The Leader: Q&A with Foundation Partners Group President Kent Robertson on Vision for Company, Thoughts on Future of Cremation

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Foundation Partners Group experienced record growth last year, including its most recent acquisition of Baldwin Brothers in Central and Southwest Florida.

In 2021, the company acquired over 50 locations and now serves more than 115,000 families annually through its 215 locations.

The Funeral Leader recently spoke with Kent Robertson, president and chief operating officer of Foundation Partners Group, to learn more about the company’s strategy moving forward and to hear his perspective on the future of the profession.

Below is a Q&A with Robertson conducted by Editor Kara Apel.

In your opinion, what does the future of cremation services look like?

If you look at history, you can see a little bit of the future. I think the mix shift that we’ve seen over the last five to 10 years, is going to continue. If you look at the CANA and NFDA studies, consumer opinion supports this as well. So, there is no question that as this trend moves across the U.S., we will continue to see cremation adoption accelerating.

The other thing that we’re going to continue to see, and I believe COVID had a lot to do with it, is a more educated consumer because people have more resources available to get smarter about what cremation or deathcare really is all about.

The last thing is this … why is cremation catching on? There are myriad reasons, but one is that it’s a simple solution for people to get their minds around, as far as how they make an arrangement, how they schedule a service, etc.

How do Foundation Partners firms handle cremation services differently? What makes them unique?

We try to meet each family where they are, whatever their situation is, whether it’s in their living room, in our funeral home or online. The main thing, first and foremost, is trying to be more contemporary and offering simple, transparent solutions so families can understand what we’re doing and what they’re getting.

The other big piece of it is just making sure that the team members talking with those families are well-versed in all the options. It’s really about being the expert, right?

As a profession, I think we all do a really great job of that, and at Foundation Partners we invest quite a bit of time to make sure our funeral directors and our team members know how to talk with people and listen to really understand their needs.

I know you kind of touched on some of the trends you’re seeing, but are there any specifically that you think other people in the industry need to know about in relation to cremation?

I can think of three that are interesting right now.

One trend is outsourcing … generally speaking, funeral homes that we’ve been talking to are doing more and more outsourcing. It used to be just basic things like websites and accounting. Now, some firms are starting to outsource more services, like transfer logistics, cremations, and embalming. I think part of that’s driven by staff shortages in the industry as folks try to figure out how to give relief to their employees. So, we’re seeing a big shift toward more outsourcing of back-of-house type functions.

Another growing trend is more price sensitivity among consumers. They’re just more price-conscious today. We’ve done some consumer research, and five years ago, if you asked them to prioritize reasons for choosing a funeral home, price would be the fifth or sixth thing on the list. Now, it’s first or second.

The last trend, which we all deal with every day is inflation… Anyone who buys milk and bread knows that inflation is real. When our consumers are more conscious about pricing, and we know our costs to serve are going up, then our business and the industry will face some real challenges.

Is it the actual number that they are more concerned about or is it that they’re paying more attention to the number?

Consumers are far more educated about their options and costs today. They’re trying to understand what makes up those costs, but I think there’s just so much information that many families don’t know how to navigate it. At the end of the day, the questions may boil down to “How big of a check am I writing?” or “Once I figure out where I’m going, what check am I writing and what am I getting for it?”

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