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Jake recounts when his dad, Tom started Johnson Consulting Group, Jake’s introduction into the company and what he and the team at JCG have grown it into. Jake also shares the background and significance of the firm’s logo.
For more information about the Johnson Consulting Group, check out the website or contact Jake at email@example.com or at 1-888-250-7747.
See the complete transcript here:
Welcome back to the Funeral X Podcast. I’m Robin Heppell and I’m joined with my Funeral Results business partner, Jake Johnson. Hey Jake, are you there?
Hey Rob. Thank you. Yes.
We had a couple of great conversations about working together this past year with Funeral Results Marketing, and then, even our business working relationship, going back over a decade. But today, I think Funeral Results Marketing is just one of the enterprises for the Johnson Group of Businesses that you have. So, but let’s talk about kind of the main one, the one that got you where you are now. And that’s Johnson Consulting. Maybe just share how it started or even what your dad was doing before he started Johnson Consulting and then you joining it and then where you’re today?
It was a fun journey because it was for me as a child because we would move and dad had a new greater opportunity as he elevated his career. We are from Batesville, Indiana. So I think if you come out of Batesville, Indiana, you either make hospital beds. You make caskets and sell them or you work at funeral homes. And so dad actually started with Batesville Caskets, started the national accounts program and then gravitated into the funeral operations side of things. And that eventually led him to being the president of The Pierce Brothers Mortuaries and Cemeteries out in California, which was one of the largest private funeral organizations back in the day in California. And then from there gained the experience on acquisitions and started his own acquisition company in the early ’90s and then was sold in the mid ’90s and he retired.
And with all that, he gained a lot of experience and my father, always just had a large network of people he knows through choosing the right thing, and the right way to handle things above everything else and reputation, and that went a long way for him. And so when it became known that he was retired and playing golf, he started getting calls and people asking him based on his experience of buying and selling or running funeral businesses know any guidance he could give. And as those calls started to grow, he decided maybe one way to slow it down. So get back to golf was start… legitimize it through charging because he wasn’t charging at the time. And that only propagated further phone calls because they saw now that he was in business. And so he incorporated in 2000 Johnson Consulting as a Florida Corporation, which it still is. And then as it continued to grow in 2004, he reached out to me when I was at Palm Mortuaries and Cemeteries, I was running a large funeral home there and then ran all their cemeteries, operations side and was on their executive team.
And so I was getting a lot of boots on the ground experience. Although my prior experience was in mergers and acquisitions and funeral service at Keystone Group Holdings down in Tampa, Florida. So it was a great way to culminate my experiences and come on board, if you will, at definitely the ground level. It was just dad and I working and working out of our homes and I was in Las Vegas and he was in Florida at the time. And dad got the opportunity to buy three funeral homes, one in Gainesville, Indiana, where he is from and still lives and two here in Phoenix, Arizona. And so he made the decision to move out to Arizona. My brother was here and just kind of consolidated the family if you will. And Johnson Consulting had their first office, which was in a small building that I think at the time was held up by the termites in it next to one of our funeral homes.
And we put our signage up and started things out. So it was a great experience to start from there. And since then, it’s always been, it was always centered and continues to be a big part of our business, which is the mergers and acquisitions, helping people sell businesses, helping them buy. In 2007 and eight, we started experiencing large growth and also a large amount of inquiries on where could people who were new business owners to get accounting services. Where could they get coaching and consulting from people that have seasoned veterans that have been through, buying a new funeral business and having to run them. So we started those divisions, accounting and financial management services and then our business consulting services and became very popular early on. And through that process, we were surveying our own funeral homes and then I had the idea that why not blow that out as well and start surveying for our customers.
