As it turns out, Jeff McCauley was destined to own a business that provides essential products for funeral homes. But Jeff had an indirect path to where he is today. As an 18-year-old, he started out working part-time in a funeral home. But in 1995, Jeff took a leap of faith and became a part-time owner of a funeral home. Now let’s move forward 25+ years, and today Jeff owns the company that he founded, FuneralScreen. His company provides innovative products and services to funeral homes across the nation and his products have become fundamental in helping funeral homes provide an exceptional experience for their families.
But it did not start that way. Jeff’s story started like so many others, with a career path that took him in many different directions. Growing up near Archer Avenue in Chicago, Illinois, Jeff did not realize at the time what his future would hold. But ironically, Archer Avenue was unique because it was a street that was occupied by many funeral homes. As a teen, Jeff’s curiosity would often lead him to these funeral homes, and on more than one occasion, that curiosity had Jeff standing on garbage cans so he could peer inside.
Fast forward a few more years and Jeff’s brother became a licensed funeral director. So at the age of 18, Jeff took a part-time job working in the same funeral home as his brother. He recalls his first experiences were that of washing cars and assisting at wakes. Simultaneously, he was pursuing another interest that he had and took a second job installing car stereos. After a year of working at the funeral home, Jeff was tasked with the important job of performing removals. “At the time, I thought it was unusual for a young man to be given such an important job,” he recalls. “However, back then, it was not a requirement to be a licensed funeral director to perform removals, and I was excited to have that opportunity.”
But fate had not intervened yet. Jeff left his job at the funeral home and went on to pursue a career in electronics. In the early-1990’s, Jeff managed a few car stereo shops in the Chicago area. He later went on to work as a manufacturer’s representative, selling products for various electronics manufacturers throughout Illinois.
Around this time, Jeff’s brother made the decision to build his very own funeral home in Bolingbrook, Illinois. Jeff recalls, “I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to invest in my brother’s funeral home, as a silent partner.” So together, they built Bolingbrook-McCauley Funeral Chapel in 1995. He added, “I didn’t work at the funeral home at first, but it was my first meaningful endeavor into the funeral industry. But it did lead me to the decision to attend mortuary school and pursue funeral service as a career. Shortly after my decision to attend mortuary school, I began working part-time in the funeral home until I graduated as a licensed funeral director in 1999.”
After graduating mortuary school, Jeff went on to work full-time in the funeral home that he and his brother owned. “I enjoyed my time working as a funeral director, but deep down inside I always had an entrepreneurial spirit with a desire to own my own business,” Jeff recalls. “Having worked in the electronics industry, I remember feeling that the funeral industry was very antiquated in their use of technology compared to what I had experienced during my time in an industry that was completely driven by innovation.”
During this time, Jeff felt that funeral directors were still not embracing technology. He pointed to one specific example of how funeral homes were still struggling with white plastic letters on felt boards. “I felt strongly that I could bring some technology into the funeral industry that could make positive changes and help funeral homes become more productive,” Jeff remarks. “And because I was an owner of a funeral home, I had the unique opportunity to bring in some of my own ideas and provide to my families. Ideas that I may have otherwise been unable to try if I was merely an employee.”
Early on, Jeff had several ideas he wanted to try. “Before tribute videos became common place in the industry, I began making videos for the families I served,” Jeff said. “And at that time, there was no dedicated consumer-based software to assist me in creating these videos. So, I began making these videos using the only available software at the time, relying mostly on Photoshop and other rudimentary software. It allowed me to create photo slide shows that I began to experiment with by offering them to my families.”
It came as a bit of a surprise to Jeff but offering this product in his funeral home seemed to have a positive impact on his families. So much so that Jeff quickly realized that he may be onto something special. As time went on he began to modify and improve his videos over time. Simultaneously, Jeff also began to explore ways in which he could offer this product to other funeral homes and give them the same experiences that he was seeing with his families.
In the beginning, it was challenging to find a way to distribute the product to others,” recalls Jeff. “At that time, the software and hardware needed to properly create and display these videos was limited. Therefore, we had to find a way to not only deliver this service, but also enable the funeral homes a way to show the videos we could create for them. And we needed to do so with the available resources that the funeral homes had to work with at that time.”
The solution was made possible when Jeff discovered that he could provide each funeral home with a media player that they could download to a television within the funeral home, and this would allow them to play videos he created. Next, Jeff provided the funeral homes with a secure digital (SD) memory card that was pre-loaded with the videos. These two solutions together would allow the videos that Jeff created to be downloaded and played on a television within any funeral home in America, thus giving others to ability to create the same positive experience for their families that he was witnessing with his families.
Voilà, in 2003 a new business was born!
Around this time, Jeff explored other ideas as well. “I remember vividly the negative experiences that we had using plastic letters on a felt board,” he recalls. “I think every funeral home can relate to what it is like to drop a box of letters and watch helplessly as they scatter across the floor, and then spend the next half-day picking up and reorganizing the letters.”
