Top Workplaces 2022: Schoedinger Funeral Home on what once was, what's to come

Jess Deyo
Columbus CEO
Carley Gueli, Kevin Schoedinger, Barry Griffith and Randy Schoedinger photographed in the downtown Schoedinger's Funeral Home.

Randy Schoedinger, CEO of Schoedinger Funeral Home and Cremation Service, is willing to let us in on an unusual secret: There’s actually quite a bit of laughter in the funeral industry.

There’s a time and place, of course, but the moments he and his associates can share a laugh often serve as a bit of relief from the other experiences they share: caring for those who have passed, crafting a tribute and helping strangers grieve during what is often one of the worst days of their lives.

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As somber as it is, those who choose to work in the business of death look forward to the moments they can provide even a little bit of relief to the surviving, Randy says.

“The type of people that are called to this profession come because they want to help,” he says. “They aren’t doing it for money, fame or glory, they’re doing it because they feel a calling.”

Cabinets to caskets

Philip Schoedinger poses outside his new undertaking establishment at 17 W. State St. in this photo taken in about 1872.

A helping hand is exactly how Schoedinger Funeral home began and how it’s survived 166 years. It was 1829 when founder Philip Schoedinger emigrated from Germany to Columbus. A craftsman by trade, he established a cabinet-making company.

The population of Columbus was small at the time, so when a community member died, it was standard to ask Philip to make the casket, and he did. As the population grew, he dedicated his work full-time to casket making and founded the new business in 1855. In 1865, he established Schoedinger & Brown on West State Street.

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Philip’s two sons would also join the business, and in a few years they would establish a new chapel at 229 E. State St., which still stands today. Schoedinger Funeral Home became the first in central Ohio to offer an automobile hearse, guarantee advance funeral arrangements and offer air-conditioning during a service.

Schoedinger Funeral Home, family photos, from old newspaper clippings. A hearse.

Over a century later the business is maintained by Philip’s great, great, great, great grandkids. Now in its sixth generation, it’s led by Randy Schoedinger, who started at the business when he was 16 by driving and washing cars. In 1994, after college and a brief stint working with Huntington Bank, he joined the business full-time and was promoted to CEO in 2008.

Randy’s cousins, Michael and Kevin, serve the business as co-presidents. There are12 Schoedinger funeral home locations including two value-oriented locations, Heart and Hope by Schoedinger, and Buckeye Cremation by Schoedinger, which offers only cremation.

There are 160 associates at the funeral home, and while the business has grown out of being a family affair, each associate is greeted with open arms.

Welcome to the Schoedinger family

Barry Griffith, who joined the business almost four decades ago, took that culture into mind when he accepted an offer in 1986 to be a funeral director.

“I had some friends that went to Schoedinger [funeral home] directly out of school,” Griffith says. “A year into my apprenticeship I received a phone call from Schoedinger saying they had some positions open. I immediately hopped on board—the reputation of Schoedinger has always been a standard of excellence.”

And Griffith came in hot—he didn’t only want to be a funeral director, he wanted to be in leadership. By 1994 he had been promoted to manager of the Karl Road location by former president Jay Schoedinger, father to Randy, but that was only a stepping stone.

“Jay came up to me and said, ‘Barry, I’d like to congratulate you. You’ve been a great leader and I want to acknowledge your moving into this position—you’ve finally made it,’” Griffith says. “I said, ‘Jay, I beg to differ with you. I appreciate what you’re saying, but I think I’ve got more room to grow’ …he said, ‘Barry, that’s an awesome goal. I hope you attain that.’”

Griffith continued to climb, and in 2017 he was promoted to chief operating officer, the second non-family member to achieve a C-suite role, with the help of endless support from the family, he says.

“One of their best traits is the respect that they show to the associates and the talents that each associate brings,” Griffith says. ”The Schoedingers have always been able to recognize what those talents are that each individual brings, and get them to the right seat on the bus.”

Schoedinger Funeral Home and Cremation Service ranked as a top company to work at, according to employees, as part of Columbus CEO's 2022 Top Workplaces program.

