Why I Partnered – Former Owner Stories

Q & A with Rick Tuss
Charlotte Memorial Funeral Home, Cemetery, and Crematory

Rick Tuss has been in the funeral profession since 1979. In 2012, he and a partner purchased what is now known as Charlotte Memorial Funeral Home, Cemetery, and Crematory in Punta Gorda, Florida. The business was still ravaged by Hurricane Charley’s 2004 destructive path. Rick remodeled, modernized, and added a crematory, making it the only complete combination funeral home in Charlotte County. Charlotte Memorial became a part of the Foundation Partners Group in 2019, and Rick became a Partnership Consultant for the company in 2021.

When did you start thinking about succession planning?
My succession planning thoughts started when I was 64. A friend of mine, who's the same age, was in my office one day and asked me what I planned to do, and I really didn't know. That was the start of a long, thoughtful process about what I wanted to do with the good years I had left.

What were your priorities in a business partner?
I wanted a partner who respected our values and the way we do business. I wanted to be in a secure financial position for my own future. And I was concerned about what a partnership would mean to my employees, who are like family.

I was afraid Foundation Partners would make wholesale changes for the sake of change. They didn’t. They let us keep doing things we were doing. I was happywith the deal I made with Foundation Partners.

And are you pleased with the outcome for your staff?
Very much so. I was concerned about what would happen to my employees, but seeing the benefits that they now have assuaged my fears. Suddenly, they had access to benefits that I wanted to provide but couldn’t afford to. Health insurance, dental insurance, disability, life insurance, a retirement plan – all the benefits. I’ll stop by for a visit, and it’s like they don’t even miss me! It’s wonderful that they are happy and doing so well.

How did you hear about Foundation Partners Group?
I had not heard of Foundation Partners Group prior to my thoughts of acquisition. A friend of mine mentioned it to me. I looked them up and I researched them. Then I never seriously considered anyone else.

How has your life changed since selling your business?
Once you decide to sell, there's no going back, and I was very afraid during those eight months when I thought things over that I would regret it. I was 64 then, but I still had many years left that I could have worked.

Today, I can truthfully say that I have never looked back. I really haven't. I wish I’d sold my business sooner.

Any advice for owners who are considering succession?
You need to think about yourself. Listen to your gut. If you think it's time to do something different, it probably is. Age is only one factor in a succession plan. There are so many things to worry about as a business owner. But with a larger partner, I had support on the legal side, and I had help on the accounting side. I didn’t have to worry about so much anymore. My stress level is far below what it was pre-sale.

Q&A with Mark & Diane Musgrove
Musgrove Mortuaries & Cemeteries

Mark grew up in the funeral profession. Both his mom and dad worked as funeral directors, and the Musgrove family has been serving Oregonian families since 1883. Diane likes to say that she married into the business. The husband-and-wife team and Mark’s brother Jeff owned and operated Musgrove Mortuaries & Cemeteries for 40 years. Currently, the Musgrove brand includes 11 funeral homes and three cemeteries.

When Mark and Diane realized their two sons weren’t going to follow in their footsteps, they began looking for a partner. They joined Foundation Partners Group in 2020.

When did you start to think about succession planning?

MARK: We began planning for a transition six years before my brother, wife, and I wanted to sell and retire. You can’t just put the keys on the table and leave. We care about our profession and the families we serve too much to exit without a clear strategy. We ensured that our facilities and finances were in tip-top condition and took our time.

DIANE: When Mark turned 60, we felt it was time to think about retiring. We had a five-year plan that was closer to six years, but by the time we transitioned to our new partner, it was seamless.

Why was it the right time to sell?

DIANE: Funeral service is demanding. We wanted to retire with enough good years to play (laughs). We’ve buried a lot of people who waited too long and didn’t have the chance to enjoy retirement.

MARK: Funeral service is a wonderful profession, and I’m very proud of my years in the business. But when you look at your life’s timeline, you only have so many years to climb up a pyramid or play catch with your grandkids. I would have missed out on many things if we hadn’t sold the business and retired.

What were your top priorities in a business partner?

MARK: We had three critical factors to consider. First, it was essential that whoever purchased our business would continue our family's legacy of care, which dates back to 1883. Second, our employees had to be taken care of. And third, Diane and I wanted the resources to retire and do the things we dreamed about doing.

