Feb 11, 2015
Hanging prominently on the wall in the front lobby of ASD’s office before you enter our Operations Center, is a large, framed photo of our company’s founders, Martin and Barbara Czachor. Although ASD’s second-generation owners, Kathy Kelley, Marty Czachor, Jr. and Kevin Czachor, oversee the day-to-day operations at ASD, Martin and Barbara’s enduring guidance continues to influence the direction of our company. The photo is a daily reminder how ASD has evolved since Martin and Barbara first realized there was a need for an answering service that catered solely to funeral professionals.
Like so many funeral directors working today, the second generation of Czachors can vividly recall growing up in their family’s business. Kathy, Marty, Jr. and Kevin are able to identify with the daily needs of their funeral director clients because they understand the specific pressures of a family-owned business. They remember listening to their parents discussing business goals and understanding from an early age the importance of cooperation and teamwork.
Now, as ASD’s 2nd generation owners, Kathy, Marty, Jr. and Kevin continue to receive input and advice from their parents on business decisions. They hope to instill the same values they learned from Marty and Barbara in their own children. All three siblings have attended funeral conventions, seminars and events with their children in recent years. They know from firsthand experience that it is never too early to learn what it means to be part of a family business. This is common for funeral directors as well, who often attend funeral conventions with their kids and have multiple generations working together.
ASD’s owners feel fortunate to share so many values with their clients. Here are just a few of the many unique qualities family-owned businesses have in common.
1. Long-Term View
Leaders at family-owned businesses are more likely to be focused on the company’s future over a long period of time rather than emphasizing quarterly sales or other short-term goals. As a result, family-owned companies are less likely to rely on limited time offers that temporarily boost profits. Instead, family owners tend to value steady growth over years and seek input from their current customers to develop new solutions. They are also more likely to reinvest in the business continually. This long-term vision has helped many funeral home owners to remain in business for decades, even centuries.
Funeral homes are somewhat limited in how they market their services to the public due to the sensitive nature of death. While other industries are free to consider ways to “push boundaries,” funeral directors have to focus on quality rather than sensationalism. Directors spend most of their time and energy on creating a meaningful experience for families. They listen carefully to the requests of their customers and pay close attention to changing trends. Evolving over a longer period of time allows owners to keep up with the changing needs of the public without compromising the funeral home’s values and traditions.
For ASD’s founders, Martin and Barbara Czachor, that long-term vision has allowed ASD’s leadership to focus solely on solutions for funeral directors. Rather than becoming a generic, one-size-fits-all answering service, our defined mission statement has allowed us to grow through specialization and develop funeral-specific tools that no other service can offer.
2. Commitment to Quality
Family business owners tend to have high standards when evaluating the quality of their products or services because their names are inextricably linked to the business. There are no scapegoats, leading the most successful family-owned companies to adopt transparent and honest business practices. According to Mass Mutual’s American Family Business Survey, nearly 60 percent of family businesses believe their ethical standards are more stringent than those of competing firms. The survey found that about 37 percent have written ethic codes or had discussions about ethics with their employees.
In order to remain in business, a funeral home must both earn and keep the trust of the public. This is not a business function that can be measured on spreadsheets or in marketing reports. For this reason, most funeral home owners concentrate more of their attention on the families they serve rather than their bottom line. Meeting the expectations of families takes precedence over meeting sales deadlines.
In a similar fashion, ASD was the first answering service to give funeral directors the ability to listen to a recording of every call answered. By remaining upfront and honest, family-owned businesses give customers a strong sense of confidence and peace of mind they might not find elsewhere.
3. Greater Flexibility
Businesses with family leadership have more control over their company’s day-to-day operations because they do not need permission from third party investors to make business decisions. While publically owned companies are forced to take a more uniformed approach to customer service, family-owned businesses have the flexibility to offer more options and to implement changes without delay. They have the freedom to be more responsive to the individual requests of their customers.
For funeral directors, exercising control over business decisions enhances the level of service families receive. Since most funeral directors live in the community they serve, they understand the expectations of their local public. This allows family-owned funeral homes to customize their firm’s options and packages based on the needs of residents in the local area.
When ASD’s owners recognized their clients’ need for a mobile app to manage their firm’s communications, our company created this solution in-house. While other answering services are forced to depend on outside vendors to develop new features and tools, ASD has employed a team of technicians to design our own flexible programs solely for the funeral profession.
