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12 Unexpected Lessons From the 2018 ICCFA Convention

Apr 27, 2018

This week, The ASD team traveled to Vegas for the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association Convention. Events like the ICCFA Convention o bring together thought leaders in our profession from all of the country to share strategies, trade tips and educate others based on their own experiences. These events encourage attendees to keep their minds open to fresh ideas and perspectives. With a focused outlook, you can find both crucial lessons and simple truths hidden in every corner of the convention center. And sometimes the most impactful knowledge you gain comes when you're not even looking for it.

As a funeral writer, I enjoy looking at the profession from all angles. Conventions provide a unique opportunity to help me broaden my understanding of the funeral service community and record insights I can share with directors. Below are a dozen pieces of wisdom I found in unexpected places during the 2018 ICCFA Convention and Expo.

1. It’s all about connections.

By far, the most rewarding aspect of the ICCFA Convention is the people you encounter and the priceless interactions you have with others in attendance. During the Expo, I was captivated by all of the different types of conversations happening all around me within ASD’s booth. There is such a multitude of shared connections, many dating back multiple decades.

Whether we’re speaking with funeral professionals who want to learn more about our service, catching up with our valued clients, sharing a laugh with a fellow funeral service vendor, or supporting one another within the ASD team –these shared connections make it all worthwhile. In many ways the convention center truly feels like the stage for one big family reunion. And while competition will always exist on some level, this is eclipsed by the many ways people in this profession are devoted to supporting one another.

Thanks to all of our clients who stopped by to take a photo with TEAM ASD at the ASD Photo Wall!

2. Behind everything beautiful, you’ll find hardworking people behind the scenes.

Vegas is to humans what a laser pointer is to cats. There are so many distracting things to catch your eye and turn your focus that it’s sometimes easy to miss the little details that make it all come together. During the convention, I had an opportunity to visit the stunning Bellagio Hotel, which is known for it’s famous dancing fountains with water towering as high as 460 feet into the air. The show itself is a spectacle to behold, but one aspect of it that often escapes the notice of the crowd are the diligent staff workers who use rubber dinghies and cleaning barges to vacuum the lake bottom and maintain the fountains.

When these workers were pointed out to me, it made me think about the ways funeral directors and embalmers play a similar role. Most people are completely oblivious to all the different things funeral directors do behind the scenes to help families. I remember when I first began working at ASD how difficult it was to explain my job to others. Everyone always assumed the only type of call I would handle would be a death call and I would have to explain the wide variety of calls funeral homes receive and how many other people they must coordinate with to plan a service. Beyond this, the act of embalming gives families a last memory picture of their loved one. So much must be done behind closed doors to make this possible, but a family member will rarely ever see the care and attention that embalmers demonstrate everyday. While this sacred work may not be visible to the public eye, just like the fountains, the final outcome is a beautiful and unforgettable gift.

3. Generational conflict is not always a bad thing

There is a lot being written currently about how to handle disagreements that arise between older and younger generations working together in the funeral home. We even hear it from those who directly contact ASD. “ I want to use your service, but my dad is fighting me on it,” directors will often tell us. Which is why it was so refreshing to hear Funeral Director, Walker Posey (Owner of Posey Funeral Directors ), talk about how generational conflict can actually improve funeral home operations and processes because they open the door for important discussions. During the session, “Consumer Preferences vs. Industry Standards” which was presented by Posey along with Stephanie Dunn (Senior Vice President of FBNC) , the concept of generational differences was defined as an opportunity rather than a disadvantage.

“At the end of the day, your goals and values are still the same even if you are from different generations,” Posey said.

Posey went on to explain how those from different generations will have varied strengths and viewpoints. The key is for both parties to ask themselves, what will be most meaningful for that specific family? While some families will benefit from a more traditional approach, others require more modern advancements and options that utilize technology. In order to foster a harmonious relationship, Posey explained, it is essential for older generations to learn how to relate to people differently as they age, and for younger generations to respect tradition.

4. Integrity and reputation are now one and the same

One of the most interesting takeaways from Erik Qualman’s keynote presentation on being a digital leader was the concept of every single person having a digital stamp, regardless of if they have an online presence. Qualman explained how it’s not possible to opt out of the digital era because even if you don’t post anything about yourself online, others will. In the past, integrity was defined by one’s actions behind closed doors, while reputation was determined by one’s decisions and reactions made in public. Now, these two qualities are interchangeable because every experience or interaction can be made public online.

