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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
), 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

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
integrity was defined by one’s
actions behind closed doors, while
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

“Word of mouth is now on digital steroids,” Qualman
“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

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

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,

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

7. Excellence often
looks effortless

Awestruck. That is the only word to describe the feeling of
Cirque du Soleil show in Vegas. This was my first time witnessing this
thrilling theatrical event and I was mesmerized by the performers in
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

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
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

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 Farren (Fowler)

Jess Farren (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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