Marketing can mean a lot of different things to different Independents, and Jardine Funeral Directors in Dumfries has its own unique business approach, including running a crematorium. Ruth Jardine explains how access to a natural setting helped ensure families were given the service they wanted, how traditional and digital marketing have gone hand in hand, and what the future looks like under at-need and pre-need regulation.
Malcolm Flanders [00:00:04] Thank you for joining the Partnership Podcast. I'm always struck by the variety of independent funeral directors up and down the UK, and this week's guest is a prime example of that. Jardine Funeral Directors is a sixth generation family business, which has been serving the people of Dumfries since the 1860s. Like many of you, it merges that tradition with modernity. In Jardine's case that takes many forms; the business owns its own crematorium, has been involved the Scottish Government's work, and is also known for being at the forefront of marketing innovation. So today I'll be speaking to Ruth Jardine, business manager and part of that sixth generation.
Malcolm Flanders [00:00:48] So Ruth, lovely to see you today. How are you?
Ruth Jardine [00:00:51] I'm very well, thank you, and thank you for inviting me to be part of this, Malcolm.
Malcolm Flanders [00:00:56] It's an absolute pleasure. So I've been looking forward to this conversation because I have heard quite a bit of what you've been doing down in Dumfries. So, look, I mentioned marketing in my introduction, and that can mean different things to different funeral directors. So could you talk a little about Jardine's approach to marketing and what you care about as a business?
Ruth Jardine [00:01:16] Well, for me, all marketing starts from our core values and what we care about as a business. Our unique selling point is part of our strapline; "Our family caring for your family since 1862." Being a sixth generation family business, this is something that corporate funeral companies cannot do. They cannot claim this.
Ruth Jardine [00:01:44] So all our marketing centers from that, we care about people, we care about families, and we hold affordability at the core. And we are transparent. We are open with all our marketing. We regularly have open days to showcase our business and for people to ask questions.
Ruth Jardine [00:02:04] Marketing is always kept specifically to our area. In a rural area, relationships with other funeral directors, to me, are crucial. So we never encroach on our neighboring patches of funeral directors. In the pandemic, marketing was done, I would say tastefully, if that's the correct terminology. As you know, marketing is planned in often months in advance. I mean, that very same week that Boris announced we were going into lockdown, I was due to go into a shopping center with a stand, promoting prepaid plans.
Malcolm Flanders [00:02:41] Right.
Ruth Jardine [00:02:41] We had to withdraw. It just didn't make sense. But in terms of marketing, let me just share pre-pandemic, the types of things that we would be involved in. Leaflet drops, Facebook, regular posts there. We've done a session on a billboard recently, radio advertising, newspaper advertising, helping in the local community and just helping people, more to see that funeral directors are very much part of the community, we're recognised as that. As I say, the open days to me are crucial because it invites people in, it lets them see what we are about.
Ruth Jardine [00:03:25] And the value of that and what's been said about that has been tremendous. People have written letters to say how important that was, and how surprised they were by just the absolute immaculate facilities that we have. It also gave funeral directors the opportunity to talk about the work that they do. And they found that very humbling, actually.
Malcolm Flanders [00:03:50] Thank you. Now, we recently heard from G. Wathall in Derby about how they changed their approach in the face of the pandemic. Would you say that's had a big impact for you, too? And how has your own work flexed in the last 12 months or so?
Ruth Jardine [00:04:05] Yes, it has had a big impact, specifically due to the restrictions, we couldn't give the same face to face approach that is instilled in our business ethos. That handshake when we're meeting somebody, that sit and have a cup of tea, have a chat in a relaxed environment. But that doesn't mean that clients by any means have been shortchanged. They have been given the same high level of care to the deceased. And what we have done is we've embraced modern technology. So arrangements are conducted through Microsoft Teams, FaceTime, over the phone. I know myself, as part of my role, I'm a funeral celebrant, I've conducted interviews outside, particularly in that lovely weather that we had at the start of the pandemic there.