DIANE: I wanted our new partners to recognize the successful system we had in place, a profitable business run by a caring staff. Foundation Partners Group specializes in businesses that have a higher cremation rate. They understand cremation and what you have to do to increase profit margins when you focus on cremation. They came to Oregon and were genuinely interested in learning who we are and how we operate. They eased our concerns. We told our staff how and when the transition would occur and that Foundation Partners would keep the business running as it has been.

How did you hear about Foundation Partners Group?

MARK: My work with the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) allowed me to see multiple operations and companies up close. (Mark was the first Oregonian to serve as NFDA President from 2003-2004). Foundation Partners Group has always been a company that I respected as ethical, forward-thinking industry leaders that put families first. They were a natural pick for the top of the list.

DIANE: We had several potential buyers and multiple offers. Foundation Partners Group stood out because of its experience with cremation providers. Unlike some corporations, they want to continue the legacy of the companies they are purchasing. We had a good thing going with our business; they wanted to improve it.

What was your transition like?

MARK: The transition was smooth, primarily because we made sure everything was in order long before we sold.

DIANE: I agree. We kept our staff informed so they would be ready. Having the transition team from Florida onsite helped make it seamless.

Have you returned to the business since you retired?

MARK: I still work as a consultant now and then. We had the sad occasion of being on the other side of the desk when my dad passed away. We obviously made arrangements through Musgrove, and it was terrific having the same people that we trained and worked with, our extended employee family, help us. They’re still there. They’re still happy. It was a satisfying experience to see that our staff is thriving, the facilities look great, and the funeral and cemetery arrangements were flawless.

DIANE: Seeing our employee family as happy as they were when we owned the firm was wonderful. We’ve been delighted with the acquisition.

Q&A with Mark Krause, Krause Funeral Homes and Cremation Services

Mark Krause is a fourth-generation funeral director who has been in death care since 1976. By the time he reached his 20th year in funeral service, he had transformed the modest family business into the largest funeral provider in Wisconsin. Today, Krause Funeral Homes and Cremation Services (plus Milwaukee Cremation and Informed Choice Funeral & Cremation Alternatives) has six locations throughout the Milwaukee area that serve over 1,850 families annually. Mark is a founder and past President of the Funeral Service and Cremation Alliance of Wisconsin (FSCA), Past President of ICCFA and a nationally recognized funeral educator and speaker. In 2022, Mark partnered with Foundation Partners Group to continue serving families while he explores his next professional adventure: as Vice President of Industry Relations and Government Affairs at Foundation Partners Group.

Why was this the right time for you to sell your business?

I’m 65 now. I don’t know if I want to keep pushing as hard as I have been for the next ten years. My brother Gregg, who is Vice President, intends to retire. I want to keep working, but I’m also ready to take things like Human Resources and IT off my plate. I wanted more time to do the things I enjoy. All these factors told me it was the right time to sell.

Were you considering a family successor?

We considered my daughter and nephew as possible successors. She is a funeral director leading one of our locations and has been devoted to the business. My nephew graduated with a business degree and returned to the company just as Covid hit. After several months of twice our average call volume, he knew his future was at a smaller funeral home.

I kind of created a monster with the largest funeral provider in Wisconsin. It’s too much for one or two young people to take over such a large family business. We started talking to different companies about a succession plan that would continue our legacy and provide opportunities for younger people, like my daughter, to grow.

What qualities were you looking for in a partner?

A couple of things came into play. First, it was important that my staff was taken care of. Even with 70 or 80 staff members, we still treat the business like a family. We often buy lunch on busy days. I feel that Foundation Partners Group would continue to value the personal and professional contributions of our staff.

Second, when I met Kent Robertson, Tom Kominsky, and some other folks in Orlando, they were genuinely interested in what we were doing. They talked about their philosophy and how they liked to do things. I equated Foundation Partners' leadership style with how the American military operates. The military runs from the middle out – from the sergeants and the people in the field who know what’s going on and can make changes to become more effective.  The explanation of the Foundation Partners culture seemed like a great fit for Krause Funeral Homes.  Their desire to take a premium brand funeral home and make it even better was music to my ears.