And so we did that, it was first a mail merge. If you will then move to a database and then onward to an application that we had developed. And so that is now our PTX performance track software that serves well over a hundred thousand families on an annual basis and growing. And that grew to a phase where it’s now J3Tech Solutions. We have this technology company, so a lot of things were occurring. And during that time, I also got the opportunity to acquire one of the funeral businesses that my dad had bought out here, Menke Funeral, home and cremation center out in Sun City. And that’s been a great venture as well as you can imagine. If we can’t run our own funeral home, then we’re not good at what we do, and we do. I Have my home funeral home. I’ve got my manager, there does a great job Kelly and we’ve integrated all our fundamentals at Johnson Consulting into that business. So it’s been a fun journey and it, and it continues
Well, that’s great jake, If you don’t mind, let’s drill down into each of those units inside of Johnson Consulting. So when you started with your dad, you said the main focus was on mergers and acquisitions and then it went into the training, the consulting side of it. Just maybe get a little bit more granular there. How did you make those next steps? And then who did you bring in because you’ve had the knowledge base of industry experts that have worked with Johnson Consulting is amazing. So if you could just kind of maybe walk us through those beginnings there and then kind of who was involved and then how did it go into accounting and what did you do to grow that and who was kind of evolved and then same with performance tracker in the surveys. And, I think that would be interesting for the folks to hear that.
We really had a unique and a fun-filled past really, dad and I. And being involved heavily in analyzing businesses, buy sell and value them. Also had the experience of running high volume businesses, having to make sure we had the metrics we needed to run them, especially when there’re multiple locations and what are those things that we need to see that we can step in, step out, make sure that people have what they need and move on. And so it gave us very… we’re uniquely suited to all those things. Now, as the company continues to grow, our capacity becomes limited. And so you still need to be sure that you are offering these services at an expert level. And so the nice part about this network that dad created, which I was involved in as well, and became more involved in, was that we had the network of people that were experts in those particular areas.
So when it became time to really roll out accounting and financial management, as much as, I was involved in the ideas of what it would look like, how it was set up, we brought in my dad’s former CFO that did exactly that for hundreds of funeral homes. If you were just to point the lens, just at our accounting services, we have all the expertise and more of anybody else that would do something like that. And that’s hard to find because you want to make sure when you hear about a company like Johnson Consulting, we have all these different services. Your first mind thought, or your thought is to say, man, can they do all those different things at a high level? And we can, and anybody would say that, but we back it up with the team that we have that does that kind of stuff.
So accounting, financial management, was a no brainer. My background’s in accounting and finance and so when bringing my dad’s former CFO over that helped design that within my dad’s company, it just took off. And he’s still working within the organization and it does very well. So that was the accounting financial part. And the reporting we do for that.
And the one thing is that we know whatever our expertise was, what was valuable back then may not be today. So it’s not only about applying that expertise but always fine-tuning it and understanding that we always have to be learning. And what’s the latest and greatest. And what I mean by that is, our world back then, it was about getting the data and we were experts, then. Now it’s not only about getting the data, everybody knows how to get the data. Now, it’s how do you interpret that and make that actionable and easy-to-read reporting that you can look at and then move on. And so it’s about more interpreting the data, and I believe that we do a good job of that. So that was the accounting side.
Hey, Jake, with that then, how would, if a funeral home has been looking after their own accounting, they probably don’t have on staff, that CFO level person on staff. So what’s the benefit of a funeral home turning that over to your accounting services?
So the way that we integrated that accounting into the funeral businesses that my dad had acquired, and then at the business, I was at, was that the information is entered into a system. And whether you want to do the arrangement by hand and enter it into the system, or do it into the system while you’re doing the arrangement, but once that’s in the system, that’s where the problems can occur. And what’s the training of getting the data that’s needed in the system. So that certainly first and foremost, the arranger and funeral staff want all the information as relates to what the family needs are. But how are we making sure that data’s getting in there? So accounting-wise, we’re able to track the dollars, track the receivables and review the metrics in those average sales so that we know that we’re tracking.
And the budgeting that goes along with that. So the way it’s helping organizations, like it does for Menke Funeral Home, my funeral home, is they don’t worry about that. They get the data in the system, and then all the listing is on the Johns consulting side. And it’s our task to take that data, make sure it’s reconciling, make sure it’s coming over correctly from the point of sales system or case management system. And then get that information out in a timely manner, meaning on a monthly basis, back to the ownership and offer any suggestions of what we’re seeing. And specifically what we’re putting in there.
Is also what, using my funeral business as an example, how is our payroll expense as a percentage compared to be customer-wide benchmarks within the Johnson Consulting Network and what we see either within other accounting clients, but also business consulting clients and valuation customers. So, you’re getting a snapshot to be able to see not only how you’re performing to your budget, but also how you’re performing to other businesses out there. And it’s just not something that you’re going to get at an affordable level. If you brought it in-house, we offered a very affordable level to funeral businesses to where they focus on what matters, we handle what’s happening behind the scenes so that they can make sure their trajectory is in the direction they want to go.