Ruth Jardine [00:04:54] There have also been other initiatives that we've tried to do. We try to look at the situation and almost create innovation. One thing that funeral directors will be aware of, is that in the Scottish tradition, cords are very much a part of burial. And unfortunately, that was something that they said that's not possible, due to the distancing. So, in several occasions what we did was, we did provide cords, but not in the traditional way, not attached to the coffin, laid at the grave side, and when the coffin was lowered by the funeral team, the close, family members were still invited to come forward, to pick up a cord and place it in the grave.
Malcolm Flanders [00:05:39] Yeah, that's lovely.
Ruth Jardine [00:05:41] My other role is crematorium manager, at Roucan Loch Crematorium and Woodland Burial Site, which is an innovation that my husband created back in 2005. Roucan Loch is set in 70 acres of beautiful landscape. We have a huge loch right in front of the chapel building. What we did at the very, very start of the pandemic, in fact, before Boris announced the lockdown and the research was showing that the virus was more prevalent inside. So we thought, OK, we can go outside and we're in a very fortunate position that at Roucan Loch, we have a beautiful porte-cochere area right at the front of the chapel. And in inclement weather, the service could be conducted under the porte-cochere, or in many cases was conducted right beside the loch edge.
Ruth Jardine [00:06:41] Certainly all of the people who I personally conducted funerals for said they wouldn't of wanted it any other way. I'll just share specific quotations with you. "My dad, sisters, and I would like to thank you, Ruth, for the ceremony that you gave to say goodbye to our mum last Tuesday. It was just perfect, beautiful, special, so peaceful. What had originally seemed really difficult, not being able to have the usual funeral turned out to be far more meaningful and significant for us. In retrospect, we wouldn't have wanted it any other way. The audio recording we made was also wonderful. The bird noises and the sounds of fountains in the loch are present throughout. Very special."
Malcolm Flanders [00:07:32] That's lovely, isn't it?
Ruth Jardine [00:07:32] It is. And another one, again, just stating that, "we didn't know what to expect under the circumstances, under the restrictions, but very beautiful, intimate service." We've looked to try and make things different for people to give them what they need. And another initiative, which I know many other funeral directors have done as well, is supporting sharing the cortege route. And I think as we move forward, that is something that should continue.
Malcolm Flanders [00:08:04] Yeah, I was going to make that point, actually, it sounds like some of the sort of modifications to the service you've made, you've discovered that families actually really appreciated and some of these changes may actually remain long after the pandemic is gone?
Ruth Jardine [00:08:21] Absolutely. And in my experience, and I must state it is my experience, and my husband as well, taking numerous, hundreds of services during this period between us, all of our clients, not 95%, all of our clients are saying, "this, to us was perfect because it gave us the opportunity not to have prying eyes watching us grieve." It was a private experience, and they didn't feel that they were under, maybe, pressure to invite other people to attend with a formal notice in a newspaper. It was something very personal to them.
Malcolm Flanders [00:08:58] I have picked that, actually, up from other funeral directors, is that intimacy has been appreciated throughout. Excellent. Let's just focus a bit more on the digital marketing specifically, which you've referenced already. What is it about the likes of Facebook campaigns specifically that you think has been worthwhile? And how are they working for you as a business?
Ruth Jardine [00:09:19] So Facebook campaigns, I feel, are great because they can be tailored to target a specific demographic within the funeral director's local area. For us, we have had a great response to Facebook campaigns. I'll give you some statistics. We did a recent leaflet drop in the month of February and we dropped within a specific postcode. And tailored to that, was a Facebook campaign. In that one campaign, maybe just over a week to two weeks, we had 100 inquiries. Twenty six of them were from Facebook. So to me, Facebook works hand in hand with the other aspects of what we do as a business.
Ruth Jardine [00:10:11] People can engage with the post. They can ask questions. They get a very fast response as well. It also worked well around the Christmas time period. Almost too well, in fact, when we were part of the 'Light a Candle' campaign, which again provided a vehicle for bereved people to share their thoughts and have a candle placed on the page.
Ruth Jardine [00:10:37] So I feel it is of great value, but it has to be used sensitively. We've been running this maybe for, it'll be over a year now, possibly a year and a half. And I felt that I needed to get a total understanding on how it worked, before maybe I delegated it to somebody else. And one thing that I feel is really important about Facebook is that we do not bombard people continuously.
Malcolm Flanders [00:11:06] Thank you. Can you just talk us through little bit more about how you've made sure the customer journey, through this period, has lived up to your normal sort of brand values that you like to deliver?
