Ron Cook is the President and Owner of Cook Funeral & Cremation Services, Kubiak-Cook Funeral Chapels, and Koops Funeral Chapel. He is also the Owner and Chairman of the Board of Quality Professional Products. I sat down with Ron to talk about how Parting Pro has increased his call volume and multiplied all of his directors' time. Watch or read our conversation below.
Parting Pro: Tell me a little bit about your firm, and how it’s set up, and where you are located?
Ron Cook: We have the Cook Funeral Home, main location is in Grandville, Michigan. We have an alternate location in Byron Center. I also own Kubiak-Cook Funeral Chapels in two adjoining neighborhoods. Koops Funeral Chapel is about 50 miles away from us. So, multi-locations, three specifically different businesses. We serve just over 600 to 650 families this year alone.
Parting Pro: That’s awesome. So with the three different businesses that you have set up, how does Parting Pro fit into your business model?
Ron Cook: It fits into our main brand as a package that we offer, and services primarily our own service area which does run into our other funeral home, Kubiak-Cook just a little bit. We used it as a way to help with phone shopping, and also families that are out of town. So if they’re making arrangements, they’re out of town, and they’re looking for an easy solution – Parting Pro makes it really simple for those folks. Primarily, it’s helping with folks focused on cost, to be able to use our CookCremation.com as a package that allows another offering that we didn’t have before.
Parting Pro: I love what you said about it really helping people out of town or on the go. It’s so true that as a director, I know that you get that first call and you begin procedure and they say, “Well I can’t come in for another 4-5 days because I’m out of town on business.” You’re kind of just going, “Agh!” Everything just stops. I figure that Parting Pro’s been a solution for you there.
Ron Cook: We’ve actually handled three services for folks where all of their related next of kin lived in other states. Their only daughter was in Alaska, and a couple older ones were spread all over the country. You know the difference between trying to manage it with one group, or five across the country. It can be complicated. But we sent the link, and it was done within a day!
Parting Pro: That is awesome, a single day to make arrangements. Wow! I love hearing that. Tell me about how you heard about Parting Pro, and then what drew you into Parting Pro?
Ron Cook: Their Facebook ad kept popping up. The old guy smiling in bed – and a couple of different ones just caught my attention. I think it took me a week to finally click on it. We were looking anyway, I had been in conversation with a couple of other companies and we had basically gotten to the point where we were going to do an online cremation offering, and just weren’t sure which platform to use to do so.
What put us over the edge was the CRM capability of Parting Pro. The follow up that is automatic for the Shoppers, and so on. I thought that was an excellent part of it that we didn’t have, and are hoping to utilize more completely in our traditional business beyond our cremation arrangements.
Parting Pro: Nice. I like that part of it, and just the capabilities that it gives you as a director to almost multiple yourself, right? You can really do a lot of multitasking that maybe you couldn’t do before quite so efficiently.
Ron Cook: Yeah. I think one of the other things for me was how smart their development team is. We were pretty specific in what we were asking for as we got on board, and really pressed them for a few things that I don’t think they were planning on doing at the beginning. As we started talking with them about why it was important for us, they got right on board. It was amazing how quickly they made the changes, and I think a great example of that is the digital identification was a huge part of our decision not to get into this package until that was really in order. They came to the table.
Parting Pro: Nice. Is that a feature that you are able to use then, at your business?
Ron Cook: Probably 90% of the cases, they choose the digital identification. We require identification every time, no matter whether it’s in person or digital. That was the reason why it was so important for us to have that digital ID. We’ve been utilizing it every week.
Parting Pro: What has the family response been to the digital ID?
Ron Cook: Because we did it in our initial set of documents that they get, after they select the purchase, we have a digital ID document in there that explains what they’re going to do and what they selected in the services that they’ve chosen to have it that way. It’s very clear and concise to people what to expect. If they don’t feel that way, and they feel like they want to make a change, they can easily go back or make a phone call to adjust it and do an in-person identification.
Obviously there is a cost that goes along with it. Our response has been positive, or no response. We haven’t had anybody call back and say, “I can’t believe I did this! I can’t believe you did this!” They knew what they were getting when they made the purchase.