That’s great. I can see how that could be so, so helpful for a funeral home and especially the benchmarking part because sometimes you just don’t know, and you’re not going to ask someone in your own market, Hey, what’s your percentage for staff wages and things like that?
Well, and I can tell you as an owner, I do not worry about how they’re entering information into the system. I’m not worrying about whether the reconciliations are right, or if there’s somebody that I’ve employed that I got to keep an eye on because I’m not sure if… There are all kinds of funny business that can go on within a small business. And so, with that being outsourced to Johnson Consulting, they are his eyes. And it’s kind of a dual, it’s a dual accountability, which is a nice system to have when you’re talking about your money as a business owner. And that is very important.
Great. Hey Jake, so then what came next? So, we’ve got mergers and acquisitions and the accounting was business consulting side, or what was kind of the next offering that you came up with.
It’s funny how each one just naturally said, well, then we need this because this is necessary. So now you, if you imagine now we’ve got a case management accountability going on, we’re setting up these systems for these people. So they’re not having to set up those case management systems themself, especially with the connectivity of the accounting system on the backend, which is a big ask for a small business owner. And so we’re doing that and then we’re providing these benchmarks and the owners were coming back to us saying, wow, I’m seeing that I’m off in my labor or my advertising’s low compared to what you’re saying. I don’t understand, I always thought that I was doing the right thing and operating at the right level. Can you tell me, what are some things I could do here?
And so we were offering some of that and we had some, again, subject matter experts that were people that were assigned to when a business was acquired to come in and implement systems and then get management set on the right trajectory to run the business successfully. And so it was just natural at that point, we said, Hey, we need to start a business consulting service. We now have the numbers we’re providing benchmark data. These customers want more, they want to be able to talk to somebody. They want to be able to understand how they can create a strategic plan or use these numbers even more to an actual level to where they can increase the value of their business by 15 to 40% or more. So business consulting naturally spawned out of the accounting service. And once again, as much as dad and I, and some team members that were doing other services had that expertise, as we grew and segmented out things, we brought people in like [phonetic 00:16:02], others that and Nelson [phonetic 00:16:05] now. People that that was a full-time job.
And these are absolutely, these guys have pretty much seen it all. There are always new things, So we’re always learning, but we brought them in which, I’ll say, legitimized the fact that we are business consultants because we really are. And so that business consulting service took off. And from that, we started offering strategic planning services, our performance analysis program, where we go in and look at the four areas of the funeral business workplace, marketplace, financial and customer service will grade a funeral home on the levels of their business and offer suggestions for improvement. And all of these things are to make the funeral business owner and the staff’s life easier so they can focus on what matters and that’s taking care of families.
So for us, it’s making sure the process procedure system, communication channels, everything is in place. So it’s easy to get those metrics and move on with your day. We don’t expect our clients to sit there and just sit for hours and hours on end because they can’t with the data we provide, we want to give them actionable, quick to easy read, financial information and our suggestions for our business consulting team and then send them on their way, be there as when they need help and then touch base as an accountability partner through their journey.
Well, and then I think that’s great and you just hinted it – on there on your four pillars with the customer experience for the funeral homes, the client families. How did that start? You alluded to it a little bit earlier of mail-merging, but maybe talk about the beginning of Performance Tracker and where it started and where is it at today?
So when I was at Palm Mortuaries, you came in the office in the morning. Monthly, you would see a report on where everybody stood as far as their customer service levels, along with their receivables in average sales. And it was a very telling report to look at. It was a report that instead of management coming in and saying, Hey, here’s where we’re at and what we need to do. And there’s some there’s value. And times when those appropriate, you had these reports and they really spoke for themselves. They are very actionable. You looked and said, wow, why is my customer service here and they’re there. Wow, look at his or hers it’s low. And so, it was very meaningful and impactful to me. And it was very much part of our program, if you will, at Palm Mortuaries and monitored, as they say, what gets monitored gets done or what gets met measure gets done.
