Foundation Partners Group: Collaborating to celebrate life

written by Business View Magazine March 30, 2015

Foundation Partners Group reinvents the funeral experience.

Foundation Partners Group is a leading provider of end-of-life transition services via a network of 39 funeral homes and six cemeteries that are owned and operated across 13 states.

The Orlando, Fla.-based company was founded in 2010 and is a portfolio property of Chicago investment Sterling Partners, but its executive leadership goes beyond business acumen to marry the best aspects of conventional end-of-life care with new ideas and technologies that enable families to plan, prepare, acknowledge and share the purpose of a life.
The formation of the entity in its current form stretches back to a pair of related business transactions – the first coming when Service Corporation International acquired Keystone North America, and the second when it completed the deal by divesting 25 funeral homes and four cemeteries.

The existing Foundation Partners Group (FPG) sprang from that divestiture, and, with the backing of Sterling Partners in 2012, sought to make a fundamental change toward management personnel less beholden to traditional industry practices and more toward creating memorable experiences.

That decision led to the arrival of Brad Rex, who took over as president/CEO and immediately went about incorporating the expertise he’d gained at the world’s experience capital – Disney.

“With my customer-centric background, it was ‘What are we not providing to our customers today, and how can we fill that gap?’” Rex said. “So we went out, we looked at all the things that need to happen after a death occurs, and there were over 35 things – frankly, you could come up with 50 or even 100 things if you worked at it a little bit – and what we found is that the typical funeral home only provided about a third of those items.

“To us, the huge opportunity was to really reinvent the entire funeral experience, do it from a customer-centered orientation and then really to tell people’s life story and do it in a very creative and unique way that no one else out there was doing.”

Rex said the company’s research indicated that 70 percent of Baby Boomers – typically referring to those born from 1946 to 1964 – want a different funeral experience than their parents had, but 99 percent of funeral homes only perform traditional services. Seeing this, he gravitated toward ways in which an “analog” experience could be transformed into “the Facebook age.”

His agenda items ranged from progressing from the corkboard means of displaying photos of a departed loved one to a modern digital presentation, as well as eschewing the perfunctory one-off nature of contact with the funeral home to a prolonged follow-up “Cycle of Care.”

“Typically, it’s a very generic service,” Rex said.

“We’ve all been to these funerals and they’re all the same, we wanted it to be more personal. Typically, it’s a depressing, sad event, we wanted it to be much more of an upbeat, celebratory event. There’s no technology (at most), we use a lot of technology. It’s usually based around merchandise – what kind of casket do you get, what kind of urn – and we’re saying it should be around the experience. Today, quite frankly, it’s a stalling business.

“And we believe there’s opportunity be a thriving business.”

Chief among the resulting methods is ShareLife, a process that recreates special stories of loved ones using sight, scent and sound. Funeral guests gather in a room devoted exclusively to a single ceremony and use a large projection screen to display images or scenes to recreate best memories. Music, sound effects and scents can be also added to further personalize the funeral setting.
Other related initiatives include Honoring Life, an offering of tribute videos, personalized printed keepsakes and memorial websites; Settings With Significance, scattering cremated remains in a ceremony and presenting a certificate with the exact coordinates of the remains; Designing Your Funeral, discussing steps that’ll determine how a life is celebrated and deciding the best way to lay the loved one to rest; and Memorial Property, presentation of options including ground burial, cremation, traditional mausoleums and private family mausoleums.

A family website is also in the works to accommodate families whose members are scattered across the county. When a death occurs, a link is sent to impacted family members who are then able to start gathering information and stories, browse available services and preparing for the ceremony.

The changes have been implemented selectively, he said, to “tremendous uptake.”

“When I came in, we said ‘Let’s show everybody what our vision is and create a video that outlines that,’” Rex said. “So we put one together about six months after I joined, and it shows people how we’re a little different than what they might see elsewhere.”

More modern, user-friendly location websites have been created across the network thanks to a partnership with funeralOne – whose services include website design, personal funeral service consulting and funeral tribute video software. The updated sites include live chat options and Google facility tours, and a renewed marketing push with Coming of Age has been directed toward female Baby Boomers, whom Rex said typically make more than 70 percent of funeral-related decisions.

All the messaging, he said, was part of a coordinated plan, rather than a piecemeal approach.

“In the funeral industry, they don’t think about how you coordinate,” Rex said. “We do digital advertising, traditional advertising, print, radio and then also community outreach. We do a massive amount of community outreach in our local communities. Most of our locations will host five or 10 events a year, and typically with pretty large populations that come.

“For the last two years, we’ve really been working this out, getting it in place and seeing what the response has been. It’s been very favorable, so we feel very good rolling this out across our network and doing it in many more locations. The results are customer satisfaction which results in growth opportunities.”

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AT A GLANCE

WHO: Foundation Partners Group
WHAT:
Provider of end-of-life transition services as owner/operator of 40 funeral homes and six cemeteries in 13 states
WHERE:
Corporate headquarters in Orlando, Fla.
WEBSITE: www.FoundationPartners.com

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