Funeral Business Advisor sat down with William McReavy, funeral director with Washburn-McReavy Funeral Chapels in Minneapolis, Minnesota to learn more about his career and experience in the funeral industry.
Did you always want to be a funeral director? What inspired you to join the profession?
I always thought I might follow in my father’s footsteps, but I had two other professions I was considering. One was an airline pilot and the other was a professional drummer. I ultimately decided that due to all the airline deregulation a pilot wasn’t the most secure idea and on considering being a drummer, I just didn’t know if I could go without food. Life brought me back to funeral service and the more that I saw, the more that I liked it. I absolutely love this profession and I cannot imagine doing anything else.
What is your favorite part about working in the profession?
My favorite part is the acquisitions and expansions, but those don’t happen all the time. In the meantime, I just love to serve our families – and love to do so to the best of our ability. At the end of the day, this business is all about the quality of service you can provide and exceeding expectations. I am constantly trying to refine what we do so we can be a better company each year.
Can you tell me a little bit about Washburn-McReavy Funeral Chapels and what makes your firm stand out from others?
We got our start in 1857, one year before Minnesota was even a state. We are family owned and operated and were the first established funeral organization in the state. Today, we have 16 locations which include four cemetery funeral home combinations, three crematories, a flower shop, and a highly successful prearrangement division. We really put an emphasis on our staff training, facilities, and equipment. We work really hard so when a family does call us, we are prepared not only to meet, but exceed their expectations and we have been successfully doing so for five generations.
We have two trademarks, The Most Trusted Name in Funeral and Cremation Services and Quality & Value Funeral & Cremation Services – we really stress the trust that people place on us and take that very seriously. We do everything we can to provide quality at every step. We have positioned ourselves to be able to provide quality service, facilities, and equipment at a reasonable price. With 16 locations, we have a lot of economy of scale and there are a lot of synergies that exist between our properties.
Beyond that, we have been great at adapting to trends over the years. We take time to evaluate which ones are worth embracing and implementing in the business and which ones we should avoid. We don’t want to be Blue and White Taxi when Uber comes along; like any profession, we are constantly evolving.
Our greatest challenges have led to our greatest achievements. I always ask the question, “Who can stand up in a hurricane?” and that is my number one objective – to make sure we are always standing no matter what type of storms or turmoil we encounter. That means making sure every area and aspect of the business is strong enough to withstand the challenges that might come along over the next several decades.
What are you most proud of so far in your career?
I am most proud of the successful expansions and acquisitions we have completed. Our ability to successfully grow the business since before Minnesota was even a state is something truly remarkable.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job? What have you personally gained by being a funeral director?
Funeral service is about taking it one service at a time and making sure expectations are always exceeded. When a family, or anyone attending the service, comes up to you and thanks you for the work you’ve done, that’s the best part. Our job is to serve our community and it’s very rewarding, and reassuring, to know that our service is deeply appreciated.
Do you have any advice you would share with other funeral directors, especially those just now entering the profession?
There was a recent study that I read that said the number one reason people join this profession is because they consider it a calling. Take that natural passion and continue to learn with every experience and every transaction. Never stop learning. There are always ways you can improve upon what you are doing and grow to be the best you can possibly be. Even if something doesn’t turn out exactly like you thought it would, you can learn from that process.
Looking forward to the future, what are you most excited about?
I look forward to continuing to take on the daily challenges that we face. I am excited to serve our community and to get better at what we do each day. I love our ability to constantly improve and grow and I look forward to continuing that.
What do you see as the biggest challenge in funeral service?
Societal changes. Everything changes and everything evolves. When I first started out, the thought of having a celebration of life at a country club or a VFW wasn’t even thought of as a possibility by society. Today, we not only accept that as the norm, but we also embrace it as being a great idea. The traditional business model of funeral service is constantly being challenged and you have to learn how to adapt. Funeral homes that refuse these changes are going to be left behind.
When you do have a little free time, how do you enjoy spending it?
I like to crunch numbers and look at things inside out and from all angles, so I can see things from a different vantage point. I enjoy spending time meeting with employees to get first-hand feedback from them on their experiences and where we can make improvements in order to be more efficient and make the environment better for them. I want to help them with anything they need to make their jobs easier and enable them to do their job to the very best of their ability, so they can feel good about what they are doing.
On a personal level, we all need a break from work to come back refreshed. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, working out almost every day, playing golf in the summer, and skiing in the winter. I recently purchased my dream drum kit. The best part about working in funeral service and drumming is that I can afford to eat! FBA