And so it was an important part of Palm Mortuaries, because there were so many moving parts with the amount of families we were handling. And so when I got to Phoenix, the businesses that were acquired there, they had been on a survey program but had stopped and they had their hands full, just retaken over those businesses. So I offered to implement surveys, similar to what I saw at Palm. And as those were being run, we had customers that conversation would come up and they’d say, boy, I’d like to get that going at my firm. So I could stay on top of what my arrangers are doing. As we’re all where you go into the office, the door closes and you don’t know what’s going behind those doors.
You hope the arranger took the training and the conversations you’ve had implements it with the family on what our products and services are and delivering a good customer experience. So doing customer surveys was just natural. So as that continued to grow, we actually brought in an advisory board of our business consultants and outside funeral businesses and said, hey, what is a way to look at this survey differently in the areas of the experience within the funeral business, as first point of contact, the funeral arrangement, during the service, post-service, the facilities themselves, and how do we put that all to a survey that a customer would fill out that really gives us actionable results? And so we came up with a revised survey that had a scoring system we created, which is our overall performance satisfaction score.
We implemented the very popular net promoter score on how full of service was that somebody would actually refer a customer to us and started doing surveying. And it really took off. And so in short order, I’ve reached back to some contacts of mine from college and who had been doing software development and asked them to create a data aggregation and surveying software. And so that was the version one of the performance tracker software that was and is very popular. And that’s now migrated into what we call the PTX software with a new backend platform. Once again, doing, well over a hundred thousand surveys and with the amount of data we’re getting back, I don’t need to ever visit a funeral home. And I can tell you where the poor performers are and who’s exceeding in a high level.
What should the return rate be? What is a standard at minimum overall performance satisfaction score before you know that you’ve got problems? What is an exceeding overall performance satisfaction score? Net Promoter Score is the same. And so that really became a part of the puzzle for the business consultants. If they’re looking at the financial statements, they’re offering their guidance to strategic planning, if you think about it, all this is great. But if it’s not resonating with the customer or they’re having a bad experience, it really doesn’t matter.
And so you have to survey your customers. It is the most valuable and most inexpensive thing you could do at a funeral business to monitor your success. Because the average value of a customer from an equity standpoint is $20,000, plus, depending on the size of the business. And if you’re sure that you’re tracking those customers and when there are issues that you handle it, so they come back and you’re not losing that. And so it’s very important and so naturally it became a very big part of what Johnson Consulting is
Great. Now, Jake, how does that, without going into a specific case study, that would be some of the things that a funeral home owner would realize after they think things are going well, and then they start on the, I think even for both the using the accounting services and then also using performance tracker, what like maybe after a year or so. What is their outcome? And are they able to then, is it uncovering things that they just had no clue of? And they’re able to then act on it, whether it’s financial practices or just tightening things up, and then on the customer satisfaction side, maybe there’s a poor performer and what can they realize by using those services and that turnaround.
The first thing is the benchmarking and understanding where you are compared to others. It’s easy for us to live in a bubble. We’re busy at our funeral business. They’re most funeral homes are small businesses. Let’s not forget that a small business, as much as a large revenue of 2 million is large. It’s still small business. And so, we live in that bubble and what are we doing to identify where our improvements are because we all have problems and we all have improvement possibilities. And the thing that can happen, especially in the funeral service is that it kind of is what it is. You’re not going to influence death. You feel like you’re not going to influence death too much. And you probably aren’t unless as I always say, unless you’re going to poison the water supply or something behind the funeral.
And so what can we do to first of all, maximize the results for our customer first, but also for what is our most valuable asset as a funeral business owner and then how can we grow? It’s interesting, I’m in a funeral business study group and I’ve been present in others where a lot of it is about best practices and what he is seeing in your market. It and looking at each other’s funeral business, which is important in offering suggestions, but I don’t think there’s enough discussion about growth. Because it’s easy to say, well, we can’t influence growth. And I think you can. And those that believe in that vision as well. And let us not forget that success is limited by our vision. Those that look at that vision that way they are growing and we all look them and say, how are they doing that?
And, whether it’s looking inside and saying, we need online cremation arrangement platform that Funeral Results Marketing provides. That was one of the interested in funerals results marketing to me, or effective website, those different doors that the customers can find us, but those things that we do within the funeral business to cause those actions benchmarking in one identifying opportunities for when we see low customer scores of doing further training with the arrangers or making difficult decisions on, on those that maybe aren’t matching the culture and buying into the concept of the new way of thinking for our families. These are things that we need to keep an eye on and the end result is going to be, if you’re doing all this, the end result is going to be a great culture in your organization, high levels of customer service, a great beat on what your financial situation is and a good position in your marketplace.