Parting Pro: That’s awesome. I love that you really set the tone for it by including it in your initial conversation about your offerings and your paperwork. I think that’s a wonderful strategy to use with the families any time you’re setting them up for something that might be a little new or a little different. Being transparent with them is really the way to be sensitive about it, I applaud you on that.
Ron Cook: Yeah, I think the transparency is one of the foundations that we wanted to start this work with. That’s why we put our name on the package. We saw so many of our competitors in the area starting an off brand that was generic in nature, and we decided that if we were going to get into the online cremation arrangement business, that we needed to be doing it in a way that we were proud of. If we weren’t proud of it enough to put our name on it, then it wasn’t really something that we should do in the first place. So we developed our route through it, before we found Parting Pro. Then we adapted them and us into a fit that we’re really happy with, and it’s working.
Parting Pro: That’s wonderful. Since you alluded to it working for you – do you have any idea of an example of maybe a metric that you can offer, or some kind of number that you could give us to let us know it’s been impacting the number of families you’ve served, or maybe the revenue that you’re bringing in?
Ron Cook: Sure. I’d say it’s been threefold for us. First and foremost, it has improved our overall call volume – both online direct cremation arrangements, and our general call volume has seen an increase this year. I think that’s because we’re advertising pretty heavily. We have billboards saying CookCremation.com and the prices. With that, people are looking at our firm in a way going, “Oh, maybe that place isn’t as expensive as I thought.”
If they haven’t considered us in the past for full service because they were apprehensive about the price, they realize that maybe there is a way in that is less expensive. And, just top of mind advertising has been a benefit to us. We definitely have served families that we did not serve in the past. If we served 30 families with this specific package since March, I’d say I don’t think 25 of them would have chosen our firm other than this package.
Five of them, I sincerely think we would have served them in a more full service capacity and it was really a loss for us. But it was a valuable loss at the beginning of our operation to figure out how to do it. We had to talk with people about what they wanted, and help them find our online offering even though we were almost not knowing we offered it in the first place.
Parting Pro: There is that transitional time. But I think at Parting Pro, what we’re trying to do is at least encourage directors and owners and location managers to be willing to begin that transition. Even if it is a little questionable at first, it’s a change that’s happening across our industry, across the country, and everywhere else. Maybe taking a little bit of time at the beginning, like what you’re talking about. Maybe where you have a few families that you feel you could have served differently – it’s a valuable learning curve to have to then gain the reward of those other families and that other whole market share that you didn’t have before.
Ron Cook: For sure. That’s absolutely true. I don’t think we’ve recouped our cost of doing business at this point, having served 30 families. But we’re not far away from it. If you had any other business venture or new offering in your business that recouped its total cost to your business within the first year, I think anyone would be happy with that. I think we’ll have done that in probably 6-8 months.
Parting Pro: That’s incredible to hear. Absolutely, I think anybody who is in business understands that it takes time to develop and mature anything that you introduce that’s new and really revolutionary in a way.
Ron Cook: Yeah, one of the things for us is that there were already competitors in the marketplace that had been advertising and been doing online arrangements. But they weren’t really doing them online. I felt like that was also different for us – I didn’t want to be telling people that if they call “this phone number,” they would get “this price” or if they called “that phone number,” they got “that price,” but really get the same thing.
If someone calls our Cook funeral home and wants to come in and have a meeting and do the traditional set up of making plans, they’re going to get the price on our price list for what they want. If they make online arrangements and bare the weight of doing their own arrangements, then they’re going to get that price because they’re getting a different experience. I think that clarity for us, to be able to truly offer something unique from one to the other, was a differentiation for us and our marketplace as well. Some of our competitors were not doing it that way.
Parting Pro: Yeah, I’ve seen a little bit just in my own research – businesses offer “online cremation” but what it really is, is a website with a phone number that you call and you just make arrangements there. I’m like, I’m not quite seeing how that’s online cremation. Also, I like what you said about if people come in, they have one experience and if they make online arrangements and if they make online arrangements, they have another experience.
That’s so important for directors to recognize that you have those options still. Just because you offer online arrangements doesn’t necessarily mean it’s your exclusive offer and that you can’t do it any other way. I think that’s the hesitation we run into. Could you speak a little bit more to that?
