Every once in while someone comes along and changes a business in such a way that it seems obvious when looking back on it. That someone is Paul Haarer, President and CEO of Pinnacle Funeral Service in Atlanta.
Haarer takes a down-to-earth, homespun view of the funeral business and primarily connects with independent operators who are leaders in their community.
“It’s not an accident, it’s essentially a talent search that reinforces what great companies have done for years: pull out the stops on behalf of their customers,” he said.
According to Haarer, the independent funeral homes often have the right touch with their communities — knowledge, experience and a history of belonging. They’re involved and there’s immense value in being able to tap those intangibles and execute in ways families deeply appreciate.
With Haarer’s leadership, Pinnacle has recognized this niche and cultivated its strengths, whereas large funeral home providers, entities that take a more corporate, top-down approach, often miss out. Independent funeral homes excel in a number of areas and it’s important to recognize this. This is why three large groups chose to join Pinnacle in 2017.
At the same time, as different generations age and require services, there’s growing agreement that the funeral business needs to be nimble and willing to adjust to new ways of doing business and shifts in culture or values.
“Different eras seem to demand different arrangements, and our role isn’t one of judgment. It’s one of accommodation.” Haarer said. “We want to give people a memorable experience that’s meaningful and fitting even as those definitions change over time.”
One of the ways Pinnacle has managed this is with stylish, contemporary updates to select funeral homes that make attendees rethink their ideas of space and comfort while grieving.
“Pop culture has seared a view into our minds of emotional drama, fear, and darkness,” Haarer offered. “This doesn’t hold true in practice, and we’re introducing choices – actually, customers are asking for changes — that better reflect how we live and think today.”
Managing this way looks quite different, too, Haarer insists. “It’s a conversation that begins and ends with the support of each location, reinforcing what they do best. It’s local, it’s personal. Considerations are weighed against other options and ideas, but in most cases the experts on the ground make the call on behalf of families they’re serving.”
For Haarer and his intimate team at Pinnacle, the challenge and success come from finding great people.
“Good people supporting good people. Caring people, dedicated people. It’s a self-fulfilling loop that gives Pinnacle members and their customers an undeniable advantage,” Haarer said. “That part of what we do doesn’t require re-inventing. It’s there from the beginning.”