Lance Pauli grew up in Port Charlotte, Florida, a preplanned community that was started by the General Development Corporation in the 1950’s. Led by Mackle Brothers, they decided to take advantage of the Florida land boom and developed land primarily on both of the Florida coastlines. In the summer of 1974 and at the age of 15, Lance obtained his first summer job working part-time at Kays Funeral Home in Port Charlotte. It became his summer job, and he continued to work each summer for 3 years until he graduated high school.
After graduating high school in 1978, Lance decided not to pursue his dream of playing college football. Instead, Lance attended Miami Dade College and studied Mortuary Science. After graduating from Miami Dade in 1980, he was hired by Clarence Harden, owner of Harden Funeral Home in Eustis, Florida. Eustis is a small town located about 35 miles northwest of Orlando and named after Colonel Abraham Eustis, who served in the U.S. Army during the early nineteenth century. Today, Eustis prides itself on being ‘America’s Hometown’ and is an arts and culture destination.
Harden Funeral Home originally opened in 1958, as Layton-Harden Funeral Home. In 1966, Clarence Harden purchased full ownership and it became just Harden Funeral Home. Upon being hired by Mr. Harden in 1980, Lance worked as an embalmer and a Funeral Director Intern. It was during this time that Lance realized that he wanted to make the best possible future for himself and his family, so he realized that he wanted to own his own funeral home.
In 1982 and with this ownership goal in mind, Lance began to buy shares of stock in Harden Funeral Home, showing his commitment to funeral service and his desire to one day become a full-time owner. With the help of his parents and a bank, Lance achieved his dream of being an independent funeral home owner in 1986, when he became President of Harden-Pauli Funeral Home. “My life has been one of being in the right place at the right time,” recalls Lance.
In 2008, Harden-Pauli underwent a major remodel to better service the families of Central Florida. This improvement allowed the funeral home to provide up to 3 chapel services daily. Harden-Pauli has been fortunate and exhibited phenomenal growth over the years that has exceeded the expectations of Lance’s projections. They have gone from serving approximately 200 families per year in 2000, to serving approximately 300 families per year in 2020. The business has changed significantly over the years, but the current breakdown is as follows: 60% cremation, 30% burial and 10% out-of-state transfer to colleagues.
Lance feels strongly that they are positioned to carry this momentum into the future, and he has no plans of slowing down. “We believe that while COVID-19 did help our growth somewhat in 2020 – we strongly feel that it was our hard work and dedication to our preneed program that got us to where we are today,” Lance emphasized.
In looking at his business as he enters 2021, Lance reflects on some of the lessons that he was originally taught by Mr. Harden. He acknowledges that for him personally, it has always been difficult to try and change what was already working. But, Lance added, “Mr. Harden taught us that change is good and to always be open to change.” Lance indicated that it has always been a bedrock principle and one that was instilled in him by Mr. Harden. He meets with his staff regularly and reminds them that if during the arrangement meeting the family is asking for something different, to stop, pause, think about it, and find a way to do it. “We always accept and serve a family’s wishes to remember a loved one the way they want to be remembered,” Lance states. “As long as their requests are not illegal, immoral, or unethical, we will work to fulfill their wishes and exceed their expectation.”
Lance often evaluates the business to determine if they are doing all they can to meet the needs of their families. In doing so, he meets with his staff regularly to review their corporate mission. “I try and ask our staff what they think is the strongest (or weakest) link in our chain of success,” says Lance. “In doing this, I can solicit feedback from those on the front line to be sure we are doing all we can do.”
In discussing the market for Harden-Pauli Funeral Home, Lance acknowledges that he controls and focuses on a 10-mile radius around his funeral home. He also indicates that there are only 2 competitors who are independently owned in his area, and the rest are owned corporately. For Lance, he feels this gives him a competitive advantage because it is his belief that his independent status gives him more flexibility, without restraints, to meet the unique needs of his families.
Besides his flexibility as an independent business, Lance feels his approach to customer service also sets him apart from his competition and allows him to stand out in his market. “I know it seems repetitive and cliché to say, but it truly is about exceeding people’s expectations and giving them that wow factor and heal their grieving hearts,” Lance says emphatically. “That truly is our primary goal. Our business is built on transparency and trust for over 60 years, and our families know what to expect from us when they call on us. To provide exemplary customer service, it begins with that singular goal in mine… to exceed expectations.”
In discussing his competition, Lance is quick to point out that he also believes that it is detrimental to worry too much about what your competitors are doing. “I noticed it became stressful to worry about what everybody else is doing, so I decided to take the philosophy that I will only worry about what we do,” says Lance. “I’ve told our staff to only worry about what goes on between the four corners of our building. I stress to our employees that is their job to give their best each day, and in doing so the rest will take care of itself.”
Success can be defined many ways. But for Lance, it is simple. “I believe success is about respect and dignity. Dignity and respect to grieving people and the deceased human body,” Lance indicated. “It is the greatest compliment imaginable when a family acknowledges the work that went into treating their loved one with respect and dignity. I live and work by the Golden Rule. And I try to embed that same philosophy into our staff. No discrimination of any kind, no disagreements with our colleagues, and peace within our personal lives.”
In asking Lance what he would recommend to others to help them achieve their goals in funeral service, he mentions two primary things; understand what you job is and find the motivation to do it to best of your ability. He discussed the need to always be telling yourself you can do whatever you want if you have the desire. He referenced his love of sports by quoting two famous coaches. He is inspired by Lou Holtz when he said, “Ability is what you are capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.” He also strongly connects with the quote by Jim Valvano, “Time is precious. Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.”
Lance talked about his excitement for the future. “I’m excited about the new future of death care once the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted,” he declares. “I feel it is important to give back to the profession that has given so much to me.” Lance ended with this advice, “21st Century embalmers are constantly challenged in their labs because of new medical treatments, procedures and pharmaceuticals. Funeral directors are constantly challenged on how to serve a diverse grieving public with different beliefs concerning daily living, marriage, family, religion, responsibility, and entitlement. When we work with dignity, respect, and excellence, then the public can move forward with the peace of mind and heart.”
Today,the reputation of Harden-Pauli Funeral Home in the community is proof that Lance has succeeded in his quest for success. FBA