Article Published by Business View Magazine, March 2015
Foundation Partners Group is a leading provider of end-of-life transition services with a network of 39 funeral homes and six cemeteries that are owned and operated across 13 states.
The Orlando, Fla.-based company was founded in 2010. In 2012, Brad Rex took over as president/CEO and immediately went about incorporating the expertise he’d gained at the world’s experience capital – Disney. Rex was at Disney for twelve years and led Disney’s Epcot theme park for five years, overseeing its recovery and growth after 9/11. The company has industry veterans as well as executives with extensive experience in other industries. This combination combines the best of funeral service with new ideas and technologies that are revolutionizing the funeral experience.
“With my customer-centric background, I asked ‘What are we not providing to our customers today, and how can we fill that gap?’” Rex said. “We looked at all the things that need to happen after a death occurs, and there were over 50 things, even up to 100. We found the typical funeral home only provided about a third of those items. We created a vision to take much more of the burden off families and add value by providing more services.”
To implement the vision, Rex tapped Justin Baxley as Chief Customer Officer, responsible for both marketing and operations. Baxley joined Foundation Partners after his firm, Hiers-Baxley Funeral Services, joined Foundation Partners. “Justin is an innovative leader in funeral service and the perfect choice to help bring the vision to reality,” says Rex.
Research indicated that 70 percent of Baby Boomers – those born from 1946 to 1964 – want a different funeral experience than their parents, but 99 percent of funeral homes only perform traditional services. Seeing this, Rex gravitated toward ways in which the current “analog” funeral experience could be transformed into “the Google age.”
“To us, the huge opportunity was to really reinvent the entire funeral experience, from marketing and initial contact, to the arrangement process, to the funeral it d to more easily navigate the grief journey. We call this ShareLife®.”
“Our target customers are female baby boomers who do the majority of arrangements. We engaged a marketing agency, Coming of Age, with extensive experience marketing to this demographic. They created winning ads that are presented in both traditional forms like newspapers and billboards, but also in digital media like search ads and display. We have received thousands of leads with their coordinated marketing plans.”
Foundation Partners also created state-of-the-art websites for each location with funeralOne and added live chat and Google Tours. “Your website is your new front door,” says Rex, “and we wanted to make sure we created a great first impression. funeralOne has tremendous resources to help Families on their websites.” Regarding live chat, “We have had Families notify us of a death on live chat.”
The company has taken out much of the stigma and anxiety associated with funeral planning, and, in partnership with Aurora Casket Company, created a very customer friendly and personalized arrangement experience. “In our firms, no one has to go into a casket selection room. Everything is done on a large screen television monitor,” says Baxley. “Our customers are relieved that they don’t have to go into a casket room, they have all the options presented, especially for personalized products, and they see the total cost of the service on the screen while they make selections, so there are no surprises at the end. We place the order on the screen and the next day the casket or urn arrives.”
The funeral service is also high tech at Foundation firms. The proprietary ShareLife® multi-sensory experience room designed with the assistance of Crunchy Tech uses high definition projectors and audio and even a scent generator to display images, videos and scents that celebrate a loved one’s life. “We can create the beach, a golf course, the forest or even a motorcycle ride—just about anything you can imagine--that evokes wonderful memories of a life well lived,” says Rex. “If you remember your mom baking in the kitchen, we can waft in the scent of chocolate chip cookies. It operates simply through an iPad and is reliable and user-friendly.”
With a dozen pictures, a funeral home can create a Life Tribute video in minutes that tells a life story on the big screen—much different than pictures pinned to a corkboard. “We do themed celebrations that include a catered reception,” added Baxley. “If you have a favorite football team, we can celebrate your passion for sports and follow the service with a tailgate reception.”
Rex is particularly proud of how Foundation Partner firms serve veterans. “As a Naval Academy graduate and former submarine officer, I wanted to make sure no one takes better care of veterans than we do.” Foundation uses a patriotic cot cover for all veteran transfers, an Honor Coach at select locations, and a flag retirement program for veterans. “We had over 2,000 tattered flags that were cremated or buried with veterans last year. It is a touching farewell and particularly appreciated by Families.” The ShareLife® rooms also have a veteran’s video backdrop. “When that eagle soars across the big screen, the audience fills with pride for the veteran’s sacrifice,” says Rex.
After the funeral, Foundation firms continue to serve their Families. “Our LifeSteps® program has five sessions that help surviving spouses,” Baxley states. “We provide grief support, financial help, cooking for one, traveling for one and safety and security classes. It gets people out of the house and back on their feet. We’ve also had a few people meet their next spouse during the program!”
Unlike many funeral companies, Foundation Partners embraces the cremation trend and is a strong supporter of CANA. “Our cremation rate is ten percentage points higher than our competitors and we are always seeking to acquire high cremation firms. By creating an experience rather than just selling a more expensive urn, we see many cremation services that cost more than a traditional funeral. People are willing to pay for a funeral experience that has value to them.”
Has all this paid off? “We are seeing revenue growth rates at multiples of the industry average,” says Rex, “and high customer satisfaction scores. Families are telling us in their surveys that the most meaningful part of the service was the large screen.”
“Walt Disney said “It’s kinda fun to do the impossible,” says Rex. “We’re having fun reinventing the funeral experience and sharing the life stories of those we serve in creative ways. We hope that innovative independent funeral homes and industry professionals will join us on this exciting journey.”
Coming of Age (www.comingofage.com) –Established in 1991, Coming of Age is a full-service marketing agency. We are subject matter experts, problem solvers and creative professionals experienced in advertising/marketing to Baby Boomer and senior customers.
Crunchy Logistics (www.crunchy.co) Regions Bank (www.regions.com) –A member of the S&P 500 Index and is one of the nation’s largest full-service providers of consumer and commercial banking, wealth management, mortgage and insurance products and services. Regions serves customers in 16 states across the South, Midwest and Texas, and through its subsidiary, Regions Bank, operates approximately 1,650 banking offices and 2,000 ATMs.
Aurora Casket (www.auroracasket.com)
Link to original article: http://businessviewmagazine.com/digital-magazines/2015/march/#120