Kim Simons, and her husband Scott Simons, founded SRS Computing in the basement of their home of Wexford, Pennsylvania in 1999. Scott is the son of a 4th generation funeral director of a funeral home that originated in 1895.
The name SRS was derived from the initials of Kim’s husband, Scott Robert Simons. Scott’s father, G. Scott Simons, developed the original software by writing the code himself. At the time, Scott was a medical physicist, but became dissatisfied for various reasons in his chosen profession and returned to school earning his M.B.A. Kim and Scott discussed the potential financial hardship that the loss of Scott’s income would create as he pursued furthering his education, and together they came up with a plan. Scott would take his father’s original software and improve upon it by writing new code. They would then sell it to other funeral homes in the Pittsburgh area.
The original plan would make this only temporary, long enough to meet the additional income needed until he graduated with his master’s degree. Early on, Kim and Scott decided to evaluate each other’s strengths to determine which role they would assume for their new business. Scott, as a self-taught programmer, took on the role as software developer. Kim decided that she would be best suited for sales and marketing for the company. Little did they know at the time, but 21 years later SRS has grown into a company that has over 4000 installs that covers all 50 states, all provinces in Canada and most states in Australia.
We sat down with Kim to discuss both her personal success and business success.
What is your favorite thing about what you do?
I enjoy the consultative aspect of what I do at SRS. The many tools of SRS’s software often require that I work closely with clients on problem solving and create efficiencies that work best with the business. I tell clients that I have two rules. One, we are only going to type things once. And two, I am going to help them go paperless. While many clients are hesitant at first, I get a lot of satisfaction when I observe clients getting excited as they begin to achieve these goals.
What is something that you know now that you wish you knew when you first started?
I wish I had known how websites were going to become such an integral part of our business model. Early on during the inception of SRS, we decided to provide both websites and management software. But we realized that websites can be very subjective and require a lot of customization. It was very hard to create a turn-key product that would work with similar businesses. The amount of collective data and customization for each client created challenges. After about 9 months, we decided to eliminate the website development portion of our business and focus solely on the management software.
But about 18 months ago, we realized that we could develop business partnerships that would allow us to leverage these relationships and grow our businesses in other ways. These partnerships have allowed us to develop integration opportunities that, up until this point, had not been available. All of this has allowed us to expand our business offerings, which now include SRS Websites. Having entered into this portion of our business that we gave up early on, SRS has truly come full circle after 21 years.
What is the most challenging aspect of your career?
COVID-19 has become the biggest challenge of my career, but not in the way most think. Ironically, by challenging, I am referring to the increased demand for our services. Our workload has nearly doubled due to COVID-19.
Clients have realized how important technology is to their businesses and are now looking to implement all the new features that we provide. It has forced funeral homes to change their habit and become more efficient.
They now find that they need to do online arrangements, take payments online, or have documents signed electronically. All of these require a technological solution that SRS can provide as part of our management software. Many were on most funeral homes’ wish list, but with the emergence of Covid, these features became not just a luxury, but a requirement – and they needed it quickly to maintain their businesses.
We felt the need to give clients the tools they needed and found a way to get it in their hands immediately. We took our Family Link feature, a type of online arranger, and made it better. We originally gave it away for free for 6 weeks so they could evaluate it. We performed a webinar to help them get started and created a tutorial to assist them in using it.
Another tool that we are proud to offer is a proprietary electronic signing tool that gives funeral homes a way to receive electronic signatures while integrating with the SRS management software.
We also offer credit card processing within their software which has also enabled customers to become more efficient in their payment processing. These tools created a workload thiss year that was unexpected but very necessary for our clients. It was challenging, but at the same time, very rewarding.
What do you feel has been the most important factor in your success?
I feel that there are 3 things I have always felt contributed to our success.
1. Client retention.
This is my highest priority. I knew that if we keep clients happy, that would correlate directly to our success. A satisfied client would ensure that SRS would be successful.
2. Vertical ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) that has no limits.
It has alway been our philosopy that the only limits we had at SRS were ‘if’ we wanted to create something, not ‘could’ we could create it. The only limits are what they want to create, not if they can create it. Helping our clients in this way has been a core principle of our business.
3.Develop a top line support team that implements all aspects of our business model.
We could not be successful without the support of our phenomenal team. Without a team to implement our product, train our clients and continue to work with them, we could not have been successful. Our team has made our success possible.
A final note on client retention, the thing I hate to hear most is having a client tell me that they love our product but confess that they only use 50% of its capabilities.
To ensure complete usage, three years ago we developed a new position, a Client Implementation Specialist. This individual has the sole responsibility of contacting our existing clients and conducting audits to make sure they are using all the tools and using them well. By doing so, we help our clients eliminate inefficiencies.
I am very proud that we maintain a 98% retention rate because we do not give our clients a reason to leave. We give them all the tools to run their businesses efficiently. These tools help our clients by assisting them in performing the following tasks: creating forms, scheduling their staff, barcoding bodies, using mobile phone apps, storing documents, using our cemetery and crematory modules, and many others. All of these have had a significant impact on our phenomenal retention rate.
What are you most proud of so far in your career?
I would say that I am most proud of the fact that we are self-made and developed our business from the ground up. What started out as an opportunity to supplement our income has turned into SRS Computing becoming a leading software company. I am also proud of the team we built and the 100% commitment to great service we give our clients every day. This commitment was never greater than during this challenging time of COVID-19. Our team exceeded my expectations.
I am also proud that I was able to have a career and raise my two children at the same time, balancing work with responsibilities at home. Starting your own business takes passion, commitment, and a lot of hard work. But owning our own business gave us the flexibility we needed to allow me to do both.
Looking forward to the future, what are you most excited about?
I am excited to see my team again. COVID-19 has required that we all work from home, but I miss working with them. I often say that my team is like my children, and with any family, you miss them when you do not see them.
I am also very excited that we have a new office building that is nearing completion. We put a lot of thought and time into our new building and wanted a building that would help us maintain the great talent that we already have and help us attract new talent.
The building is designed to help SRS employees feel like they are working from home. People have gotten used to working from home because of COVID-19 so our goal was to create a similar environment, an office that feels like home.
We have included a full working facility that includes a rowing area, ellipticals, and free weights. We also purchased Peloton bikes so our employees can compete against each other. To help clear their heads, there is, yes, a steam room and shower to help relieve stress. Outside there are fire pits and inside we have a fireplace and pool table where we can do team building. We also built a full kitchen and a library area where we can read, listen to music, or just sit and have a conversation.
And finally, do you have any advice for other business owners in this industry?
Don’t try to be an overnight success. Find something you are passionate about and start slowly. We purposely did not try to grow too fast. We concentrated most at being great at what we do and then let the growth happen naturally. We were very slow and deliberate when we started our business and did so with absolutely zero debt! We waited for a few years before rebranding ourselves and making large investments into the business. You will know when the time and opportunity are right to make a larger investment in your business. FBA