Funeral Business Advisor sat down with Monica Torres, Licensed Funeral Director, Licensed Embalmer, Reconstructive Specialist, and Desairologist, to learn more about her career in the the funeral industry. Find out what drew her to the industry and why shes looking forward to what the future in this spotlight feature.
What drew you to the funeral industry?
My father was killed when he was 24 yrs old in a tragic mining accident. I was only 9 months old and never got to know him. His death helped to shape me as a person and as an embalmer and reconstructive specialist. He was completely crushed and sustained massive crushing head wounds and was disfigured from head to toe. The embalmer who took care of my father made it possible for our family and an entire town to have a viewing for him. My family has been forever grateful.
Hearing about my father’s funeral over my lifetime and the healing it brought to my family shaped the professional I am today. This is why I have dedicated my career to the value of open casket viewing, learning all I can about advanced embalming techniques and finally sharing my knowledge with others through my technical embalming training programs. I have gone a step further to help other embalmers and have begun to teach the art of Desairology (cosmetology on the deceased) in my courses.
As I believe that Desairology is the art we as embalmers need to master in order to give families the best experience possible. Desairology gives families the look they love AND remember.
What has your journey in the funeral industry been like thus far?
It has been a real trip! Being a young female Latina entrepreneur threw some folks for a loop I’m sure. I have always marched to the beat of my own drum. Some people love that about me, other people hate it. All my struggles, failures and critics have made the journey even more rewarding. I’ve had to stand up for myself a little more and I’ve had to prove myself on a regular basis. Overall I have had the most intriguing and spiritual journey caring for the dead. I’ve been blessed with the support of the most incredible mentors who have constantly pushed me to a better version of myself.
Today I am a licensed funeral director and embalmer in Arizona and CFSP. I am also a reconstructive specialist and have a background in cosmetology and desairology. However, I didn’t always see myself working in the funeral industry. When I was in high school, I got my cosmetology certification through a scholarship program and opened my first small salon business when I was 18 years old. I always knew I wanted to be a business owner.
I went on to attend and graduate from Arizona State University, but it wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I went back to school to get my degree in Mortuary Science and was fully licensed in 2011. From the time I graduated high school my mother had encouraged me to go into mortuary science. Being a principal she was used to making assessment’s for students and she knew from the time I was very young what my strengths were and that this would be the best route for me. I wouldn’t be where I am today without my mother Anna’s support and guidance.
What gave you the idea to create the course Airbrush Artistry for Cosmetic Use in the Prep Room and Restorative Art?
When I was an intern, I realized quickly that there was room for advancement. With my cosmetology background, I was aware of just how limited the options were for professionals that wanted to expand their knowledge and skill base in the prep room. I took the instructor course in Hollywood with Dinair and then worked on developing a course that was prep room applicable.
When I initially created my class, it was just to teach the other funeral directors at the funeral home where I was working. As time went on I realized how much these classes could help other funeral homes as well.
After a few years in the industry, you launched a start-up company called NXT Generation Mortuary Support, what inspired you to start your own company?
My parents raised me to be an independent thinker with an entrepreneur’s spirit. I was working for a funeral home in Arizona and I noticed that they were calling in trade workers for each service. They would call someone to do hair, then someone else to do the embalm, and then someone else for reception planning – and I saw a need. Because of the quick rise cremation, it has become harder for funeral homes to pay a full-time staff to be there all the time – and even harder for them to pay out a livable wage. I saw the opportunity, and after attending the Fountain Academy I felt very comfortable with my skills and what I had to offer. I knew I could be of service and help more than one funeral home at a time, so I went for it!
NXT Generation Mortuary Support was a progressive business based in Arizona that served funeral homes nationwide and offered professional advice to the public regarding death care options. Some funeral homes called on me just for hair and makeup, others only needed me for hard embalming cases, and others called me to utilize my restorative and reconstruction skills or for business advice. My education courses were among the most popular of my services and quickly grew my business.
What is your favorite part about working in this industry?
