IN FOCUS: Small Business – Joining hands

Posted on Mar 4, 2013 :: Small Business Spotlight
Sharon Verbeten
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Bob Walczak, left, of Proko-Wall Funeral Home in Green Bay and Joe Schinkten of Ryan Funeral Home in De Pere represent two of the 11 funeral homes in Green Bay as part of the Good Mourning Network.

Green Bay funeral homes collaborate to market their industry

Collaboration may happen a lot in business, but rarely among competitors. But in tough economic times, a handful of Green Bay funeral homes are teaming up to get the public thinking, and talking, about death.

“We’re promoting an opportunity to a fast-paced society,” says Joe Schinkten, funeral director/owner of Ryan Funeral Home in De Pere. “We’ve got a great story to tell – we just need a way to tell it.”

To that end, Ryan and 10 other Green Bay funeral homes have contributed time, ideas and money to launch the Good Mourning Network, a locally produced marketing campaign with one key idea at its core: “It’s time to rethink funerals.”

Drive down any of the main roads in Green Bay, and you may have seen looming billboards with that phrase – or one of several others – touting the value of not having a “cookie cutter funeral.” But just what prompted such collaboration?

The players in the Green Bay funeral industry, it seems, never really considered themselves competitors. Longtime funeral director Schinkten said funeral directors in Brown County have long been friends, even having formed the Greater Green Bay Funeral Directors Association.

“All these years, we have helped each other,” Schinkten says. “Really in the funeral market, that’s unheard of.

“We don’t have competitors; we have colleagues. We know that we’re the anomaly.”

In the last few years, there has been a marked national increase in cremations, which has greatly impacted the funeral industry with more families choosing to dispense with funeral services.

In light of that, some of the funeral homes had approached Arketype, a marketing firm in Green Bay, about doing some advertising to change the way the public considered death and pre-planning funerals.

Ross Mollet, associate creative director at Arketype, offered a novel idea. “‘What if you guys pooled some resources? What if we created a brand?’ Almost everything we shared, they really liked.”

Enter the Good Mourning Network, a branding of the 11 funeral homes whose collective message and “call to action” is the message promoted by its URL – www.rethinkfunerals.com.

“It’s about the message,” adds Bob Walczak, second-generation funeral director at Proko-Wall Funeral Home in Green Bay.

The collaboration provides equity among the group. Each funeral home pays a prorated share of the cost of the campaign based on the number of licensed funeral directors at their venue. They all fall under the Good Mourning Network umbrella and use the same advertising materials and website. That’s especially helpful for some of the smaller firms that might otherwise be unable to afford such marketing.

All the funeral homes in the network are locally owned – an important distinction to many in the funeral industry, which in the past decades has seen consolidators buy out small business owners. The only funeral home in Green Bay which is not in the Good Mourning Network is Newcomer Funeral Home, formerly Schauer and Schumacher, in downtown Green Bay. (Newcomer, headquartered in Topeka, Kan., owns 40 funeral homes in nine states.) The firm is dedicated to bringing “substantially lower cost alternatives” in funerals.

With one of the Network’s billboards touting, “Don’t settle for a franchise funeral,” it might appear they are targeting Newcomer, which owner Ren Newcomer believes is true.

“Their message is clearly to compete with us,” says Newcomer, who adds, however, “I’m not concerned about it whatsoever.

“I think it’s a very clever approach,” he says. Still, he says he doesn’t understand the benefit promised to families by the campaign, other than getting families to think and talk about death and funerals. “I think that is a laudable concept,” he says.

For Schinkten, Walczak and the other funeral directors in the network, that is their main goal – even if it doesn’t necessarily translate to immediate dollars.

“It’s very difficult to quantify (the results),” says Schinkten, who says they will use Google analytics to track visits to their Web site. “We realize that all the money we’re spending will not get us one more funeral.

“We’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do.”