That’s why we have those four pillars, but as an M and A firm, when we review financial statements of businesses, those that achieve the highest value, not only succeed high in those four pillars, but going to the financial side of things for the moment, you’ve got to have nice, clean, concise, easy to understand financial statements. And if you don’t that really can have an impact on your value.
I do presentations where, in a three to five year period of time, the dynamics of the funeral business changes, even though it feels successful in the organization. And if you were to come to me and ask, what’s been the change in my value over those years? Some of them it’s quite traumatic. Some thankfully it’s a positive. I’d like to say it’s because they hired us and we did all these different things. And so maybe it’s a million dollars, 2 million. But it’s also in reverse. And either your average sales dropping or your case mix is changing, these are all things we’re confronted with, but what are you doing about it? And that’s why all these services are so important.
Exactly. That, they’re not living in that bubble or operating their funeral home in that in a bubble and too, this becomes for a lot of them, this family equity they’ve put together and why not, make it as valuable as possible. Even if it’s succeeding to the next generation. Hey Jake, this has been great. And I think I shared one of the other in our other conversations. When I was down in Phoenix, 2008, 2009 and visited yourself and Bill Bischoff there on the corner of the parking lot there of the funeral home. And then a year ago I was just thinking, oh, it’s going to be, there are a few more people. I see pictures on the website and it’s grown so much and you in those 10, 12 years. It’s amazing and I can see how you’re touching so many funeral homes and cemeteries and helping them provide, and I think, the root of it is just providing better services to more families.
Well, I think there’s a metric that funeral businesses are one of the best at being able to prove out a concept that can survive generations. And there are funeral businesses that are commonly been around for a hundred years. And we’d like to think that it for Johnson Consulting, as much as, really the consulting started before we were incorporated in 2000. It’s 2021 now and the growth that we’ve had and our expectations of doubling from where we’re at now are very real. And I’d like to think that is a case study and saying, look, we’re always in reinvesting in ourselves and looking at companies like Funeral Results Marketing and how that a company like what you do as I, to this profession as technology becomes more and more and more.
And so we’re excited about the future and it’s not Christmas every day as they say, but that’s why we get up in the morning and put together a strategic plan and tackle it together and bring in the right experts so that we can accomplish it. Our company is definitely the size, obviously that I cannot do it all myself. And so we’ve got a great team and always looking for more quite frankly, even when we don’t have the position, it’s always, for any business, it’s good to be looking for the talent that’s out there and how they can help you achieve your goals.
For sure. Well, this is great. We’ll wrap it up here. And then maybe next time we’ll kind of dive into the service offerings of Funeral Results Marketing, and kind of turn the tables there.
That will be awesome.
We’ve done to, not at the same level, but similarly focusing on, especially for the online reputation of funeral homes. And we go about that through the websites and digital marketing services that we offer. So this has been great, and I think it’ll be helpful to just because sometimes… Oh, I almost forgot you need to tell us about the logo, because I had, again, worked with you over a decade ago. I saw the logo. I kind of recognized it. I had no idea the meaning behind it. And only until a year ago that I found and just out of whim, you shared that. So, I think you should let everyone know.
It might seem a little obscure look like two Cs kind of coming together in an odd formation. But what it is, if` you can look at it from a top-down, it’s one person grab the hand or the other, and helping each other along the journey. And that’s exactly what Johnson Consulting’s about, whether it’s internal in our organization or external, it’s about helping each other out. And so we’ve done that in lots of ways. Since Dad and I have been on the funeral service board and other things and donating, we’re hoping to get to a million dollars in donations actually to the funeral service foundation for education and development within funeral service. So it’s very much, logos can just be logos at times, our logo very much personifies who we are and what we do for our customers.
That’s great. And it ties it all together, so it’s just neat. Because before I did, I’m like, what does that stand for?
I get it.
Well, for the folks listening, thanks again for spending your time with us today. Our goal is for us to share our experiences and some of our insights to hopefully help other funeral professionals serve more families and provide those families with more meaningful services. So make sure you check back soon for another episode of the Funeral X Podcast until then this has been Jake Johnson and Rob Heppell.
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