Likewise, we’ve always trusted our team to respond accordingly to families, because they are on the front lines. That’s when I knew that Foundation Partners Group would be the right choice.

What is next for you? 

My new title is Vice President of Industry Relations and Government Affairs. I’m looking forward to finding new ways to move the profession forward and doing whatever I can to make Foundation Partners Group an even better place for team members and the families we serve.

Q & A with Richard "Rick" Baldwin
Baldwin Brothers Funeral & Cremation Society

Rick Baldwin jokes that his hair color – gray — shows that he’s been in the funeral service business “for a while.” Funeral service is in his genes, with the Baldwin family providing funeral and cremation care to three generations of Floridians. In 1973, with investment capital from outside investors, he founded Baldwin-Fairchild Funeral Homes and Cemeteries in Orlando, Florida. The business grew to nine funeral homes and a cemetery - before being sold ten years later (1983).

Rick was on the ground floor for a new business venture, Baldwin Brothers Funeral & Cremation Society, in 2013. He was instrumental in creating their successful business model for a simpler, easier, and cheaper way to arrange  end-of-life services. Then, in 2021, Rick and his partners (including former SCI President, Jerald Pullins) agreed to sell their business to Foundation Partners Group. Now retired, Rick remains busy with his many volunteer commitments.

We asked Rick:  When did you start to think about succession planning?

I started thinking about it immediately, even as we were just beginning Baldwin Brothers Funeral & Cremation Society. In my work over the years, I’d met so many people who never thought about selling their business. They never thought about succession or what might happen if they got sick or just died suddenly! They had no plans, nor had they made any preparations, which meant things turned into a mess for the survivors. And for those who didn’t have direct survivors – a worse mess.

We thought about succession all along. Our goal was to adopt a succession plan that would satisfy the estate planning needs of our senior business partners and leave our junior partners with new partners, who were also growth, opportunity, and profitability minded. It was our thought that if you choose the right partners, the “basics” (growth, opportunity, and profitability) you worked hard to build will simply remain in place.

That’s why we picked Foundation Partners Group.

Why was it the right time to sell?

As my hair turned grayer, and my birth date became further away, I knew it was time for me to stand down.  I knew it was time for the younger partners to lead us, to bring their new perspectives, and to harness the opportunities of the future. I’ve always believed that life is more orderly when you think strategically about the next steps and the tomorrows – and not just let them happen randomly or unplanned.

I had always wanted our company to be about ‘us’ – not just about me.

How did you hear about Foundation Partners Group?

We were already familiar with Foundation Partners Group when they contacted us. We knew that they were growing in Florida, and we liked that.  We had a preliminary conversation, and one step led to the next. It was easy with Foundation Partners because we were both purposefully attuned.

Did you consider anyone else?

We felt it wasn’t good business to talk to two potential partners simultaneously. After our initial conversation, we liked them. We knew that Foundation Partners is a good company, and that their financial offer was reasonable.

What has the partnership meant to your team? 

Working in a smaller, closely held business is different than working in a larger company. Other people are involved, other markets are involved, and of course different challenges exist in each market. The advantage of a career in a larger funeral service company is the wide range of experience found in the management team, the different approaches to problem solving that are readily available, and the wide scope of opportunity that is open to each person!   

In my experience, it’s been fun to be on a team because it doesn't put all the pressure on you; you can depend on others, take a day off, and rest when you need to. A team is generally a lot stronger than the sum of its parts.

What advice would you give other funeral home owners looking to sell their business?

The funeral business is interesting because many of the owners live upstairs with their families, while the business is operated downstairs. People knock on your door in the middle of the night. There are few days off.  You’re always working, year after year, and the miles pile up. And then one day, the question becomes, “how will you end your career?”  Will you plan it? Or will you just drop dead one day?

I encourage my friends in the industry to think about succession by the time they’re 55 or 60 years old.

Maybe you too want to be able to turn your phone off, go to lunch, or play golf. If you do – it will all be much smoother if you have a thoughtful plan.

Are you happy with your decision to partner with Foundation Partners Group?

