In their new book, Final Rights (they gave me a sneak preview), Joshua Slocum, Executive Director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, and Lisa Carlson, Executive Director of the Funeral Ethics Organisation, will publish state by state tables demonstrating how many excess funeral directors there are in the US. They base their calculation on the head of population it takes to keep an undertaker busy. Too many undertakers means too few funerals. The consequent cost of wages plus maintenance of premises and vehicles drives the cost of funerals up. Two a week’s not enough.
It’s an interesting exercise, and I was for a while tempted to suppose that the same ratio applies in this country. We have too many undertakers, that’s for sure. How many fewer ought there to be?
And then I reflected that we have three sorts of undertaker in Britain: the old school dinosaurs, businesses which have moved with the times; and the bright young things – the new start-ups. We are in the middle of an important and dynamic evolutionary phase. We don’t need to kill any off, there’s going to be a Darwinian dying off, and my money’s on the up-to-date and the bright young things surviving: those who are genuinely fresh or renewed in their outlook – the idealistic ones – and most certainly not the replica dinosaurs who are inspired by vanity merely (and there are a few of those).
Today I went to visit a new start-up, Bespoke Funerals. I always enjoy calling in at this poignant phase of business development and drinking in the heady mixture of excitement and terror. They’re ready to go – but the phone hasn’t rung yet. WILL IT??!! It’s a desperately slow and uncertain business, getting off the ground.
The business belongs to Maggie Brinklow, sometime guest poster on this blog. She is working in conjunction with Mark Elliott, who will be using her premises and recruiting clients further north. Together, they make a great team – independent of each other and also collaborative.
Both, of course, have had experiences in the funeral industry which make them determined to do things differently, as they think they ought to be done. They are part of an emerging orthodoxy of gloom-free premises, a front window you can see through, an open-ended arrangements meeting and the creation of, well, as they themselves put it, bespoke funerals.
I think they’re going to be great. They come to it with experience as well as idealism. Mark is a wonderfully gifted embalmer; Maggie is a civil celebrant. Above all, they are incredibly nice people. The only anxiety which declared itself, as we chatted, was what people would think if they looked into an undertaker’s window and saw people laughing. They do it all the time.
Do we need yet another undertaker? No! Do we need these undertakers? YES! It’s up to them to create an awareness of that need – that’s business – and I very much hope they will. Good luck!