Jeff recalled the frustration that his funeral home would experience using plastic letters and felt boards. This frustration resulted in his funeral home moving away from felt boards and replacing them with a simple frame that was inserted with a printed sign. “It was around this time I remembered saying to myself, if I can create digital videos, maybe I can find a solution for this problem too,” recalls Jeff. “I immediately thought of the possibility of creating a digital sign. Something that would not only act as a guide, but that could also be personalized with a photograph of the deceased. And maybe even take it a step further, I could ask a few questions about a person’s life that would enable me to personalize it even more by allowing by creating a ‘theme’ background that could be a reflection of that person’s life.”
As with all of Jeff’s ideas, he felt a digital sign could offer a much better experience for a family when they walked in the door. The initial iteration of Jeff’s ‘digital directory’ idea was developed around 2005. In the beginning, a funeral home could use the same media player they were using to play the tribute videos that Jeff had already been creating for them. “We developed software that enabled a funeral home to go online, answer a few simple questions, pick the background, and indicate how many services that they had that day.” Jeff said. “This would allow the software to create an image. Once the image was created, the funeral home would then download this image to the memory card and insert into the media player. Using the media player that we already provided, the image could be displayed, essentially creating a digital directory sign for their lobby.”
Once developed, Jeff immediately began testing the digital sign in his funeral home. He remembers vividly the immediate positive reaction by his families. “It was incredible to see the immersive experience and the emotional connection by the families,” he recalls. “It was like nothing I had seen before. I remember witnessing families taking pictures of the screen, touching the screen, and interacting with the screen in an extraordinary way.”
After 4 years of successfully distributing his products under the Greene Valley Media moniker, Jeff decided to create a dedicated brand for his digital signs. In 2009, FuneralScreen was officially launched. Over time, Jeff has continued to use new technologies to improve his products and make enhancements to his products that has kept him on the innovative side of the funeral industry. “I have always strived to stay one step ahead of what the industry needs,” Jeff emphatically stated.
In 2010, and with the advent of ‘cloud technology’, one of these innovations was offering cloud-based solutions. These new solutions would help overcome the limitations that were previously encountered with timely distribution. These limitations included the necessity of a client to have to physically download a file to a memory card and manually transfer that file to the television that housed the media player. This was particularly challenging when there were remote locations and other obstacles that made this manual process difficult and inefficient at times. But newly invented cloud technology and the solutions it now provided would help overcome these challenges. Jeff commented, “This cloud technology changed everything by allowing funeral homes to use a desktop application to remotely change the content on their screens, thus eliminating the manual process that was previously required.”
With these new technologies, FuneralScreen had no limitations to what it could now provide. In 2011, FuneralScreen was honored to be awarded the NFDA’s ‘Innovation Award’, which recognizes companies dedicated to advancing funeral service through new and innovative products.
Shortly after winning the NFDA’s “Innovation Award”, Jeff decided that offering the FuneralScreen product as a stand-alone product could be appealing to some funeral homes. Coming from a funeral home background and taking a funeral director’s perspective, Jeff remembers thinking that most funeral directors do not want a television screen hanging on their wall. Jeff jokingly recalls, “I used to say that if you make it look like a grandfather clock, a funeral home will love it!”
With this in mind, FuneralScreen has gone to take great lengths to take their screens and package them in a more conducive look for a typical funeral home environment. They have partnered with a cabinet manufacturer to create enclosures that integrate seamlessly into a funeral home’s décor. They did the same by also offering custom framing that could be used with their signage displays, and these frames can also be integrated into any funeral home’s décor. Thus, their products have evolved over time and can now meet the needs of both traditional and modern décor.
In 2017, FuneralScreen launched a new product using ‘touchscreen’ technology, which enabled funeral homes to present their website features directly to the public and facilitate greater interaction with family members and their funeral home staff.
FuneralScreen’s most recent product is ‘Live Streaming’, which launched in April 2020. “Live streaming was something we saw as a natural progression and an opportunity to offer something that our customers needed, especially as COVID restrictions were becoming more stringent,” says Jeff. “We had a customer base that was looking for certain solutions, and we felt live streaming was a solution that we could naturally deliver to them. And we were right. The demand has been incredible and we are proud to offer a solution our customers desperately needed.”
Jeff feels blessed and extremely grateful for the experiences and opportunities the funeral industry has provided he and his family. Along with his wife Sue, they take pride in what they have been able to accomplish. “I would say my favorite thing to experience is the excitement that I see and hear after a funeral home receives our product and has a chance to experience how their families react to the product,” Jeff proudly declares. “It is gratifying to witness other funeral homes experience the same thing that I experienced many years ago. I think sometimes funeral directors thought that I was exaggerating when I would tell them what to expect and the reactions their families would have.”
It seems this has been quite the journey- from an electronic sales rep- to funeral home owner- to funeral industry supplier. A journey that has been not only been rewarding, but life changing for Jeff as well. “It has been quite the ride,” Jeff concludes. “I still take pride when a funeral home tells me that they were amazed by their families’ reaction to our products. It is such a gratifying feeling to know that we are helping funeral homes provide an exceptional experience for their families, but also giving families all over the country an experience that they will cherish forever!” FBA