I am very happy. We had a compatible strategy with them. It was essential for us to have a partner who would reward our people, continue building the business, and do an outstanding job for every family we served. Like us, Foundation Partners feels end-of-life services is a very personal service; and they know we have to deliver that service one family at a time.

They’re doing a good job, and I recommend Foundation Partners to anybody who wants to expand their business, retire, or have the succession support of a larger company.

Q & A with Wendy Kraft & Laura Sussman,
Kraft-Sussman Funeral & Cremation Services

Finding their calling to funeral service along different paths, together Licensed Funeral Directors Wendy Kraft and Laura Sussman created a funeral home where the primary goal is to serve the families of the deceased with support and compassion. For Wendy, it was a personal tragedy that inspired her to attend mortuary school and help others who have had loved ones die. For Laura, it was frustration with the status quo in Southern Nevada funeral service. They opened Kraft-Sussman Funeral & Cremation Service in Las Vegas in 2009 and became a cremation leader, delivering respectful dignified and compassionate care. In 2021, Wendy and Laura partnered with Foundation Partners Group to grow the business without the burdens and time commitment of ownership.

 Why was it the right time to sell your business?

WENDY: Laura and I built this business from scratch so the thought of letting go was very scary. Like many funeral home owners, we always hoped that our daughters would take over the business when we were ready to step back. We tried everything to convince them to join us but after growing up in a family where their homelife could be interrupted by the next phone call, they decided this life was not for them. Once we accepted that a family succession plan was off the table, selling the business was our next best option. We talked with our colleagues and contacted a consulting firm but decided to put it on the back burner for a time. Then the pandemic hit and changed our thinking. It took a huge emotional toll, making us more aware of personal loss and that no one can do this forever.

LAURA: Approaching Medicare age was also a wakeup call. Working with a consultant, we looked at individuals as well as corporate options and weighed the pros and cons of each. We were lucky that so many firms were interested.

What were your top priorities when looking for a partner?

WENDY: We were looking for a partner who shared our philosophy of compassionate service and our commitment to the community; A partner who wanted to be here for the long term and one that wanted to keep us involved. We never wanted to walk away from the business.

LAURA: Keeping our culture in place was most important for me. We’ve invested a great deal in our community, which is rich and diverse, and we needed to know that commitment would be honored. We also wanted to take care of our staff and looked for a partner who would respect and value their service.

Why did you ultimately choose Foundation Partners Group?

WENDY: Frankly, I was surprised to find that there was a group that would honor our philosophies. We did what others did in the market, but we always felt we did it differently. Foundation Partners got that, and the transaction process was respectful and honorable.

LAURA: They were open to our concerns, cared about families and did what they said they would do. For Foundation Partners, it wasn’t just about the bottom line.

How was the transition process?

LAURA: My role has always been community ambassador so initially the adjustment was hard for me. I do not own the business anymore but knowing that we are still connected to the team, that our name is still on the door and that we could meet with anyone, talk with anyone at any time helped. I still feel a sense of pride and I am grateful that I can still be a part of this even in a small way.

How did your employees react to the sale?

LAURA: It was very hard to tell them. We brought our team together with Foundation Partners prior to sale to tell them about the changes. It was important to us that everyone was comfortable with the transition in ownership. Foundation Partners leadership was here to meet with our staff and take questions, and the transition team Foundation Partners sent to work with us every day was wonderful.

What advice would you give to an owner thinking of selling?

LAURA: I would tell business owners to take their time and not to rush into a transaction until they have all their ducks in a row – financially and emotionally. Reach out to people who have been through a sale and ask questions, especially who they sold to. That alone will give you a good indicator of who you might want to work with. For us, the process was faster and easier than I ever thought it could be.

Q & A with Steve & Nanci Trevino,
Ponderosa Valley Funeral Services

Unlike many of today’s most experienced funeral directors, Steve Trevino didn’t grow up in a family of funeral directors. As a teenager he mowed lawns and parked cars at the funeral home of family friends and was moved by the grief-stricken families he watched enter the building. When these families came out, however, they were “changed”, and Steve wanted to know more about a profession that could have such a profoundly positive impact on families in need. That exploration led him to mortuary school and a 44-year career in funeral service. In 2003, Steve and his wife, Nanci, founded Ponderosa Valley Funeral Services in his hometown of Parker, Colorado, where Nanci joined him as a funeral director and administrator. In 2019, Steve and Nanci partnered with Foundation Partners Group to grow the business and devote more time to personally supporting and caring for families.

