May 15, 2023

Episode #79: Dave Cox – Meeks Mortuary and Crematory

Dave was born in Muncie, but moved to Oklahoma with his mother in the mid 1970’s, after his parents divorced. He moved back to Muncie my sophomore year of college to attend Ball State, graduating in 1993 with a B.S. in Business Administration.

He then spent 6 years in Retail and Retail Management throughout the Midwest for a Retail Apparel and Footwear company, before moving back to Muncie in 1997 to work for my father at Meeks Mortuary. Dave has been at Meeks Mortuary for over 25 years.

Dave took over as President and CEO in January 2015 when his father retired after 50 years in the funeral industry. The Meeks Mortuary and Crematory was established in 1844, now 179 years old, and the second oldest firm in Indiana. They have been locally owned and operated since their inception. They are founded on a tradition of integrity and fairness, and trust.

Dave has been married for almost 30 years and has 3 children. In his spare time, Dave enjoys cruising in his ’69 Camaro He is a member of Muncie Sunrise Rotary Club and volunteers for many service organizations, and currently serves on the board for Hillcroft Services and Primetrust Credit Union.


hello this is coach Tim Campsall and I’m your host for the self-made as a myth make a difference together show where we are talking with successful business owners to hear their story of building their business and because we know that success in business doesn’t happen alone we’re taking some time to recognize the folks who have helped us along the way I am excited to have a fellow business owner from Indiana with us today my guest can adapt to anyone he meets and make them feel comfortable in the conversation in his downtime he enjoys working in his yard and hanging out with friends and he’s most proud of his three children it’s my pleasure to welcome Dave to the show today hello Dave hi Tim thanks for having me absolutely well hey let’s start with uh having you introduce yourself to the audience and tell us a bit of your personal story like where you were born where you live about your family and your hobbies sure uh born in Muncie Indiana um my parents divorce at an early age uh and about uh seven years of age my mom moved me and my two siblings to out to Oklahoma so I grew up in Oklahoma um and then um went to high school at Oklahoma went my first year to Tulsa University and then transferred to Ball State my sophomore year finished Ball State University with the business administration degree uh moved to Cincinnati started uh in retail for several years got married along that way I moved back to Muncie in 1997 to work for my father I’ve been married almost 30 years and have have three children so very cool um congratulations 30 years that’s awesome thank you um you have uh three kids how old are they yeah youngest is 20. he’s a sophomore of all state and then uh he’s as my son I have two daughters they’re 23 and 27 years of age wonderful and what’s your wife’s name Julie fantastic so is there a funny story that your family likes to tell about you that you’d be willing to share with us today well they’re all pretty embarrassing there’s a lot perfect I would want to share and it was hard to come up with one but I my wife reminded me of one when I was probably nine or ten I was out in the woods way out in the woods with my older brother he was probably 13 at the time and we were messing around and I had to had to go to the restroom and he said well go behind that tree over there so I went around behind the tree and then I didn’t have anything to to use and so uh I asked him to help me find something and he brought me some leaves and uh I used those leaves well unbeknownst to me um I broke out from one end to the other in poison ivy so oh no I’m pretty sure he knew what was Heavy looked like he was a boy scout so he he was pretty mean like


