By Leader Editor Kara Apel
Throughout his years in the industry, Paul St. Pierre has become well versed in the art of managing multiple brands.
His family owns and operates several funeral home locations now under the St. Pierre Family Funeral umbrella, including Wilson St. Pierre Franklin Township Chapel, Wilson St. Pierre Greenwood Chapel, Porter & St. Pierre North Salem, Porter & St. Pierre Jamestown, Condo & St. Pierre, Wilson St. Pierre Lahm Chapel, Walker Cottage Family Center, and Brown-Butz-Diedring. The firm recently launched a new website to roll out their branding strategy.
St. Pierre said one lesson he’s learned along the way is that to succeed you always need to pay attention and over-learn – even the most basic information. That strategy has served St. Pierre well.
“You have to strategize the contents and know your costs versus what you are offering. You also have to know how to offer additional services or your brand will die,” he said. “If you don’t create it, someone else will. You have to know your main brand first inside and out.”
St. Pierre said he grew tired of watching the bottom percent of their market using other funeral homes and knew he needed to come up with a solution.
“We just kept losing some business. We knew we could do what these lower-cost brands do better and with more professionalism than others with less experience. For us, it was easier to do it too because we already knew how to do it,” he said.
However, when you are operating multiple brands and businesses, it’s important to be able to explain to both your families and employees what the differences are.
“We let them know that Brand A will be the finest facilities, with a community center and an on-site crematory, and a member of our family will be available to assist. Brand B is only available Monday through Friday but available on weekend for a small additional fee. They aren’t looking for the country club service. Brand C is online-only,” he said. “They certainly don’t ask about multiple brands in the same conversation – they don’t know we own Brand B and Brand C. If they’re calling about Brand A, we’re not going to sell them on that.”
For St. Pierre, teaching his staff about how to deal with price shoppers was also key.
“If they want Brand A, we would rather discount it a bit and keep them there than hit the Brand B button. But the Brand B button is there: We don’t want to lose them to anyone,” he said.
Learning how to use the phone to your advantage also matters. St. Pierre said the best way to deliver high-quality service over the phone is to take calls in a private area and to give the caller 100% of your attention. You also need to be intentional about how you’re responding to the caller, being careful to explain the value in the services that your firm offers.
“The key is knowing your customer – if they have no money, we know we have the right offering for them. We don’t want that family to go into debt to offer a service. There is a fine line,” St. Pierre said. “You can have a very expensive funeral, but maybe a discount of some sort for carrying their loved one in a hearse. It’s working with them and listening to their needs. We have to be better listeners.”
For other industry professionals who are interested in expanding their offerings, St. Pierre has this advice.
“Staff is certainly key but bring something new to the table. Renovations are good, but services that will be low cost and add value will show differentiation and improvement in those communities,” he said.
St. Pierre makes a point of meeting with at least three families every month, accompanied by a younger funeral director. Not only does this make these families feel special and that their needs are being addressed; it is also a good training experience for younger funeral directors.
“There are some young funeral directors that are very good at sales, but they’re still learning. They need experience; they need exposure. They need to see application. I try to create a breeding ground for interns. Having a younger funeral director sitting with me is great for our directors and our staff,” he said.
Managing staff members at multiple locations was difficult in the beginning, but St. Pierre said he’s been able to build a great team that communicates well.
“Getting them together was the beginning but working together like they do is the key to our success. They communicate and they have each other’s back,” he said.
It’s remained crucial to St. Pierre to create and maintain an engaging culture for all employees, and he even includes staff members on the strategic level. His team shares a chart that outlines their strategic brands to gain ideas for additional upgrades. St. Pierre said that being engaged in the process keeps his team motivated – and happy.