 Why was it the right time to sell your business?

STEVE: The biggest trigger for us was when our two sons decided to attend the United States Air Force Academy and we knew they were not going to follow in Mom and Dad’s footsteps. They asked us if they should come back and I said, you have the whole world in front of you, go follow your dreams. Knowing they were not coming into the business, we started to think about alternative succession plans. We wanted to spend more time with grand kids and travel and that motivated us to accelerate the transition.
NANCI: A friend of ours was in mergers & acquisitions so we reached out to him for help in finding the right buyer. Together we began the research process and worked through things like, what to do next? And what will our roles be after sell? He advised us to make sure that this is what we want to do; there would be no turning back. We had been approached by several companies and private individuals, but our friend helped us find the perfect match. When Foundation Partners came to the table, we found they were a great fit for what we wanted.

What was most important to you when looking for a partner?

STEVE: Early in my career, I spent 16 years working for a large corporation and I wanted something a little different. Foundation Partners is a smaller company, and our interactions with them were more personal and meaningful, which made the transition easier.
NANCI: The most important thing to me was making a smooth transition to a company that would carry on our legacy. We remain active members of our community and conduct many services in our own church. And our high level of preneed sales meant families placed their trust in us. We wanted to make sure that our legacy of good customer service and the ministry of our business would continue.

How was the transition process?

STEVE: For me the transition was exhilarating! We never did this before, and Foundation Partners made our transition from business owners to more active ministers to our community so much easier.
NANCI: The transaction and integration process took a lot of work, but in hindsight it went very smoothly. The Foundation Partners team always treated us with respect and the communication between our broker, Foundation Partners and ourselves was very good throughout the process. Foundation Partners is a very generous company that really recognizes and appreciates its employees.

How has your role changed?

STEVE: The core reason I entered the funeral profession was to help families, but as an owner you have do it all; the day-to-day operations can become overwhelming, and you sometimes forget why you’re there in the first place. This partnership has allowed us to step back from day-to-day operations to focus on serving families and community outreach. And we have more time to spend with our own family. I just love it and now it’s great. It’s been fun telling the transition story to peers and friends in the community.
NANCI: Initially, we were still here full-time and carried on many of our duties. As the business has expanded, I’ve pulled back some to focus on preneed sales. I still meet with families on occasion and assist at funeral services, as needed, but I’ve had more time to mentor the staff and I am confident we have the best people in each job and that they will maintain our high level of customer service, our integrity and our reputation in the community.

What are the benefits of being part of a larger organization?

NANCI: The tech and marketing support we receive from Foundation Partners headquarters has been a huge benefit. As any small business owner knows, marketing your business can mean staying up all night trying to learn about marketing and doing it all yourself; there’s a huge learning curve just to keep up. The support we receive from the home office in marketing, SEO, social media, etc. has been tremendous. And then there’s the accounting support. It’s so great to have taxes and payroll off my plate so I can devote more time to the families we serve.

Q&A with Jim Letson, Beck’s Tribute Center

During a career that spans more than 50 years, Jim Letson has mastered virtually every job the funeral profession has to offer. From apprentice in his future-wife’s family business to funeral director, and location manager to chief operating officer, Jim’s operational, family service and financial management experience make him one of the best in the business. By the time he bought Beck’s Tribute Center in Edmonds, Washington in 2006, he had already been involved in several funeral home transactions. When he took over the reins at Beck’s, he promised himself that when he entered his 70th year, he would get his house in order and execute a solid succession plan. Jim cemented a partnership with Foundation Partners Group in late 2021 and, although he continues to serve as a Beck’s brand ambassador, he now is enjoying retirement.

 What was most important to you when looking for a partner?

First and foremost, I wanted to hand-off something that I was proud of. I made sure my balance sheet was in order, my outstanding obligations were fulfilled, and my facilities were turnkey. I also wanted a firm that would take good care of my people. I was very fortunate to have a great team supporting me and I wanted to secure their future. Finally, I looked for a company that made sense based on their strategic presence in the market.