tell us how did the business come about and at what point did you have the confidence that you could run a business yeah um my father uh been in the business for 50 years funeral director for 50 years uh all at Meeks Mortuary here um he always wanted me to come back and work for him in the business but I was busy doing my own thing in retail on uh he would call every once in a while and say you know you can come back and work for me you can do this and and do this and make a good living and I was busy doing my own thing and uh I never really thought about it so um I didn’t grow up in the shadows of the funeral home uh living in Oklahoma and then and then and being in retail for years so things have changed in retail um my wife’s father got sick suddenly and died we were in actually Joplin Missouri at the time I was running a retail store there and so things have changed with that company they they kind of changed their their situation and so I called my father one time and and said you know what do you what do you have in store for me what you know let’s talk and so we started that serious talking process and um so we kind of came to an agreement and so I took a pay cut and uh moved back to Muncie to to work for my dad so um he was I knew going into it he was going to be demanding and difficult to work for and and hard on me especially and so I knew there was no favoritism uh so I started at the bottom like everybody else so um so I spent uh 25 years now in this industry and so um that confidence uh to to run this business my father retired in 2015 so I really had the um you know I really kind of had to sink or swim at that point but after 25 years in the in the business I I pretty much knew every aspect of the funeral industry so I was pretty confident I mean I was a little apprehensive but I knew I could rely on him and and uh and and still still uh you know get his advice on things but uh but it took a little while to gain some confidence so here we are eight years after he’s retired so fantastic so tell us a little bit more about the company um that I you just mentioned the name but say that again for viewers and and what do you guys do how do you help people yeah yeah so we’re uh it’s the Meeks Mortuary and Crematory uh we were started in 1844 so um just as a side note that’s the year Pabst Blue Ribbon beer was created 1844 so I think 42 years older than Coca-Cola there’s lots of History um you know uh notes there but um so um started as a the Meeks family started as a cabinet making and uh a cabinet making and Furniture business and and then the need came about for coffin making and so they got in the coffin making and undertaking uh was the term back in the day and so uh so 179 years later I think we’re the second oldest Funeral Home in the state of Indiana wow yeah so we served several hundred families a year we’re fortunate to do the business that we do and we’re still owned by the Meeks family and myself so very cool great great story wow that’s awesome that it’s uh I love hearing when uh family-owned companies uh continue to be privately owned so that’s awesome thank you uh Dave share a story where someone pushed you or inspired you that you could do it even though maybe you didn’t think you could and the the impact that person had on you yeah uh so back when I was about 40 years of age my stepmother uh came to me and she said you know your father is not comfortable with leaving you this business I wasn’t a licensed funeral director at that time she said you really need to get your funeral director’s license so you know everything about the business and nobody can you know tell you what to do and they can’t hold that over you at the time I was been here several years and and was the business manager and been working 50 hours a week with a full-time family and um so she really really pushed me to go back to school so at age 41 I started back into uh went back to school part-time and then had to go into the mortuary science program full-time so for 20 months I balanced a full-time school and full-time work with a family and all those things so I would come in here early in the morning before I would go to class and then I’d have to serve an internship or a clinical I had a clinical site at another funeral home they wouldn’t let me serve it in in the Meeks Mortuary here which was a good experience so I had to do that uh 10 12 hours a week and then I had to come back to work good visitations at night and be on call and so I had to keep all those duties up because I was in charge of accounts payable and accounts receivable and reconciling the books every every month and those kinds of things so I still had all those duties and and then and then the school requirements and things so finally got through that and uh passed the national board exam which is similar to the the you know the uh the bar exam probably for attorneys uh and then serve the uh or completed my uh state requirements for my degree uh and finally got licensed so most people go right out of high school and then go into the mortuary science program and earn their funeral directors and a bombers license so my story is a little bit a little bit backward that way so fantastic well great great for you for uh juggling all that and and making it work thank you yeah Dave what’s your biggest learning as a business owner