That is such an easy question to answer! My favorite part is being able to support other embalmers and funeral directors and getting to know all the unique people that work in our industry – all while helping the families. I love serving funeral directors and helping them create the best possible experience for the families they serve.
What are you most proud of so far in your career?
I am most proud of being honored by Vernie Fountain with the Professional Service Medallion in 2012 for my contribution to funeral service for introducing my hard case hair restoration technique coined the “No Wax Torres Technique” and my completion of all the seminars at the Fountain National Academy of Professional Embalming skills. I am one of 60 individuals who have completed all four intensive seminars.
Are you involved with your local community?
I try to make myself available to the Mortuary Science Program in AZ. I try to work closely with them to offer my classes to the students at discounted student rates. I am always trying to reach the younger and novice professionals in our industry and help them however I can.
I also try to actively participate in mentorship programs, especially those for female funeral directors. I am a mentor with the online mentorship program hosted by Embalmers Who Care. I try to stick with programs that offer more one-on-one time and give me time to really get to know the person I am working with, but I mentor a host of young ladies daily online though my personal social media accounts.
Do you have any advice for those just entering the industry?
There are a lot of young ladies that our entering the industry right now. My advice to them – and millennials entering the profession – is to not let anybody derail you from your vision or your dream. I had a lot of people tell me that my company was a bad idea or that there wasn’t a need for it or that I was never going to be able to work as a reconstructive specialist. When you are just starting out, hearing things like that can be very discouraging – so stay focused and be persistent and most of all stay positive. Lend respect to the “OGs” and veterans in our industry, remember they paved the road for us. Finally, remember the public judges everything we say and do so keep it professional, especially with your online presence.
How do you define excellent customer service?
Excellent customer service is about creating an experience. Right now, were living in a time where it’s all about the experience. We see it across all industries, from food to entertainment to health care. Customers and families want to have a good experience with you and it’s important to do everything you can to make sure they get one they need – even if they don’t know what that is at time. Make sure you never tell families no and if you don’t know the answer to their questions, make them feel comfortable you will do everything you can to find those answers for them quickly and be patient with them. Remember they are living their darkest days during the time they are spending with you.
Looking forward to the future, what are you most excited about moving forward?
I am really excited about the future of embalming. I know everyone else in our industry is kind of turning their back on the craft, but I don’t see it like that. I see a lot of interesting advancements on the horizon for embalming. Right now, in our embalming community, I have personally met people that are making the most amazing advancements and changes – they are making a big impact and changing the industry for the better. I myself have also been working on some new techniques. These techniques are inspired by plastic surgeons Dr. Kelly Boomer and Dr. Shino Bay Aguilera. I am working hard to perfect a new technique which simulates a tummy tuck for autopsied cases and trying to perfect a No Leak technique for unembalmed ship out cases.
There is so much room for growth and I am so excited to see the progress we can make.
I also see on the horizon, a movement. A movement towards “Community” that encompasses all the chemical companies and embalmers who believe in the value of open casket viewing. I am hoping that we will see support for our embalming community from within. Community after all is one of the most important things a man can have. I hope to see our chemical companies working together along with the support of embalmers to secure our future and stake our claim on the part of the industry that belongs to us. Our craft is under attack and we need to stick together if we intend to rescue it from extinction. I’ve recently begun an initiative online that I’ve begun to hashtag #WeLoveOurChemicalCos. I hope it catches on and professionals begin to advocate for our craft and all the companies who make embalming possible.
For me personally, I have recently been offered a amazing opportunity to serve funeral directors on a national level with a wonderful company, Inman Shipping Worldwide. As Inman’s new National Account Manager, I will be able to support our service providers with my technical embalming training programs and offer our special products and services around the nation and worldwide. Being able to serve funeral directors nationwide has been my dream since I first started my career. I always tried to make myself available to funeral homes nationwide with my startup company, now working for Inman this dream is becoming a reality. I look forward to seeing you all at convention and in the trenches of your prep rooms this coming year. Inman is preparing me for a nationwide tour of the United States so if you would like to attend one of my technical embalming seminars focused on Desairology and learn some modern restoration techniques request your state associations reach out to us.
I am here to serve you. FBA