What impressed you about Foundation Partners Group?

Washington State is a very strong, rapidly evolving cremation market and Foundation Partners has a strong commitment to cremation. The Foundation Partners team embraces innovation and strives to deliver what today’s families value. They are not afraid to be creative and I don’t see other companies doing that. I was extremely impressed with Foundation Partners’ bright and capable people. They are down-to-earth, straight up folks who have their hearts in the right place. I spoke to several former owners and was impressed with what they said about the way Foundation Partners treated their people. It’s comforting to know that my people are in good hands.

How was the integration process?

The sale and integration processes were incredibly easy compared to the sale of my wife’s family business in 1995. It’s really been remarkable to see how technology like Zoom meetings and digital file have streamlined the process of exchanging information and answering questions. But it was their people who really made the integration process go so well. I was very impressed with their approach; they talked with my employees one-on-one and held our hands through the process of change. They were very open about the fact that some weeks would be tough, but they assured my team that we would get through it, and they would be here to help us. And indeed, they did!

What advice would you give to other owners thinking of transitioning their businesses?

I would tell other funeral home owners to keep an open mind to selling to a company like Foundation Partners. Even if they don’t think they are ready to sell tomorrow, they need to begin exploring their options. There’s nothing wrong with reaching out to Foundation Partners to talk. They don’t have to say yes, but they might be surprised how much better their lives could be as part of Foundation Partners or in retirement.

Q & A with John and Jonathan Seitz, Adamson Life Celebration Home, Northern Colorado Crematory, Viegut Funeral Home and Best Friends Pet Crematory

After 20 years as a minister, John Seitz knew what it meant to help families in need. He began his funeral service career on a part-time basis in 2000 and purchased his first funeral home just seven years later, bringing his son Jonathan onboard to help. Since then, they have offered families innovative, customized funeral and memorial experiences, and shaken up the Colorado funeral market. The father-son team joined the Foundation Partners family in June 2021. Jonathan managed the transition, while John was excited to take a step back and enjoy time off.

How did you begin succession planning? 

John: When I turned 68 I knew that I needed to start thinking about it. I had always intended to legally transfer the business to Jonathan, but never considered what it would mean to fully retire, because I always wanted to make myself available to him. My financial planner asked me, “What will it look like when you lock the office door and never look back?” The question stunned me and I began to think a lot more about what retirement meant. I then began to back away slowly as Jonathan became the face of the business. We now meet every day to discuss things, but now all the managers report to him.  While we started succession planning with the goal of Jonathan taking over, we were always open to other options. We’re good friends with Jason Widing, Foundation Partners’ vice president of business development, and he bounced a few ideas off Jonathan. They always joked about selling but then the conversation became more serious. We considered how working with a larger company could help us grow what we started. Ultimately, we decided selling to Foundation Partners was the best way to go. 

Why was it the right time to sell? 

Jonathan: My dad and I started this is a business together. With him slowing down, I wanted other players around me who could provide me the operational support that he had always provided. Selling wasn’t on our radar at all until Jason called me. We trusted him so that made us comfortable. I also thought a lot about where I see myself in the next ten years and what I want to achieve in my career and Foundations Partners would provide me those opportunities.

Why did you ultimately choose Foundation Partners Group? 

John: I’m now 70 and winding down vocationally, however. Jonathan’s engines aren’t slowing down at all. He’s very talented and everybody loves him. At 36, he’s ready to make his mark. Foundation Partners offers him the option of continuing with the company and joining the larger team. Jonathan’s future was pivotal in our decision. Selling took care of my income needs for life and provided a challenge and exciting future for Jonathan. It seemed like a win-win.  We choose Foundation Partners because we share similar values. Jonathan and I are very future focused and always have been. Instead of resisting families’ increasing interest in cremation, we embrace it. We don’t care if people choose cremation or burial, as long as they have a good experience with us. Like Foundation Partners, we have always emphasized the funeral service and the gathering itself to promote comfort and healing. Our mission is to move beyond the status quo of funeral service to reimagine what an end-of-life service could be. We feel like that’s a perfect match with Foundation Partners. 

What does this partnership mean for your team? 