Ron Cook: I think one of the most clear answers to that question of, “are people going to only do it online? Am I going to lose business in my traditional funeral home setting?” We’ve already gained business in our traditional setting. The only thing that has changed is this offering, and our advertising that only advertises for this product. We’ve seen that change, and we’ve seen an increase, not a decrease.
I’ve talked to a number of other funeral home owners who have done the same. I think I can totally understand the apprehension. My Grandfather was not excited about me doing this in the beginning. My Dad had much more buy in, but also didn’t have the risk involved because he’s not involved in the business anymore. We’ve done it in a way that our whole staff has been a part of making the decision. They’ve interviewed companies along with me, they’ve helped me think through the process of figuring out what we wanted our specific offering to be and how it would be carried out.
It wasn’t a decision that I made, it was a decision that we all came to. It’s been definitely supported. You mentioned about multiplying a directors time – it’s multiplying all of our director’s times. They are all carrying the weight. There are seven other people here who meet families and make arrangements and do all these things. They are all participating in the online offering, along with their traditional work. It’s been something that they’ve all been able to handle well.
Parting Pro: I love your approach to things, where you’re considering multiple generations of families input. I can relate to what that really means, and what that feels like. It’s a unique perspective to have for sure, and especially involving your whole staff in the decision. I think that empowers staff, and I think it really shows them that you’re investing in the future of this business and you’re investing in their time at work, and their time away from work to be able to do these things right from their smart phones.
Ron Cook: Yeah, the funeral directors that are willing to engage their staff in the process of this will find that their team has the caliber of people that are looking at the future. They’re going to be wanting this, they’re going to see through the process that it is valuable for your company and the marketplace has changed for funeral services. Every area of purchasing that you do in your whole life – think about what Amazon has done to the marketplace and other examples like Uber - it’s here. It’s not a question of “if.” So we’re starting to engage with it. You just have to be paying attention to the changes.
Parting Pro: Absolutely, I couldn’t agree with you more. When you recognized that there is a need for your families, when there is a want and an obvious preference for the families that you serve – to have an online offering and online presence that’s more than just a website, I think that’s where my opinion really changed. I realized that this is how people consume now. This is how people shop now. Funeral service is no different. So, really looking to what your families are needing now – my hat’s off to you. I completely applaud your approach, that’s awesome.
Ron Cook: The starting point for why we decided to do this was the fact that we knew when we looked around our neighborhoods, seeing houses that other funeral homes came to receive people from, that should have chosen us. They drive by us every day, they trust us, they would openly say “The Cook’s are great!” Why didn’t they choose us? “They didn’t offer what we wanted at the time.”
The idea of, if I went back 50 or 60 years to when my Grandpa started the business, their whole idea was that they would be the community’s funeral home. No matter the socioeconomic status, no matter the religion, we were here for the whole community. We had gotten away from that. So if we want to get back to that, we have to have an offering for every socioeconomic status, and we already serve folks of all phases very well. I think we have that part of it under our belt. But I don’t want to see my neighbor across the street going somewhere else because they don’t think that we offer what they want when they’re our neighbor. That’s what we’re here for.
Parting Pro: That’s so wonderful. Even expanding on that, you have to recognize that not only is there a different socioeconomic class, but maybe there is an online community. I’m with you, my great grandparents started a business and of course at that time, there was no online or internet. But the reality is that a lot of people exist in virtual communities and virtual networks. As a funeral director, you have to think about that neighborhood too, right?
Ron Cook: Right. That’s where that person is most comfortable making decisions and finding what they want. That’s a great point.
Parting Pro: What do you think is your favorite feature about Parting Pro?
Ron Cook: The digital ID. It makes the difference for us to be able to do this in a way that we think is covering our liability. It’s set up well where it’s reasonable for the families experience, and it achieves its goal. I think that’s a differentiating factor. We would have picked Parting Pro anyway and found a way around it if it wasn’t included, but I am so glad that they incorporated it in a way that is really user friendly for our staff and the clients.
Parting Pro: Wonderful, thank you.