Written by: Brianna Price
For a business that you may think primarily deals with death, I can tell you that this business is actually full of life. For 85 years, Ott-Laughlin Funeral Home has been in the business of making arrangements for people who have passed away and assisting their loved ones in the next chapter of life.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Eddie Allen, recently retired Funeral Director at Ott-Laughlin, to speak with him about the business and its long-time success. Ott-Laughlin is one of the only continuous businesses in the City of Winter Haven, as it was founded in 1933 by Powell Ott and Victor Laughlin. It operates today in the same location that it was originally founded, as well at Ott-Laughlin Funeral Home at Glen Abbey Memorial Gardens on K-Ville in Auburndale.
With a business that has been operating for so long, I was curious how the industry has transformed since the beginning. Eddie started by explaining that the methods of the industry have changed, but not the mission. Their mission will always be to help people on the worst day of their life. While keeping with this mission, they have adapted to the other changes of the industry with determination and dedication.
“The cost for the complete funeral in those days was $110. Funerals were also more of a ritual and were almost always associated with a church,” Eddie shared. Many people assume that the funeral business hasn’t changed, but Ott-Laughlin has seen the evolution from the front seat. Back when Eddie started working in the funeral home in 1985, cremation wasn’t a typical service and funerals weren’t much of a celebration either.
“Millennials aren’t interested in the traditional way of mourning a death. They would rather remember the life. Now, it’s more about a life celebrated.” Eddie explained that cremation and the new views on funeral ceremonies have been the biggest changes to the industry. With these new changes, Ott-Laughlin now offers banquet style funerals with catering by Terrie Lobb, special dinners, cremation and funerals without the body present. Some families don’t even use the sanctuary that’s available in the funeral home. “You have to keep up with the times or you will become a ‘Blockbuster’ business.”
Adapting to change is a large part of any successful business, but so is being involved in the community around you. “Back when Mr. Ott was still around, he was the go-to man for all things related to the funeral business. Winter Haven really supported this business and respected who Mr. Ott was in this industry.” Part of this was due to his honest reputation in the community, as well as his knowledge and experience.
Mr. Ott didn’t just stay inside the four walls of the funeral home. He was a former Winter Haven Mayor, a City councilman and was also the President of the Rotary Club in 1952. Sixty years later, Eddie became the 90th President of the same Rotary Club. Ever since Mr. Ott was involved in Rotary, their funeral home has had at least one person involved in the Rotary Club every year. This is just one way that the team at Ott-Laughlin have immersed themselves in the Winter Haven community and it has contributed to their success as a business.
Creating a business that has lasted for almost 90 years is no small task. Eddie says that the only way a business will withstand the test of time, is if the people running it are dedicated and passionate about what they do. “Take the time to find what you love and stick with it.” Mr. Ott instilled this in his team from the beginning and Eddie as carried that motto through the entire business. Having a passion for the business helps his team in assisting grieving families through, not only the grieving process, but also the healing process. Without passion behind the mission, they wouldn’t be able to provide top notch care for every person who comes to their funeral home.
A good business model isn’t the only key ingredient in creating a business that leaves a lasting legacy on its community. It also includes adaptation, passion and a focus on relationship building. Many people would think that the funeral business is the “end of the line” for most families who come to use its services, but Eddie and his team have been providing services that will only help families in a new beginning.
About Legacy Business Series
This new blog series will highlight our local Legacy Businesses. These businesses have been actively involved in Winter Haven for many years, dedicating their time and services to our community. What's the secret to the long-time success of a business? Read these article to learn more about what it takes to be a Legacy Business.