An article excerpt from Funeral Service Insider (www.funeralserviceinsider.com).
Batesville did not have to look very far to find the right person to become its president in September 2015: Chris Trainor was up to the task.
In fact, Trainor, formerly Batesville’s senior vice president, chief financial officer and chief administrative officer, had already been serving as president for several months, having been appointed to the position in an interim role in April after Kim Ryan, Batesville’s previous president, became interim president of Coperion, which designs machines and plants for the plastics, chemical, food and aluminum industries and is also owned by Hillenbrand (the parent company of Batesville). After a comprehensive search, Ryan became Coperion’s permanent president, paving the way for Trainor’s appointment as president of Batesville to become official.
Trainor, who spent much of his career at Kraft Foods, has always been a numbers guy, and everything added up when he was offered the chance to join Batesville several years ago – a company that he says is like a family. He looks at Batesville’s customers in much the same way.
“At the end of the day, we are nothing without our customers,” Trainor says. “As a public company, we have financial targets and business goals to meet, but we can only succeed when our customers are successful. I believe the most important thing we can do today is to partner with funeral directors to understand their needs and concerns and help them build a plan for the future.”
That doesn’t happen in a vacuum: It’s a dynamic process that involves listening to the challenges that funeral professionals face, investing in new solutions and sharing insights as a result of experience and research, Trainor says.
To learn more about Trainor and the challenges he’s focused on helping funeral professionals overcome, we conducted the following interview by email.
When you joined Batesville about six years ago, did you already have an inkling that you might one day become its president … or was this an unexpected opportunity?
The past six years at Batesville have been the most rewarding of my professional career. I had some really amazing experiences during my 17 years with Kraft Foods that prepared me to take a financial leadership role. After being part of such a large organization, my goal was to become the chief financial officer of a smaller company. When I came to Batesville and met the leadership team, I knew right away that this was where I was meant to be.
People in the industry know Batesville is a great company, but for me it was more than that. I was immediately attracted to the people, their integrity and commitment to a common purpose. Batesville has a tremendous culture of getting the best out of people, and helping them fulfill their potential. It’s been a privilege to have the opportunity to continue to grow here, and to follow in the footsteps of outstanding leaders like Ken Camp, Joe Raver and Kim Ryan…
Since you joined Batesville a few years ago, has there been anything about funeral service – be it an emerging trend or something else – that has surprised you?
Without a doubt, the people in this industry are the thing that has impressed me the most. In all of my experiences, I’ve never met such wonderful people who choose to take care of families, and who invest so much of themselves and expect nothing in return. Getting out and interacting with funeral professionals is one of the perks of my job.
Coming from a country (England) where cremation has been the dominant disposition for decades, I was surprised that there are still so many funeral directors who view cremation as something that they do not want to deal with. In England, cremation doesn’t translate into ‘no service.’ When my father passed away 15 years ago, we had an open coffin, with a family gathering and a service.
However, as a former CFO, I understand that the severity of the revenue gap between burial and cremation has a lot to do with people’s attitudes. And this is an area where Batesville continues to make significant investments – to improve product and service frequency and create a “new normal.”
How are you helping funeral homes get better at capitalizing on the increasing preference for cremation?
Cremation has been growing at a predictable rate over the past several decades, and now represents close to 50 percent of the average funeral home’s business. The economic impact alone is significant, but there are also attitudinal differences, product and service implications and pricing strategies that need to be considered more closely. We are continuing to make changes in products to meet the preferences of today’s cremation families with new offerings, value-added features and new materials. But as a trusted partner to funeral homes, our primary focus is on making the investments – in research, training, tools and merchandising solutions – to be able to help our customers optimize every cremation (and burial) opportunity.
What is the number one challenge you face at Batesville?
The dynamic of operating with flat to slightly declining demand for caskets is the biggest challenge we face. Every point of cremation growth means there are fewer burial caskets needed, which impacts manufacturing, operations and most importantly, revenue.
The need for funeral products and services will increase as the baby boomers reach their life expectancy, but as an industry, if we don’t address the product and service gaps in cremation, funeral homes will have more business, but will have to work even harder to make a profit.
At Batesville, our challenges are not much different than those our customers face – high fixed costs in manufacturing and distribution, increasing labor and health care expenses, and lower demand for our core products. But this shift did not occur overnight. We have a long-term strategy and a plan for the future that allows us to adapt to the changes so we can support our customers on their journey.
What can Batesville do better for its customers?
We recognize that there are significant challenges in our industry that will require continued adaptation and attention and are committed to being a trusted resource for our customers. One of the most valuable things one person can do for another – a spouse, a colleague or a customer – is to listen to what they have to say, and to hear what is important to them.
As I look forward into 2016, we will continue to listen and learn from our customers so we can be an even better partner.