I gave him a list of funeral homes I was interested in and one was only four miles from my home. It was Valley West Funeral Chapel and in January of 2005 we started the process of making it ours and in July of 2005, we took it over and changed the name to Thompson Funeral Chapel. My wife, Cynthia and I had a vision for our funeral home: Ministry first, business second,” said Sean.
Their concept of a concierge style of funeral home came about to meet the challenges in funeral service today. Sean said that their concierge style of service comes from the standpoint of their funeral home providing many cremations. “We have a high cremation rate in our area and at our funeral home we are about 73% cremation rate because our families want cremation. Many funeral directors do not like cremation because it has affected their margins, but it only affects their income and their margins if they are not embracing it and handling it properly,” Sean stated.
They have embraced the trend of cremation and have built a very successful business because of it. “We do things that aren’t typically done, like picking people up at the airport, making hotel arrangements, catering, anything they need. We have a meditation garden on property where we have services where families can scatter or have plaques there to commemorate their loved ones. I have now been in the business for over 25 years and sure there were certain things in my head that I had pictured what a funeral home business would be like, but the reality is that funeral service is not like that anymore. So we had to embrace it and learn how to structure our pricing and understand that what our funeral home does today is different from what was done ten years ago because our customers have changed,” said Sean.
At Thompson, they specifically educate their customers about cremation service options. “When families call us asking for a direct cremation and say ‘they don’t have much money’ whereas some other funeral homes, may go to the least expensive option and just give them a price. Maybe, not very much money to that family may mean they have $10,000 to spend. It’s not up to me and my staff to determine what is right for them. So it’s the old adage ‘All the options all time.’ What we do is explain to them that their loved one has passed away and deserves to be remembered on some level. Their loved one doesn’t deserve to be discarded like a disposal company may do. Our cremation rate here is 73% but 85% of our families that choose cremation have some level of service. So we are still as one might refer as a traditional funeral home, we are just having cremation afterwards instead of burial. It’s not black and white anymore, you may have a family that doesn’t want burial, but it doesn’t mean they don’t want a service. Families don’t label it like we do in the business. All they know is that they have a loved one who has died and they have a need and it is our job to serve that need. We focus on the ministry side of our business, providing a service and in doing that, our business side, meaning our margins are better. What families are buying is our level of service that they may not get elsewhere or especially online.
To serve their communities needs more fully and serve the direct cremation market better. They have established a second funeral home in Surprise, AZ called Simply Cremation. “In 2013, we knew we wanted to serve the needs of families that did not want or need the level of service we provide at Thompson Funeral Chapel. We didn’t really have a way to serve them because of our practice of offering more than the minimum for cremation. Cynthia, my wife, coming from a non-funeral background came up with the original idea for Simply Cremation for people who don’t like funeral homes and simply want a direct cremation. So we began with creating an online Simply Cremation package that was available only through our website. Families can fill out the forms online, communicate with us through our website and we offer discounted pricing because our staff resources were not involved. It became so popular that we needed to have a building to service those families and we opened a second funeral home and called it Simply Cremation. It is a funeral home but we don’t do any funerals at this site. It is simply a living room type of arrangement room where we sit with our families and arrange their direct cremation,” Sean explained.
For a successful business to grow and expand, like Sean’s, it needs the capital and financing to aid in their growth and expansion. In 2012, when Sean needed to refinance his original loan for Thompson Funeral Chapel for a remodeling project, he sought out Live Oak Bank to assist him. “I worked with Doug Gober of Live Oak Bank and Doug was able to set it up for us very quickly, refinancing the original loan and a loan for our remodeling project. Everything went perfect. Then when we started Simply Cremation, we worked with them again to purchase the building. Live Oak Bank has been very instrumental in our success and that results in serving our families fully,” Sean recounted.
Their success is also attributed to their commitment to their community. They have a high level of commitment to their community. Sean and his staff are heavily involved in many community groups, organizations and local charities. Sean believes in building strong relationships by “being out there” and said it was paramount to his business growth and success.
As far as the future goes, Sean believes that funeral service will continue to have a separation between cremation providers that provide no level of service at all and the other end of the spectrum the ‘old guard’ traditional funeral home that will always offer all levels of service with not a lot of middle service providers. His successful business continues to grow by his beliefs and his commitment to excellent business practices. He has future plans of expansion for both Thompson Funeral Chapel and Simply Cremation growing the number of locations from his current two to multiple locations. He believes in helping and meeting the needs of all families that want more than the minimum with Simply Cremation and towards the middle to top end level of the spectrum with Thompson Funeral Chapel. His strategy has greatly benefited his community by providing all families the level of need they require. Sean’s passion for funeral service since he was young is a gift to his community and his business philosophy of ministering first and business second is the key to his success and will be for all of his future endeavors. FBA