Jonathan: For our staff, this partnership is extremely beneficial. The career advancement opportunities are huge for them. They’ll have opportunities to transfer to other Foundation Partners’ locations to further their careers and have access to more robust benefits. Employees are what make the business go. I’m excited for them to grow with a firm that believes in innovation and changing the industry. 

What does the future look like for you both? 

Jonathan: The partnership provides great opportunities for my career. My dad will still be involved but take on a community-liaison type of role for the brand and step back from daily operations. As he says, “ I’m not retired, but not required.”  

Q&A with Marc & Janice Brusie, Brusie Funeral Homes and Cemeteries

After three generations of funeral home ownership, the Brusies know the importance of planning ahead - especially for the future of their business. Chico, California-based Brusie Funeral Homes and Cemeteries was founded in 1942 by Warren Pope Brusie and his wife, Helen. Their son, Warren Albert Brusie, took over the firm in 1970 and today his son and daughter-in-law, Marc and Janice Brusie, still operate the business. The Brusies joined the Foundation Partners family in November 2020 and have stayed on during the transition. Their top tip for succession planning? Start early.

When did you first hear of Foundation Partners?

Janice: We saw an article online about how Foundation Partners was leaning into the cremation segment, and that really resonated with us. A lot of funeral providers are intimidated by cremation and have shied away from the market, but Foundation Partners knows it is a profitable segment and is making plans to accommodate the growing market. We think that’s really smart.  The funeral profession isn’t particularly known for innovation but, as a family-owned business, we have always tried to keep up with technology. It was refreshing to see how progressive and technologically advanced Foundation Partners is – it made them stand out to us.

What were your options when beginning succession planning?

Marc: We have always known we wanted to sell at some point. We encourage our children to pursue their own paths and find careers that suit them best, and they haven’t shown interest in the funeral industry. We also know that the business our family built has grown to the point where it is a lot of hard work to manage and we didn’t want to put that on their shoulders.

Janice: Exactly. We have a lot of responsibility and it can be stressful. We knew we wanted to sell early so we could take a big step back.

What were your top priorities when looking for a partner? Why did you choose Foundation Partners Group?

Janice: We almost sold a few years back, but the sale fell through. This time, we knew we needed to find a company that would take care of our team, and whose values and mission aligned with our own. Joining Foundation Partners doesn’t feel like getting bought by some big, sterile corporation; instead, we’re partnering with other funeral home owners who come from similar family-owned backgrounds. Everyone we’ve worked with has been familiar with what we are doing and how we operate.

Marc: Yes, it has been really easy to work with the Foundation Partners team. They operate like we do and are conscientious people who care about our team and the families we serve.  It’s refreshing that Foundation Partners is always actively looking for people who share their operational values and principles. It feels like the right match.

What advice would you give other funeral home owners looking to sell their businesses?

Janice: Start early! We are in our early 50s and could continue working well into the future, but we wanted to start the process early and are so grateful we did. If you want to get the best price, you have to prep your business and build value. It took us about three-to-four years to prepare and get our EBITDA up. Just like selling a house, you have to get things in order.

Marc: In terms of preparing the business, we also joined trade organizations to build value and talk to other successful business owners. We visited other cemeteries and funeral homes to see what they were doing operationally. That was three-to-four years before we began our discussions with Foundation Partners, so by the time we were ready to sell; we had a good-looking business.

When you’re ready to sell and trying to find the right partner, make sure to talk to different buyers and make sure it’s a good fit. We liked Foundation Partners right away; it felt different from the other firms we had spoken with. I would recommend visiting facilities run by potential buyers. You can see how they maintain their funeral homes and how much care they put into their locations. It’s such an individual decision but consider your priorities and make sure they align.

What has been the biggest change since partnering with Foundation Partners?

Janice: We absolutely love having HR and Legal departments to lean on. It has made our lives less stressful because we don’t fear the risks as we did before. We now have a team of professionals we can consult to help us make decisions. We don’t have to worry about personal liability and having our livelihood taken from us. It has been a huge stress relief.

Q&A with Alistair and Tommie Kamm, All-States Cremation and All Veterans Funeral & Cremation

Pictured from left to right; Tommie, Diane, and Alistair Kamm.

