The prep room is central to every funeral business with every case being prepared for burial, cremation or transit within its walls. Business owners and managers are tasked with balancing prep room budgets to properly service the needs of the families they serve, while still maintaining high standards and profitability. Did I say profitability? Yes, I believe the prep room can be a source of profitability as the work that is performed there often plays a role in the decision to view or not to view. Often an unpleasant viewing experience will determine future decisions on if the family opts for viewing.
The costs associated with operating a prep-room can add up quickly and easily become an attractive area to target for budgetary reduction. However, it is important to evaluate and build a comprehensive understanding of the trade-offs that accompany any proposed cuts within the prep room. Having worked in various funeral homes during my career I am a firm believer that there are a number of ways to cut cost in a funeral home, but the prep room is not the best place to look as the expense on supplies is so small in comparison to the total cost of the funeral. The average cost spent on supplies to embalm a typical case is only $25.00. Careful thought must be given to matters of cutting costs in the prep room as it will likely bring on hidden costs and frustrations.
People are the most critical investment that a funeral home can make and skilled embalmers are key to the profitability of the prep room. In an industry that touts options and is no stranger to the “good-better-best” methodology, it is imperative to be intellectually honest with ourselves and admit that not all embalmers are equal in technical skill and knowledge.
When in the hiring process for a new staff member, a funeral home must establish what qualities they need verses want. Are you looking for an experienced embalmer or one that fills that role of being on call? What if that embalmer is unwilling to meet the families or take on other roles outside of the prep-room? Is it more important to have excellent communication skills with families even if they only have average skills in the prep room? If hiring a less experienced embalmer, does the manager or another embalmer have a desire and proficiency to teach or are they simply trying to get off call another night? These questions are important to answer.
To put together a great funeral home team, the management must make certain to cover all positions effectively and be just as aware of each team member’s shortcomings as well as their strengths. Getting people into the right positions will make everything go smoother and they will be happier in the roles.
While a top notch embalmer may command a premium salary, their proficiency, knowledge and skills often lead to a costs savings due to a reduction in wasted time, fluid, cosmetics and prep room supplies. A skilled embalmer will tend to do more with less and utilize their knowledge to avoid expensive waste. For example, an embalmer could use an oil-based arterial fluid with an active dye to reduce the need for additional cosmetics. A skilled embalmer will also be able identify problems brought on by the use of inferior fluids, such as color splotching in the skin of the deceased, which would require additional cosmetics and employee time, creating an otherwise unnecessary expense.
We often forget the cost associated with touching up cosmetics and gluing/waxing areas that separate due to harsh fluids without moisturizing additives. Of course you can add humectants to your preferred fluid but that adds cost when many fluid manufactures have built them into their fluids, thus saving you money in the prep room.
The prep room is a revenue source. It provides a funeral home with a unique and invaluable offering that the public has very limited access to. Costco and other big box stores may sell caskets and urns. Memorial folders can also be easily made with little effort and stock purchased from your local office store. However, embalming restorative art, cosmetic airbrushing or simply setting features are services that can only be completed by a skilled practitioner.
It is incumbent on funeral home owners and managers to communicate with their embalmers so that they may successfully work in tandem to maximize the cost of savings and revenue potential available in the prep room. It has been said that, “You sell what you show,” and it could be also be said that you sell only what services you can. As it stands, the prep room remains the only unique source of revenue for a funeral home. We need to continue to protect and take pride in the art of embalming that is unique to our industry.
Lance Ray has been the Executive Vice President and COO of Pierce Chemical since 2014. He is a licensed funeral director / embalmer and graduated from the Dallas Institute of Funeral Service, a Pierce College, in 1994. Prior to joining Pierce, Lance had spent twenty years in funeral service and working as part of the Wilbert Funeral Services organization.