We all have that one friend who is just such a good person – the same person who supports us when we need it most. The same person who motivates us to go above and beyond.
The same person who shows us that it’s okay to be human. And the same person who inspires us to leave a positive impact wherever we go.
If that resonates with you, you’ll want to learn the story of Justin Richardson, licensed funeral director and COO at Family First Funeral Homes and Cremation Care.
Learn how Justin and the entire team at Family First Funeral Homes & Cremation Care are paving the way forward for newer and older generations of funeral directors in the funeral service profession.
Based in Maine, Family First Funeral Homes & Cremation Care oversees seven different locations (plus the crematorium) and the team is looking to grow throughout the Northeast:
Jeff Forsythe, current President of Family First Funeral Homes, originally worked at Lawry Brothers Funeral Home since 1990 and bought the business in 1999. After taking over, he brought Justin onto the team in 2014 with the goal of taking funeral service to the next level. In 2018, Jeff and Justin eventually created Family First Funeral Homes and have expanded since.
Where does that next level in funeral service start for them and their staff?
Well, the answer is a part of their current brand: family first.
Because the team recognizes that everyone has different needs and experiences, Family First Funeral Homes is committed to going above and beyond for every family that they help.
After a few conversations with Justin, you’ll learn quickly that Family First is genuinely committed to putting people first, no matter the circumstance.
Richardson backs this mindset: “If the decisions are made by that [putting families first] whether it’s the bottom or the top, it keeps everything aligned. I need to make sure we’re able to offer families any type of service they would like to honor their loved one.”
Justin Richardson is a first-generation funeral director that has been serving families for over 8 years. Before entering the funeral service industry, he had a strong background in helping people with their physical health. With a background in exercise science and kinesiology, he was a part-owner of multiple gyms, coached high school girls soccer, and worked as a personal trainer.
He also happened to coach Jeff Forsythe’s daughter in soccer. One day, Jeff (also a first-generation funeral director) approached Justin and asked if he wanted to get licensed and join Lawry Brothers as a funeral director and hopefully someday take on the funeral home after Jeff’s retirement.
From there, the rest is history.
Jeff Forsythe was Justin’s first mentor, and he learned everything the same way that Jeff learned. Richardson’s role evolved since – he started with cleaning vans, sweeping parking lots, disinfecting toilets, and performing every task under the sun. Similar to most funeral directors in the profession, he wore many different hats.
Nowadays, Justin wears even more hats. He meets with families when they request it since he’s still licensed, but he’s much more behind-the-scenes and operations-focused.
The Family First Funeral Homes staff is composed of funeral directors, attendants, office managers, and groundskeepers with plenty of experience, spanning from one year to over 30 years. As everyone at Family First will tell you, it truly does take a team to make everything work. But one of the biggest challenges to Family First is finding the next era of funeral directors.
“One of the largest challenges is finding the next era of funeral directors. I think that traditionally funeral homes and funeral service used to be a generational, passed-down type of career. You’re starting to see more and more first-generation funeral directors. I’m one,” Richardson explains.
But in Richardon’s eyes, whether a funeral director is first-generation or fifth-generation, they all bring a new, valuable perspective. As leaders, Jeff and Justin work hard to ensure that their employees are heard and taken care of, and it shows in their quality of service.
Richardson also notes that focusing on specialization can help several different functions within the funeral home space improve: “It becomes a lot of opportunity, meaning that the funeral director role is becoming very different. Before, you had to know X, Y, Z, every step of the way.”
“Now, I think that as you grow and you can put a team together, you can really highlight people’s expertise. You’re going to people that do something very well that traditionally you wouldn’t be able to fill that void because you need them to do everything.”
Family First Funeral Homes also knows how important it is to embrace change and adapt. The industry is constantly changing, and their own staff is a wealth of knowledge. Whenever they bring in someone new, Justin and Jeff tell them that they need to be a sponge because they can always learn.
Richardson notes the value of a new perspective in the funeral service profession: “There’s a lot of opportunity where first-generation funeral directors can help bring funeral service to the next level. They start brand new and can add a lot of life to funeral homes and how funeral services are done because they’re coming with ideas from an outside perspective.
I would like to see more forward-thinking and open-mindedness into how we can serve families. Every time someone loses someone, there needs to be some type of service to help with grieving and help with closure. What that means for some people may not be visiting hours, or church service, or graveside service.”
Another important initiative for Justin and Jeff is to provide a strong work-life balance for their team at Family First Funeral Homes. They stress to their staff that it’s important for them to have a strong home life.
“I may make it home for dinner, I may not. [With my family] We may be grocery shopping together but my phone may ring and I have to leave at that very moment. If you want to see a strong family, look at a funeral director’s significant other and their kids. I want to hire someone, look them in the eye and say that we want to make it a priority that they can make their child’s sporting events. We’ll figure it out and make it happen.”
By putting the proper time and energy into your team by listening to their ideas, embracing change, and taking care of them, you’re only going to make them (and yourself) better.
And the better your funeral home’s team is, the better you’re able to serve the families in your community. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.
More than anything, Family First Funeral Homes wants to continue to create an exceptional, more meaningful experience for the families they serve.
“Funeral professionals across the world – we’re all in this together with one shot when it comes to providing an exceptional service to honor someone’s loved one. Every single time do we try to hit the mark? Absolutely,” Justin highlights.
“Do we always hit it exactly the way we want? No.
But if we just continue as a whole, as family dynamics change, we’re changing with them. And that will help us grow.”
So the golden question is always this: how can funeral directors make the grieving process easier and less stressful for families, and how can they make every family experience special?
That question prompted Justin and Jeff to take a chance on Gather, and they have never looked back.
The entire staff at Family First Funeral Homes recognizes the power of every small interaction with a family, and they also recognize the importance of preserving lasting memories.
“When you’re sitting with a family and see that everyone in that room wishes they had more time with that person. Time is one thing in life that we can’t get back.
You take a person as a whole, and no matter how long or short their life is, there are many different parts and moments that make that person as a whole. When you go to a funeral, you’ve lost someone. But you can leave feeling like you’ve gained more than you’ve lost. Where you’ve lost them physically, but then you’ve gained so much more knowledge of them through other people that have known your loved one.”
That said, Justin understands that technology can help funeral directors and families preserve memories, not diminish them.
Justin notes that Gather has contributed to the success of Family First Funeral Homes.
Since switching to Gather’s case management platform, Justin noted a few particular benefits when it comes to data management:
Justin notes that Gather is not just a vendor or service – Gather is an extension of the entire Family First Funeral Homes team.
Family First Funeral Homes has also been much more efficient with their time since switching to Gather. Instead of spending time chasing down answers, you have the answers to your questions right in front of you in the Gather platform.
Most importantly, Gather empowers Jeff and Justin’s team to provide a better experience for every family that they serve, especially as families become more tech savvy:
As Justin Richardson and Family First Funeral Homes understand, change is inevitable, even in the world of death care. Family preferences and situations will continue to change. More first-generation funeral directors are entering the workforce.
What are you doing to prepare now?
Schedule a demo with our team and learn how you can leverage Gather to streamline funeral arrangements, give your team better tools, create a better family experience, and take your funeral home to the next level.