When I was growing up, my dad sponsored the local high school basketball team. Rather than a monetary donation, he offered up the funeral home facilities and technology once a month so the players and coaches could review game footage and enjoy a team meal.
His financial investment was small – the parents provided food and the team always cleaned up before they left – but the return was significant. By opening the funeral home to those athletes, parents and coaches, my dad established comfortable relationships with some high-profile community members. He contributed to their team in a tangible and memorable way rather than being one of many on a long list of small business sponsors. And, as an added bonus, he recruited some of the players to wash cars and help with lawn care.
In my role at Homesteaders, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with hundreds of funeral home owners about their businesses. I like to ask about their community involvement, the ways they support and give back, and I’m always impressed by their lengthy lists of partnerships: Veterans groups, religious institutions, chambers of commerce, historical societies, non-profit organizations, athletic boosters, educational foundations, food pantries, hospices, nursing homes, and on and on.
In my experience, funeral professionals are among the most dedicated and selfless community members. They give tirelessly of their time, talents and resources – and to a number of admirable causes. But I often wonder if those same funeral professionals are leveraging those relationships to more effectively compete in an increasingly crowded market.
Forming productive and mutually beneficial relationships with other community leaders is a smart marketing strategy and a good business decision for funeral homes – especially when funeral professionals are focused on leveraging those relationships to increase brand recognition, market share and profitability.
Below, I’ve included some of my favorite examples of funeral professionals who have leveraged relationships in their community to more creatively promote and grow their businesses.
Strategic Partnerships with Small Business Owners
I recently heard Bob Buhrig speak about the concierge-level service he and his staff offer at Myers-Buhrig Funeral Home in Mechanicsburg, PA. Historically, one of his biggest challenges was providing exceptional service at a reasonable price. Initially, he tried building partnerships with local catering companies as a way of controlling both quality and cost. Unfortunately, many of those caterers were unwilling to work with him, due primarily to the small size of his events and the quick turnaround time that characterizes many at-need funerals.
After many unsuccessful attempts, Bob turned his attention to local restaurants. One in particular, located just down the street from his funeral home, agreed to let him rent out the space whenever he needed a reception venue for a funeral luncheon. Other local restaurants were more than happy to cater those luncheons – unlike the catering companies, they had no problem meeting the needs of smaller groups under tight time tables. As an added bonus, their catering costs were much lower than those of the full-time caterers he had initially approached. Bob has been able to use those cost savings to hire additional funeral home staff to serve during funeral luncheons, furthering his goal of providing reasonably-priced, concierge-level service to his client families.
The relationships Bob has formed with those business owners serve a dual purpose. Like all community involvement, these partnerships increase the business’s brand recognition and offer additional opportunities for word-of-mouth referrals from other community leaders. But, beyond that, these relationships help him expand his service offerings, meet a more diverse set of consumer needs, grow his market share and increase his firm’s profitability.
Strategic Partnerships with Religious Leaders
Sagel Bloomfield Danzansky Goldberg Funeral Care in Rockville, MD, has a unique approach to serving families. When Ed Sagel and Albert Bloomfield merged their businesses in 2014, they discovered that their 21,000-square-foot facility was not getting utilized by many of their client families. In fact, less than 10% were using the on-site chapel space. Instead, most of their community members preferred to hold services at their local synagogues.
Rather than renew a very expensive lease, Sagel and Bloomfield decided to move their business to a storefront location. The fully-renovated, 6,300-square-foot space – which caters predominately to the needs of Jewish families – is designed to respond to the unique rituals and preferences of its clientele. In addition to many family-friendly gathering spaces, the new facility includes space reserved for families to engage in ritualistic cleansing and shrouding.
This shift enabled Sagel and Bloomfield to cater to their clientele’s unique needs while considerably lowering their overhead. They’ve also been able to forge partnerships with a dozen nearby synagogues that benefit both parties. The firm supports the religious institutions through rental fees, and their funeral home is always top-of-mind when members ask their rabbi to recommend an end-of-life care provider. It’s both a profitable business arrangement and a smart marketing strategy.
Strategic Partnerships with End-of-Life Care Providers
Adam Strahan and the staff at Lumberton Family Funeral Home in Lumberton, TX, are well-versed in community involvement. In addition to participating in a number of networking groups, business organizations and religious institutions, Strahan features countless local business owners in his “Friends of the Funeral Home” Facebook Live video series. The weekly videos encourage viewers to complete a short form to enter drawings for free goods and services from the featured businesses. The funeral home then uses the information to feed its lead generation efforts.
In addition to their video series, the pre-need staff members have partnered with local healthcare professionals, financial advisors and end-of-life care providers on a series of community presentations designed to couple suggestions for healthy living with sound financial advice – specifically the value of advance funeral planning and funding. They invite different end-of-life care experts to speak at their lunch presentations, then conclude each one with a short presentation on their funeral home’s pre-need offerings.
Partnerships like these are great for funeral businesses. They provide strong content for social media – which is an incredibly powerful tool in marketing any small business. They also increase brand recognition, disseminate messages about their funeral home’s goods and services and generate leads for their pre-need program. The combined benefits lead to more market share and increased profitability.
These are just a few ways funeral professionals are leveraging existing relationships with community leaders to build more profitable businesses. I know of other funeral home owners who collaborate with local high schools and colleges to offer scholarship and internship opportunities, firms that work with Veterans groups on flag retirement initiatives and special programming and one funeral director who partners with the local food pantry to offer a free Thanksgiving meal to community members in need. Clearly, there are countless ways to leverage these relationships.
The best way to identify opportunities in your community is to consider which of your client families’ needs you could be better at meeting if you had more resources at your disposal. Then, look around at the relationships you have with other community members. Are any of them in a position to help you better meet those needs? If so, reach out and start a conversation. Talk with them about the mutual benefits you foresee in forging a partnership. Then, work to communicate the value of your new relationship to potential customers in your community.  FBA

Danielle Burmeister, Homesteaders’ Marketing Communications Lead, joined the company in 2015. The daughter of two funeral professionals, she has firsthand knowledge of and a deep appreciation for the business as well as 10 years of marketing and communications experience. You can reach Danielle at [email protected]