uh there’s a few of them maybe um I would say uh I treat everybody like you you would want to be treated I know it’s an older adage but it rings true for me and for for the funeral business so um um that’s that’s definitely one of the the biggest learnings that I’ve had um also um I think you got to work harder than your competitor which I which I’m pretty sure that I do and you’ve got to invest the time and energy in your business I mean I I don’t have many hobbies and and other interests and things it’s just this is my career and it consumes me and our business is you know 24 7 as you can imagine so we’re always you know I’m always available always on standby always on call so uh you know you’ve really got to invest the time and energy in your company and then with that I think you get you get out of it what you you know what you put into it so I I like what you said about treat others the way they like to be treated I mean your industry’s got to be uh your clients are under a tremendous amount of stress and and anxiety and it’s it’s certainly not a uh a happy time for them so um so yeah you you probably see a ton of emotions that you’ve got to be able to handle exactly so um yeah so I I call it you have to kind of be kind of like a chameleon so we we come in contact with so many different characteristics and personalities you know and then also the family Dynamics you know that uh the the different ways uh the families are made up and the issues that are going on and um you know so you kind of have to adapt to every family and kind of meet them where they are and and see them eye to eye as you can and be empathetic and sympathetic and those kinds of things so um yeah it can be pretty difficult uh but uh it gets pretty tough to do so yeah Dave we know that business success doesn’t happen in isolation so share with us one of your biggest challenges during the years um as an owner and and maybe a fellow business owner that came alongside you and helped you get through that yeah um biggest challenge I would say our our ongoing um biggest challenge really is is profitability and budgeting so because of our because of our business and our industry that’s so uh sporadic and uh it’s hard to gauge you know it’s so up and down uh you know with the with the death rate it’s really hard to uh to budget for those things and uh and to stay uh profitable and and by that meaning um you know people don’t like to hear that we’re for-profit business you know they’re uh people can’t believe what things cost and they’re appalled that you know you you have to ask for payment and those kinds of things but it is a it is a business and the you know in every sense of the word so um also um with that we have uh you know we’re constantly faced with uh with discount cremation firms and and people trying to undercut your price and those kinds of things so and then when you mix in with that um people that are choosing cremation you know basic cremation they’re kind of going away from traditional burials so cremation rate creeps up every year so if you look at the profitability between the traditional burial coal and a cremation you know a cremation call uh there’s a huge gap in that that profit margin so that’s a constant ongoing challenge so so I have uh you know a special study group in place that kind of helps me uh meet Meeks as a member of a an association that’s for uh independently family-owned funeral homes we’ve been a member for 80 years it’s By Invitation Only uh and so it within that Association I’m a member of a special study group so uh we really get uh into confidential financial information that we can bounce ideas and and problems and issues off of each other so so that’s a constant communication with that group and then obviously we have some consultants in our business like most businesses do so we have a consultant on retainer that can help with certain things and then of course the accountants that help with some payroll and taxing things taxes and things like that so yeah fantastic uh if I um I’m going to put you on the spot here a little bit if I asked you to pick three people in your business owner Journey that you’re most grateful for them being there to help contribute to your business growth who are those three people and how they help you yeah other than other than the associates within the business uh you know obviously my father you know spent 50 years here at Meeks 50 years in the business so obviously he’s got a wealth of uh experience and he’s uh he’s built this tradition and continued this tradition and history of the of the mortuary it built he devoted a lot of time and energy as well uh and it’s and it’s you can see um that that paying off and that’s big dividends really to me uh trying to establish myself these last 25 years so and then of course this uh special study group that I’m in again we share uh confident information uh so they they always help me there’s a gentleman within that group that is a huge budget guy so um you know he he’s a numbers guy and so he uh he’s really sharp so I I confide in him quite quite a bit I have for for several years and then obviously obviously my wife um you know this is a tough business to to be in that’s uh just to be a licensed director and but then on the family side of things you know I would hate to look at the divorce rate of Funeral Directors versus the national average but uh it can be very tough on the spouse and has been on my wife you know she she understands it but it still gets frustrating when you know we’re at one of our children’s birthday parties and you know my my phone rings and I have to get up and throw on a suit and run out the door so nothing new that’s just that’s part of the business that’s the nature of the business and um so she’s used to it but it still gets frustrating for her you know don’t they don’t they know you’re on vacation I said well that it doesn’t doesn’t work that way you know God God love her for putting up with me so I know it’s that was perfect for her yes

