Art Kimbrough, a Florida native, is the Owner of Overstreet Funeral Group which successfully oversees funeral homes and cemeteries in the Southeast. However, his journey to success in the funeral industry has been far from a straight line.
In the early 1970s, Kimbrough was working in the music industry. He was a classically trained orchestral trombone player, conductor, and teacher. But, after four years in the business he discovered, at the end of the day, a career in music just wasn’t going to pay the bills. From there Kimbrough moved into the business side of things and began a career in the technology industry. Rising through the ranks of corporate America, he had roles ranging from sales management to human resources & training to stints as chief executive of two private technical colleges in the mid-west.
“In the middle nineties, after enduring a series of mergers and downsizings, I stepped off the corporate track and began the next phase of my life as an entrepreneur, professional speaker, and consultant. In 1998, I got involved in raising venture capital to launch new businesses in the internet marketspace. It was an exciting time of rapid growth and change,” explained Kimbrough.
Around 2003, as the internet bubble reached a breaking point and burst, stocks dropped, venture capital dried up, and Kimbrough’s business ventures went down with it. Living in St. Louis, he decided it was time, as an only child, to head back home to Florida to be there for his 92 year old mother.
After returning to Florida, while still doing consulting work, helping companies develop business plans, raise capital, and launch, Art took on the additional role of CEO of the Jackson County Florida Chamber of Commerce where he served for 10 years.
“During my first few years back in Florida, I reconnected with some of the folks I knew growing up. One of them was a successful funeral director who had been in the business for a very long time. He and his partner developed a very successful chain of about 10 funeral homes and ultimately sold them to a large company. We developed a great friendship and he introduced me to the funeral business. My start was more from the business side of things than the typical journey from funeral director to funeral home owner,” explained Kimbrough.
Over the course of about a year, after many discussions, Kimbrough and his friends decided it was time to go for it and start their own acquisition company. He knew he had the skills to form the company, while his friends had the skills to successfully operate the funeral homes – it was the perfect match. They formulated a plan, raised the necessary capital, and launched the company in 2004. Over the next few years they acquired 6 funeral homes and 4 cemeteries in four states: Tennessee, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. Their goal was to acquire about 40 locations before leveling off. Then the financial crisis of 2008 came along, halted capital, and froze them in place.
“Our goal was to be a leading southeastern regional player in the small to midsized market, but two big things kept that from happening. One was the financial crisis and the second was the tragic death of a partner which left us without the operating leadership we needed,” said Kimbrough.
At this point Art faced a real challenge. It would either need to be broken up and pieced out, or they would need to persevere through the hard times and make it work. A year and half later, on Kimbrough’s 65th birthday, he bought 2/3rds of the company, paid off all of the investors, and put himself into debt for 25 years to do it.
“Business-wise, I got into this industry a lot later than most people. But, I’m a perpetual optimist and I’ve got a good gene pool, so if I don’t make it beyond 90 years old, it’s only because I screwed it up,” joked Art.
One of the main reasons Kimbrough was able to make it work and keep his company going was largely thanks to Midwest Business Capital and Johnson Consulting, who made the introduction to MBC.
“I spent a year and a half trying to get a financing plan together to buy the parts of the company I wanted. Jake Johnson and his team at Johnson Consulting put me in touch with Midwest Business Capital. MBC worked with me to put together the financing needed to take over the company. I would not be where I am today without their help,” said Kimbrough.
After scaling back his goal of becoming a 40 firm consolidator, Kimbrough instead focused on restructuring the company for quality not quantity.