Ruth Jardine [00:11:19] Yes, I mean, we have offered a variety of ways, arrangements, for example, using a vehicle that the client is comfortable with. So whether that be with Microsoft Teams, FaceTime, Zoom, or if they're not comfortable with that, the good old fashioned phone call. But what's really interesting is that during this period, we've possibly had even more contact with families than we would normally have done. And we feel that that is something that we've looked at, and thought, "how can we take that forward when this period is over?".
Ruth Jardine [00:11:56] I think as well, the good customer journey that, as I was describing, is that very personal, intimate funeral, for that 20 people who don't have to hide their grief from the onlookers. And what we have offered during this period, is we purchased something called a GoPro camera. We've been recording services and they get that given on a USB pen stick afterwards. So if they want that, the service is there. At Christmas time, we prerecorded the service and we put it on Facebook.
Malcolm Flanders [00:12:33] No, it's interesting. And I particularly liked the way you positioned the choice. It's nice that you actually offered your families the one they were most comfortable with, rather than insisting they use one particular platform.
Ruth Jardine [00:12:49] Yes. And I think as well, all of us come from a different place, don't we, with social media or with technology? You're talking to somebody who two years ago didn't even have an iPhone. I've taken this on board. And what I've done is I've then shared that with our team. So, that's a very positive experience that's come out of it.
Malcolm Flanders [00:13:10] Yes, it is, isn't it? Thank you Ruth. Ok, look, we can't end without talking a little bit about regulation. Given how both pre-need and at need, you know, regulation is coming to a head right now, you're no stranger to working with the government, how do you see the next few months and beyond?
Ruth Jardine [00:13:29] Well, for me, inspection, licensing are both positive steps, because for the bonafied funeral directors, there is no need to be fearful of this. It safeguards the profession. It stops those coming on board who perhaps don't operate with the utmost integrity and professional values. We have actually an ideal opportunity for the government to recognize that funeral directors are actually a vital part of society.
Ruth Jardine [00:14:00] We wouldn't have coped. The UK would not have coped in this pandemic without its funeral directors, who, let's remember at the start, weren't always valued. Think back to March, April, May last year. The lack of PPE. They weren't even on the list of key workers. Recently, vaccination status. We've had to fight all of the way for these things. And these people have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic, some of whom are a one person funeral director. They're working round the clock. They are exhausted.
Ruth Jardine [00:14:35] One of our team went through a very close bereavement during the time, but yet they're expected to come out like a boxer and fight back every single day. And I just hope that, as I say, that this is an opportunity for the funeral directors to be recognized for who they are and the positive benefits that they provide to their community. So I think it's a positive step. Regulation is a positive step.
Ruth Jardine [00:15:04] I do have one fear and that's relating specifically to pricing. Although I see that pricing is really important in the sense that we are transparent about what we do, and estimates are transparent and there's nothing hidden. Each funeral director is different. Their premises are different. The facilities are different. The staff that they have are different. Their overheads are different. If a client is offered a price from one funeral director, is what they're getting the same product?
Ruth Jardine [00:15:38] It's about making funerals become more transparent in talking about what we would expect from a funeral, and how would the public know what that should include? How would they know that some funeral directors still don't have refrigeration? But hopefully things will become clearer, particularly with Bert Swanson on board now to guide us.
Malcolm Flanders [00:16:01] OK, Ruth, thank you. Well, I have no doubt after listening to you that you put the customer and the family at the heart of your business. So I am sure you will cope with regulation in any formal format as it comes along. Ruth, thank you for your time today. Very much appreciated.
Ruth Jardine [00:16:16] You're very welcome.
Malcolm Flanders [00:16:22] Thank you for listening to another Partnership Podcast. As Suzanne outlines in this month's SAIFInside, the next few months will leave a lasting impact on the funeral profession. So we'll continue to bring you interviews with people at the fore of the changing face of funerals. You can get every podcast episode on goldencharter.buzzsprout.com, or on a multitude of podcast apps. And you can reach me on firstname.lastname@example.org, if you have any questions or would like to get involved. Until next time, stay safe and I'll talk to you again on the Partnership Podcast.