“Word of mouth is now on digital steroids,” Qualman explained. “Everyone has a digital stamp made up your digital footprint, which is what you share online, and your digital shadow, which is what others post about you. Ask yourself, what kind of digital legacy do I want to leave behind?”

5. Deep down, everyone wants to embrace their inner child

We love taking time during the convention to walk around the expo hall and explore all of the different products on display. We were immediately distracted this year by the insanely awesome coloring wall filled with butterflies and flowers on display at Ring Ring Marketing’s booth. The company welcomed everyone who passed by to fill in the blank spaces and, honestly, who can resist the urge to do a little coloring?

What I love about this idea is that it reveals a universal truth about everyone. All of us have an inner child inside of us that is waiting to jump out when the right opportunity arises. This is why you will most likely find me standing next to ASD’s Funeral Service Lego sets during conventions. I love watching how directors react when they see the sets for the first time and how much joy it brings them. There aren’t very many occasions that allow funeral professionals to comfortably step outside of their solemn demeanor and embrace their sillier side. No matter where or when you were born, just about everyone played with Legos as a kid. We love seeing funeral directors reconnect with those great memories and get in touch with their inner kid.

Congratulations to Nou Melissa Andee and Matthew Disbrow from Eggen & Lance Chapel/Santa Rosa Mortuary in Santa Rosa, CA on winning our Funeral Lego Set raffle at the 2018 ICCFA Convention!

Conventions give our team an opportunity to build relationships with our clients, improve their experience using our service, meet new people, and learn valuable information. During the moments in between, however, we may have had a little too much fun with the new photo wall at our booth. Below are some of the hilarious photos that were captured. We’re already thinking that we might need to invest in some photo props for next year…

Which person on TEAM ASD had the funniest pose? Leave us a comment and share your favorite! And just for fun, here’s a funny video of our Family-Member Owner (and big kid), Kevin Czachor, juggling our First Aid kits at the booth.

6. A long-term operational strategy should be built into every funeral home’s succession plan

“Right now we are going through the largest transfer of wealth in the history of the United States. No other industry has the same history of longevity as funeral homes. This presents a major opportunity, ” stated Stephanie Dunn during her seminar presentation with Walker Posey.

Stephanie Dunn and Walker Posey

Dunn went on to explain how essential a smooth transition is for funeral directors looking to take over ownership of a firm. From managing previous owner dynamics to introducing changes gradually, there are many factors one must consider before taking control of a funeral home. The funeral home processes should be thoroughly documented and understood by all to ensure a seamless changeover. Dunn and Posey recommended partnering with other funeral home owners who have had this experience to help you build an operational strategy for change in ownership.

7. Excellence often looks effortless

Awestruck. That is the only word to describe the feeling of a Cirque du Soleil show in Vegas. This was my first time witnessing this thrilling theatrical event and I was mesmerized by the performers in (the show our team attended). The performers switched seamlessly between graceful movements to death-defying acts amongst a backdrop of moving stages and set pieces. As a theatrical event, KÀ is truly a visual splendor to behold. The performers commit themselves so fearlessly to their routines so that every movement creates the illusion of pure perfection. With inspiring precision, the show demonstrates how practice and team collaboration can make even the most difficult feats appear effortless.

8. Digital tools should decrease your workload, not add to it

Yes, creating and managing an online presence takes time. Yes, writing and editing social media posts requires a few hours of extra work a week. However, when taking a wider view of the impact digital technology has on your everyday routine, online tools should help you streamline tasks rather than complicating them.

“If you use these tools correctly, you can simplify your workload rather than adding to it,” stated Erik Qualman during his keynote address on digital leadership. “Pause throughout your day and ask yourself, what is one thing if you do well will make everything else easy and unnecessary?”

Eric Qualman addressing ICCFA attendees

Qualman recommended that rather than trying to multi-task, funeral professionals should try to focus all their attention on a single task for 20-minute segments. He also suggested that instead of creating hard-and-fast “To Do” lists, to instead have your immediate “To Do” list as well as a “Not Yet” list that contains long-term goals or ideas that you can implement at a later time. These techniques will help you to develop a strategy outline for future digital marketing efforts.

9. “It’s not where you’re going to be buried. It’s where you are remembered.”