Like many children of funeral home owners, Alistair “Al”  and Tommie Kamm, grew up around the family business. Their parents, Tom and Diane Kamm, started Denver, Colorado-based All-States Cremation in 1986. In 1989, Tom, a U.S. Airforce veteran, added  All-Veterans Funeral and Cremation, the country’s first funeral and cremation service created exclusively for veterans. His mission? To provide lower cost, simpler services for veterans and their families. Al and Tommie purchased the business from their parents in 2014 and in July of 2019 they joined the Foundation Partners Family.

What was most important to you when looking for a partner? What were your top priorities? 

Al: My top priority was to preserve the brand. I have given my life to building this company. The thought of partnering with an organization that would not preserve that legacy was incredibly disheartening. We refused to consider any firm looking to slap their corporate logo on our facilities or take down our signs. We wanted to fuse with our buyer to create a partnership that would provide us with resources to continue to do what we do best.

Tommie: We met the Foundation Partners leadership team and knew we could trust them. We were impressed with the way they partnered with other brands. I never thought we could sell our business and retain this level of autonomy and independence.

Why did you choose Foundation Partners Group?

Al: I know that every big player out there makes promises about what they’re going to do, but I heard time and time again from former owners that Foundation Partners really delivers on those promises. That was big for me. Foundation Partners buys successful companies not to change them but to give them the additional resources to do what they do best.

Tommie: We didn’t want a public corporation. Foundation Partners is a private company. We wanted a partner who believes in value, low-cost cremation. A company strong enough to go head-to-head against our competitors. Foundation Partners has invested in companies similar to ours; they see the future of this industry.

Has your role in the business changed since partnering with Foundation Partners?

Al: My role has not changed very much at all. I’m working the same number of hours but my level of stress is greatly reduced. I am able to run the company and grow the business knowing that I have resources to back me up, whether it’s legal or marketing. We’re no longer alone in it.

Tommie: I’m doing the same things but I no longer feel the full weight of the business is on our shoulders. The day we sold, my anxiety started to dissolve and morph into a sense of freedom and joy for what we did. I don’t have to have all the answers. There is a Foundation Partners department behind us that has those answers. They are incredibly responsive and really smart.

Q&A with Doug Jennings, Jennings Funeral Home & Crematory and Gulf Coast Cremations

Pictured at a “Welcome to the Foundation Partners Family” dinner are (l-r): Justin Baxley, VP-Business Development; Kimberly Bragg (Licensed Funeral Dir.), Doug Jennings, owner; Sally Jennings, Gulf Coast Cremations; Debra Jennings, owner; Bob Bukala, President & CEO; Dillon Roberts, location leader; David Trivette, Integration & Assimilation Mgr.; Chris Hamiel, Integration & Assimilation Director; Stephanie Jennings, Gulf Coast Cremations.

How is Foundation Partners aligned with the values that drive your business?

Selling a family business like ours is very personal. It’s not like selling tires. Foundation Partners understands that. They value our reputation, our Team Members and our service to the community.  I’ve sold businesses to corporations in the past and that was not the case. Foundation Partners has already begun adding the systems and technology that will make us better and more efficient. I could not have done that on my own.  They also provide my daughters with many more opportunities to grow their funeral service careers, which supports my family values.

What pleased or surprised you most about Foundation Partners?

I am most surprised and pleased with the degree to which the Foundation Partners team has been accessible. I can call anyone, including company President & CEO Bob Bukala, and get through; emails are answered within minutes and we have a Home Office team member sitting in our office to help with integration questions and issues. Everyone has been extremely nice; they are happy to help fix what’s broken and if it’s not, they have a don’t’ fix it attitude. We could not be happier with the transition.

What would your Dad think about the sale?

My Dad has passed on but for several years before he did he would frequently ask me “When are you going to sell?” My wife and I and we’ve seen many changes over the years. I’m 61 now and I don’t want to wait too long to start doing and seeing things that I’ve thought about all my life  -- things that a couple can’t do when they run a 24/7 business. My Dad would say, “It’s about time. Why did you wait so long? Now get to doing stuff.”

If you’re thinking about succession planning, now is the perfect time to arrange a complementary, confidential financial analysis with Foundation Partners. Just call 1-888-788-7526 or fill out the form here.