um let’s talk about the future a little bit here so as you think about the next three to five years what are the biggest challenges that you see that you’re going to face um in achieving the goals that you’ve set for the business and who are the types of people that you’ll need to help you solve those challenges yeah good good question um I think uh the biggest challenge for us is as to finding uh licensed funeral directors and embalmers um you know it’s a it’s in the state of Indiana it’s a dual license so you can direct or embalm uh and then each individual has their preference so there’s some directors that are uh licensed folks that are really good at uh coordinating arrangements and orchestrating and directing and those kinds of things running services and then there’s some that are are really specific with the embalming they they don’t want to do anything but a bomb they don’t want to meet with families so much and things like that and then there are a few that are well-rounded that work both sides of their license and things like that so licensed Funeral Directors in general are difficult to find the good ones are staying put especially since covet it seems like uh you know they’re not bounced around that much anymore and people owners and managers are are um are figuring out that they they their good ones are real hard to find so they’re trying to take care of those with uh with compensation and benefit packages and bonuses and all those kinds of things so it’s hard to kind of Steal somebody from from from another funeral home so and in the mortuary science programs they’re just not the the Stu the populations of the students coming into the programs those numbers are down so you know it’s difficult find somebody who want to you know work weekends and holidays and get up in the middle of the night uh seven days a week you know that kind of thing people just uh you know don’t want to work that hard anymore it seems like so it’s a it’s a it’s a traditional industry and it’s very difficult to find like license people for that so yeah um and then uh secondly uh um controlling expenses and and again like I mentioned profitability it’s getting more and more difficult you know to to make a to make a profit so yeah and there was the second part of that what type of people yeah that you wanted to have so um same people I think have answered you know you’ve got a um surround yourself with with uh with good people and um and and have those uh have those support systems in place you know awesome hey um Jim Rohn uh great authors and and business Guru says uh one of his quotes is that we become the average of the five people that we spend the most time with so Dave as you think about that quote what advice would you have for business owners who are trying to do it on their own for folks who think that um that they don’t need others help or to ask other people for help what would you say to those folks yeah I think you’re only um you’re only good good is the people that uh that you surround yourself with um you know uh don’t don’t try to to reinvent the wheel it’s probably already been done so there’s systems and models out there I think that you can you can mimic or you know morph into your own your own system to help you but um you know obviously it’s the it’s the people that you surround yourself with and so you know I can’t go on every call and I can’t meet with every family I can’t do every embalming so you’ve got to have uh staff in place to do that and you’ve got to trust those uh trust that staff um you know so I don’t know if that answers your question enough yeah absolutely no I appreciate it so Dave sounds like you’ve been blessed with some incredible people uh as part of your your journey who have been there to help you if they were all here on the show today what would you want to say to them yeah um they and I I try to um I try to tell my staff on a daily basis um I try to go out of my way I thank him um I thank them every day that they they leave and and I tried to greet them in the morning uh and and I try to tell them uh constantly uh how much I appreciate I appreciate them and and so they they uh they know that I think and um I try to um go out of my way to to do something if they’ve kind of gone above and beyond and and you know uh exuded extraordinary um you know extra extraordinary service and things I try to uh I try to compensate them a little bit with uh you know a gift card or a bonus or something so um I I try to I try to not take take that for granted uh again I’m only as successful as as my staff and um so um and they can they can make or break you you know right especially a sensitive business like ours right uh that we’re working in so yeah I I try to make it a practice to thank them on it on a daily basis and then that they know I’m accessible uh 24 7. you know I tell them the last thing I say every every day leaving is you know call me call me if you if you need help so yeah I I love your your uh philosophy on taking care of your people and and you know treating them well and and making sure that they know that you appreciate them because at the end of the day you know that’s that’s a core human need right is to be appreciated and and know that that others are are thankful for the contributions that we’re making so I I applaud you for taking that extra time to to make sure your staff knows that thank you thank you congratulations for doing that thank you so much um Dave it’s been a pleasure speaking with you today thank you so much for being on the show yeah absolutely thanks for having me Tim appreciate it to everyone who tuned in thanks for listening to the self-made as a myth show with your host coach Tim cancel be sure to help move us move spread this Movement by liking uh this video and uh sharing it on your social media and to join our movement go to all right folks that’s a wrap make sure to pay it forward and I’ll see you all next time take care bye-bye