“It took two more years to simplify the business, but after realizing it didn’t make sense for us to stay in Tennessee, we made our move. Over the last year, I sold both locations in Tennessee, and just recently bought a second location in Moss Point, Mississippi. We strategically strengthened the business by focusing on just two markets, Tallahassee, Florida, and Moss Point, Mississippi. We have a great combo location in Tallahassee, Florida, the Abbey Funeral Home and Tallahassee Memory Gardens Cemetery that has grown over 50% in the past 8 years. Then in Moss Point, I have the iconic Holder Wells Funeral Home – which we have owned for nearly 10 years – and the newly acquired Coastal Funeral Home, Cremations, and Serene Memorial Gardens Cemetery. Taking the assets in Tennessee and redeploying them to Moss Point gave us a much stronger presence there. And once again, the folks at Midwest Business Capital were my strategic financial partners. They helped us complete the transaction and become a stronger company, which in turn allows us to better serve our customers in both markets,” explained Kimbrough.
Overstreet Funeral Group may look vastly different today than it did at its start, but Kimbrough’s ability to roll with the punches, adapt to changing circumstances, and take risks has more than paid off. Despite dealing with the death of a partner, restructuring the business, and having to secure financing at a difficult time, Kimbrough stayed driven and optimistic. The funeral homes and cemeteries owned and operated by The Overstreet Funeral group do more than just meet their families’ needs – they work to constantly exceed them.
“Our goal today is to focus more on operational excellence than growth by acquisition. Now, I’ll only consider strategically valuable acquisitions. I’m blessed to have two really strong veterans of this industry leading our teams: Laina Hicks, General Manager of Abbey Funeral Home in Tallahassee, and Chris Romines, Location Executive for Holder Wells and Coastal Funeral Homes. We also have an amazing staff of funeral professionals, like Bubba Cunningham in Moss Point and Rocky Ezell in Tallahassee, making sure our families are well served. They’ve been working in this industry for many years and are well known in their communities. I wasn’t born into this business, so keeping people like this around me has been really key to our success. They showed me the way, and because of that I grew into this business and quickly fell in love with it. I get the chance to positively affect the lives of others every day, and I’m truly grateful for that,” said Art.
“Having a well-run business doesn’t just happen by itself. You have to have the right people – the kind of people who truly care about it… and you have to pay them accordingly. Having a great staff is mission critical, and any success we have at Overstreet Funeral Group is a testament to our people. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers, and your customers will take care of you. Put people first and profits will follow naturally,” explained Kimbrough.
“Also, the team running the back end of your funeral home is just as vital as the caring staff on the front lines. If you don’t have a top administrative and financial team doing the work the public never sees, you will run into problems,” adds Art. “My CPA, Philip Tyler of Tyler CPA Firm, and his team manage our entire financial process and make sure our books are kept to the highest standards. We know where we are daily and they call out problems immediately.”
“You have to run a tight business, adapt to changes, and stay financially strong. And don’t forget regulatory issues and compliance issues! I’ve personally known good people who really messed up while handling Pre-Need Trusts. They got themselves and their customers in trouble because they didn’t stay on top of it. You have to stay disciplined on the business side of things – even if that doesn’t come naturally to you,” expressed Kimbrough.
Achieving success is one thing, but maintaining it is another altogether. Art highly recommends having a group of advisors that can point out where you need to make improvements. It’s easy to get stuck in a rhythm, and in this ever changing industry – that can really hurt you.
“Make sure you have top advisors you can trust to point out your blind spots, and we all have blind spots. It’s very easy for us to get complacent with the way things are, and we can’t afford complacency. To avoid this, I’m part of a peer accountability group called Vistage that meets monthly. The group is comprised of a dozen or so business owners from non-competing industries. When I have an issue, I present it to the group and get the benefit of all of their honest wisdom,” suggested Kimbrough.
“You have to be very candid, very real, and very upfront with those in your peer group. If you don’t have a clear vision of where you are going, you are going to land somewhere, and it’s probably not going to be where you want to be,” Art said emphatically. “I got so much from my Vistage group that I became Chair of another Vistage group so I could extend that success to others.”
Despite all odds, the Overstreet Funeral Group persevered through the tough times. With Art’s everlasting optimism, amazing support staff, local network of peers, and his business knowledge, failure was never an option and the future looks as bright as ever; it is in fact a testament of a successful business that provides excellent service to its families and inspires us all. FBA