Those moments, which have added up over the years, and the uplifting culture are why Randy believes Schoedinger funeral home receives recognition. And it’s the same culture that he believes carried his team as COVID jolted the industry.

Funeral homes, the unspoken frontline

And like everybody else, nobody could have seen it coming.

“It all happened so quickly. You’re watching basketball and next thing you know, the tournaments are canceled, the Arnold’s canceled,” Randy says. “At that point you’re thinking if some of the things you’re reading out there happen and we’ve got half of our people sick and even more people needing services, how can we handle that?”

While death is inevitable and was heightened during the pandemic, the funeral business was still hurting. In 2020, as in-person gatherings were put on pause and services ceased, Schoedinger Funeral Home’s revenue was around 30 percent lower between August to October of that year, Kevin says.

Obtaining Paycheck Protection Program loans was critical, Randy says. And despite a loss of services, the funeral home offered additional compensation for employees who were now flexing their roles to meet new needs.

“People keep saying, ‘Your business is immune because people always need your services,’” Randy says. “And they do, but they need it at different levels. They’re not renting our buildings or operating our vehicles or buying flowers or having catered events, so we were really struggling.”

But a loss of services didn’t mean less deaths—by December 2020, Ohio COVID-19 deaths surpassed 8,000, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

The same month, the funeral home served 80 percent more families than its previous record month and the momentum continued through the beginning of 2021, Kevin says.

In the months that followed, business remained increased but bearable, and things began to look up. But with the surge of the Omicron variant toward the end of 2021, optimism diminished. More associates were falling ill and the sense of defeat grew.

January 2022 marked the second busiest month for Schoedinger Funeral Home in its 166-year history. For the sake of others, Kevin daydreamed of a day when business was slow.

“This most recent spike was really hard and I would love to never have to go through that again,” he says. “We’d be more than happy to wait and not have to serve all these families right now.”

Now, the funeral home is about 10 to 14 percent busier on aggregate, Kevin says. And he’d like to think that they are as prepared as possible for any future spikes. New protocols are in place, and it became a point to advocate for clinical help, for both employees and families.

Selling Schoedinger Funeral Home

As the COVID chapter hopefully ends, Schoedinger Funeral Home also started another—the one in which they sold.

In December 2021 the family announced that they sold the business to Houston-based Service Corporation International, the nation’s largest operator of funeral homes, ending its reign as a private, family-owned company.

Service Corp. was founded in 1962 and has ties to 44 states and nearly 2,000 facilities.

The decision was made with growth in mind. As times change, expectations for funeral services change too, which brings the need for more facilities, and nicer ones at that. The sale details that the buyer will be putting money toward maintaining the Schoedinger reputation, Randy says. Financial terms were not disclosed.

“I say there are two reasons businesses decide to sell,” he says. “They sell their business because they have to, or they sell the business because it’s the right thing. And when we looked at this, we looked at, okay, what’s the best thing for the next 50 years, the next 100 years for central Ohio.”

Thoughts of selling were brought about less than a year ago, at which point Randy began researching options. He handpicked Service Corp. and led the sale negotiations, then presented it to his cousins, who supported the choice.

While there are seventh generation Schoedingers, it’s unclear whether any will get in the business.

Nothing obvious at the funeral home will change, Kevin says. The biggest change will be increased pay for employees, more time off, better benefits and new technology—all things they have always hoped to offer.

“We’re still staying in the business, our name is still on the building, that’s never going to change,” he says. “When someone I know has a death, they’re still going to call me and I’m still going to take care of them… [the sale] provides us more stability and a stronger foundation to continue serving the community for another 166 years.”

Jay, 81, the oldest living family member who has been part of the business, has also shown support for the decision. Now, the Schoedinger legacy can continue for decades, he says.

“They did a great job of continuing what my father and my grandfather and all our ancestors before us established in the community,” he says. “Words can’t express how proud you really are for something like that.”

jdeyo@dispatch.com

@DeyoJessica

Schoedinger Funeral Home and Cremation Service 

schoedinger.com

Location: 12 facilities across central Ohio

Business: Offers funeral and cremation services, advanced funeral planning and pet cremation services.

CEO: Randy Schoedinger 

Employees: 160

Revenue: Would not disclose.