This philosophy has guided the work of United States Veteran and Cemetery Owner, Thomas Flynn, who was honored during the ICCFA Convention with the Lasting Impact Award. The ASD Team had an opportunity to hear Flynn’s story during the ICCFA Education Foundation reception and learn about the incredible work he has done creating America’s Cemetery. Located in our home state of PA, America’s Cemetery is known for the Avenue of 444 Flags and the War on Terror Memorial, both of which were created by Tom in response to national events.

“When you go from starting a local cemetery, and all of a sudden you are on the front of Time magazine, you realize that was your idea and you get to look at yourself differently,” Flynn stated in a recent interview.

During his 40+ year career, Flynn grew his cemetery, adding 36 acres to the original 46, and worked tirelessly to create a beautiful space that would properly honor our nation’s veterans. Today, America’s Cemetery is “second only to Arlington” for no other veteran cemetery can compare when it comes to patriotism, love of veterans and love of country. Flynn was a true pioneer among cemetery owners and thought outside the box when seeking out ways to memorialize vets. He was also the first to offer pet funeral and cremation services and to introduce funeral home therapy dogs. Flynn is a true pioneer who absolutely deserved to be honored with the prestigious ICCFA Lasting Impact Award. Click here to learn more about his story.

10. Families want funerals that are experience-driven, not product focused

It was a true joy to listen to someone as passionate about funeral service as Walker Posey. Towards the end of his presentation with Stephanie Dunn, Posey discussed the future of funeral service and analyzing what families are really asking for today. Posey gave several examples of this, including the use of mobile apps that allow families to funeral plan from a smartphone and downloadable forms that can be signed digitally.

“Too often, we do things because ‘that’s the way it’s always been done.’ Technology offers better communication and quality of experience," Posey stated. “Think about can be upgraded to make an experience more relevant to the consumer.”

11. The opioid epidemic is weighing heavily on many people’s minds

Before leaving for the ICCFA convention, I was focused on a project involving the opioid epidemic and grief support for those who lost someone to an overdose. You see, in August of last year I wrote a blog post about my own experience losing my father to an overdose that addressed the lack of grief support for those who are coping with this very complicated type of loss. Since posting the blog, I have been contacted from people all across the country on an almost weekly basis sharing their own experiences and asking me if knew of any specific therapy groups in their area for those who have lost a loved one to an overdose. I was in the process of compiling a list of resources I could share and speaking to organizations like GRASP before I left for Vegas.

This topic has been at the forefront of my mind for some time now and I want to be able to help share bereavement support information to those whose lives have been shattered by an overdose death. While speaking to funeral directors, association leaders, other writers and vendors at the convention, it became apparent just how massively this issue has impacted our profession as a whole. Hearing from directors who have seen one case after another or have had to bury their children’s friends is very difficult, yet these stories only strengthen my resolve to do everything I can to help. I so wish that a complete support network existed for these families, and even more so that these deaths would just stop happening, but since I am powerless in that regard the only thing I can do is to write about it. In the coming weeks, I will be sharing information on ASD’s blog about different bereavement therapy options available to families affected by an overdose death in an effort to help those who are grieving to find the support they need.

12. Social media fosters relationships every time you “post it forward”

One of my absolutely favorite moments of the 2018 ICCFA Convention came toward the end of Erik Qualman’s keynote presentation on digital leadership. Eric discussed the importance of using social media to “post it forward” by sharing a positive articles, photos or videos about others in your profession or community.

“Ask yourself, ‘who am I going to shine a shine a light on digitally?’ ” Qualman stated.

Spotlighting the positive work of others online can aid you in making key connections and building relationships. As ASD’s Social Media manager, I have seen this in action time and time again. So many of the connections I have made began with a story or profile I shared on ASD’s social media about a funeral professional doing something good for others. Until Qualman’s presentation, I had never heard this concept defined before or considered all the ways it could help funeral professionals who are struggling with deciding what to share on their own social media accounts. Keeping your eye out for positive stories you can share does not take very much time, but the benefits can have a ripple effect for your business as people will often remember those that took the time to feature them. Qualman recommended directors do this on a consistent basis to help expand their online influence overtime.

Thank you so much to everyone who spent time with ASD during the 2017 ICCFA Convention. We appreciate you and look forward to seeing you next year!


About The Author

Jess Fowler

Jess Fowler is a Public Relations Specialist and Staff Writer who has been a part of the ASD team since 2003. Jess manages ASD's company blog and has been published in several funeral trade magazines. She has written articles on a variety of subjects including communication, business planning, technology, marketing and funeral trends. You can contact Jess directly at

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