At an early age, Timothy learned that his imagination, initiative, and perseverance would take him far. He had many personal goals and set out to achieve them. And all these years later, he has had the opportunity to live by the philosophy that has always guided him, which is to live in a nicer world with nicer people. And Tim has done exactly that, making the world better for himself and others.
Final Embrace owner Timothy Totten became an industry veteran by accident. At 22, Totten was working at a theme park when an opportunity to answer phones at a corporately-owned funeral home became available. Lured by the promise of higher wages, Tim also found the prospect of working in an industry that focused on hospitality and helping others inviting.
This first job led him eventually to a smaller family owned home where he was given greater amounts of responsibility and the chance to accompany his boss on removals. Seeing the boring fake fur polyester cot cover the firm was using, Tim asked if there was anything that might be nicer to use. Learning the blue fur coverlet with the funeral home name embroidered in an antique font was pretty much standard, he quickly decided to make something himself by cutting up and fitting a new quilt. Tim says that the family were over the moon about how nice the cover was and were particularly vocal about how much nicer it was than what had been used for a previous loved one. Like dramatic irony in a Shakespearean play, we can nearly feel the idea strike in Tim’s mind. What if others needed this same type of beautiful cover?
At first, Tim wasn’t sure how far this idea would go or how many people would be interested in purchasing his cot covers, so he pursued the opportunity merely as a side job to supplement his regular income. And though he brought on a part time employee along the way, Tim didn’t officially hire himself for ten full years! Clearly he was not afraid to chase his business or put in the hours necessary to make it a reality, sometimes working hundred hour weeks building his company stitch by stitch while also working in his full time positions at the funeral home, followed by a hospice and a fire department.
A Maker at Heart and a Maker with Heart
Being a maker at heart, Tim likes to make things and it was certainly this joy of making, especially those kinds of things that are new and innovative, that acted as fertile soil for his business. However, it was his innate drive to escape the mediocre and mundane as well as his committed desire to help others be happier that were the true seeds of his company. Getting to blend making with helping is his greatest source of Joy and to this end, Final Embrace has been built from its roots. Tim says that his goal is to, in some special way, take away some of the cold and clinical feel from removals and to do whatever he can to make that time more comforting for the family. If he can simply help create an atmosphere of intention and care by providing the best and most beautiful cot covers, then he knows he’s been able to mitigate at least some of that sadness and bring the family more peace in a tough time. It’s precisely this that brings him purpose and gladness.
Despite his many strengths, Tim knows that he can’t do it all and says that if he could give any wisdom to his younger self, it would be just that: “I can’t do everything.” He wishes that he would have gotten a banker, a lawyer, and an accountant early on and not tried, as he did, to do those things himself. It ended up costing more time and energy to do himself what he could have gotten professional help for. There are accountants for a reason, Tim says, and no one gets into a non-accounting business so that they can do accounting. Had he known this earlier, he would have been able to focus more directly on his passions and waste less energy on back-end business things. It would have saved him a lot of stress. Tim lays out this concept succinctly: focus on the things you love, get help for the things you don’t and lean on the expertise of others even if that costs you a little more up front.
Setting Goals and Shipping Goods
As a creator, Tim finds that the most challenging thing for him right now is managing a mature business that doesn’t have lots of new stuff going on. It’s harder, he says, to make decisions about the future when you’re doing pretty well because you don’t want to rock the boat when you make any changes. However, Tim also knows that he can’t be left behind, so he has to continue to grow and innovate, which has encouraged him to direct some of his energy there. It’s this particular blend of drive to innovate and do all things well that make Tim who he is.
Tim says that he strives to set personal goals based upon how he wants to grow and how he wants to challenge himself. However, he believes that business goals are somewhat different because the kind of challenges one might give a business can be difficult to reach and be potentially unrealistic. So, Tim says he focuses on setting appropriate challenges for his employees, and focuses on developing what he thinks that the industry is willing to get from them. Then after making the best product possible, Tim says he drives robust customer engagement and the ability to quickly turn around product and ship it with ever increasing efficiency.
Business Is as Business Does, but the Times They Are a Changin’
Tim attributes his primary success in business to the fact that they simply make good and beautiful products. This is one of his greatest sources of pride and he knows it’s true not merely because of his high standards, but because he continually hears from customers that Final Embrace makes the best version of all that they sell. Success also belongs to the fact that there is a conscious effort on his part to be an innovator and to follow a design model that strives to think far into the future. The goal being to produce a beautifully designed solution that people haven’t thought of before. And though these design principles and the products they produce are essential to Final Embrace and their success, Tim desires, more than anything, to keep deep customer service values at the core of his business. It is a part of his personality to serve others well and ultimately use his talents to enrich and help them, so that naturally comes out in his business model. Through his leadership, every person at Final Embrace is committed to treating every customer better than they, themselves, would want to be treated; and that is certainly a legacy worth leaving.
