Ignite Your Business® Podcast: Mike Schoedinger talks Company Culture

This blog is compiled from the Ignite Your Business™ Podcast in which GREENCREST CEO and Chief Strategy Officer Kelly Borth interviewed Mike Schoedinger, president, Schoedinger Funeral and Cremation Service, about the importance of team culture to a company’s success.

Kelly Borth: On this Ignite Your Business® Podcast, we’re talking about “Why Culture is Important to a Business,” and we’re talking with Mike Schoedinger, president of Schoedinger Funeral and Cremation Service and advisory board member for the Conway Center for Family Business.

Kelly Borth: How long has your family business been in operation and what generation of family ownership do you represent?

Michael Schoedinger: Well, my great, great, great grandpa came here from Germany in the early 1800’s and started a cabinet making/wood craftsman business, and in 1855 the community had a death. This was a population of about 6,000 people — and he was asked to stop making a cabinet and make a coffin. He just started making more and then he became the undertaker. That’s what they were called back in 1855. Six generations later, my dad, my uncle, my brother, my cousin and I own and operate 15 locations around central Ohio. We’ve been in business 160-some years.

Kelly Borth: Wow! That’s amazing. Is there a next generation being groomed to carry on?

Michael Schoedinger: Well, I’m the oldest and my seventh-generation kids are both in college. One wants to be a teacher and one wants to be an architect engineer. So, you don’t know. But I went to college pre-med and was going to be a physician, and here I am. My cousin has three girls who are all in high school and middle school. And then my brother has a five-, three- and a one-year-old, so…

Kelly Borth: Does your company culture help employees deliver the customer experience you want to be known for?

Michael Schoedinger: We have values that go back generations. We’re old-fashioned and have “take-care-of-people” values. We relate our values to our staff when they are hired during our orientation program. We value integrity. We value tradition. We value trust. Our slogan for 100-plus years has been “worthy of your trust” because we’re in a trusting business. When we bring people on board, we teach them about the heritage and legacy of our business. We teach them that the customer is our priority.

Kelly Borth: What role has the company culture played in the business longevity?

Michael Schoedinger: Well, culture is a really important thing for us because we do deal with a lot of negative energy and negative emotions. We need to be able to release when we’re not being funeral directors, and so it’s got to be a fun place to work. Our company is big enough that we’re able to provide a great work environment compared to what other smaller funeral homes do. They are on call all the time. We have 40 licensed funeral directors, so you only need to be on call once a month instead of every other night, and you don’t have to work every weekend like everybody else does because we have the ability to let you have time off. Because of our size, there are different layers of management. Most people have a direct supervisor who’s not a Schoedinger, and hopefully they are sharing our values and continue the culture that we’ve had for years which is why I feel we have very little turnover.

Kelly Borth: How has culture increased employee loyalty at Schoedinger Funeral and Cremation Service? Does it help to attract and maintain talent? Does it help with employee longevity?

Michael Schoedinger: I do believe culture plays a major part of how we get good people. I think when kids are coming out of mortuary school, which is where we hire most of our licensed apprentices, they are looking for pay, but they’re looking for a good job and obviously they’d love to get both. They’d like to go to a place that’s going to develop them. Grow them — and they’re going to enjoy going to work and not get up and go, “Shoot. I got another 10-hour day ahead of me. I can’t wait for this to end.”  I love getting up and going. I can’t wait to get started and I think most of our people feel that way because that’s part of our culture and who we are. So, I do believe our staff is our most important asset.

Kelly Borth: With multiple locations throughout the Columbus region, how does Schoedinger Funeral and Cremation Service maintain consistency in its service level for all its customers?

Michael Schoedinger: We’re a hands-on service business. We have the ability to team up our veterans with new people. We have outside consultants that help us with just delivering top-notch service. Every month, we are training people how to be better listeners, how to build trust with a total stranger who’s very sad and maybe very defensive with walls up. Over three or four days, you’re with his family. You’re building a connection. You are lowering their walls so they’re not as defensive. You are building trust. You are making suggestions to them that they think, oh, that was a good idea. And then you do little surprises. And at the end, when you’re at the cemetery and the service is over, you don’t want a handshake saying, “Thank you, Mr. Schoedinger. You did a great job.” You want a hug. And I think we do a great job of getting hugs

Kelly Borth: Can you give us an example of Schoedinger Funeral and Cremation Service’s team-based culture? How do you measure it?

Michael Schoedinger: Well, I don’t know how you measure culture other than just how it feels. I guess the only empirical data you could use would be turnover and we don’t have very much. We have a lot of associates who have been with us over 25 years, over 30. I mean we’ve got a couple over 38 and 40 years.

Kelly Borth: What does the organization do to internally promote culture? Do you have any tips for our listeners?

Michael Schoedinger: Well, I think what we do to try and promote a great culture is to hire well. We do cross training because we’re a big organization. Your onboarding can be several weeks to six months for our apprentices. A very well-rounded orientation program is, I think, very important. And it takes time. We all want that new associate to start running on day one, but it’s just not practical. And if you don’t do it right, they might leave. Turnovers are a costly item to a company not just in time, but also in money. We have a big wellness initiative at our company now. It’s been fun because we’re doing yoga and nutrition classes together. A year or two ago we were named the healthiest employer in Columbus. The wellness initiative has been really a great thing to bring our team together and create a unique culture that I think a lot of businesses don’t have.