4. Better Staff Retention
Most family-member owners make it a point to get to know all of their employees and foster open communication. This creates more of a team-oriented environment that encourages staff to grow within the company. As a result, family-owned businesses tend to enjoy a low turnover rate because they inspire more dedication and trust in their employees. According to the Harvard Business Review, only 9 percent of the workforce (versus 11 percent at nonfamily firms) turned over annually. When employees feel their input and opinions are valued, they are less likely to be motivated solely by financial incentives and more likely to be invested in the company’s future.
“Because of their focus on long-term, sustainable growth, family owned businesses are committed to their employees and communities over time,” said Family Enterprise USA President, Ann Kinkade. “Family firms have leadership tenure four to five times longer than shareholder-controlled businesses. They also have greater workforce stability and are more likely to hire and retain employees in the face of a tough economy.”
Funeral homes are an excellent example of a business with workforce stability. Most funeral homes hire employees they know personally or who are recommended to them. A great deal of thought and consideration goes into the hiring decisions at family-owned funeral homes because the owner must be willing to trust an outside employee with the firm’s reputation. As a result, owners seek out committed professionals who share the funeral home’s long-term goals. In fact, many directors today first became interested in funeral service work after helping out with odd jobs at a local family funeral home.
At ASD, because of the intensity of our 6-month training program, we have created many incentives and opportunities for growth to retain quality employees. As a result of these efforts, the average ASD employee has been with the company for 6 years or longer.
5. Stronger Resilience
Time and time again, family-owned businesses have proven to be better at adapting to set backs, recessions and unforeseeable disasters than other companies. During both the 2001 and 2008 recessions, family-owned businesses outperformed professionally managed firms, according to the Harvard Business Review. This is because companies with family leadership are more likely to have a long-term strategy that includes careful spending, business contingency planning and multiple redundancies in case of an emergency.
Funeral professionals are no strangers to planning in advance. They have only a short window of time to arrange a service that both memorializes a life and comforts the bereaved. Perhaps this is why directors have been able to successfully recover in the past from catastrophic events such as hurricanes and fires. Many have established relationships with local churches and community centers so that if their funeral home is ever damaged, they can work out of a temporary location. For example, after Tropical Storm Lee flooded the Piontek Funeral Home in 2011, the building had to be completely gutted and stripped down to the bare bones. While working at the funeral home was impossible, the Piontek family was able to adapt quickly—finding a local church in a part of town that was not flooded. This allowed the business to continue operating until the renovations were finished.
Family owned businesses are more likely to think ahead and prepare for potential risks. ASD is no exception. Everything is done with redundancies in mind. Two backup generators are located onsite and are fully integrated with a back up battery system that is tested weekly. A state-of-the-art data center houses numerous fiber optics, connecting to several long distance vendors simultaneously. This ensures that a disruption of service on any carrier’s network will not disable our operations. More than 60 remote computer stations allow our staff to keep working in the event of a major emergency. These security measures allowed us to protect calls for the many funeral homes that were impacted by Hurricane Irene, Hurricane Sandy and last year’s record-breaking snowstorms.
6. Growth Over Generations
Perhaps one of the most significant values all family business owners share is their desire to preserve the business for future generations. Teaching children about the business from a young age gives them an understanding of both the benefits and challenges of working with your family. For funeral directors, this means explaining to children the importance of empathy and remaining respectful during solemn events. At funeral home conventions, it’s hard not to notice just how thoughtful and mature the children of funeral directors seem.
Teaching their children about the work and sacrifices of funeral professionals is very important to ASD’s owners. Kathy Kelley’s two oldest children, Melissa and Joey, have helped with projects at ASD during breaks from school and have attended MKJ funeral seminars with Kathy. Kevin introduced his two oldest children, Noah and Addie, to their first funeral director conventions after they turned 11. And just this past summer, Marty attended an MKJ Seminar family event with his entire family so his three children, Jessica, Andrew and Julia could have both a fun vacation and an enriching learning experience. ASD’s owners are also supported by their spouses—Joe (Kathy’s husband), Alisa (Marty’s wife) and Linda (Kevin’s wife)—who have attended many funeral director events in the past. By connecting their business to family trips and outings, Kevin, Marty and Kathy are able to experience the best of both worlds.
Every family business possesses its own unique rewards and challenges. However, there is a common ground all family business owners walk on together. Blending familial values with business goals fosters an environment of shared collaboration, mutual respect and innovative thinking. As funeral directors and ASD’s owners know, family is everything, which is why we couldn’t ask for better co-workers or clients.
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 Jess@myASD.com