One way that commitment is expressed is in their immediate shipping goals. Tim says that he knows that orders are placed because products are needed, and he does everything possible to get his products out the door as quickly as possible and always within 72 hours, if possible.
This commitment to immediacy in filling orders is a part of the way he has seen the industry change over the last two decades. Like all other Industries, he certainly sees the Funeral Industry moving toward greater and greater immediacy and Tim has had to stay on his toes to be ready for all areas of that as well as the changes in product acquisition and distribution. Whether nurturing new and deep relationships with distributors through wholesale opportunities, or pursuing catalog and magazine marketing, to today, ensuring mobile friendly ordering, Tim is keeping his eyes on the ever-changing nature of business. It might seem strange to hear that large numbers of Funeral Directors are ordering their cot covers from their cell phones, but it’s true and Tim has worked tirelessly to ensure that Final Embrace is prepared to meet those customers, and every customer, at the place they are buying. He knows that Funeral Homes will do better when they are able to make better choices to serve their customers, and this is made possible by making better options available, both in terms of products, but also in terms of purchasing.
A Hand in the Community
Guided by a philosophy that he wants to live in a nicer world with nicer people, Tim does what he can to make the world better for himself and others. This shows first in his commitment to taking care of his employees, and also in his personal commitment to do things that help his community. Tim is committed to such community projects as putting on the annual Amazing Race for Charity which, as a volunteer effort, helps raise funds for twelve separate charities. Through this effort he’s been able to raise and donate nearly $35,000 every year. More recently, Tim instituted an effort to make and provide masks during the shortage and has organized upwards of 150 people to help make more than 23,000 masks for first responders and the community at large.
Tim is also involved in a project he started called Celebrating Heroes which began as an effort to simply make community banners that honored military veterans. Eventually, other Funeral Directors began contacting him to provide banners for their communities too. So now he now works regularly with Funeral Directors around the country to walk them through all the necessary steps so that they can also begin hanging these banners in their towns and cities. The Funeral Home doesn’t even have to know how to do any of this! Final Embrace provides all the tools, training and resources, from the digital artwork for the banners to the banners themselves, as well as the press releases, videos, and social media post material. Additionally, this costs the funeral home and the city absolutely nothing and they get to be a part of donating funds to a local veterans’ charity and honoring the lives and memories of people in their own communities. It truly is good for everyone involved. The Funeral Home not least of all as they get to engage more directly with the community many times and in multiple ways during this program. People come in to tell their stories, sponsor a banner for their loved ones, get pictures of loved ones scanned and then to pick up their personal banners once they’ve hung in a place of honor in the city. This ends up being a kind of deep level soft marketing since it presents time that the Funeral Home gets to spend with each of these people outside of a funeral, deepening individual relationships and generating community trust and loyalty.
Words of Advice from A True Success
Ultimately, Tim believes that in order to be successful in the industry you must, of course, be customer-oriented, but you can’t lose sight of business. You must be aware of the current and changing ways that people are going to actually buy stuff from you. Additionally, Tim believes that the oft-used business model of selling a product to a Funeral Home by convincing them to give it away to every customer and then add it to their bottom line simply does not work. He says companies should stop trying to add more work to the already-busy schedules of funeral directors. Tim has seen company after company fail trying to operate under that model. You should, he says, endeavor to produce a better solution to what’s already happening rather than trying to sell another new thing as an “automatic add-on”.
For a long time there seemed to be a mentality of “my way is the best way,” with little thought to the changing times or what works best now. Tim says he’s excited by the changes he’s seeing in the industry in this area, but he hopes people continue to get on board. Additionally, he’s excited to see more Funeral Directors become better connected with each other, listen to each other better, and embrace the better opportunities available to them through new technologies.
As a person and a businessman, Tim commands a lot of respect. He can certainly attribute his success to his personal relational ethics as well as his expert blending of traditional staples such as unparalleled customer service and community involvement with his embracement of the changing nature of business. We leave you with a few choice words right from the man himself.
“Anything I can do in my community to help them live and be well is important to me.”
“There’s always a market for the best.”
And, of course, his personal motto: “Don’t be boring.”
We couldn’t have said it better ourselves, Tim. FBA